If the decision hasn't already been made, Tad Boyle soon will face a difficult choice.
At what point in what quickly is unraveling into a lost season for the Colorado men's basketball team does the head coach take the long view, perhaps sacrificing immediate rewards in hopes of furthering the development of a young core upon which Boyle has gambled the future of his program?
CU's leader may have revealed an inkling of his thinking Thursday night.
Boyle kept his most physically gifted player, sophomore forward Tyler Bey, on the bench for the bulk of the final 11 minutes in the Buffs' 76-74 home loss against Oregon State. Boyle defended the move ahead of his team's Saturday night date against Oregon, and the scenario offered a glimpse into an interesting conundrum.
Bey might have been able to make a play that would have separated the Buffs from OSU in what was a back-and-forth game the entire 40 minutes. Yet if the momentary benching lights a fire under Bey, who has the ability to revert back into a double-double machine over the final month of the regular season, would those lost 11 minutes against OSU be worth the sacrifice?
No doubt, a blocked shot here or an offensive rebound there by Bey could have changed the outcome against the Beavers. Suddenly the Buffs would be in position to go for a home sweep Saturday night, which would have at least kept CU afloat with slightly more buoyancy than the daunting currents the Buffs are drowning in now.
But Boyle isn't wrong when he points out that's not what the Buffs were getting from Bey Thursday night. The last of Bey's 1-for-7 offensive showing was a wild 3-pointer that basically netted CU a wasted possession. While grabbing only four rebounds could be dismissed as a consequence of his shortened minutes, the effort was far below Bey's typical per-minute pace.
That's not to pin the Buffs' loss on Bey, or his absence. I mentioned in our Friday BuffZone.com live chat that on a night CU shot 50 percent from the floor, it was a lengthy list of other issues that dropped the Buffs to 2-6 in the conference. Poor second-half defense, eight second half-turnovers, and the 16-for-26 mark on free throws can get in line well ahead of Bey. And Boyle's decision to bench him.
It is Bey's tantalizing talent that begs those "What if?" questions about what sort of plays he could have made down the stretch, even if he had struggled to that point. The game featured 17 lead changes and 14 ties, including six after Bey took a seat. Just one timely play might have swung the pendulum from "L" to "W" for the Buffs.
Yet don't be surprised if that's not the last time Boyle keeps the big picture in mind when making personnel decisions down the stretch. It arguably wasn't the first time, as he benched Deleon Brown due to his academic issues six games earlier than required.
It was stated in this corner last season that the determining factor to Boyle possibly becoming a 15-to-20-year guy at CU as opposed to something closer to a 10-year guy will be the ability of the current youthful core — Bey, McKinley Wright, Evan Battey, D'Shawn Schwartz, Daylen Kountz, and injured 7-footer Dallas Walton — to get the Buffs back to the NCAA Tournament. That hasn't changed, even if this season is beginning to look more like stunted growth than encouraging progress. Assuming that core sticks together, this team always was built to start hitting its peak in 2019-20 rather than 2018-19. CU's depleted depth has simply exasperated that gap.
The long view aside, there will be plenty at stake for the Buffs the rest of the way, even if the bottom continues falling out on the scoreboard. If ever there was a year in which a bottom-third outlier could run the table at the Pac-12 Conference tournament, this is it. Bey is likely to bounce back, and the Buffs will have as good a chance as any of other middle-of-the-pack program to noise in Las Vegas in the watered-down Pac-12.
By definition, growing pains are meant to be painful. Thursday might not be the last one Bey and his youthful teammates have to absorb before season's end. They might not be easy for fans to swallow in situations like the loss against the Beavers, when the big picture is clouded by the angst of another easily-avoidable loss.
Chances are this same group will be back next year, fortified by the return of Walton plus the addition of current redshirt Jakub Dombek and whoever Boyle lands this spring with the open scholarship still available for 2019. The long view isn't always a popular one and no one is turning the page yet on 2018-19. But for a team that might have been a year away even in a best-case scenario, on occasion the long view will be the correct one.