The goal, of course, is the championship game, and a possible date with Colorado’s biggest nonconference basketball rival.
But first, the Buffaloes have work to do in order to get there.
On Friday night, the Buffaloes begin play at the Paradise Jam in the US Virgin Islands, facing Southern Illinois in the last of four first-round games. It will be the Buffs’ second appearance in the Paradise Jam but their first visit to the Virgin Islands, as the 2017 tournament, which CU won, was moved to Liberty University after the islands suffered severe hurricane damage late that summer.
Most appealing to Buffs fans likely is the allure of a possible third-game matchup against Colorado State, which plays in the opening game on Friday at 11 a.m. MT against Bradley. Several scenarios would allow those stars to align, but the one fans of both sides want is a matchup in the championship game on Monday night in a showdown that would bolster the winner’s eventual NCAA Tournament credentials.
For the Buffs, the tournament will be their first official test away from home, although they were slow to get into the rhythm of things in a one-sided preseason exhibition loss at Nebraska. CU hasn’t been as bad out of the gate through the first three regular season games, but the Buffs haven’t been great immediately after tipoff, either.
CU will need to put together better starts as the competition grows, and while the Buffs have been impressively aggressive on offense, they also have gotten the benefit of whistles to the tune of 100 free throw attempts. Heading into the Virgin Islands trip, no team in the nation that had played only three games has shot more free throws than the Buffs. Head coach Tad Boyle has warned his team that pace won’t continue.
“We also know as we go on the road, go away from home, maybe that whistle isn’t quite as friendly,” Boyle said. “As you get into Pac-12, things seem to even out a little bit more. So we can’t rely on the free throw line. We still want to put foul pressure on the other team and get to the free throw line. But we’re probably not going to get there as often as we’re getting there now. We always want to play inside-out. We always want to be in attack mode.”
Southern Illinois put together a 7-0 start last year but went 5-14 rest of way. The Salukis have split their first two games this season, dropping a three-point decision on opening night at Arkansas-Little Rock, before winning handily at home last week against Austin Peay.
SIU will be the more rested team, as the Buffs have played twice since the Salukis topped Austin Peay. And, after shooting .510 through its first two games, SIU also might pose a test for a CU defense that didn’t start playing to its expected standards until the final 25 minutes of Monday’s win against Maine.
“I think it starts with our defensive intensity. Just taking it possession by possession,” CU point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy said. “When you don’t play at home sometimes you get rattled and stuff like that. But if you take it possession by possession and increase our defensive intensity from the beginning, it shouldn’t be a problem. I’m really focusing in on Southern Illinois on Friday, and we’ll take it from there.”
Southern Illinois Salukis vs. CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Friday, 6 p.m. MT, UVI Sports & Fitness Center, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN3; Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Southern Illinois 1-1; Colorado 3-0.
COACHES: Southern Illinois — Bryan Mullins, 3rd season (29-31 overall and at SIU). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (236-143, 292-209 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Southern Illinois — G Lance Jones, Jr., 21.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, .625 field goal percentage; F Marcus Domask, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg; G Steven Verplancken, Jr., 12.5 ppg, .600 field goal percentage. Colorado — G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 20.3 ppg, 3.3 apg, 7-for-10 3-pointers; F Jabari Walker, So., 15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 13-for-16 FG; G Elijah Parquet, Sr., 11.0 ppg, 2.3 apg.
NOTES: The winner will get Saturday off and play the winner between Northeastern and Duquesne on Sunday. The losers from those two games meet on Saturday, then have Sunday off…SIU’s Marcus Domask was the 2020 Missouri Conference Freshman of the Year and Newcomer of the Year but missed the final 16 games last season due to an injury…CU and the Salukis have met just once, with SIU posting a 94-92 win in Boulder on March 16, 2000 in the first round of the NIT…After shooting just .139 (5-for-36) on 3-pointers in two preseason games, the Buffs have completely reversed their long-range marksmanship through three regular season games, bringing a .460 3-point mark (23-for-50) into the Paradise Jam.