Last Friday night, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team left the CU Events Center with a 79-75 victory over the University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks.
The Buffs moved to 2-0 on the year after winning a game that was not reasonably decided until there was less than 10 seconds to play in the second half.
The Mavs, who play in the NCAA Division I Summit League, in which the University of Denver, among others, competes, put up a strong fight and gave the Buffaloes a run for their money throughout the game.
So how should players, fans and coaches alike view the win? Was the Buffaloes’ effort and play to be criticized, perhaps falling under the roof of a game that should have been won by a larger margin? Or are there inherent positives to take from CU’s win?
It’s low hanging fruit to blast the Buffs for not winning by more. Rather, admirers of CU’s men’s basketball program should be satisfied with the Buffs’ win over the Mavericks for a number of reasons.
First and foremost is the fact that Colorado won. It can be a slippery slope to set the bar of expectations low and resort to the “a win is a win” mentality, no matter how sloppy a victory is, but the bottom line is that the Buffaloes found a way to win a close non-conference game – something the team has had much difficulty doing in the immediate past.
“Non-conference [games are] everything,” said assistant coach Kim English. “It’s the most important season, because it’s the season we’re in. Our losses last year to San Diego, to Iowa [and] to Colorado State very well may have kept us out of the [NCAA] Tournament. We put supreme importance on these [non-conference] games.”
Colorado’s inability to defeat CSU in recent years is a whole other can of worms, yet to English’s point, in the last two seasons, the Buffs have dropped three non-conference games in each year that they very well should have won.
In 2016-17, Colorado would have had an impressive 22-12 season if not for losses to Notre Dame, Colorado State and Brigham Young.
Though the Buffs didn’t score 100 points vs. Omaha as they did versus Drake in the season opener, in the Buffaloes’ first close game in which they weren’t particularly playing at their best, Colorado buckled down and emerged victorious in a borderline must-win game.
The Buffs were sloppy at times versus Omaha – the team’s 16 turnovers is testament enough of that. Sophomore guard McKinley Wright IV was a rare perpetrator; he committed five turnovers in the win, many of which came early in the first half.
Wright IV did drop 13 points for Colorado, but ultimately, it was an off night for him. With their floor general not having his best game, the Buffaloes were forced to find other ways to score and eventually win.
Wright IV’s teammates rose to the challenge. Four of them posted points in the double digits, propelling the team throughout the game.
Sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey was particularly electric. He led the team in minutes on the floor with just under 30, snagged a team-high seven rebounds, and was tied for the team lead in points lead with junior forward Lucas Siewert, as they both scored 16.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement,” said head coach Tad Boyle. “[That] game was good for us. It was good to be in this kind of game where we were tested down the stretch and [forced] to make some tough shots. We found a way to win.”
On Tuesday evening, on the road at San Diego, the Buffaloes will face another test. Last season, the Buffs lost to the Toreros in Boulder, 69-59 on Dec. 12.
The loss was deflating. Leading up to that game, Colorado had been beaten badly by Colorado State and stomped on by the then-No. 13 Xavier Musketeers. Ultimately, Colorado ended the final six games of its non-conference schedule with a 2-4 record.
It should be noted that CU barely squeaked out a win versus South Dakota State – it took two overtime periods for the Buffs to emerge victorious, as they won by a final score of 112-103.
The long story short is that this game versus the Toreros will be a good contest for players and head coach Tad Boyle to gauge the increase in maturity and overall talent of this Colorado Buffaloes team from last year to now.
IN last year’s game, the Buffs were ice cold in the shooting department, making under 26 percent of their total shots in the loss.
So are the young Buffaloes ready to shed their skins of recent years and avoid losing perceivably winnable non-conference games? That question will be best answered at the end of December, when CU gears up to begin Pac-12 Conference games.
However, on Tuesday night, versus a team that dealt them a major blow in 2017-18, Colorado can continue to prove that this season will have a different feel.
The Buffs and Toreros tip off at 8 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.