After a rough weekend in Hawaii, many thought having 10 days before the start of conference play would allow the Buffs to put the Diamond Head Classic behind them. But the first two games of the Pac-12 portion of their schedule showed us more of the same. There was a lot of improvement in a home win against a bad Washington State team, but what can we expect moving forward?
The days of all five starters consistently finishing in double digits and lighting up the scoreboard appear to be over as Colorado had been unable to put the ball in the basket since touching down in the Aloha State. The early parts of the season where the Buffs scored the second most points on opening night in program history, and overcame the largest road deficit since 1946 now seemed like a distant memory until they broke out against one of the worst teams in the conference .
During their six-game winning streak, CU averaged 86 points-per-game. Over the next five games before the win over Wazzu, dating back to the start of the Diamond Head Classic, they’ve averaged over 26 points less at 59.8 PPG.
So what’s the problem? Why were they scoring with ease during their six-game winning streak only to stagnate right after? For one, they’ve played a much tougher level of competition. Beyond that, the Buffs haven’t gotten consistent production from all over the floor, which is ultimately what allowed them to score points in bunches previously.
Aside from McKinley Wright who scored 17 and 12 points against Arizona and Arizona State, no one else made a major impact on the stat sheet. Lucas Siewert, who played a huge role in the offense during the win streak, scored 11 points against Arizona, but followed it up with a three point effort on a dismal 1-of-9 shooting from the field.
The games in Arizona spoke to a much bigger issue at hand: the team has no reliable scorers beside Kin. In non-conference play, there was an unlikely hero(s) to pick up the slack each night, starting with the first game against Drake when Namon Wright scored 25 points off the bench. Everyone on the floor seemed to have the ability to take over a game and get a hot shooting hand. In fact, early on it wasn’t even a concern who’d pick up the slack on a given night because there was so many people who could do it.
Just over a month later, they’re searching for someone - anyone - who can consistently score points.
Part of the scoring struggles can be chalked up to lack of creativity on offense. Evan Battey went on record earlier this season saying the team only has two offensive plays, making it very predictable.
Sure basketball is more of an execution-, rather than play calling, based game, and to be fair there’s a number of different ways a specific possession can go based on who’s open and has the hot hand, but having only two designed plays to run makes an offense very easy to prepare for.
Tad Boyle can preach elite defense all he wants, but the fact of the matter is unless this team can find a way to start scoring points nightly, like they did against the Cougs, things are very unlikely to change. Boyle should minimally shift some attention to putting guys in positions to get easy, high percentage shots, and finding more ways to get the ball in the hands of sharpshooters D’Shawn Schwartz and Shane Gatling.
The harsh reality of the situation is that this wildly inconsistent team has significantly changed expectations with their poor play. The team has looked unprepared, unfocused, outcoached and as a result has gone 2-5 the last two and a half weeks. For a young roster that was supposed to have guys that could score and take a step forward collectively as a group, that isn’t a good look.
Colorado is underachieving at the wrong time as the conference is arguably the worst it’s been in the last decade. Most concerning is that there aren’t any glaring signs that things are destined to change in the upcoming future. Until this team proves they can go out and play 40 minutes of well rounded basketball, it’s going to be tough to get wins - especially with a three game road trip lurking on the horizon.
Right now, Colorado need not worry about NCAA or NIT tournament bids. Rather, the focus should be finding ways to score the basketball, and staying in the win column at home against Washington. Otherwise, some big questions will have to be asked in Mid-March.