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Colorado’s men’s basketball team stumbled into the new year on a low note.
After winning their first conference game of the season at Stanford, CU left Buff Nation shaking their heads after a puzzling loss to the lowly Cal Golden Bears.
It was once again another volatile week for this unpredictable Buff team, and with that volatility comes three takeaways to take into 2023.
Free throws, free throws, free throws
The 2020-21 Buffaloes’ team that nearly set the NCAA record for team free throw percentage is a distant memory.
Through 15 games this season, CU is currently shooting 65.2% from the charity stripe. That percentage is good for dead last in the Pac-12 and 313th in the entire nation.
In Colorado’s two road games this past week, the Buffs went to the line to shoot two free throws 13 times. In those 13 trips to the line, they made both free throws only four times.
While nine fewer points scored doesn’t seem like a lot over the course of two basketball games, those nine points drastically impacted both outcomes.
Had the Buffs capitalized on their five missed attempts against Stanford, they could have built momentum in the second half to take control of the game much sooner. Instead, they were faced with a back-and-forth nail biter that came down to the final minutes, where they edged out the win.
However, against Cal the missed free throws had a greater impact. CU missed five free throws against the Golden Bears. Not an outlandish number, but Colorado ended up losing by four. Step up to the line and knock down both free throws on a more consistent basis, and that game plays out much differently.
That’s the larger issue with the charity stripe woes. These shots are supposed to be the easiest shot in the game – hence the name “free throw”. When the entire team is consistently seeing the easiest shot in the game not fall, it can kill all momentum and create more mental obstacles on offense.
Still searching for a second option
KJ Simpson charted his second Pac-12 Player of the Week on the season last week, but not even his heroics could push the Buffs past the worst power conference team in the nation last Saturday.
Colorado still does not have a second scoring option to compliment Simpson on offense. It appeared as though Tristen da Silva was coming into his own when he averaged 22 points during CU’s last four game homestand. The veteran big man’s numbers sunk back down to reality this past week though, as da Silva only put up 15 points across both contests.
Hadley poured in 17 points in the losing effort against Cal, but that was only his second double digit output in six games.
KJ Simpson is blossoming into an elite player, but it’s going to take more than elite individual performances from him for the Buffs to find success in conference play.
One potential spark that Tad has yet to try is plugging Quincy Allen into the rotation. The redshirt freshman who was a top-100 recruit in the class of 2021 has yet to see any real playing time this season, but in his limited garbage time minutes he’s shown legitimate scoring potential.
Whether it be da Silva finding his groove again, Hadley continuing to stack double digit point performances, Quincy Allen getting his chance, or someone else; the Buffs just need to establish a consistent second option on offense.
Has the clock already struck midnight for the Big Dance?
Colorado’s loss to Cal on Saturday hurt their tournament resume greatly and will continue to bruise their postseason chances all the way up to the afternoon of Selection Sunday.
Cal went into that game ranked 323rd out of 363 Division I college basketball teams. After beating CU they were able to crack into the upper 200s – still abysmal for a power conference school.
No matter who the Buffs lose to for the rest of the season, there will not be a worse loss on their resume than the one they just suffered at Cal.
Tad and the team’s resolution for the new year must be to pick up some big time wins. Nothing will fully get rid of the Cal loss on the Buff’s resume, but a win over a Pac-12 powerhouse like UCLA or Arizona could somewhat offset it.
While a tall task, big time upsets over UCLA at home and Arizona on the road would greatly help the bracket committee overlook the Cal loss and give CU a nod. On top of at least one big time upset, Colorado cannot afford to lose anymore head-scratchers.
The Buffs’ next home game will be an important one, as the Oregon Ducks travel to Boulder Thursday evening to open up 2023 action. Coverage begins at 7pm on ESPN2.