Ask those around the Colorado men's basketball team who will lead the defensive charge during the 2018-19 season, and Tyler Bey likely will be a unanimous answer.

Yet it wasn't the 6-foot-7 sophomore small forward who garnered the most outside recognition for his defensive skills a year ago. That honor went to classmate, teammate and roommate McKinley Wright.

That dynamic set off a friendly debate, and eventually a friendly wager, between Bey and Wright. The duo won't reveal the stakes, but the race is on between the sophomores as to who will receive more votes for the Pac-12 Conference's All-Defensive team at the season's end.

"I know how good of a defender Tyler can be, how long and athletic he is, and I was honorable mention last year," Wright said. "We were joking around at home one day about who was a better defender. We just came up with a bet of who can finish higher, and be on that first team or even Defensive Player of the Year."

With a rotation heavy on freshmen a year ago, the Buffs actually fared well defensively. In Pac-12 games, CU led the way with a defensive field goal percentage of .422, though a big part of that equation — the shot-altering ability of 7-foot center Dallas Walton — will be sidelined the entire 2018-19 season due to a torn knee ligament.


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In league games the Buffs also finished in a tie for sixth in 3-point defensive field goal percentage (.357) and fifth in scoring defense (71.7). Even with two key figures from that performance, Walton and 2018 NBA second-round pick George King, out of the mix, Wright is confident the Buffs will be an improved team defensively.

He even has taken his leadership duties as the point guard to the defensive end, instituting a punitive measure for those who allow their man to grab an offensive rebound.

"It's going to be a big improvement over last year," Wright said. "I think all of our guys are dialed-in to becoming better defenders, to hanging our hat on defense. It's something we talk about whenever we scrimmage. I always tell whoever's on my team, 'Let's guard.' I make everybody do 25 push-ups if your man gets an offensive rebound. I did that after the SMU scrimmage. A couple guys stayed after the game to do their 25 push-ups, and I did mine too."

In addition to his spot on the 2018 Pac-12 All-Freshman team, Wright also received honorable mention accolades for the league's All-Defensive team. Wright led the Buffs with 31 steals last year, yet he believes his defensive improvement this season will be marked in more subtle nuances, such as not fouling on the ball or getting a better feel for his opponents via film study.

"Growing up, throughout high school and middle school, I always wanted to guard the best player," Wright said. "I've always taken pride in my defense. It's something I hang my hat on every night. It felt good to be a freshman on that honorable mention list and I'm striving for more this year."

The Buffs will host their annual Black-and-Gold intra-squad scrimmage Saturday morning at 9:45 a.m. ahead of the football game against Oregon State. Admission is free and the doors to the CU Events Center open at 9 a.m.

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07