Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Alissa Noe at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @crazysportgirl1.
Now that we’re two weeks into the 2015-16 college basketball season, the University of Colorado Buffaloes stand at 5-1 overall and have won five straight since their opening loss against No. 7 Iowa State. But still the question lingers: Is this team actually better than it was last year?
In the grand scheme of things, that can be a difficult question to answer right now.
The Buffs faced a daunting first opponent in Iowa State on Nov. 13, and it didn’t help that they had to play their Big-12 foes on a neutral court in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is just a short drive from the Iowa State in Ames. Neutral court or not, it was basically a home game for the Cyclones.
Naturally, many people may have assumed that the Colorado would lose in remarkable fashion based on the way things panned out for them last year. But that was not the case by any means.
Early into the second half against the Cyclones, the Buffs went down by as much as 14 points, 43-29. Last season, Colorado would have been beaten right then and there. They wouldn’t have had the fight left in them to try to chip away at the lead and, if anything, give their top-10 opponents a bit of a scare.
But that’s exactly what they did this year.
This team was able to overcome the mentality of “We’re down, we’re done,” and fight their way back into that game. Even though they didn’t end up winning, they were able to keep the Cyclones on their toes until the end of the game. After they went down by 14 points, they immediately responded with an 11-0 run to close the gap to three points. Last year’s team would not have been able to do that. They ended up losing by only six points, 68-62.
In their next game, the Buffs traveled to a very hostile Auburn environment. Last year’s 90-59 Colorado home win over Auburn was a fluke. Perhaps Auburn played poorly because the game started at 11 p.m. in Boulder and at 12 a.m. on the time zone they’re used to, but whatever the case, that game did not reflect the strength of Auburn basketball last year.
During the Auburn game this year on Nov. 17, the Buffs had to battle back from a double-digit deficit midway through the game before they managed to get back on top and run away with the victory. With four minutes left in the first half, they went down by 15 points, 44-29, before showing their true grit and getting down and dirty. By halftime, they had closed the gap to just four points, 46-42, and ended up taking over midway through the second half as they sailed to victory, 91-84.
Since then, the Buffs haven’t played any teams to really boast about: Portland, Nebraska-Omaha, Air Force and Northern Colorado. The Buffs won all of those games, as expected, and although there were many great points to take out of those matchups, the Buffs still did struggle in some aspects.
Ball-handling, for one, still plagues the Buffaloes team, perhaps even more than it did last year. During the 2014-15 season, the black and golden boys averaged 13.2 turnovers per game, and it seems that nothing has changed much in the seven months they had in between seasons to work out the kinks.
So far this season, six games in, the Buffs have committed exactly 100 turnovers. That means they’re giving the ball to the other team 16.7 times more than they should each game. Whether this is due to a lack of attention to detail or butterfingers, one thing is certain: If the Buffaloes want to improve their stock before conference play in January, they’ll need to fix this glaring aspect of their game as soon as humanly possible.
On the brighter side of things, this team has significantly improved upon its three-point shooting from previous seasons. Under the guidance of guard Askia Booker last year, the Buffs only shot 33.5 percent from beyond the arc, and the 179 of 535 three-point attempts they missed really messed with their momentum during games.
It appears that their downtown talent was redshirting last year, because sophomore guard George King and junior guard Josh Fortune have risen from the depths of the bench after their year off to help give the Buffs significant firepower from deep.
In just six short games, the Buffs are shooting 42.3 percent from the three-point range this year, and the grand majority of those threes have come from the two men the Buffaloes did not get the chance to utilize during the season prior.
King has already contributed 14 of 29 shot attempts, while Fortune has added his own offensive flair with 12 treys in 28 tries. Junior guard/forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher and freshman guard Thomas Akyazili have no doubt supported the cause with 12 combined treys of their own.
As far as the overall offense goes, the team has improved as a whole. As of right now, the Buffs have three players averaging double-digit scoring led by King (17.3 points per game), senior forward Josh Scott (16.8 ppg) and Fortune (10.7 ppg). But Colorado won’t always have to rely on its starters to get the ball rolling, so to speak, because the team can count on at least seven of its bench players (who are scoring from a 1.0 to a 5.7 average) to help out the team in that aspect.
So yes, this team has shown significant improvement from last season. Although some aspects of their game remain to be cultivated, the Buffs are a better team. That being said, one also must consider that, aside from their first two games, they haven’t played against much notable competition to date.
We’ll just have to wait and see how they’ll fare once conference play rolls around come January.