The Colorado men’s basketball team is a poor passing team.
That certainly isn’t a revelation to anyone who has followed the Buffaloes through the teasing highs and frustrating lows of a wildly inconsistent season. Yet correcting the problem isn’t as simple as endeavoring into extended chest-passing drills at practice.
Part of the problem, indeed, is physical. That’s exemplified by the plentiful passes that end up bouncing off shins and knees. But part of the problem also is mental, an aspect of the questionable decision-making that also has led to a glut of blocked shots against the Buffs.
As the Buffs got back to work on Monday in hopes of ending a slide of five losses in six games at home on Thursday against California (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network), eradicating the team’s mental miscues was priority number one.
“We started practice (Monday) with 20 minutes of passing drills,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We designed strictly passing drills for our guys to try to get better. At the end of the day, passing is much like turnovers or free throw shooting. It’s a very individual thing. You have to have a sense of individual pride that your passes are not going to be deflected. Part of it’s catching, part of it’s passing. Mostly passing for us.”
A Buffs team that has struggled to score consistently also has been further stymied by its own miscues. Giving away points has been a hurdle CU has not been able to afford while battling through so many close games. The average margin of defeat during the past six losses has been just seven points, and that includes a 14-point loss at then-No. 7 UCLA in which CU led by nine points midway through the second half.
Those mental errors not only have led to a Pac-12-most 14.2 turnovers per game, but also has led the Buffs to getting an average of 4.6 shots blocked per game. That mark also leads the Pac-12 and is the most in 13 seasons under Boyle. The 2015-16 team, which had an average of 4.5 shots blocked per game, is the only other CU squad during Boyle’s tenure that finished over the 3.9 mark.
After getting a total of 15 shots blocked during last week’s losses at Oregon (eight blocks) and Oregon State (seven) Boyle talked at length about how getting all those shots thrown back stem from the same sort of poor decision-making that has led to the turnover problems. CU has had an average of 5.6 of its shots blocked in 12 conference games.
“We’ve got to be disciplined. That’s the bottom line,” Boyle said. “Here was my message to our team (Monday). It’s not basketball IQ. It’s discipline, decision-making, and just knowing what your assignment is. What we have to get rid of is the mental mistakes. Physical mistakes are going to happen. Mental mistakes, in January by good, solid, disciplined, well-coached teams don’t happen. We have too many mental mistakes.”
On Monday, the Buffs had slipped to No. 70 in the NET rankings and No. 60 at KenPom.com. The odds of landing even an NIT berth have grown longer with each and every head-scratching defeat, and the final eight games of the regular season include two dates against Utah, plus one apiece against No. 6 Arizona (on the road) and No. 9 UCLA.
This week, however, the Buffs have more favorable matchups at home against the Bay Area teams. Yet as Cal showed the Buffs a month ago in Berkeley, even the teams at the lowest rungs in the conference are quite capable of defeating the Buffs when their mental mistakes pile up.
“It’s been a huge thing for us, just making simpler plays,” CU wing Nique Clifford said. “We’re biting ourselves in the foot by not taking care of the ball or taking bad shots. If we can eliminate some of those easy mistakes, we’d have that many more possessions to get a good shot for the team.”