After being projected by the media to finish 10th in its first season in the Pac-12, Colorado finds itself in a three-way tie for third place with Arizona and Washington and only a game and a half back of California in the standings.
Tad Boyle is in his second year as head coach of the Buffaloes and has guided his team to a 12-6 record, including a 4-2 mark in Pac-12 play. The Coors Event Center has been kind to his team as all four of its conference wins and 11 of its 12 victories for the season have come on the team's home floor.
The Buffaloes narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament last year and they appear to be motivated to right that wrong as well as prove they belong in the new Pac-12. These two teams last met in Boulder over 28 years ago, as UA secured a 91-76 victory over CU on December 3, 1973.
The big advantage Colorado will enjoy on Saturday is in the rebounding department, as it outrebounds its opponents by an average of 6.1 boards per game. That's due in large part to the nation's seventh best rebounder, 6-foot-7, 210-pound sophomore Andre Roberson, who leads the conference with 11.3 rebounds per contest and is 3.1 boards ahead of Aziz N'Diaye, the Pac-12's second leading rebounder.
Roberson is also the team's leader in minutes and is second in scoring with an average of 11.6 points in 29.5 minutes per game. While he is capable of knocking down an open three, most of his work is done around the rim, where he converts on 48.6 percent of his shot attempts. He also has 11 double-doubles this year and in six Pac-12 games is averaging 11.3 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Solomon Hill is third in the Pac-12 in rebounding, but he'll have quite a task on his hands keeping Roberson off the glass. He averages 3.6 offensive boards per game, and it would not be a surprise to see him surpass his season average on Saturday.
Sharing the frontcourt with Roberson is 6-foot-9, 225-pound senior Austin Dufault, who is tied with Roberson for second on the team in scoring with 11.6 points in 26.4 minutes per outing. It's not surprising that he's also the team's second best rebounder with an average of 4.7 boards per game.
Dufault's numbers have been even better in conference play, as he's averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds against Pac-12 foes and has scored in double-digits in his last five outings. He's also one of the best three-point shooters on the team, as he connects on 45.2 percent of his tries from beyond the arc and shoots 51 percent overall from the field.
Like Jesse Perry, Dufault is a bit undersized but in this game will be the biggest man on the court. It will be interesting to see if Colorado chooses to ride his hot hand and try to give him the ball on the block against the smaller Perry for high percentage looks.
Life is easy for Roberson and Dufault with the quality of guards that Colorado has to feed them the ball and help them get open looks. The team's point guard is 6-foot-3.5, 185-pound senior Nate Tomlinson, who is CU's best assist man with 3.5 per game. He won't contribute much in the way of scoring as evidenced by his 5.9 points per contest, but Tomlinson will protect the ball and limit his turnovers, also evidenced by his 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The player that has benefited most from Tomlinson's ability to distribute is 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior Carlon Brown, who at 13.1 points per game is the team's leading scorer. In 28.1 minutes per game, Brown is shooting 37.8 percent from three-point range and 48.8 percent overall, and is one of two CU players to start all 18 games.
Brown has not struggled in the slightest in the transition from the Big-12 to the Pac-12, as he's averaging 13.3 points in six conference games, including a 28-point outburst versus Washington State. Kyle Fogg has done well against the team's top scorer in the past few games, and he'll need to keep that going against Brown to prevent him from having a big game in the scoring department.
Freshman Spencer Dinwiddie has done well in his transition to the college and is the team's fourth player in double-digit scoring with an average of 10.7 points per game. The 6-foot-5, 190-pound guard, who came to CU as a three-star prospect and ranked as the nation's 26th best point guard, is the team's leading three-point shooter at 45.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Dinwiddie has started all 18 of his games as a Buffalo and is the team's third leading rebounder at 3.8 boards per contest. In Pac-12 play, the freshman is averaging 10.3 points per outing and is likely on his way to All Pac-12 Freshman Team honors if he continues at his current rate.
Boyle has another quality freshman playing as his sixth man this season in 6-foot-1, 160-pound guard Askia Booker, who is the team's fifth leading scorer at 8.2 points per game in 21.4 minutes off the bench. In Pac-12 play, the former two-star prospect is scoring 7.8 points per contest and he comes in to the game provide a spark for CU from his reserve role.
Aside from Booker, Colorado has three reserves that average more than 11.5 minutes per game, but they aren't major contributors to the stat sheet. Shane Harris-Tunks, a 6-foot-11, 250-pound sophomore, averages 2.9 points and 2.3 rebounds in his 13.2 minutes per contest in relief of Dufault and Roberson.
With his size, 6-foot-5, 215-pound sophomore Jeremy Adams gets playing time both as a guard and a forward. He's appeared in 13 games this season, making one start, and is averaging 3.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per outing. With sophomore Shannon Sharpe (no relation to Broncos' tight end) out for the season with injury, Adams has really seen his role increase and it will likely continue to do so if he plays well.
Arizona has struggled on the road this season, as four of its six losses have come away from the friendly confines of McKale Center. Colorado is a tough team to beat at home and it will be eager to prove itself against the conference's defending champions in their first meeting as Pac-12 foes.
UA will have to limit turnovers, continue to play tight defense, and focus its game plan on crashing the boards and preventing the Buffaloes from second chance opportunities. It won't be easy, but Arizona does matchup well with Colorado from a personnel standpoint. The ability of Hill to keep Roberson off the glass will be a determining factor in the outcome of Saturday's game.