The Colorado Buffaloes will stampede into Salt Lake City on Saturday in hopes of spoiling the Runnin’ Utes home finale and senior night at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.
Prior to the 5p.m. tip-off, Utah basketball will honor seniors Gabe Bealer, Justin Bibbins, David Collette, Jake Connor, and Tyler Rawson.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at CU before the pivotal late-season showdown. The Buffaloes will head into Saturday following a senior night victory of their own, 80-76 over the UCLA Bruins on Sunday.
CU is led by small forward and 2016 Pac-12 Most Improved Player, George King, who is their vocal leader and the longest tenured Buffalo. The fifth-year senior notches 13 points-per-game in addition to reeling in 8 rebounds a night, good enough for fourth in the Pac-12. At 6-foot-6, King plays a little bigger than he actually is, using his strength to go to battle much taller defenders under the basket. He’s versatile, too, stepping out and hitting from distance at a 39 percent clip and doing it enough to be in the conferences top-15 in three pointers made at 56.
In the backcourt for Colorado is freshman McKinley Wright IV, who has quite literally exploded onto the scene for CU after an offseason that saw the departure of both of their starting guards from 2016-17. The uber-athletic Wright makes up for his lack of size(he’s generously listed at 6’) with blinding quickness and an ability to get into the lane at will. His jump shot is still developing, but it’s good enough to warrant just enough respect to keep defenders on their heels. Similar to Ute Justin Bibbins, Wright stuffs the stat sheet and controls the pace of play – making for a fun matchup between the two undersized floor generals.
The only other double-digit scorer for CU is Mizzou transfer Namon Wright, who’s scored 20 twice this season and has a career-high of 28 while still in the SEC(2/24/15 vs. Florida). Namon is a microwave type player, heating up in a hurry and scoring in bunches. His instant offense proves to be vital for CU because they often have spurts where they struggle to score.
Beyond those three guys, it’s offense-by-committee for CU, with six different players scoring between five and eight points-per-game; Dominique Collier, Troy Miller-Stewart, Lucas Siewart, Tyler Bey, Dallas Walton and Deleon Brown.
Colorado scores just 72 points-per-contest, the second lowest in the Pac-12(Cal, 69ppg), so they are forced to rely on their team defense to stay in games. CU often sits back in an extended 2-3 zone to slow the game down and force their opponents into taking contested jumpshots – resulting in the one of the best field goal defenses(42.1%) in the conference, second to only Utah(42%).
The Utes, who are second in the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting, appear to matchup very favorably against Colorado. CU got the best of Utah earlier this season, though, ending the Utes dominance in the series back on Feb. 2. Prior to the Buffs 67-55 win, Utah had beaten them seven straight times. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to 2012 for the last time CU beat Utah in the Huntsman Center – a place where the Utes have been solid this season(10-3). The Buffaloes have struggled on the road this year, dropping their last four away from Boulder and sitting at 1-9 on the year.
Utah will attempt to use their home court advantage and keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive on Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 5p.m. and pregame coverage with Bill Riley (@espn700bill) on ESPN700 begins at 4.
For more updates and coverage, follow Porter Larsen on twitter @Larsen_ESPN.