The Utah team the Colorado Buffaloes will face in their Pac-12 Conference opener is markedly different from the Utes team from just a month ago.
Two weeks ago a pair of transfers, Sedrick Barefield and David Collette, regained their eligibility with Utah after the first semester expired. In just four games the duo has shown they likely will be key difference-makers for the Utes, who host CU in both teams' Pac-12 Conference opener Sunday in Salt Lake City.
Collette is a 6-foot-10 force in the post who looks to fill the void inside for Utah left by Jakob Poeltl, last year's Pac-12 Player of the Year who was selected ninth overall by Toronto in last summer's NBA draft. Barefield gives the Utes a potent weapon from long range, as he went 10-for-15 from 3-point range in his first two games with the Utes.
"They've got two new players, Barefield and Collette. It makes them a lot different," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "They really look to play through Collette in the low post. He's probably not Jakob Poeltl but he's a good player. Barefield is a big-time 3-point shooter. So they add two really, really good pieces to an already good team."
Collette, a Utah native who formerly played at Utah State, has started all four games since being reinstated, shooting an impressive .659 from the floor (27-for-41) while averaging 15.8 points and six rebounds.
Barefield, who played sparingly in five games for SMU early last season before transferring, has been equally impressive as a shooter (20-for-35 overall) but has averaged three turnovers in his four games, two of which he started.
Given the Utes lost leading scorer and rebounder Kyle Kuzma early in the team's first game at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii due to an ankle injury (he also missed the next two games) Utah has played with its full contingent of players in just one contest. Kuzma returned to practice this week in a limited capacity and remains questionable for Sunday.
"I think keeping their guards, and the basketball, out of the paint is going to be a key to the game," Boyle said. "Make them beat us outside with jump shots over our hands. Offensively, No. 1 we have to take care of the ball on the road. They've been drawing well. It's Pac-12 play and we expect it to be a tough environment. To keep the crowd out of the game as best as we can, we have to take care of the basketball."
By the time Sunday's tipoff arrives the Buffs will have gone 10 days between games, following a nonconference slate that included a critical win over No. 13 Xavier but also was marked by inconsistent play and only a few full 40-minute games that could be labeled as impressive.
As the Buffs have prepped for the beginning of league play, Boyle has stressed the positive aspects of his team, such as the Buffs' solid defensive field goal percentage of .383. By opening the league slate with three straight road games, CU will get a home-heavy schedule down the stretch. Any win CU can pick up away from home in the meantime could prove critical, beginning with Sunday's battle against the Utes.
"A lot of (Utah's) players are rookie players that haven't played in Pac-12 play. We have a lot of experience in the Pac-12 so hopefully we can use that to our advantage," CU senior Xavier Johnson said. "These games can decide us winning the Pac-12 or not winning the Pac-12. Every game has to be a win and if not, we have to bring it even more the next game."