Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Colorado

Colorado’s offense

Possibly very good, thanks to McKinley Wright IV

While Colorado’s been known in Carl’s Jr. territory for their hard-nosed defense under Boyle, offense has been much harder to come by. After a random 9th-place finish his first season at Colorado in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency rankings, his squads have finished 100th or lower in seven of the last nine seasons. Generally, you can expect a Colorado squad to be pretty good at offensive rebounding and getting to the line, but being very good at shooting from pretty much anywhere on the floor has never appeared to be the emphasis.

Of course, that changed very mildly last year. Colorado posted its highest eFG% (50.5%, 129th) under Boyle since his first season. (This coincided with Colorado’s #35 ranking being its highest in KenPom history, i.e. since 1997. Certainly, it helps when you have Tyler Bey on the squad, Colorado’s best two-point shooter and an early second-round draft pick. Bey is gone, but a good chunk of Colorado’s talent from last year’s offense returns, including primary offensive driver McKinley Wright IV:

Through all of two games, Wright has been plain fantastic: 44 points on 28 shots, 11 assists, and a perfect 7-for-7 at the rim, which is incredibly rare for any player at his height (6 feet flat). Some of those numbers will regress, obviously, but Colorado is content to run the offense through him. Wright will be the ball-handler in most of Colorado’s ball-screen sets, which take up a large chunk of their half-court time:

Wright is happy to do a lot of things in these sets: take the ball to the rim, use his screener for the eventual shot, or use his own gravity to help draw attention away from a shooter. Because Wright has been so efficient thus far and, essentially, is the Colorado offense, he proved very difficult to guard for both South Dakota and Kansas State. While the Buffs’ three-point shooting was more efficient against South Dakota, Kansas State had a whale of a time figuring out how to handle both Wright and not leave open shooters.

Lots of ball screens with a healthy amount of post play

On a non-player-centralized front, we’ve already covered that Colorado runs a lot of plays through top-of-the-key ball-screens. Generally, Wright will be the ball-handler on these, and Colorado hasn’t shown much of a propensity to feed the ball to the screener/roll-man in these sets. This could be because they’ve simply had a lot of trouble converting good opportunities:

Or it could be the small sample size. Who truly knows in the big dumb COVID season?

Anyway, Colorado also likes to feed the ball through the post and has done so for years under Boyle. (This helps explain the high offensive rebounding numbers; the hard-nosed driving guards plus this can explain the generally high number of free throws they get. It’s like Mountain Cincinnati, kinda.) This can result in a good move to the basket:

Or it can result in the post player receiving enough attention to pass it out to an open shooter. Colorado’s key is having big men that are at least somewhat skilled in passing; ones that can both work for their own shot and create shots for others. Sound familiar to your faves in orange?

Like everyone in college basketball, they can get behind threes, transition, and threes in transition

Over the last few years, Colorado has generally stayed at the national average in terms of how many threes they take per game, but they look to have an above-average number of solid shooting options this year. Against both South Dakota and Kansas State, they worked to get their shooters open in a variety of ways, including this nice off-screen set for Wright:

Colorado doesn’t love to push the ball, necessarily, but like any team, they’re capable of a good push in transition. Tennessee’s got to be prepared to get back and defend both outside and inside. We covered Wright’s propensity to get inside the arc earlier, but Colorado nailed South Dakota well in transition on this play:

Obviously, Tennessee’s got more talent than South Dakota and Kansas State might have combined, but it’s their first game after the longest offseason any of these players and coaches have ever had. I’m willing to be a little loose in my expectations here, especially with Colorado getting to add their second-best player out of nowhere, but…yeah. Still gotta cover these guys well.

New feature: the topline scout

Because this hasn’t been as player-focused as usual, it’s worth noting that most players have been covered in some form in the GIFs above, but here’s a quick scout on every likely rotation player for Colorado:

  • McKinley Wright IV (PG). 22 PPG, 4 RPG, 5.5 APG. Colorado’s highest-usage player on offense; drives the offense both from a scoring and passing standpoint. Buffs will get him ball in ball-screen sets; happy to drive to basket, pull up for 14-footer, or pass out for three.
  • Eli Parquet (SG). Nearly invisible at times; has used anywhere from 9-13% of possessions when on the court. Strongly prefers threes (32.4% for career).
  • D’Shawn Schwartz (SF). First game of 2020-21. Doesn’t really create his own shot for the most part; probably Colorado’s most prolific three-point shooter.
  • Either Evan Battey or Maddox Daniels (PF). Daniels was the starter when Schwartz was out, so who knows. Battey is much more of a post-first guy who is an excellent rebounder; Daniels has taken nearly 75% of his shots from three in college. Offense seems better with Daniels on the court, but Battey is a year older and could present matchup problems for Tennessee’s less-thick frontcourt. (Battey is 262 pounds and 6’8”.) Battey is the better defender of the two.
  • Dallas Walton (center). Seven-foot senior who occasionally steps out for a three but won’t do it with a ton of frequency. Played 15 and 14 minutes in first two games. Was horrid two-point shooter first two years.
  • Jeriah Horne. Another option at the 4. Horne is a transfer from Tulsa. Career 35.4% three-point shooter that has excellent shot selection.
  • Jabari Walker. SAMAKI WALKER’S SON. Also, looks like he might be the single best rebounder on the team as a freshman, so that’s cool. Has been fantastic at drawing fouls (7.7 per 40) in a variety of sets. Seems like they’re just getting him up to speed before (likely) eventually getting him a starting role.
  • Keeshawn Barthelemy. Handful of a name, but actually Colorado’s #2 per-game scorer through two games despite playing all of 21 minutes. This is because he played one game against South Dakota (11 pts on 8 shots) before getting COVID.

NEXT PAGE: Colorado plays defense, too

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