In late July, Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball coach Tad Boyle kept a promise he made to a handful of hard-working CU basketball alums by traveling to New York for the championship game of The Tournament.
In a winner-take-all format with $2 million on the line, Boyle could only sit in the stands and watch as the CU alums squandered a big early lead, and their big payoff, in a gym at Fordham University.
Disappointing as it was, Boyle learned something on that trip: The Buffs have far more support in the Big Apple than he previously believed.
CU will enjoy a rare opportunity to play in front of that transplanted fan base on Monday night, as the Buffs take on Notre Dame in the Legends Classic at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.
Depending on Monday's results, the Buffs will play either No. 23 Texas or Northwestern on the final day of the showcase Tuesday.
"It's a great opportunity on a national stage in the biggest city in the country," Boyle said. "Guess what? We have a great contingent of Buffs supporters on the east coast. That was apparent to me when I went out this summer for The Tournament. Our alumni got to it.
"Notre Dame has a great institution they represent. We have a great institution we represent. That's what's neat about these kind of games in November. Colorado playing Notre Dame is a marquee matchup. And win or lose, we've got another really good school whether it's Northwestern or Texas the next night."
The Fighting Irish will provide a far more telling early-season litmus test for the Buffs. A rough shooting night against Seattle notwithstanding, CU wasn't seriously tested while compiling a 3-0 mark against Sacramento State, Seattle, and Louisiana-Monroe during the first week of the season.
A Notre Dame team that has reached the Elite Eight each of the past two seasons is a different story. While the Irish have lost several key figures from that back-to-back run — including Jerian Grant, Demetrius Jackson Jr., and Zach Auguste — an ND offense averaging 88 points a game still will present a huge challenge to the defensive-minded Buffs.
"For them, their veterans have won a lot of games and played in big games," said CU director of player development Sean Kearney, who spent nine years as an associate head coach at Notre Dame under Mike Brey. "Heck, they just played at Barclay's six months ago in the NCAA Tournament. It's a very good team and it really is a compliment to Mike and his staff for the job they have done and continue to do."
Putting the clamps on Notre Dame junior VJ Beachem will need to be a focus of CU's defensive efforts. After averaging 12 points last year in a secondary role behind Jackson and Auguste, Beachem has erupted out of the gate while playing a leading role in ND's 3-0 start, averaging 19.7 points and shooting .541 (20-for-37) from the floor.
Likewise, CU forwards Wesley Gordon and Tory Miller will be tasked with slowing the Irish's Bonzie Colson in the paint. Colson has averaged 19.3 points and eight rebounds while shooting at an even more impressive .629 clip (22-for-35).