CU men’s basketball preview: Xavier
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (7-1) at No. 13 Xavier Musketeers (8-1).
GAME TIME: Saturday, 3 p.m. MST, Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.
BROADCAST: TV — FOX Sports 1. Radio — 850 AM.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (156-96, 212-162 overall); Xavier — Chris Mack, 9th season (194-92 at Xavier and overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 15.6 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.9 rpg; Assists: Wright, 4.1 apg. Xavier — Scoring: G Trevon Bluiett, Sr., 21.3 ppg; Rebounding: F Tyrique Jones, So., 6.0 rpg; Assists: G Quentin Goodin, So., 6.3 apg.
NOTES: Last year’s 68-66 win by the Buffs at the Coors Events Center was just the second meeting between the programs. This will be CU’s first trip to Xavier, as the teams’ only other meeting was a Xavier win in Puerto Rico on Nov. 27, 1998…King was one of the stars of last year’s win against Xavier, posting a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. King needs five points to become the 34th CU player to record 1,000 points in his career…CU freshman point guard McKinley Wright has grabbed 18 rebounds in the past two games. Xavier has won 36 consecutive nonconference home games…CU returns home next week to host San Diego (Tuesday) and South Dakota State (Friday).
After showcasing his attacking skills during the Colorado Buffaloes’ championship run in the Paradise Jam three weeks ago in Virginia, Namon Wright believed the scouting report soon caught up with him.
Wright was one of the catalysts during the Buffs’ run of three wins in three days in Virginia, making a living on athletic drives to the hoop, but he struggled in two games after the Buffs returned home. Teams were inviting Wright to shoot from long range. Wright obliged, but was off his mark.
That changed Wednesday night. Despite getting replaced in the starting lineup, Wright more closely resembled the player who shined in Virginia as the Buffs topped New Mexico. The Buffs certainly would welcome a repeat performance by Wright on Saturday, as CU tackles its toughest challenge of the nonconference schedule, and perhaps the toughest of the year, at No. 13 Xavier.
“I’m just searching for what works best for me. Trying to find my spots and find my role on this team,” Wright said. “I’m a shooter, and in Virginia I didn’t feel like my jumper was going to go in beyond the three, and that’s really why I was so downhill. I also think after watching film, teams realized…in the game, they’re playing my drive. I’ve just got to hit shots and it will open up the whole game.”
Wright’s big weekend in Virginia began with the junior guard playing a huge role in the Buffs’ frantic comeback against Quinnipiac, finishing with 16 points. He went 5-for-9 from the field and 9-for-11 at the free throw line with 19 points against Drake, and while we went just 3-for-10 in the finale, Wright’s forays to the basket led to a 6-for-6 night at the free throw line. Wright finished with 13 points in the title game against Mercer.
Even with the rough night shooting against Mercer, Wright still finished 14-for-32 in the Paradise Jam while going 19-for-23 at the free throw line. It was a different story after the Buffs returned to Colorado. In a home win against Air Force and in Saturday’s loss at CSU, Wright went just 4-for-17. However it likely was the zero rebounds in 29 minutes at CSU from a player who led Missouri in rebounding at 5.2 per game two years ago that led to Wright assuming a bench role against New Mexico.
Wright certainly responded, going 4-for-7 with nine points and five rebounds in 17 minutes. Any upset bid by the Buffs on Saturday will be greatly bolstered by a similar effort from Wright.
“We’ve just got to play like we did (against New Mexico) and have a team effort,” Wright said. “We’ve all got to rebound again, so it will be a big test for us. It’s a huge opportunity.”
Wright and the Buffs’ other long-armed wing players will be challenged to slow Xavier’s explosive scorer, Trevon Bluiett. Bluiett scored 27 points against the Buffs last year in Xavier’s loss last year at the Coors Events Center, and he is averaging 21.3 points with a .536 mark from the field. Bluiett also is shooting an impressive .468 (29-for-62) on 3-pointers.
“They’ve got an unbelievable inside presence and depth,” CU coach Tad Boyle said. “They’ve got Bluiett, who is shooting the ball at an unbelievably high rate. And (J.P.) Macura, he’s tough and makes plays. They just can really shoot the ball. They’ve got great size, great shooting ability, and they’re tough to guard. And they’re really good defensively.
“You don’t get into the top 20 without having good players and being well-coached. They’re legit.”