On one hand, a slower week ahead of the regular-season finale means the reeling Colorado men’s basketball team has fewer opportunities to work themselves out of the funk that has marred their play during the stretch run.
Yet the Buffaloes had ample opportunity to make a run at the Pac-12 Conference championship, as well as cementing a spot in the league’s top four, which comes with a first round bye for the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas. Those opportunities are gone. So if there is a silver lining to having an entire work week to prepare for the regular-season finale on Saturday at Utah (12:30 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Networks), it’s that the Buffs will have several days to focus inward.
Buffs fans hope it’s exactly the sort of remedy the team needs to erase the sting of a three-game losing streak that has changed CU from a league title contender to a squad that needs a win plus help around the league just to land one of those top four spots.
“We need as much time as we can get right now. We need to figure this stuff out and get back to who we were,” CU point guard McKinley Wright IV said. “I was talking to the guys, there’s a lot of people laughing at us right now. People are happy we’re losing. We thought we were a good team early on and here we are, we’ve lost three in a row, the tables have turned. We’ve got to figure something out.”
As expected, the Buffs dropped out of this week’s AP Top 25 on Monday, ending a program record-tying eight consecutive weeks in the national poll. Despite the recent swoon, the Buffs remain in solid position for an NCAA Tournament berth, beginning Monday at No. 22 in the NET rankings and No. 29 at KenPom.com.
“My challenge is to make sure this team understands how good we can be and to play to its potential,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “When your team is not playing up to its potential as a coach, I take it personally. It’s my job. Whether it’s the individual player, or whether it’s the group in general. We’ve got some individual guys that are really struggling right now.”
After an off day Monday, the Buffs will get back to work Tuesday attempting to regain the defensive spark that powered the team through the bulk of the season, but that has abandoned the squad over the past two weeks. CU’s past four opponents have each shot at least 45 percent, with UCLA and Cal going a combined 17-for-40 (.475) from 3-point range. On Sunday, the Cardinal exposed the Buffs inside, slicing through CU’s defense at will to post a 56-34 advantage on points in the paint.
Perhaps the Buffs can be reassured by a small piece of program history under Boyle. When the Buffs won four games in four days to claim the 2012 Pac-12 tournament championship, they entered the tournament with losses in three of the final four regular season games. That run included a 14-point loss at Oregon State in the finale that could have improved the Buffs’ seeding.
Obviously the Buffs would prefer to end the slide at Utah and pack some momentum for the trip to Las Vegas. Yet after Boyle lamented the poor practices leading up to the winless run through the Bay Area, how the Buffs perform Tuesday through Friday might be as critical as their performance in Salt Lake City.
“We have to pull out some old-school practices like we had at the start of the season and get our identity back,” CU forward Evan Battey said. “We used to enjoy guarding. We used to enjoy defense. That was our identity. That was our deal. But somehow it’s left us and I don’t know why.”