CU men's basketball preview: Iowa State
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (16-18 in 2015-16) vs. No. 7 Iowa State (25-9).
GAME TIME: Friday, 3 p.m. MST, at Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, S.D.
BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; TV — ESPN2.
COACHES: Colorado: Tad Boyle, sixth year (100-68; 164-134 overall); Iowa State: Steve Prohm, first year (104-29 overall).
LEADERS (top returning from 2014-15): Colorado — Scoring: F Josh Scott, Sr., 14.5 ppg; Rebounding: Scott, 8.4 rpg; Assists: G Xavier Talton, Sr., 1.6 apg. Iowa State — Scoring: F Georges Niang, Sr., 15.3 ppg; Rebounding: F Jameel McKay, Sr., 7.6 rpg; Assists: G Monte Morris, Sr., 5.2 apg.
NOTABLE: With Mark Johnson remaining in Colorado to call the CU-USC football game Friday night, Jerry Schemmel will handle play-by-play duties for 760 AM ... Former rivals in the Big Eight/Big 12 Conference, this will be the 148th meeting between CU and the Cyclones. Iowa State leads the series 77-70 ... The Buffs have gone 4-1 in season openers under Boyle ... CU hopes to snap an eight-game losing streak against ranked opponents.
After nine months of promises to make things right within the program, five weeks of sweating through preseason practices, and a pair of closed exhibitions against teams with legitimate NCAA tournament aspirations, the time has finally arrived.
And never has an opening opponent been a more challenging one for the University of Colorado men's basketball team.
At long last, the Buffaloes tip off the 2015-16 season with a date against No. 7 Iowa State on Friday in an intriguing battle in Sioux Falls, S.D. (3 p.m. MST, ESPN2). The Cyclones are the highest-ranked opponent the Buffs have ever opened a season against, and it is only the second time CU has opened against a ranked opponent.
The Buffs lost their opener two seasons ago to a 25th-ranked Baylor squad.
"I think we've been excited since the (preseason) started, but now there's a little anticipation, a little anxiety, just waiting for the tipoff," senior forward Josh Scott said. "But I think we're ready. We're going there to win. I don't think any other result besides winning is good enough for us. It's going to be a good experience to go up against a good team to start off the season. But at the same time, our mission is to win. We're going up there with that goal in mind."
Beyond the frontcourt duo of Scott and Wesley Gordon — who also is aiming to improve his offensive production — a number of question marks surround the Buffs. Dom Collier has been handed the keys to the offense at the point guard spot, yet it remains to be seen if the sophomore is up to the challenge.
Josh Fortune, set to play his first game in two seasons after transferring from Providence, looks to provide a consistent scoring punch from long range that often was lacking during last year's 16-18 campaign. Boyle is optimistic the Buffs will see significant improvement from role players such as Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Tory Miller, while European newcomers Kenan Guzonjic and Thomas Akyazili have shown marked improvement throughout the preseason.
Of course, all that preseason conjecture and optimism will mean nothing once the lights are finally turned on Friday afternoon. While CU brings a number of variables into the opener, the Buffs face an Iowa State squad that bowed out in its opening game of the NCAA tournament last season and welcomes a new coach in former Murray State leader Steve Prohm.
"For your first game, you've got to be prepared for everything, and that's the one thing that's hard about playing against a team with a first-year coach," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "They know a lot more about us than we know about them. But they haven't seen Josh Fortune or George King. They haven't seen Thomas or Kenan. So there's still some unknowns for us too."
Prohm's team decimated Division II Grand Valley State in an exhibition last weekend and features a preseason All-America selection in senior forward Georges Niang. Given the team's 25-9 record last year and wealth of talent, the situation Prohm inherits is one most coaches only dream about.
"From an offensive standpoint, we're doing some things they've done in the past, and then some things I've done in the past as well," Prohm said. "It's just a little mixture of everything. We're a work in progress now, but we have older guys, experienced guys, and that's helped a lot."