Against all odds and defying all expectations, the Buffaloes are on the tournament bubble. The conference season has yielded some wonderful results, and CU has outperformed their youthful shortcomings. This team is fun as hell and they’re winning. The focus should rightfully be on the players, but Tad Boyle has also been coaching his ass off with this team. He switched to zone at exactly the right time, which slowed down the three most potent offenses in the conference, and he is pushing all the right buttons with this team. Our friend Ben Burrows puts it better than I can:
I'm very excited to see what else pissed-off Tad has in store for us this conference season. Maybe we can finally get back to beating Utah.— Benjamin Burrows (@Rumblinbuffalo) January 14, 2018
Pissed-off Tad is back, and he is not here to play around. The methods have changed, the philosophy stays the same - DEFEND AND REBOUND. Everything else takes care of itself. How well is Tad sticking to his tenets? How does this team compare to teams of years past? The numbers tell all.
This is the most important set of tables to to look at the team. The top dataset (both pulled from this wonderful bballreference page) looks at CU’s overall stats, their rank in those stats, and the same look at CU’s opponents. This system is treating every game against CU, regardless of opponent, as its own team. This turns the focus to how CU plays the other team.
The bottom dataset does the same things, but it limits the data to only conference games. I like using this one a bit more, as it takes out the games against the teams that the Buffs coasted through (New Mexico and Denver come to mind).
Armed with that knowledge, let’s dive in. According to the stats, CU is doing exactly what they set out to do. They rank 2nd in the conference in total rebounds and first in defensive rebounds, limiting most possessions to one shot on defense. One of Tad’s main problems with zone is that it can be hard to rebound out of. Well, this team is assuaging his fears. More importantly, the Buffs are limiting their opponents to the 11th most rebounds in the conference. This means that the Buffs aren’t succeeding on the boards just because there are exponentially more missed shots during their games, they are actively taking rebounds away from their opponents. So far, so good.
How is this team on defense? That answer is more mixed. CU only has 16 steals in conference (last), partially because Boyle teams don’t gamble on defense. They rely on staying in front of your man, limiting opportunities, and defending without fouling. CU’s opponents take the least amount of foul shots in the conference, and the Buffs are forcing their opponents to the second worst FG% (42%). That is extremely impressive, given the firepower that CU has gone up against.
So, in short, the first and most important foundation of Boyle teams is there. CU is defending and rebounding at a high level in conference play, which means they should have a shot in every game they play.
But the offense has gotten messy at times. CU has committed 101 turnovers in conference and 274 overall, good for last in the Pac-12 and 299th nationally. With a young team like this, and the proclivity of Tad offenses to break down near the end of the clock, this makes sense. It will take a bit for this team to learn how to play together, cleanly.
The Buffs are also getting the blocked the most out of any teams in the Pac, meaning that there is a lot of empty possessions of the offensive end of the floor. It’s not all bad news. CU is shooting well from 3 during conference play (3% better than non-con), so if they can ride that out the entire season, that bodes well. Suprisingly, CU also leads the conference in assists, a rarity in the Boyle era. These players are making the extra pass, and it helps that almost everyone on the team is a average-to-plus shooter.
Finally, the Buffs are taking a lot of free throws and making them. They’ve attempted 101 in conference, good for 5th, and they’re making them at a solid rate of 72%, also good for fifth. If you pass the ball well, hit your shots, and take and make free throws at a high level, you are set. Provided you can hold onto the ball.
Let’s take a quick look at the players. These stats are based off of a small sample size, which is a bigger deal for the players than the team as a whole. These numbers are bound to rubberband a bit as we enter the grind of conference play. But, for now, these are the numbers we have. I chose this specific table because it shows ORtg and Drtg, which is basketball’s fancy holy grail stat. It attempts to measure the impact one player has on the team, on both ends of the floor. It goes into weeds a lot more than plus-minus, and gives us some valuable insight on lineups, players, and situations. Also, in case you were wondering, a lower Drtg is better. Take a look:
This pretty much matches my eyeball test, with the exception of McKinley Wright. He has struggled recently on offense, but he is not the worst offensive player on this team or the second worst defender. I think the numbers are being a bit harsh, especially given who he has had to match up against. Everything else seems pretty consistent. Dom Collier has a fantastic Ortg, partially because his game is mostly layups and threes, and he is hitting 50% of his long bombs. King has been dynamite on defense this year, as evidenced by his 98.6 Drtg. His offense is also starting to round into shape (he is hurt by the Arizona games and his TO number). To me, the biggest surprise is Tyler Bey. He is taking inefficient shots like mid-range jumpers, but he is on fire right now and making most of them. He also gets to the line A LOT. Like way more per possession than any other CU player. And he is also rated as the best defender, which I can get behind. He is just so versatile and has a bulldog mentality.
I’ll leave the rest of the prognosticating to you, but to me, the numbers paint a very promising picture. Tad Boyle has gotten his team to buy in, and it shows. They are defending, rebounding, and pushing for free throws or assisted baskets. That’s a recipe for success. If they can clean up the turnovers and shake McKinley Wright out of his scoring funk, the ceiling is the roof.