Due to factors such as inexperience and, lately, manpower issues, the Colorado men's basketball team is a squad that hits the floor with little margin for error.
Recently, the Buffaloes have erased that thin margin and taken themselves out of the fight within minutes after the opening tip.
Sunday's lopsided loss at Utah — a late Buffs rally turned what had been a 28-point Utes lead into a more palatable 78-69 final score — featured what merely was the latest in a series of game-opening foibles that have played a big part in CU's 1-4 start in Pac-12 Conference play.
"We start the game and they got 12 points, and they all were from 3-point shooters that we don't take the threes away from," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "The list goes on and it's really frustrating. Maybe it was my fault not letting the guys know the game started at 4 (o'clock) instead of 5:30. The guys thought it started at 5:30 the way they played. You can't spot a team 22 points and expect to win on the road."
Utah scored the game's first six points on Sunday and never looked back after reeling off a 12-0 run minutes later. Through five league games so far, such starts have become routine for the Buffs.
At Arizona State on Jan. 5, the Sun Devils scored the game's first eight points while CU missed its first eight shots and ultimately fell into a 13-2 hole. Playing at home against Washington on Jan. 12 didn't break the habit, as the Huskies raced to a game-opening 12-0 lead. Like Sunday's setback at Utah, the Buffs rallied against UW and got within a point with seven minutes remaining, but the big early deficit proved too large to overcome.
After Sunday's game Boyle noted the poor starts might force him to reevaluate his starting lineup, but unless the Buffs' injury situation improves there are limited options. Point guard McKinley Wright missed the first game of his career at Utah due to a left shoulder injury that might prove troublesome the entire season. Namon Wright returned to the rotation after missing three games due to a foot injury, but he was a non-factor while playing just six minutes.
Compounding the personnel issues is the loss of Deleon Brown to academic ineligibility and the recent penchant for foul trouble by several Buffs' regulars like forward Evan Battey, who has fouled out in each of the past two games.
"I have to maybe look at our starting lineup," Boyle said. "I look to the bench and bring Evan Battey off the bench, and he's got three fouls in the first half. So I don't know. We're a little bit hamstrung as far as options. Eli (Parquet) has had an opportunity to start twice. Daylen (Kountz) has had an opportunity, but there's not a lot of other options.
"Namon's foot, you never know how it's going to be day-to-day or game-to-game. Right now my options are a little bit limited when it comes to that, but maybe it's something we have to look at."
CU had an entire week to prepare for Utah and still came out flat. The Buffs will have a short turnaround before visiting Cal on Thursday night, but if ever there was an opportunity to correct the issue of bad starts along with the Buffs' general road woes, facing a Golden Bears team that is 0-6 in the Pac-12 could do the trick.
"We always have a problem coming out in the first half strong, ever since the first part of the season," CU guard Shane Gatling said. "We come out slow, not making shots, doing bad defensively, and then we always do better in the second half. We just have to do better in the first half and play like we do in the second half and we'll win games."