The regular season is nearing the end with only four games left before the Pac-12 Tournament, followed by March Madness. And the next of those happens to be against a team Arizona hasn’t faced yet in 2022-23.
Colorado comes to McKale Center on Saturday night for its only scheduled meeting with the Wildcats, though a second in Las Vegas next month is possible depending on how the seeds pan out.
To better understand the Buffaloes (15-12, 7-9 Pac-12) we reached out to Jack Barsch of SB Nation sister site Ralphie Report. Here are his justified answers to our illegitimate questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Nonconference wins over Tennessee and Texas A&M, but also losses to Grambling and Massachusetts. Quality Pac-12 victories over Oregon, Washington State and ASU, but also losses to Cal and Oregon State. Please explain Colorado’s schizophrenic play this season, if possible.
Jack Barsch: “Well, it’s quite simple. There are two consistent engines on offense—Tristan Da Silva and KJ Simpson. Everyone else vacillates between unplayable and competent. That leads to very bad games, like the Cal game, but also games where CU can systematically destroy Texas A&M. Defensively, the effort and skill has been there all year. But the offense is a mess at best.”
Da Silva and Simpson (a former UA signee) are both candidates for Most Improved Player. What has each done to make such a big leap in production and performance from a season ago?
“Da Silva has had a mentality shift more than anything. The skilled forward has always the stroke and the post moves, but this year he has been forced to become the No. 1 option for most of the game. He has stepped up to the plate without sacrificing efficiency. That means Tristan can still drive, shoot and post up for long stretches of the game. That leads to a beautiful all-around offensive game and plenty of points.
“Simpson has blossomed into a leader over a scorer in his second year. He has become more consistent on defense and has learned to defer on offense to Da Silva. He still picks his spots to go to the rack, but Simpson is also better at distributing this year. All of this will pay dividends for next year, but it has lead to growing pains this season.”
The overall offensive numbers for the Buffaloes this year are, well, disappointing. Why isn’t that side of the ball clicking?
“As mentioned above, a lack of secondary options has meant Da Silva and Simpson are the only consistent threats on offense. As such, scouting CU has become easier and easier. If KJ and/or Tristan decides to have an off game or an off half, the game is over. Everyone needs to be hitting shots for other real threats to emerge.”
Defense has been Colorado’s calling card this year, ranking second in the conference. What stands out about this unit, and how do you think it matches up against Arizona’s scheme?
“Tad Boyle always has good defenses, so this is nothing new. This year, the defensive anchor of Lawson Lovering has allowed for superb rim defense to lead the way. A combination of long wings on the outside funnel guards into Lovering, who alters a lot of shots and plays good team defense. I doubt the Buffs can stop Arizona, who have a bevy of athletic options all over the court. I would imagine that Da Silva draws (Azuolas) Tubelis, which is a terrible matchup for CU. (Oumar) Ballo should get his points as well. If the Wildcats have wing scoring, this could get ugly.”
Tad Boyle became the winningest coach in school history earlier this season, but at the same time would need a Cinderella run through the Pac-12 tourney to avoid a seventh missed NCAA bid in the past nine seasons. How secure is his job?
“Extremely. He is the best coach CU has ever had BY FAR. Plus Cody Williams, who may end up a top 5 player (he’s currently 8th in the 2023 recruiting class, per 247Sports), is coming in next year.”
Prediction time. Can Colorado win in Tucson for the first time since 1965 (!) or will Arizona continue to dominate the home side of this series?
“CU will lose this game handily.”