CU men's basketball preview: Xavier
MATCHUP: No. 13 Xavier Musketeers (7-1) at Colorado Buffaloes (6-2).
GAME TIME: Wednesday, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center.
BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; TV — Pac-12 Network.
COACHES: Xavier — Chris Mack, 8th season (169-78 at Xavier and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 7th season (136-82, 192-48 overall).
LEADERS: Xavier — Scoring: G Trevon Bluiett, Jr., 18.4 ppg; Rebounding: Bluiett and F RaShid Gaston, Sr., 6.3 rpg; Assists: G Edmond Sumner, So., 4.3 apg. Colorado — Scoring: F/G Xavier Johnson, Sr., 14.8 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 9.5 rpg; Assists: G Derrick White, 3.5 apg.
NOTABLE: This is just the second meeting between the programs, with Xavier posting a 74-61 win on Nov. 27, 1998 in a game played in Puerto Rico...This is the first time a Big East Conference foe will play at the Coors Events Center...Johnson needs 11 points to surpass Jim Davis and Spencer Dinwiddie and move into the top 25 of CU's all-time scoring list...Gordon is set to make his 100th start for the Buffs...CU is only 8-for-38 (.211) on 3-pointers in the past two games...The Buffs have limited their opponents to a .275 mark on 3-pointers...Rebounding should prove critical, as both clubs outrebound their opponents by at least nine boards per game....CU plays at BYU for the first time since 1955 on Saturday.
Sustaining energy and focus have been among the early-season hurdles for the Colorado men's basketball team.
While those issues can be ascribed to the mental part of the game, there were physical skills expected to be a given with a deep Buffaloes team featuring an array of experienced, sharpshooting wing players. Three-point shooting was near the top of that list.
However, the top long-range team in the Pac-12 Conference last year has endured an up-and-down ride from beyond the arc so far. It's a once-trusty element the Buffs hope to regain when they host No. 13 Xavier Wednesday night at the Coors Events Center.
"It just comes and goes. And look, everybody is like that to a certain degree," head coach Tad Boyle said. "Xavier is coming in here and Missouri took them to overtime. But if they make shots, it's not even a close game. It sounds awful simple but there's more to it that goes into that. Part of it is execution. Part of it is screening. Part of it is cutting hard.
"That's why I as a coach I always get back to defense and rebounding. I always feel like I can control that. You can't control offensively a shot going in or not."
The Buffs connected from 3-point range at a league-leading .389 pace last year but enter the Xavier game with a .342 mark. While that perhaps is not a monumental decline, once an impressive 6-for-13 mark from freshman Deleon Brown and the 4-for-7 night by now-injured guard Dom Collier in the season opener are excluded from the equation, the bulk of CU's regulars have compiled a .317 mark on 3-pointers.
The shooting woes have been a team-wide affliction. George King led the Pac-12 with a .456 mark last year but has dropped to .346 after going 0-for-6 in the past two games. Josh Fortune made two critical shots from long range in the second half Saturday at Portland, giving him an encouraging 5-for-10 mark over the past three games, but he still sports a .345 percentage after hitting at a .385 rate last year.
Sophomore guard Thomas Akyazili is 0-for-10. And after going 3-for-3 in his CU debut in the opener, freshman forward Lucas Siewert has gone 1-for-8 since.
King took the initiative to find other ways to score at Portland, using his size advantage against the Pilots' guards to go 6-for-7 on two-pointers before finishing with 12 points. Guard Derrick White did the same, going 5-for-7 on two-pointers at Portland. Until the sharpshooters get on track, other CU players might need to follow suit.
"I think that boosted my inside confidence a little bit," King said. "Hopefully one of these days I have a game where everything is feeling good, because right now everything is not with a shooting slump from the outside. But that's OK. It won't last. They're just not going in, that's all. Simple as that."
Wednesday's battle presents an opportunity for the Buffs to erase the inconsistent play that has marked the first month of the season. Fresh off its first loss of the season against an undefeated Baylor team now ranked No. 4, Boyle knows the Musketeers will have a chip on their collective shoulders when they hit the Coors Events Center floor.
"When I think of Xavier basketball, the first thing that comes to my mind is the toughness. They've got great toughness," said Boyle, whose club completes a home-and-home set at Xavier next year. "They've got really good players and they're very well coached. Xavier doesn't beat themselves, you have to go beat them. We have to be ready for a street fight."