Buffs must improve defense in Big 12 play

Buffs must improve defense in Big 12 play

Colorado has been buoyed by the surprising play of Levi Knutson this season, but it needs to raise its level of play in several areas as Big 12 play begins this week.

GETTING INSIDEM

Breakthroughs have been few for Colorado under first-year coach Tad Boyle.

The Buffaloes figured to be able to score and they have, averaging 83.2 points to rank in the top 10 nationally during a 9-4 start.

But progress on defense and the backboards, two areas of concern throughout last season, have been spotty despite constant reminders from Boyle that Colorado must improve in both areas.

A signature win could help in that regard. Although Indiana is not the Indiana of old, a 78-69 victory against the Hoosiers in the Las Vegas Classic was a nice lift, especially for a team that was humbled fewer than 24 hours earlier by New Mexico.

"It was a great experience to play against two teams that are usually ranked," sophomore guard Alec Burks told the Boulder Camera. "It will get our confidence going into league play. I feel like we can play with anybody. We played together (against Indiana), and it was a great win."

The Buffs were outrebounded 32-30 by the Hoosiers, but compared to the 35-23 disadvantage they gave up against New Mexico, it was good just to even things out on the boards. Indiana also shot 40.7 percent after New Mexico connected at 61.2 percent.

Maybe Colorado got a taste for the kind of gritty work it needs once Big 12 play begins. Through December, eight league rivals were holding opponents to worse than 40 percent shooting on average. In addition, the plus-2.4 rebounding margin posted by the Buffs ranked 10th in the league.

NOTES, QUOTES

--With one more nonconference home date remaining on Jan. 5 against Western New Mexico, Colorado carried a string of 10 consecutive wins in the Coors Events Center. The Buffs have won 20 straight at home against nonconference opponents.

--The Boulder Camera reported that rumors circulated prior to the Dec. 29 win against Maryland-Eastern Shore that Michael Jordan was in the stands scouting Buffs G Alec Burks. There was no such sighting, however, among the sparse gathering at Coors Events Center. Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, is godfather to G Cory Higgins, whose father Rod is a close friend, as well as the Bobcats general manager.

BY THE NUMBERS:10 -- The position for G Cory Higgins on the all-time Colorado list for field goals (521) following the win against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to get better at everything. Coach (Tad Boyle) went over the numbers with us. Offensively, we're pretty much top three in every category in the Big 12. Defensively, we're sitting at the bottom. We have to work on gearing down on defense." -- Colorado G Marcus Relphorde to the Boulder Camera.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAMES:

--vs. Western New Mexico, Jan. 5.

KEY MATCHUPS: In all honesty the game enables first-year coach Tad Boyle one more look at various combinations in what should be a mismatch, as well as Colorado's 11th consecutive home victory.

--vs. Missouri, Jan. 8.

KEY MATCHUPS: An up-tempo shootout is possible, though guards such as Marcus Denmon, Mike Dixon and Kim English will make ball handling difficult for the Buffs and PG Nate Tomlinson. Getting the ball into frontcourt will be key. It is where G Alec Burks and G Cory Higgins can create matchup problems.

FUTURES MARKET: Colorado needs a fast start in the Big 12 to truly gain confidence in the system implemented by first-year coach Tad Boyle. The problem is underneath, where the Buffs are outsized and could absolutely wilt against bigger Big 12 opponents adept at crashing the glass. F Andre Roberson was recruited to Colorado as a big guard, but the 6-7, 190-pound freshman is showing some aggressiveness underneath. He could get pushed around, however, by stronger Big 12 front-liners.

PLAYER NOTES

--Junior G Nate Tomlinson is playing with a sore hip, which limited him to just 19 minutes against Maryland-Eastern Shore, though he still recorded six assists.

--Senior G Marcus Relphorde left the Maryland-Eastern Shore game in the first minute after taking an elbow to his nose, but he returned and scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

--Junior F Austin Dufault led Colorado with a season-high 18 points on 7-for-9 shooting against Maryland-Eastern Shore, and also grabbed seven rebounds.

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