As of Feb. 1, 2023, the Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team sits at 12-11 overall and is currently ninth in the Pac-12 with a 4-8 record in conference games. With eight games left in their season, chances of making the NCAA tournament are slim, and even a bid in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) is still far from certain.
Before the season, the Buffaloes looked like a team that could upset any opponent on any given night. After losing to Grambling State in their second game of the season, Colorado knocked off top-25-ranked Tennessee and Texas A&M in swift fashion. Yet despite being able to match up against the best teams in the country, the Buffs also struggled significantly against the lower-ranked teams they played, losing to Grambling State, UMass and Boise State, all games where a win was expected.
After their 68-55 loss to Boise State on Nov. 20, at the time sitting 3-3, the Buffs needed to ramp up their gameplay extensively and be ready for whatever their opponents would throw their way.
“We keep going back and forth, win-loss, win-loss,” junior forward Nique Clifford said. “We’ve just got to get back to the drawing board when we get back. [We have to] practice hard and just figure out what we’re doing wrong.”
Their loss against Boise State seemed to be a turning point for Colorado, as the Buffs then went on to win eight of their next 11 games. They averaged 73 points per game during that span, many of which came from the Buffs’ best offensive players, K.J. Simpson and Tristan da Silva. During this stretch, both Simpson and da Silva received the Pac-12 player of the week award, averaging more than 23 points per game in back-to-back weeks.
Though many of their wins in this stretch game against smaller schools like North Alabama and Southern Utah, CU secured one of their most crucial wins of the season, destroying their rival Colorado State 93-65 on Dec. 8.
“I knew [this] would be a work in progress team, I knew there were going to be growing pains, I said that after some losses, I’ll say it after wins,” Head Coach Ted Boyle said after the game. “I just want our guys to play with energy and effort and play together on offense and share the ball. If we do that, we can beat anybody.”
By Jan. 8, the Colorado Buffaloes were sitting at 11-7 overall and 3-3 in Pac-12 play. Despite a back-and-forth start to the season, they were able to pull a string of wins together and began to look like they were pulling themselves together. After their 62-42 win against Oregon State on Jan. 7, the Buffs looked ahead to their most brutal stretch of the season.
“It gets harder and harder to win games as conference play goes on and you go on the road,” Boyle said. “You’re playing in the top half of the league. We’ve not been playing at the league’s top half. So we got that coming down the road.”
Since that win, however, Colorado has only won one of their last six games. They fell to USC and UCLA, as well as Washington and both of the Oregon schools, with their only win against Washington State narrowly edging them out, 58-55. After a great middle stretch of the season, Colorado seems to be slowly losing momentum, finding themselves on the losing end more often than not in the past few weeks. With a little more than a month left in the season, the 12-11 (4-8 in Pac-12) Buffaloes are looking to win as many of their remaining eight games as possible.
“I wish I had the answers right now,” Boyle said. “I don’t, but it’s my job. It’s nobody’s fault but mine, and I have to do a better job with this basketball team.”
Despite so far having what many people think of as an unsuccessful season in terms of the team’s win-loss record, there have been many positives to this young and relatively inexperienced Buffaloes team.
So far this year, K.J. Simpson and Tristan da Silva have played the best basketball of their collegiate careers. Through 23 games, Simpson is averaging 16.3 points per game, with da Silva right behind him at 16 per game, putting them both top-10 in Pac-12 scoring. Simpson averages the seventh most assists per game in the Pac-12 with 3.7, while Da Silva is also at the top of the Pac-12 charts in other categories, currently top-10 in field goals, three-pointers and steals. The duo has been the main anchor of the CU offense all season, combining for the second most points in the Pac-12 by two players on the same team.
The Buffs have also seen great success from their other players. Junior J’Vonne Hadley is third on the team in scoring with 8.3 points per game and is currently ranked #13 in rebounds per game in the Pac-12, averaging more than six per contest. Guards Julian Hammond, Jalen Gabbidon, and Javon Ruffin have been efficient coming off the bench, averaging more than five points and two rebounds a game.
Despite above-average bench production, turnovers and lack of consistency on the offensive end have handcuffed the Buffs from stringing together multiple wins. Achieving consistent performances has plagued Colorado, and these next eight games must be just that to make something happen in March.
The Colorado Buffaloes currently have eight games left on their schedule for the 2022-23 season and finish with the Pac-12 tournament beginning Mar. 8. Their next game is against the University of California, which will take place at the CU Events Center on Thursday, Feb. 2, at 8 p.m. MST. They will host Stanford in Boulder on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 5 p.m. MST.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Eli Gregorski at firstname.lastname@example.org.