McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey, Namon Wright, and the rest of the Colorado Buffaloes men's basketball team no doubt are fired up for the possibilities at hand in the 2018-19 season.
They should be. The youthful Buffs are expecting to take a big step forward this winter, with an eye on a return trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
If all goes well, coach Tad Boyle's Buffs will have the CU Events Center rockin' again. However, they might have to play a particularly superb brand of basketball to electrify the joint, as the nonconference home slate for November and December isn't going to feature opponents likely to light up the marquee and draw the interest of the average fan.
CU isn't planning to release its nonconference schedule until this upcoming week, likely in tandem with the full Pac-12 Conference schedule. If the idea was to shroud the underwhelming nonconference names with the reminder that Oregon, Arizona and USC are coming to town, it's not the worst marketing ploy in the world. Still, for a program that on one hand has witnessed a steady decrease in attendance in recent years while expecting to need every power-ranking point it can muster come March, the ledger doesn't exactly inspire confidence.
Unless each and every one of the following schools is posting erroneous information on their respective websites, here are the teams coming to the CU Events Center during the season's first two months.
Nov. 13: Drake.
Nov. 16: Omaha.
Nov. 28: Portland.
Dec. 1: Colorado State.
Dec. 4: South Dakota.
Dec. 8: Illinois-Chicago.
Those dates are in addition to road games at San Diego (Nov. 20), Air Force (Nov. 24) and New Mexico (Dec. 11), plus three games at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii beginning Dec. 22 against Indiana State.
It will be the first time since the 2006-07 season the Buffs have had a nonconference schedule that, outside of showcase events or tournaments, does not include a single team from any of college basketball's other power conferences — the SEC, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, American, or Big 12 (or Pac-10, prior to CU joining the league). In order to face even one opponent from those leagues this year, CU will need results to fall into place for a matchup against TCU in the Diamond Head Classic finale.
Boyle already has admitted his frustration at piecing together the 2018-19 schedule, and his past gushing expressions of gratitude to fellow coaches like former Xavier leader Chris Mack for being willing to take on the challenge of a home-and-home series with CU have taken on fresh context. Negotiations with at least one American Conference program for a home-and-home set fell through, leaving Boyle and his staff scrambling to get the best lineup of mid-major programs as possible while working around contractual obligations that required games this year at Air Force, at New Mexico, and at San Diego.
The nonconference slate isn't without intrigue. Illinois-Chicago won 20 games last year and is coached by former CU assistant and Wyoming head coach Steve McClain. South Dakota won 26 games and lost a thriller in the Summit League title game against South Dakota State, which took CU to double overtime in December.
Still, the Buffs have become a victim of their own success at home. Even in the past two seasons, both of which ended without NCAA Tournament berths, CU still has defeated ranked clubs from Xavier, Oregon, Arizona State, and Arizona on its home floor. Perhaps next season, after the new NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) is implemented and teams can better assess how solid road games will affect their power rankings, a visit to Boulder to face the up-and-coming Buffs won't seem as daunting. For now, it's a lose-lose proposition for prominent programs. Win, and you did what you were supposed to do. Lose, and that defeat will deflate your power numbers the entire season.
Though last year's final RPI numbers aren't necessarily indicative of how strong teams will be in 2018-19, South Dakota's mark of 102 is the best of the bunch among CU's scheduled opponents. The Buffs will have to do their heavy lifting on and off the floor during Pac-12 play. The average attendance has dropped at the CU Events Center in each of the five seasons since a record average of 10,392 in 2012-13, depreciating to 7,449 last year. It will take intensely creative marketing to sell the intrigue of opening dates in November against Drake and Omaha to prevent that trend from continuing.
On the floor, the Buffs easily could go 9-0 entering the Diamond Head Classic and still be in great need of legitimizing their NCAA credentials during league play. This year's scheduling challenges also has altered Boyle's thoughts about moving from an 18-game Pac-12 schedule to a 20-game slate, a notion that is gaining steam for the 2019-20 season.
"Up until this year, I was kind of unsure about going to a 20-game league schedule," Boyle said. "Now I'm for it."