CU men's basketball preview: Portland Pilots
TIPOFF: Wednesday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: Radio — 94.1 FM/850 AM; TV — Pac-12 Mountain.
RECORDS: Portland 5-3; CU 3-1.
COACHES: Portland — Terry Porter, 3rd season (26-47 at Portland and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (169-11, 225-177 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Portland — G Marcus Shaver, So., 15.5 ppg, 3.5 apg; F Josh McSwiggan, Jr., 15.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg; G Jojo Walker, So., 13.0 ppg, 3.8 apg; Colorado — G Namon Wright, Sr., 13.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 12.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg; G McKinley Wright, So., 12.3 ppg, 5.5 apg.
NOTES: This contest marks the completion of a two-for-one series with Portland. The Buffs won 85-63 at home on Nov. 20, 2015 and 76-63 at Portland two years ago...CU leading rebounder Tyler Bey (7.5 rpg) is expected to return after exiting Saturday's win at Air Force in the first half due to a shoulder injury...CU freshmen Daylen Kountz and Eli Parquet have combined to shoot 13-for-22 from the field and 5-for-9 on 3-pointers...The Wrights, Namon and McKinley, have combined to go 28-for-33 at the free throw line (.848)...The Buffs' homestand continues Saturday against Colorado State (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
At the very least, it could be an entertaining one at the CU Events Center Wednesday night.
Through four games the Colorado men's basketball team has shown flashes of an explosive offensive potential. When the Buffaloes begin a four-game homestand Wednesday against Portland, the Buffs will welcome a foe that also has enjoyed a couple high-scoring affairs in the early weeks of the season.
It will be another reasonable early test for CU's defense, and with four games at home over the next two weeks before a lengthy hiatus in the home schedule, the Buffs are hoping the run at the CU Events Center proves to be a springboard in honing a more consistent game.
"Transition defense is going to be critical. These guys can really get out and run," Boyle said. "They've got big guys that can run and are good athletes. They've got two guards who can really, really shoot it and score in transition. So our transition defense will be tested.
"The thing that Portland does that I see on film is that they're very explosive offensively. They will take deep threes. They'll shoot the ball when they feel like they're open. So it's our job to make them feel like they're not open."
Since Saturday's victory against an Air Force squad struggling offensively, Boyle has attempted to prepare his club for a Portland squad unlikely to flinch on the road. Two weeks ago, the Pilots trailed by 18 points with under 18 minutes remaining at Cal State Northridge before rallying for an 80-77 win.
The Pilots are averaging 77.2 points per game and are shooting .367 from 3-point range. The Buffs also have displayed a penchant for posting big offensive numbers, albeit in three fewer games. The 93-56 win at Air Force marked the second time the Buffs have topped 90 points in four games.
Yet also like Portland, which has averaged 68.3 points in its three loses, the Buffs also have shown they can be slowed down, as was the case in last week's 70-64 loss at San Diego.
"They want to play fast, so we have to take advantage of them playing fast and play fast ourselves," senior guard Namon Wright said. "They don't care if they make or miss. They're going to get their shots up. At the same time, we still need to be aggressive and attack them offensively."
Following the completion of the homestand on Dec. 8 against Illinois-Chicago, the Buffs will not play at home again until their first Pac-12 Conference home date on Jan. 10 against Washington State. In between, the Buffs will visit New Mexico and compete in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii before opening Pac-12 play with a two-game swing through Arizona.
Asked what needs to improve over the next four home games before hitting the road for a month, Boyle cited a need for the Buffs' defense to get tougher while touching on a recurring theme with CU's average of 14.5 turnovers per game.
"I think understanding the importance of every possession. That's what we have to get better at," Boyle said. "We're going to have 80-something possessions against Portland, give or take. We have to value every one of those. Offensively, we have to value them. Which means we have to take better care of the ball. Our turnover numbers have to come down. We know that.
"And defensively, we have to become that team that if you score on us, you've earned your bucket. We don't give up anything easy."