Watch the Colorado men's basketball team at practice, and one would think the Woffords and Portlands of the world would never stand a chance.
Head coach Tad Boyle has seen it. Yet he has also seen his club continue to struggle putting those practice habits into performance. As the Buffaloes prepare for their toughest challenge yet on the young season with No. 7 Xavier set to visit the Coors Events Center on Wednesday.
"This team is not functioning very well right now at a high level offensively," Boyle said. "We've got a lot of room for improvement. Our game slippage is huge right now. If you came and watched us at practice...we're much better than how we're functioning in games. It's just not translating.
"I call that 'game slippage.' You go from practice to games, and right now it's not good enough."
The Buffs have displayed a discouraging habit of playing to the level of the competition so far. Against Seattle at home on Nov. 14 CU found itself in a tie before pulling away late. On Nov. 27 that script repeated against Wofford, which trailed by just a point at the break, and the Buffs trailed Portland by two points Saturday night before dominating the second half.
About the only area in which the Buffs have displayed consistency has been rebounding. CU outrebounded Portland 38-28 on Saturday and has outrebounded its opponents in seven of eight games.
"We rebound the ball well and we did some good things there," Boyle said. "But we're missing a lot of shots. Right now, we have some guys...they want to play well, they expect to play well, but when they don't their heads go down. We can't have that. Our heads have to stay up. Our body language has to be better."
It was a shrewd move by Boyle to begin the season with Derrick White as his point guard, as the Division II transfer gives the Buffs impressive size across their starting lineup with no player under 6-foot-5.
However, after a solid four-assist, no-turnover performance in the season opener, White's assist-to-turnover rate has spiraled downward. He did post a season-high nine assists against Notre Dame two weeks ago, but he also committed five turnovers in that game.
In the four games since, White has recorded nine assists with 15 turnovers, including a three-assist, six-turnover game at Portland Saturday.
"I've got to take care of the ball better. That's on me," White said. "Making the easy play, that's something I need to work on. We've got to make better decisions, and that starts with me as the point guard. I'm just going to try to keep improving."
The early nonconference slate has been full of curious storylines in the Pac-12 Conference, most notably with undefeated UCLA knocking off No. 1 Kentucky on the road Saturday. Undefeated USC and Stanford are playing better than advertised, while key injuries have at least momentarily clouded the forecasts at Arizona, Cal, and Oregon State.
"It's critical we have a good December, because I don't think we had a good November in the league. Us included," Boyle said. "Losing to Colorado State at home, it's a black eye. No disrespect to Colorado State, but we can't let that happen. We have to make up for that some time down the road.
"UCLA is playing at a high level right now. USC is playing at a high level right now. But it's not a seven-bid league right now, that's for darn sure."
Josh Fortune's streak of consecutive made free throws ended at 19 against Portland...Wesley Gordon is in line to make his 100th career start at home Wednesday night against No. 7 Xavier.