Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post
CU men’s basketball preview: Indiana State Sycamores
TIPOFF: Saturday, 1 p.m. MT, Sheriff Center, Honolulu, Hawaii.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM.
RECORDS: Indiana State 6-3; Colorado 8-1.
COACHES: Indiana State — Greg Lansing, 9th season (139-129 at ISU and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 9th season (174-111, 230-177 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Indiana State — G Jordan Barnes, Jr., 21.0 ppg, 4.4 apg; G Tyreke Key, So., 17.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg; F Devin Thomas, Sr., 6.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright, So., 14.8 ppg, 6.0 apg; F Tyler Bey, So., 12.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg; F Lucas Siewert, Jr., 12.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg.
NOTES: This is the first round of the Diamond Head Classic, and the Buffs will play either UNLV or host Hawaii on Sunday…The other four teams in the field are TCU, Bucknell, Rhode Island and Charlotte…CU hasn’t played in Hawaii since competing in the Diamond Head Classic during the 2014-15 season. The Buffs won the opening game against DePaul before losing consecutive contests against George Washington and Hawaii…The Buffs have never played Indiana State…CU’s Wright still is struggling from 3-point range (5-for-21) but he is shooting 50 percent overall and is averaging 7.3 assists over the past three games…Wright is tied for 20th-place with Lynn Baker (1963-67)) among CU’s all-time assists leaders with 229. Next on the list is Howard Frier with 231.
The path toward a potential return to the NCAA Tournament for the Colorado men’s basketball team has been mapped out by head coach Tad Boyle in three distinct sections.
Or, rather, three short mini-seasons.
The Buffaloes completed the first of those sections with a riveting comeback win last week in The Pit at New Mexico. The third season doesn’t begin until Jan. 3, when the Buffs visit defending Pac-12 Conference champion Arizona in the league opener.
The second season admittedly is a short one, as the Buffs look to capture a tournament crown when they begin play in the Diamond Head Classic against Indiana State Saturday in Hawaii.
“There’s three parts of the regular season,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “The (nonconference) is over with. Now we’ve got a chance to compete for a championship in Hawaii and then the conference play after that. Season one is over. We’re 8-1. Season two starts in Hawaii on the 22nd and it will be over the 25th.
“Hopefully we can go over there and play well. But to win that thing you’ve got to beat Indiana State first. That’s what our focus is on.”
The Buffs won a tournament championship last year when they won three games in three days at the Paradise Jam in Virginia, but a CU team that wasn’t tested too often during nonconference play should have an opportunity to measure itself against a little bit better competition in Hawaii.
If CU can get past the Sycamores, it will play either UNLV, which is coming off a buzzer-beating win against Brigham Young, or Hawaii, which will be playing at home. Perhaps the biggest big-picture impact for the Buffs, beyond getting three wins away from home, would be a possible championship matchup against TCU. The Horned Frogs enter the tournament with an 8-1 record, topping USC by 35 points in Los Angeles two weeks ago and routing Indiana State by 20 points in a pre-tournament matchup on Sunday.
“We’ve got to stick to the game plan,” CU point guard McKinley Wright said. “We know their one of the best 3-point percentage teams in the (nation). We’ve got to do a great job of running them off the line, and just make sure we’re locking them down.”
After the longest layoff between games the Buffs will endure this season, Boyle has been quick to reiterate the one-game-at-a-time approach with his club. Indiana State is a sharp-shooting squad that enters the tournament shooting .445 from 3-point range, a mark that ranked a narrow second in the nation at the beginning of the week behind Creighton’s .448.
Making life uncomfortable along the 3-point arc for Sycamores guards Jordan Barnes (21.0 ppg, .500 on 3-pointers) and Tyreke Key (17.9 ppg, .619 on 3-pointers) likely will highlight the Buffs’ game plan. That hasn’t been a strength of the Buffs lately, as their past four opponents have shot .345 from 3-point range.
“Guarding the 3-point line and their two guards who are averaging 40 points between them, will be critical,” Boyle said. “That’s going to be a challenge for us. We’re really going to be tested defensively. They’re a quality team.”