Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
While plenty of games remain to be played, at some point Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle will look back and analyze what went wrong for his club during the first half of the 2016-17 Pac-12 Conference schedule.
Boyle probably will note rather quickly the statistical data that proves he never is just gushing with hot air when he preaches the all-important tenets of defense and rebounding.
With five games remaining in the regular season, the Buffaloes are shooting and scoring at a far more efficient level than what they produced last year during the Pac-12 schedule. However, Boyle and his staff need look no further than the team’s lagging rebounding and defensive numbers to see why the Buffs are taking a 5-8 mark into Thursday’s game at Oregon State despite winning five of their past six games.
“They don’t lie,” Boyle said of his team’s conference stats. “Check the last five or six games combined versus the first seven games. You’ll see a big difference there, too.”
The Buffs have scored at least 80 points in seven of their past 10 games and are averaging 77.5 in Pac-12 play, a marked improvement from last year’s league scoring average of 70.6. While CU’s free throw and 3-point percentages in league play are down slightly from a year ago, its overall field goal percentage of .460 in Pac-12 games is significantly better than last year’s .402 mark.
However, a look at the defensive and rebounding totals show why CU is 5-8 instead of 8-5, as the Buffs were last year through 13 Pac-12 games. CU’s Pac-12 rebounding margin is down to plus-4.4 from plus-6.6 a year ago. The Buffs are allowing 5.3 more points per game and their Pac-12 foes are connecting at a far more efficient rate than last year.
Heading into Thursday’s battle at Oregon State the Buffs’ overall defensive field goal percentage in league play is at .461, with a .394 defensive mark on 3-pointers. Last year, those numbers were .424 and .349, respectively. Those numbers alone tell the tale of why the Buffs have been forced to battle their way back from an 0-7 start within the league.
“I don’t think I’ve ever started 0-7 in anything, even in flag football when I was little,” junior forward Tory Miller said. “It’s new to a lot of us. Coach Boyle says it’s not new to him, but it’s new to all of us. I think if we lock into the defensive part, the offense will continue to take care of itself.”
For a coach who has preached defense and rebounding since his arrival in Boulder seven years ago, the numbers Boyle’s Buffs have produced during Pac-12 play brings further credence to those beliefs. With three of CU’s final five regular-season games slated against teams among the bottom four in scoring during league play (Stanford, Cal, Oregon State) continuing to play improved defense alongside the squad’s streaking offense will be critical to continuing CU’s stretch-run hot streak.
“It sounds repetitive, but everything we do relies on defense,” senior Xavier Johnson said. “If we keep playing defense we’ll be fine, really.”