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What we learned from Colorado’s win over Dayton

The Buffs just might fulfill their potential.

NCAA Basketball: Dayton at Colorado Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Satuday’s matchup with the 13th ranked Dayton Flyers, the Colorado Buffaloes needed to have their most complete game of the season to pull off the neutral-site win. Powered by TadBall at its finest, the Buffs beat up the Flyers, got just enough scoring to hang in, and D’Shawn Schwartz’s buzzer-beater saved the day. It was one of CU’s best wins in the Tad Boyle era, considering the opponent, the enviroment, and how the Buffs got the win.

McKinley Wright is the central star

In Colorado’s loss to Kansas, Fran Fraschilla criticized the Buffs for having lots of “Pac-12 guys” but no primary option. During the early non-conference schedule, that was very well true. The Buffs have struggled all season to get in a flow and part of that is their star players being inconsistent on offense and not always wanting to take control. The solution was always going to be McKinley Wright, who typically starts slow before realizing he has to take over for the Buffs to score.

As we all know, Wright has a history with Dayton. He originally committed, but opted for CU after Archie Miller left Dayton for the Indiana job. Wright knows all the Dayton players, their fans know and hate him, and he’s played his hardest against them in both the NIT last March and this past Saturday. That’s the Wright the Buffs need going into Pac-12 play. He torched Dayton with his first step, continually knifing his way into the lane for floaters and acrobatic layups. His 29 points were tied for a career-high, and even if we don’t see him shoot as prolifically, the Buffs are best when he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder.

Moving forward, Wright has to occupy that aggressive mindset. The Buffs won despite shooting terribly from the field, clutch plays withstanding. Tyler Bey will be better when he’s not expending all energy guarding Obi Toppin. Lucas Siewert has been great this year, but the other shooters, Maddox Daniels and Shane Gatling, aren’t providing any value if they’re shooting under 30% from deep. Daylen Kountz is still lost in the wild, and Eli Parquet is a defense-only player at this point. All of this should improve as the season progresses, especially if Wright is in control and the Buffs limit their giveaways.

TadBall travels

This team is the epitome of TadBall. They all know their defensive rotations, force turnovers without gambling, box out like their life depends on it, turn the ball over every 20% of their possessions, and score half their points on offensive rebounds. It’s not pretty basketball, but it’s effective. It works on the road and it works against top-flight teams that would rather play the beautiful game than get stuck in the mud.

Dayton is exactly the kind of fine tuned machine that TadBall is meant to destroy. The Flyers hit a bunch of tough shots at the beginning of the game, but once those stopped falling, they couldn’t find any clean looks, and they certainly weren’t going to get any offensive rebounds. CU turned misses and turnovers into transition opportunities, an area they aren’t particularly good at, but it’s better than their half-court offense.

The Buffs shot 39.7% from the field and 28% from three, yet they still scored 78 points. That’s because they earned fouls and grabbed offensive rebounds, outscoring Dayton 33-16 on free throws and second chance points. CU basically just threw it at the rim because they knew they would either be fouled or Evan Battey would get the rebound. Shooting doesn’t always travel, so those are the grimy points CU relies on, much to the disdain and disgust of everyone watching.

CU gains momentum

Heading into the season, we had Tournament-or-bust aspirations. Those came about because the Buffaloes are an experienced team with star power, they have a resume-conscious schedule that would test them early, and a top-heavy Pac-12 that would provide resume-boosting wins as well as quantity of wins. The Buffs had rough patches throughout the non-conference schedule, most notably the home loss to Northern Iowa, but everything is back on track after the Dayton win.

The Buffs are 10-2 with quality wins over Dayton in Chicago, Arizona State in Shanghai, Clemson in Las Vegas, and Colorado State in the riot box. For a team with a pronounced home advantage, it’s critical to win away from home, partly for the resume and mostly for team-building adversity. CU has been tested in almost all their games, and while they got beaten up by Kansas and lost to Northern Iowa, they are playing high-stakes basketball in difficult environments. That will serve them well in March.

All things considered, Colorado will enter Pac-12 play at 11-2 (assuming a win over Iona on Dec. 29th) needing to go 9-9 or 10-8 to all but guarantee a tournament bid. The Pac-12 is deeper than expected — USC, Stanford and Oregon State have all surprised — but the Buffs have a schedule that’s more favorable than usual (i.e. they don’t play 6 of their first 8 games on the road). If Colorado continues to play as well on the road, 10-8 should not just be attainable, but the Buffs could seriously contend for a Pac-12 title.