Throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule, the Colorado men's basketball team has proven to be very good on offense.

What the No. 20 Buffaloes (11-2) haven't done is prove they can be consistent on defense.

As they begin Pac-12 Conference play on Thursday at home against Oregon State (8-4), the Buffs know they need to find that consistency if they want to compete for the conference crown.

"I've been hammering these guys on our defense," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "Our field goal percentage defense is not where it needs to be."

Coming into this week, the Buffs ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in field-goal percentage defense and 144th nationally, allowing opponents to hit 42.5 percent of their shots. Among the teams in the Associated Top 25 rankings, CU is 23rd in that category. Only No. 7 Duke (44.6) and No. 18 Memphis (43.5) have given up a higher percentage.

Colorado head coach Tad Boyle encourages  his players on Nov. 10 in Boulder. Boyle has the Buffs focused on defense as they head into Pac-12 play.
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle encourages his players on Nov. 10 in Boulder. Boyle has the Buffs focused on defense as they head into Pac-12 play. (Cliff Grassmick/Daily Camera )

Because teams play such vastly different schedules, Boyle said he doesn't put a lot of emphasis on those numbers, but added, "The bottom line is there are eight teams (in the Pac-12) that have a better defense than we do right now."

RealTimeRPI.com ranks CU's schedule to this point as the sixth-toughest in the country. That's probably contributed to the field goal percentage being high. But, freshman Wesley Gordon said, the Buffs are glad they played a tough schedule.

"If we played easy teams, it would have just gone by without exposing our weakness," Gordon said. "Now we know what our weakness is, and that's our half-court defense, so we've got to get better in that."

CU has given up too many layups and, especially early in the season, too many open looks from beyond the 3-point arc. The main issue with the defense, however, is in the minds of the players.

"It's not fundamental," Boyle said. "These guys are capable. They've proven it in the past.

"We have a few guys that are overly concerned with not fouling and not being aggressive, or maybe dialing into their man and not being a team defender."

Also, the Buffs have yet to gain the mentality needed to consistently succeed on defense.

"I think we have some guys who are very talented offensively and sometimes that's where their self identity lies," Boyle said. "It can't be that way."

The Buffs believe they can change their mentality, though, as the conference season begins.

"It starts in practice," sophomore Xavier Talton said. "Defense isn't anything you have to be athletic for, really. It's just want to. You have to want to be good on defense. I believe we can (do it). It's going to take everybody buying into it.

"I think we've gotten better as the season has gone along, but we still have a long way to go. That's going to be a key factor for us going into Pac-12 play."

Adjusting to the rules

The new rule in college basketball and limits hand-checking on defense has impacted CU -- and every other team -- on defense. Boyle said that some of his players are still adjusting to that rule.

"You have to be conscious of your feet defensively, and not your hands," he said. "Some guys have done a better job of it than others."

Boyle won't use that as an excuse, though.

"Everybody's had to deal with it," he said. "I look at Arizona. Arizona has played a good schedule like we have. Their field goal percentage defense is (37.2) percent. Ours is 42.5. They've figured it out and we haven't."

Arizona, ranked No. 1 in the AP and USA Today Coaches' polls, has the 12th-best field goal percentage defense in the country.