Nearing midpoint of Pac-12 slate, numbers lagging for CU basketball

Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Tyler Bey, center, and the Colorado men’s basketball team fall in the bottom half of several Pac-12 statistical categories as the midway point of the 2018-19 season approaches this weekend.

After the Colorado men’s basketball team lost last weekend at Stanford, squandering a 12-point lead late in the first half in a lost opportunity that would have moved the Buffaloes to a manageable 3-4 in the league before heading home, head coach Tad Boyle lamented the lack of having anything his squad can hang its collective hats on.

As the Buffs near the midpoint of the Pac-12 Conference schedule, the numbers certainly bear that out.

This week’s games against Oregon State on Thursday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network) and Oregon on Saturday (7:30, Pac-12 Network) will nudge the Buffs to the midpoint of the conference schedule. If they want to improve postseason prospects that are dimming a little more with each passing week, the Buffs have any number of areas in which they can potentially gain ground.

In league games offensively, the Buffs rank 11th in scoring (68.3), 10th in field goal percentage (.428), and 11th in 3-point percentage (.314). While CU ranks fourth in free throw percentage (.711), only three teams have attempted fewer free throws in league games than the 121 attempted by the Buffs. CU also ranks 10th in assists per game in the Pac-12 (13.0)

The numbers aren’t much better on the other side of the ball, which perhaps is even more alarming for a program that has always focused on defense and rebounding during Boyle’s nine-year tenure. While CU’s defensive scoring average of 70.9 ranks fourth in league games, the Buffs nonetheless rank ninth in defensive field goal percentage (.471), eighth in forced turnovers (12.3), and eighth in steals per game (7.0). In fact, last week at Cal the Buffs went without a steal for the first time in 38 years.

Compounding this array of shortcomings is that Boyle has few options at his disposal in terms of adjusting his lineup or rotation. Two regulars, Dallas Walton (knee) and Namon Wright (foot) are out for the season due to injuries. Junior guard Deleon Brown has been sidelined since late December after being ruled academically ineligible. And point guard McKinley Wright is playing with an ailing left shoulder that Boyle confirmed will require offseason surgery. CU’s floor general could be one awkward landing or a hard jolt in the lane away from missing time.

The dwindled rotation is forcing the Buffs to lean heavily on the starting five of McKinley Wright, Shane Gatling, Tyler Bey, Lucas Siewert, and D’Shawn Schwartz. All of those players except Schwartz played at least 30 minutes Saturday at Stanford, and Schwartz missed joining that club by fewer than two minutes. The bench essentially has been reduced to redshirt forward Evan Battey and freshman guard Daylen Kountz.

Improving all those subpar numbers in Pac-12 play will be the burden of the very same rotation that compiled them in the first place.

“We’ve got some guys who are learning on the fly and they’re growing up on the job. Literally,” Boyle said. “We want it to be a straight upward trend but the reality is most kids are going to plateau, or maybe take a step back for a game. The consistency factor that our team is struggling with is a result of guys being thrust into roles that maybe they weren’t expected to have. They’re learning on the fly.”

Pat Rooney: or