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What we learned from Colorado’s upset over Arizona State

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Breaking down Thursday night’s thriller

NCAA Basketball: Arizona State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Thursday night was wild. In the opening minutes of the game, it looked like the Colorado Buffaloes were going to be run off the floor by the No. 4 Arizona State Sun Devils. But the Buffs hung on just long enough to get the crowd behind them and they caught fire when the Devils got tired. CU came away with the 90-81 win in overtime to pull off their biggest upset in the Tad Boyle era.

We learned some valuable lessons from this crazy game.

Sam: My main takeaway from this game is that, oh my god, the Buffs have some serious potential if they’re capable of upsetting a team as good as ASU at this stage of their team’s development. This upset was powered largely by the upperclassmen coming through, but it cannot be overlooked how incredible the young guys were. McKinley Wright is just 19 years old and he went out there and made every play the Buffs needed him to as he outplayed arguably the best point guard in Pac-12 in Tra Holder. Dallas Walton and Tyler Bey are still raw, but they were terrors on defense. Did this offer a glimpse into the potential of the team?

Jack: Well, Sam, you know the answer to that question. With how many underclassmen played, almost every minute of the game showed what the team could look like in a few years. McKinley Wright had two points at halftime. He finished the game with 19. Wright just doesn’t play losing basketball. Walton and Bey are plus defenders already, but when they get a solid base? Oh lordy. They will board the hell out of the ball. And they both can improve dramatically on offense with their natural gifts. Walton’s improvement curve Thursday night from the 1st to 2nd half was unreal. And you know what’s crazy about this paragraph of me spewing praise on these youngsters? I haven’t mentioned half of them. D’Shawn Schwartz is already so smooth and solid, and he played some good defensive minutes for CU. Lazar Nikolic is so versatile defensively and can rebound well. AND EVAN BATTEY CAN’T EVEN PLAY YET. This win was glorious, in part because you can extrapolate across the next 3 years.

Sam: I’m over here giggling imagining the McKinley-Battey pick-and-roll three years from now and every fan in the Pac-12 is wondering how McKinley still hasn’t graduated. Anyway, before we start dreaming about this team’s future, we should take the time to appreciate how great the upperclassmen were in that game. Coming into this season, we knew the freshmen would have ups and downs and provide hope above all else, but we overlooked that this team can have a strong season if the veterans play consistent basketball. George King and Dom Collier have never been known for their consistency, but they can certainly make an impact in their own ways each night. King and Collier shot 7-14 from three and combined for 29 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists, plus they were both solid defensively. Namon Wright, somewhat of an enigma as a transfer coming off a serious foot injury, was even better as he had 19 points and 7 rebounds on an efficient 7-12 shooting. I doubt the upperclassmen can play this well every game, but if they at least provide a stable foundation in support of the always improving youngins, this team could actually be good moving forward.

Jack: I have been chomping at the bit to talk about Dom Collier this season. I have been to bat for Collier over the past few seasons, as fans have labeled him a bust, a failure, a disappointment. Without the weight of his expectations, Collier is an extremely successful player for this program. A solid Pac-12 guard who won’t lose you games. Makes good passes and is better when aggressive. Well, guess what, as a senior coming off the bench, Dom is FLOURISHING. He’s driving, dishing, stealing and dealing his way to a fantastic end to his career. He was huge Thursday night, and even though they were losses, he was one of the few functional players against OSU or Oregon. He just knows how to play at this level and he is a great guard for McKinley Wright to study with. I just feel comfortable when Collier enters the game. All this is to say, I love Dom Collier this year, and all fans should.

What we saw against ASU is exactly what Tad Boyle was envisioning when he got Namon Wright from Mizzouri. He won’t pass the ball much, and he shouldn’t. He’s at his best slashing to the hoop and diving for offensive rebounds. Thursday night, he found his shot, and it’s like the rest of his game just blossomed from that seed. He can get into the lane against almost anybody with his length and unorthodox moves, and Boyle will give him minutes if he keeps crashing that hard for boards. Loved his game, and I think it’s a sign of things to come. I was not as high on King’s game last night. He made some clutch shots, but he also had some dumb possessions late and I always feel like he can snatch more rebounds than he does. It’s more likely that my expectations are out of whack.

Where does CU go from here? Arizona on Saturday is a completely different team and then they have the LA schools on the road. What does this win mean for the next few games?

Sam: There are few teams as different as Arizona State and Arizona, so Saturday’s game will be a great test to see if CU can adapt. Part of what made the upset possible was that ASU played a high-paced, run-and-gun offense that doesn’t always work best at this elevation. It also helped Colorado that ASU played small-ball that made it appear than the Buffs of all teams had a significant size advantage. Now with Arizona, they start two legit 7-footers in Dusan Ristic and potential No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton. Dallas Walton is going to have to play like prime Tim Duncan to fortify the interior, so he will need all the help he can get from George King, Tyler Bey and whoever else has the impossible task of banging down low. Elite ‘Cats guards aside, Arizona’s sheer size advantage is what makes them so terrifying. But Colorado always plays them tight and if they shoot above 40% from three again, anything is possible.

Looking ahead to the L.A. schools, we will likely find that CU will match up fairly well against UCLA but struggle against USC’s size. Maybe if these were home games, the Buffs would play inspired enough to knock them off, but on the road they might not have enough experience to get by. They could surprise me, of course, and any result that sees the youth improve is fine by me.

Tangentially related, how much of an impact did the home crowd have on the CU-ASU game? In other words, are the Buffs actually good or was this result mostly a product of elevation and hyped fans?

Jack: Well, number one, one game shouldn’t determine whether a team is good or bad, especially with a team like CU’s. Number two, the crowd absolutely has an impact. If Coors is packed like it should, and the C-Unit is as rowdy as they should be, they will have an impact on every game. I doubt a similar result will happen when the Buffs take a trip to Tempe. But hey, if the team keeps competing like it has, that Coors environment will become more and more common. The Keg will be back.