Arizona State travels to Colorado tonight to take on the No. 24 ranked Buffaloes at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
In anticipation of the matchup, we at House of Sparky decided to do a little scouting, and caught up with our friends over at the Ralphie Report to get the inside perspective on this Colorado team.
Here is our conversation with Ralphie Report men’s basketball writer Jack Barsch.
Jack Johnson: After being stuck in 8 to 10 conference win purgatory for the past several seasons, the Buffaloes sit fourth in the PAC-12 with 13 conference wins this year. What has made this year different?
Jack Barsch: In a way, the last three years were always building up to this successful season. The lessons that McKinley Wright learned in those past three seasons allowed he and the team to reach new heights and beat some really good teams. This team, which is loaded with veteran talent that has played together, upped their offensive game to a top-25 level, while keeping the signature Tad Boyle defensive intensity. Frankly, the Buffs should be sitting at 15 conference wins, but brain-dead games against Cal and Washington blemishing their record. Overall, Wright’s leadership and the offensive efficiency of the rest of the supporting cast has made for a really good Buffaloes team.
JJ: It’s been almost a decade since Colorado made a notable run in the NCAA Tournament. Will this be the season that changes?
JJ: God, I hope so. This year should see the most favorable NCAA tournament seeding in a long time for the Buffs, and this team is built for March. Armed with a senior guard and record-breaking accuracy from the free throw line, this Buffs team should be able to get past the first game, at the very least.
JJ: What are the biggest strengths of this Colorado team? Biggest weaknesses?
JB: If we look at the advanced stats from Kenpom, this Buffs team is best at offensive efficiency and maximizing each possession. This is COMPLETELY out of character for a Tad Boyle team, but that shift has been welcome in a year where empty gyms can lead to off nights. This team, led by McKinley Wright and Jeriah Horne, make each possession count and can generally get buckets when they need them. Past the statistics, the Buffs have a resolve that hasn’t existed prior. They do a better job getting back into games after slumps, fighting through a bad reffing night, and winning on the road. CU has played significantly more road games than home games, and that grit has helped this year.
This team’s weakness can be it’s lack of focus at times. The Buffs have dropped some complete head-scratchers this year. Some highlights include – a home game against Utah where the Buffs were up by 19 at one point, a game against Washington where the Buffs shot 1-18 on three-pointers, and a loss against Cal where the team was stuck in mud. If they are not going up against the best of the best, they can be lackadaisical at times. That has shifted in recent weeks, however.
JJ: The Buffs are within reach of the all-time NCAA record for team free-throw percentage? If you can believe it, Harvard currently holds the record. Why are the Buffs so good at the line?
JB: Good question! Nothing has been changed or altered, compared to prior years. They do not practice free throws in team practice sessions, as Tad Boyle holds that free throws are all about individual focus and effort. So, who knows? It certainly helps that the people taking the most free throws for the Buffs are really good at knocking them down. Every big man in the rotation shoots above 80% this year from the FT line, and McKinley Wright is pretty accurate from there as well. Really, it’s just the overall skill level of this team. There are no bad shooters here.
JJ: How would you characterize the impact of McKinley Wright at Colorado? And how would you compare him and Remy Martin. Where does this ‘rivalry’ between Buffs fans and Martin stem from?
JB: Well, your first question is easy. McKinley Wright is one of the best players in Colorado history and belongs on the Mount Rushmore. CU doesn’t have a rich basketball history, so the flashes of brilliance you see are few and far between. Wright has made a huge mark on the program, and frankly the conference. He remains the only player with 1,700 points, 600 rebounds, and 600 assists in Pac-12 history. He is one of 6 players all-time with those numbers. McKinley Wright fits this program perfectly while elevating it, and I’ll always remember his games.
Like most Buff fans, I don’t actually dislike Remy Martin, just the attention he got nationally relative to McKinley Wright. Unlike most Buff fans, I LOVE Martin. He is one of my favorite players to watch. His crazy hair, his erratic movements, his weird shotput 3 that ALWAYS goes in, Martin is an exciting player to watch. He and Wright both affect the games in different ways, but they are always the most important players on their teams.