BuffZone writer Pat Rooney discusses three topics surrounding CU Buffs athletics as both Colorado basketball teams hit the road in hopes of shaking off tough home losses.
The Colorado men’s basketball team has been consistent in not leaning on injuries as the main culprit behind what is turning into a disappointing season. Yet the personnel issues have been a very real problem.
The “regular” starting lineup of KJ Simpson, Cody Williams, J’Vonne Hadley, Tristan da Silva and Eddie Lampkin Jr. started both games of CU’s weekend home split against that Arizona schools. That group has now started together just 13 times in 24 games. With Luke O’Brien’s absence for Thursday’s win against Arizona State, the Buffs have played 12 of 24 games without at least one of their top seven rotation players (the regular starting five, plus O’Brien and Julian Hammond III).
Certainly the injury issues can’t absolve the Buffaloes of their most glaring transgressions (see below). But they very much have stymied the group’s collective growth. Arizona, which has defeated the Buffs by an average of 33.5 points in the teams’ two meetings, has used the same starting lineup with the same first three players off the bench in all 24 games.
It’s difficult to quantify how many more wins would’ve happened with a more fluid and cohesive lineup, but the Buffs have lost their four non-Arizona Pac-12 road games (Arizona State, California, Washington State, Utah) by an average 5.3 points. I do believe this: I don’t think there’s a scenario where the road-averse Buffs sweep those games, but with more games together under their belt, I don’t think they go 0-4, either.
The personnel issues have been real. But the Buffs have nothing and no one else to blame but themselves for a handful of missed opportunities. Both can be true.
That doesn’t necessarily include the beat downs suffered against Arizona, or losing the rivalry battle against Colorado State in Fort Collins. None of those were damaging losses in the NCAA Tournament picture. Losing against Florida State and Cal, along with the 0-3 mark in close road games against ASU, Washington State and Utah, are entirely different matters.
Simpson has carried the Buffs for much of the season, but he and da Silva, CU’s second-leading scorer, went a combined 7-for-31 against FSU (1-for-10 on 3-pointers). The Seminoles own the lowest 3-point percentage within ACC play, but they managed to go 5-for-12 from long range after halftime against the Buffs.
Da Silva was in his second game back from a three-game injury absence when the Buffs lost at Cal, with Williams returning from a seven-game absence. Yet a little rust offers no excuse for blowing a 20-point lead late in the first half that remained a 19-point advantage for the Buffs less than 3 minutes into the second half. NCAA Tournament teams finish those games.
Pick up wins against FSU and Cal, and the Buffs would be in decent shape for an NCAA tourney berth right now even with the injury issues and road woes. Instead, CU needs to gain ground while playing four of its final seven regular season games on the road, and the only remaining chance at a Quad 1 win in the regular season likely will be a March 7 date at Oregon, as long as the Ducks (No. 61 in Monday’s NET rankings) remain higher than No. 75 in the NET.
The CU women’s team still is very much in the mix in the Pac-12 race. Yet any roadmap to a conference crown became markedly more difficult with Sunday’s loss against Oregon State.
Stanford still holds the top spot with an 11-2 league mark, followed by CU (10-3) and Oregon State (9-3) tied in the loss column, although the Beavers swept the regular season series from the Buffs. CU plays three of its final five regular season games on the road, with the next three in a row against top 25 teams beginning Friday at No. 22 Utah (6 p.m., Pac-12 Network). Stanford gets to play three straight very favorable games at home against Cal, Arizona and ASU before finishing the regular season at Oregon State and Oregon. Oregon State hosts the Los Angeles schools this week, then visits the Washington schools before finishing at home against Stanford and Cal.
CU owns the tiebreaker against Stanford after winning the teams’ only matchup, but OSU has the tiebreaker against the Buffs. A three-way tie will favor the winner of Stanford’s Feb. 29 visit to OSU. UCLA (8-4) and USC (7-4 before Monday’s game vs. Arizona) are in the thick of the race for first place, as well.