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10 things I like and don’t like, featuring the Colorado Buffaloes

Sam breaks down the little things he’s noticed in the past week.

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Every basketball writer aspires to be Zach Lowe. Mostly everyone in the NBA press would consider Lowe to be at the top of the industry. My favorite reading every week is Lowe’s Friday “10 things I like and don’t like” column. I want to be Lowe, so please indulge in me stealing his idea and writing the same article, except focused on the Colorado Buffaloes.

1. D’Shawn Schwartz, aggressive

Schwartz came into Boulder as a top-100 recruit from Colorado. He was the highest rated prospect in a class that brought in Evan Battey, Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright, yet so far he has been the most enigmatic and least productive. Perhaps that’s unfair to Schwartz. Bey and Wright were clearly underrated as recruits, and from a defensive standpoint, both were immediately ready to contribute in Tad Boyle’s system. Schwartz flashed upside as a three-level scorer, but until recently, both the eye test and statistics were brutal on him. It’s only been two games, but it seems that Schwartz may be tapping into his potential. Schwartz has struggled through (Andrew) Wigginitis: he often disappears throughout the game as he fluctuates between unfocused and timid.

But he may be past that now. Against Washington State, Schwartz stepped up into a leading role and was superb on both sides of the ball. He finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, and somehow that undersells his impact. More importantly, Schwartz knew he could dominate and was focused on doing just that. That performance carried over to Washington, a vastly superior opponent with versatile defenders capable of taking away his left hand. He was even better in that game. With apologies to Bey, Schwartz was Colorado’s best player. In a heavy 38 minutes where he had to expend energy containing Jaylen Nowell, Schwartz had enough in the tank to score 22 points on an absurd 87% true shooting percentage. He created his own shot on pull ups and step backs, worked his way to the rim for layups and drawn fouls, and even chipped in with three steals. If this is the new Schwartz, he could be the missing piece this season and beyond.

2. Rotation players fighting to the finish

Against Washington last Thursday, the Buffs finished the game with the following on the floor: Shane Gatling, Daylen Kountz, Schwartz, Bey and Alex Strating. Before the season, only Bey was projected as a starter, and even now, he’s probably the only player Colorado can consistently rely on. Yet Colorado only lost 77-70 in a game that the Buffs could have won with a few bounces going the other way. Even more impressively was that it came against Washington, who has struggled against quality competition, but is likely the best team in the Pac-12.

Colorado was missing McKinley Wright and Namon Wright to injuries, and Lucas Siewert and Evan Battey fouled out, but they hung on because role players stepped up big. As detailed above, Schwartz was superb in his first extended run as a go-to scorer. The defense tightened up, too, as they fought through everything and worked to contest every shot, something they struggled with when they gave up 48 first half points on 61% three-point shooting.

3. Pickles

Pickles are an underrated stand-alone snack, the crunch is delightful and, depending on what my body is craving, the taste alone can wake me up. (Call me crazy, but pickle juice is a great cure for muscle cramps.) As a side topping, though, I personally don’t like them on sandwiches, because even though sliced dill pickles add vital texture and flavor, they’re often too wet and can soak the bread. On hamburgers, however, they are always welcome. You don’t have to worry about them soaking the bread because the greasy burger will probably do that on its own.

But this difference begs the question: is a hamburger a sandwich, and if so, does that require a redefinition of what kind of sandwich dill pickles could ruin? More importantly: if a hamburger is a sandwich, does that make it a sandwich MVP candidate? It’s certainly more expensive than a regular sandwich, but even an average hamburger can be a significant upgrade over a high-level kitchen-made sandwich. Perhaps this argument requires further exploration for a later column.

4. Buffs’ shaky frontcourt depth

Mentioned but not detailed above: Alex Strating played crunchtime minutes in a tight game. Strating can be useful as a screener and he works hard defensively, but, no disrespect to Strating, he shouldn’t be finishing games. He just doesn’t have any skill besides effort. He’s undersized and isn’t quick enough to make up for that on the other side. He was on the floor because Battey and Siewert fouled out on ticky-tack calls adding up. Colorado’s front court depth was already thin after Dallas Walton tore his ACL before the season. Unless the Buffs want to play Bey as their largest player (not a bad idea), they cannot survive Battey and Siewert getting caught with a tight whistle.

5. Listening to music on the bus

I come from a hippie family, and that means having to hear all the time about the power of meditation. I understand that focusing on nothing can clear the mind and put you in a peaceful state of being, but I can’t sit still and do nothing. Instead, my own version of meditation is my 20 minute bus ride to campus, during which I’ll listen to music that effectively sets up the rest of my day. I need that time in morning to listen to Nao or Lianne La Havas, and in the rare occasion I get a ride to class, I feel flustered because I don’t have time to relax. Most commuters would probably have routine bus rides on the dislikes list, but it’s vital for my day-to-day mental health.

6. Shane Gatling in McKinley Wright’s absence

McKinley Wright fell hard on his shoulder last Thursday night against the Washington Huskies. The injury is still undisclosed, so it’s unknown the severity of the injury and how long he will be out. If he is out for an extended stretch, watch for Shane Gatling to step up. The junior from Indian Hills Community College transferred to CU with hopes of replacing Dominique Collier’s pull as a knockdown shooter, yet it’s his hidden passing skills that might be the most valuable. Gatling’s shot has slumped somewhat, but his playmaking skills have flashed in Wright’s stead. Gatling had six assists (plus 8 points and 4 steals) against UW and they mostly came off impressive passes off the dibble, such as in this clip below where he recognizes a numbers advantage, dekes right to move the defense, and threads the needle to a heady cut:

If Gatling can continue to be a threat off the drive and spread the ball, the Buffs should be able to at least replicate some of Wright’s impact in that aspect.

7. Lucas Siewert, doing nothing

You might assume this is a dislike, but it’s not at all. Siewert is a deadeye shooter who is most valuable at the top of the arc. He’s a floor spacer first and foremost, which allows the Buffs to have four or five shooters on the court. He’s not really a roller, but he’s a reliable pick-and-pop partner with whoever is running point. Against zone — which is what we’re seeing quite often, though that could change if CU has more shooting on the floor in Wright’s absence — Siewert is very active at the top of the key setting off-ball screens, participating in handoffs, and even facilitating the offense from the high post. He doesn’t really do much on offense, but the offense just runs more fluidly with him out there.

8. Playing card games will my friends

As long as you’re not playing with real money, and as long as someone is making green tea, card games will never tire no matter how many hours you have been at it. This holds true when you have friends (and their cousins) who banter non-stop and perfect their ability to cheat in relatively simple games. (My favorite instance of cheating is lying to new players and telling them rules that don’t exist.) Texas Hold ‘Em is the go-to game, but Old Maid is the most fun with the right people, especially when English is no longer the language of the game. Words of advice: If you’re ever trying to learn another language, find a way to be encompassed by it, preferably in a fun way.

9. Playing Pictionary with my friends

When my friends inevitably get too annoyed to play poker — there’s a lot of cheating, and that gets old — they pivot to Pictionary. Many readers will be quick to point out the creativity and teamwork (and yelling) that Pictionary requires and use it as an example of what a game should be. But I’m not on that island. This may or may not be a common occurrence, but I always get stuck with the cousins who just came over from overseas and haven’t quite mastered the English language. We call having them on our team a “handicap” and they’re supposed to be evenly dispersed onto teams, but it doesn’t work like that in practice and I feel the brunt of it.

10. The Supa Dupa Tuba Cheer

Ralphie gets all the hype for being the most iconic entrance for any sports team in the world. But as amazing as it is to see an 800-lbs. bison running in front of the team, she’s no comparison for the Supa Dupa Tuba Cheer. This cheer doesn’t start or finish games, or even perform at halftime, but they bring much needed silliness and fun to otherwise moribund TV timeouts. Let’s see Ralphie try to play the tuba while spinning on a hardwood floor.