A cursory look at the Pac-12 men’s basketball statistics reveals one thing about Colorado: You can’t judge an Askia Booker-led team by its covers.
Judging by their stats, you’d expect the Buffaloes to be in the middle of the Pac, maybe average at best. Scoring offense? Fifth, at 78.1 points per game. Scoring defense? Sixth, at 67.7 points per game. Scoring margin is middling (fifth) free-throw percentage is mediocre (sixth), field goal percentage is substandard (eighth) and three-point field-goal percentage is worse (10th).
Among the conference’s 21 major statististical categories, Colorado ranks in the top 3 in just rebounding defense (third), rebounding margin (third), offensive rebounds (second), defensive rebounding percentage (second) and offensive rebounding percentage (second).
Other than cleaning the glass like a teenage busboy — and with only one player, No. 2 Josh Scott, ranked in the top 19 in the conference in boards — the Buffaloes are nothing too great to look at.
So how are they so darn good?
This is, after all, the team that dealt Oregon its first loss of the season — 100-91 Sunday, behind Booker’s 27 points — the Buffs’ fifth quality win of the season. Colorado has the highest RPI in the conference, according to RealTimeRPI.com — sixth in the nation — along with the fourth-toughest strength of schedule.
Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, whose team served as a buffer for the Buffs before facing Oregon, has some theories.
“Their home-court advantage is big,” said Robinson, whose team lost to Colorado, 64-58, in its conference season opener. “Playing at altitude with a great crowd is a huge advantage. Secondly, they’ve done a really good job replacing Andre Roberson’s scoring and rebounding as a team. Thirdly, their backcourt — I’ve only played against two teams, but Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker are two of best guys in the conference. Ability to score and make plays for others — they’re just very tough to compete against.”
Booker, named the Pac-12 Player of the Week after beating Oregon, is a clutch junior guard whose three-pointer at the buzzer upset Kansas 75-72 on Dec. 7.
Last year, the Buffaloes were good, 21-12 at season’s end but with a meandering 10-8 conference record. And that was with eventual NBA first-round pick Roberson, who averaged 10.9 points and 11.2 rebounds on his way to conference defensive player of the year honors. Colorado clenched up in tight games, most notably a brutal 90-54 loss at then-No. 9 Kansas, and eventually fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Illinois.
This season, the Buffaloes rocked the Jayhawks and have succumbed only to Baylor and Oklahoma State (22-3 combined record) by a total of 13 points.
And then came the surprising win over then-unbeaten Oregon. Colorado shot 56 percent and 42 percent from three-point range, out-rebounded the Ducks 39-33 and withstood 24 points from Mike Moser and 16 turnovers to win.
“At Colorado, we scored baskets, but they scored baskets,” Oregon coach Dana Altman said, matter-of-factly. “We just got beat. Our team is making progress, but in October when we started, I said defensively we had a long way to go, and we haven’t made the strides that we’ve made in other areas.”
Defense is the biggest area in which CU has improved, as it outscored the nation’s top scoring offense by seven in the second half.
“I thought our guys had a sense of urgency in terms of getting the three-point shooter and guarding the ball,” Buffs coach Tad Boyle said. “Those are the two things that we just hammered home when we prepared for Oregon. You have to guard the ball because they’re going to put their heads down and drive it, and you have to get the three-point shooters and make them make tough shots.”
It sure worked on Sunday, as it has most of the year, statistics be damned.
Maybe the Buffaloes are easier to read than you’d expect.