As you may have noticed, the Colorado Buffaloes are playing their worst basketball of the season. They have lost three straight: on Senior Day to UCLA, at Cal in a disgusting game, and to Stanford in a failed comeback attempt. Those are three games that CU was expected to win, but didn’t, because they played horrid basketball.
The offense is broken right now, more or less. Their system is predicated on driving into the teeth of the defense, finding open shooters via inside-out penetration, and going strong to the bucket to draw fouls. When the shots aren’t falling they can usually eek out enough points via free throws or offensive rebounds. None of this is working right now.
The Buffs are shooting 23% on 22 threes per game during this 3-game losing steak; going back further, they’re 32% on 23.8 attempts in their last six games. They have attempted just 27 free throws total in their last three games, compared to their season average of 20 per game.
These numbers confirm the eye test: Colorado’s opponents are packing the paint, attacking every drive to the rim, and basically intimidating CU into settling for jumpers. The Buffs aren’t finishing at the basket, they’re not getting fouls called and they panic when Plans A and B don’t work. It would help if certain role players — you know which ones — stepped up and made an occasional shot, but that’s not happening right now.
Every night in the Pac-12 is a rock fight. None of these teams are particularly skilled, but they are physical and mean. The Buffs — the Buffs! — have the most efficient offense in the conference, per KenPom.com, just to show how awful these games have been. It’s almost ironic that right when the Buffs have the requisite skill to win beautiful basketball, they get out TadBall’d by UCLA and Cal.
This grind has taken a toll on the Buffaloes, as they have looked tired of getting beaten down every game. Pressure to win the Pac-12 surely had its effect as well. The Buffs had a chance to take a 2.5-game lead in the standings against Oregon, but they collapsed and haven’t been the same since. This team is playing tense, like they’re frustrated with each other. That’s what so shocking about this team, because no one doubted their chemistry or leadership.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s fine, it’s okay. The Buffs are still 21-9 with a strong NCAA Tournament resume. If you think they’re in danger of missing the tournament, they’re not — please look all the bracket projections that have them as a 5- or 6-seed. Their loss to Cal was their first truly bad loss of the season, although losing at home to Northern Iowa and Oregon State aren’t great.
Slumps happen to everyone. This is awful timing, obviously, but the Buffs can still bounce back. They play Utah on Saturday, and even though it’s on the road, the Utes looked like a JUCO team last time they faced off. If the Buffs win that game and avoid self-destructing in the Pac-12 Tournament, they will have made it through the hardest part of their season right before the Big Dance. The darkest moment comes before dawn, or whatever.
People praise the Big Ten because everyone can beat everyone, but those same people criticize the Pac-12 for its parity. The Pac-12 is tough right now, even if these teams aren’t very good. (Spoiler: Kansas is the only actually good team this year.) Come tournament time, UCLA and Arizona State are going to maul some higher seeds, Oregon is going to get hot, and Stanford might upset someone.
As for Colorado, I think they will be relieved to play basketball instead of brawl ball. The court will open up for McKinley Wright and everyone will be happier and more confident and maybe win a game or two. This adversity should make them stronger in the long term, or at least that’s what I hope comes out of this slump.