The #20 Colorado Buffaloes had to be perfect against the #2 Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday. For them to pull off an upset at Allen Fieldhouse — something they haven’t done since 1983, when Tad Boyle was playing for KU — they had to play excellent team defense, take care of the ball, and hit tons of threes. Instead, Colorado was run out of the building in a 72-58 loss.
From the tip-off, it became clear that Colorado would have some issues defensively. The Buffs are a top-10 defensive team in the nation, according to KenPom.com, but Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson are just about impossible to keep out of the paint — Azubuike with his size and power, and Dotson with his elite quickness. Tad Boyle tried to pack the paint with a zone defense, but Colorado, a predominantly man-to-man team, allowed wide open jumpers to zone-buster David McCormack. Even worse, they struggled with box-out responsibilities and allowed 7 offensive rebounds in the first ten minutes. They switched back to man-defense, but they still scored 26 of 34 first half points in the paint.
On offense, Colorado’s main focus this week was taking care of the ball, but they were just as careless as they have all season. Some of them were lazy passes, some bobbles that went out of bounds, and others a result of Kansas having an elite defense with all kinds of length and athleticism. The only refuge here was that Kansas had their own issues with giveaways and actually committed more turnovers than CU. However, this game isn’t about being even with KU, it’s about winning wherever you can to bridge the talent gap.
When Colorado didn’t lose the ball, they were unable to at tack the basket whatsoever, as they finished the half having made just 3 two-point field goals. Tyler Bey usually dominates the interior, but he was swallowed whole by that Kansas defense. He didn’t even attempt a shot until 18 minutes in, when he hit the backboard on a three. D’Shawn Schwartz was pegged by many as a potential breakout player in this game, but he shot 1-8 from the field in the first half, including 0-5 on threes.
After the break, the Buffs were much more aggressive offensively. Led by Evan Battey, they had the intention to work the post for clean shots and fouls drawn. It worked with Battey early on, even against Azubuike. Later on, Bey made his first shot via post shot (on a goaltend, but still). Combined with excellent team defense, Colorado had the chance to have a more balanced offense to make a run, but their offensive woes persisted.
The chance was there, but the Buffs couldn’t hit any threes whatsoever. CU’s first four makes of the game were threes, but they missed 13 straight until Maddox Daniels’ make with ten minutes left in the game. To pour salt in the wound, Kansas made 6 of 7 threes in the second half, compared to CU making 3 of 19. Colorado’s defense was mostly solid, particularly in walling off the paint, but Ochai Agbaji and Isaiah Moss converted open threes. KU rarely shoots, but when those shots are falling on top of everything else they do well, it’s just not your night.
If you’re looking for positives in this game, you should be grateful that CU have themselves a wake-up call. Their 7-0 start was unsustainable because of their sloppy play and lack of offensive rhythm. Getting run out of the building should serve as a message that they can not, and will not, beat good teams without significant improvements. Even with their great defense, this team is too good to be held back by turnovers and tentativeness.
Colorado has a difficult stretch coming up. After this loss, they face a solid Northern Iowa squad, travel to Ft. Collins to play Colorado State, have an easy win against Prairie View A&M, then travel to Chicago to play the #19 Dayton Flyers. Realistically, the Buffs need to go 3-1 against that schedule to stay on track. Expect Tad Boyle to try to jump start that offense for them to get these wins and get right before Pac-12 play begins.