Man-to-man that lets you get to the rim, but at a cost
As mentioned in the offensive section, this has traditionally been the much better half of the game for Boyle-era Colorado squads. While the offense has finished 100th or lower in KenPom in seven of the last nine seasons, the defense possesses six top-50 finishes during the same time frame and was nearly a top-30 outfit last year. Tyler Bey, again, helped them do some things they weren’t quite used to. Colorado tied its best 2PT% allowed ranking since 2004 and rarely fouled last season, two things pretty much every team would love to say about themselves.
This year, it’ll be different. Bey is gone, yes, but so are seniors Shane Gatling and Lucas Siewert. Both had very low foul numbers, and Siewert’s number of 2.9/40 minutes was especially impressive for a 6’10” guy that spent the majority of his time at center. Neither were standout defenders, but both were very useful pieces for Boyle. Of course, this defense should be a top-50 unit yet again, simply because Wright appears to be the best defender on the team:
Anyway, we should probably get into what Colorado actually runs. The Buffaloes are almost exclusively a man-to-man system. They aren’t terribly aggressive on the perimeter in terms of trying to force turnovers, and unlike a lot of coaches, Boyle is actually fine with opponents getting a big chunk of their shots within 5-6 feet of the rim. 46% of opponent attempts in 2019-20 were layup or dunk attempts, which isn’t great…but Colorado does a great job of defending these attempts without fouling.
Boyle will run out a few different ways of defending ball screens, and most of the time, he’ll hedge hard over the top with a quick double-team to force the ball out of the primary guard’s hands. As mentioned, this doesn’t result in many turnovers, and through two games, Colorado’s shown that it’s had just a bit of trouble closing out properly when ball-handlers take advantage of a 4-on-3 situation.
Still, this is a defense that’s very talented at making you either shoot over the top of them:
Along with that, Colorado’s traditionally held pretty low opponent assist rates under Boyle, meaning that opposing offenses often have to find ways to score one-on-one or in isolation without the help of a quick assist. Neither South Dakota nor Kansas State really found a way to exploit this:
Tennessee obviously has much more talented guards than either of these two teams, but again, it’s their first game all together. We’ll see how it goes to start.
They win the rebounding battle most nights
There aren’t many GIFs of this here because it isn’t exciting, but Colorado’s main speciality on defense aside from forcing tough twos and awkward shots is defensive rebounding. Boyle has placed a high emphasis on post play in the past on both ends, and in the last two seasons, Colorado’s ranked 15th and 27th in DREB% allowed. They’re a fantastic team at boxing out, and it’s proven difficult in the past to get easy points against their big men in the paint:
Most profiles of Boyle discuss how the two things he emphasizes most are winning the rebounding battle and holding opponents to a low FG%. Naturally, these are the two things Colorado is most proficient at. (I know that sounds incredibly obvious, but please bear with me. We’re wrapping up a football season where Tennessee was supposedly going to be one of the most fundamentally-sound teams in America, so it doesn’t often work out like it did here.)
Small sample size, but struggling to guard threes properly
Something I’ll be keeping an eye on in this one: how many open threes will Colorado allow? In the Kansas State game, the Buffs were utterly dominant in three of four phases of defense: forcing turnovers on 26% of possessions, only allowing three offensive rebounds, getting 11 more free throw attempts than the Wildcats. And yet: the game was within single digits for about 80% of its run because Colorado kept leaving Kansas State shooters wide-open from downtown, leading to a 10-of-26 (38.5%) outing.
Guarding three-point shooters hasn’t been something Colorado has really struggled with in the past, and I can’t imagine this little stretch of struggles will last long before Boyle finds a fix. Still: Tennessee should have opportunities in this early-season matchup to find a few open, high-quality looks from downtown for its fledgling shooters.
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