After the Buffaloes' 62-60 loss to Colorado State on Wednesday night, Tad Boyle put it best: "We're a decent basketball team." And there's no reason to disagree with him, but decent basketball teams aren't assured NCAA Tournament berths and they don't go far if they get there.
Colorado had high expectations coming into this season and rightfully so. Josh Scott, the best returning big in the conference, was back. Askia Booker, a 1,000 point-scorer over three seasons, was back. And Xavier Johnson, an athletic, multi-dimensional wing, was back.
But when this team lost Spencer Dinwiddie, they lost a calming force on the court that could get a bucket when it was most needed. And that is still missing and is part of the reason for the Buffs' 5-3 start this season. It might just be that the team we saw last season after Dinwiddie's injury is the team we will continue to see this year with little offensive improvement. The past two losses against Georgia and Colorado State exemplify that.
The Buffs averaged .92 points per possession against Georgia and .97 points per possession against CSU. Without Dinwiddie last season, the Buffs averaged .97 points per possession. Because Drexel, Auburn, Air Force, Lipscomb and San Francisco aren't on the same level as teams in the Pac-12, these last two games are the closest indication of how the Buffaloes will fare offensively against most of their opponents going forward.
When teams struggle in the half-court, they look to get easy buckets in transition. But only 24 percent of the Buffs' field goal attempts this season have come in transition and in both last season and the year before, 26 percent of the Buffs' shots came in transition. Because of that, there isn't much reason to believe that Colorado will start to get out in transition much more than they have been.
Defense can also fuel a struggling offense by forcing turnovers. The Buffs haven't been able to do that either as they are only forcing 11 turnovers per game. Opponents are turning it over on 17 percent of their possessions, which is 294th in the country. And once again, there isn't much reason to believe Colorado will start forcing more mistakes because the Buffs have never been in the top 200 in defensive turnover rate since Tad Boyle took over.
If the defense doesn't force more turnovers, then it has to be more effective limiting shots inside. 39.8 percent of opponents' shots are coming at the rim whereas last season that number was 36.9 percent and the year prior was an incredible 29.3 percent. What's concerning is that Colorado hasn't faced any above average offensive teams thus far and is still allowing that much penetration on defense. The fact that they don't have any length around the perimeter or standout man-to-man defenders doesn't help either.
The offensive problems, however, are still more alarming. There's no reason Askia Booker should be taking 40 percent of Colorado's shots. That was part of the reason the execution down the stretch against CSU was so poor. Everyone tried to give the ball to Booker, showing a complete lack of confidence in their own offensive game. This team isn't going to win close games if they tighten up and just look to Booker down the stretch.
Feeding the ball to Josh Scott would certainly help as well. However, this seems like a solution every season, but Scott still doesn't get enough touches. He didn't have a particularly great game against CSU as he missed all seven of his shots and only scored two points, but he still has the 16th best offensive rating in the country. Although opponents can clog the lane and force Scott into tougher post position because of the lack of perimeter scorers, it just doesn't make sense that Scott is third on the team in usage and has only taken 21 percent of the Buffs' shots while on the floor.
Ultimately, all the concerns about Colorado heading into the season are becoming real problems. They have serious offensive limitations and their defense isn't great enough to make up for it.
As Boyle said, this is a decent team. And they just might not be more than that this season.