With nine games in the books and the finish line for nonconference play looming closer, the two most obvious shortcomings are coming into focus for the Colorado men's basketball team.
The Buffaloes are committing far too many turnovers, and the team defense along the 3-point line still needs to be shored up.
Both weaknesses were on full display during the Buffs' 96-69 loss Saturday at No. 13 Xavier. CU committed eight turnovers in the first 7 minutes, 8 seconds of the game, with the Musketeers eventually finishing with 24 points off CU's 16 giveaways.
Xavier also connected on 9 of 14 3-point attempts. Granted, the Musketeers are one of the top shooting teams in the nation. Yet the open looks the Buffs surrendered, particularly as the hosts built their big early lead, continued a defensive weakness the Buffs still hope to correct with three games remaining before Pac-12 Conference play.
"We just can't give them open looks like we did (Saturday) because it's cash when they get open looks," CU senior guard Dom Collier said. "It just gives energy to the whole entire team because when the ball goes in the basket it's just an energy (booster) for the entire team."
The Buffs overall defensive 3-point percentage of .341 doesn't necessarily ring alarm bells, but that reasonable percentage obscures more than a few hot-shooting performances by CU's opponents. In four of nine games, CU's opposition has connected on 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, with all four of those efforts occurring in the past six games.
Air Force made 8 of 15 3-pointers in the first half of a CU win on Nov. 26, staying close until the Buffs forced a 3-for-11 effort out of the Falcons after halftime. It was a similar story last week against New Mexico, with the Lobos going 6-for-16 on 3-pointers in the first half and 3-for-15 in the second half. Additionally, the Buffs' overall defensive field goal percentage is skewered somewhat by a 6-for-37 effort turned in by Northern Colorado in the season opener. Erase that night from the equation, and CU's defensive 3-point percentage jumps to .379.
"Hands in the face sometimes isn't good enough," CU senior George King said. "I think that's one thing we have to learn going forward. There's some guys who we've had hands in their face on their threes, but they were still able to make their shot. One thing we can do about that for sure is chase them off the line and make them a driver."
Turnovers probably were expected to be an issue for a Buffs team that regularly has five freshmen as part of the rotation, but the veterans have been equally culpable so far. CU has committed at least 10 in every game, and the Buffs are averaging 15 per game heading into Tuesday's home date against San Diego.
In Saturday's loss with the eight turnovers in the first 7:08, two apiece were charged to two of the Buffs most experienced players, King and Namon Wright. Of the four players who were charged with a team-leading three turnovers, three were King, Wright, and Collier. With Tory Miller-Stewart sidelined by a broken foot, that trio represents the Buffs three most experienced players.
"For us to get where we want to get this year, we've got a lot of work to do," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "That's what these games are for, to understand that and figure that out. I wish we could have given (Xavier) a better game."