Men's basketball: KJ Simpson setting tone at both ends of floor for CU Buffs

Nov. 16—Like many of his teammates, KJ Simpson is off to a torrid start to the 2023-24 season.

And, also like his teammates, Simpson's list of goals for his junior year begins with competing for a Pac-12 Conference championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Still, Simpson owns up to one individual accolade he has his sights set upon. And despite some lofty early shooting numbers, Simpson eventually wants to be recognized for his work on the other end of the floor.

Although the 25th-ranked Buffs are off to a sizzling start offensively, at some point getting stops will make the difference between a win and a loss, especially with a more demanding turn of the schedule on the horizon. Now in his second season as a full-time starter, Simpson attempted to set a defensive tone throughout the preseason by becoming a more problematic 94-foot defender.

"I'm trying to get first team all-defense. That's my first goal, individual-wise," Simpson said. "If I become a better defender, it'll just help put pressure on opposing teams' offense. Not getting them set, speeding them up, stuff like that.

"I've done a great job of watching more film. I've talked to (former Buff) Eli Parquet a little bit about his defensive techniques among the years. I've been in the weight room, I'm stronger now. I'm more conditioned; I really prioritized that. First team all-defense is my goal, but I'm just trying to play defense. I know defense leads to offense. As long as we keep guarding the way we do as a team, it'll be hard to beat us."

Simpson and the Buffs got back to work on Thursday following an off day after improving to 3-0 with a dominant 106-79 win against Milwaukee. The Buffs are set to travel on Friday to Orlando, where they are planning to practice at the facility of the Orlando Magic, which is coached by former CU player Jamahl Mosley. The Buffs will then travel to Daytona Beach, where they take on Richmond on Monday in the Sunshine Slam (6 p.m. MT, CBS Sports Network).

Simpson took the lead on another offensive explosion by the Buffs against Milwaukee, going 7-for-9 with 23 points and six assists. Through three games, Simpson has put up big-time offensive numbers — 20-for-31 overall, 6-for-12 on 3-pointers, 11-for-12 on free throws, 17 assists with only two turnovers — but he also has a team-leading six steals.

One first-half sequence against Milwaukee exemplified the sort of harassing, on-the-ball defender Simpson is trying to become. Simpson fronted the ball up the floor, pushing the Panthers toward the wing before tipping a pass intended for the top of the key. Milwaukee retained possession, but by the time the Panthers truly set up their offense, the shot clock already was at about 18 seconds.

"KJ's always been a good defender, but I think he's more dialed-in this year," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "I think he's taking more pride in it. But I've never worried about KJ defensively. We want all our guards picking up (early) especially at home where we're trying to wear teams out. The more pressure they can put on the ball, the less we have to guard in the half-court. If we can have them use five or six or seven seconds just to get across half-court, then they've got 22 seconds to run their offense rather than 27. (Simpson) has done a good job of that."