Tad Boyle's Buffaloes are now the hunted.
The first head coach in Colorado history to lead the program to three consecutive postseason appearances and 20-win seasons understands the bar for the 2013-14 team has been raised even higher.
With or without Andre Roberson.
Sports Illustrated national basketball writer Seth Davis has CU ranked No. 11 in his first preseason top 25 poll, just ahead of blue blood programs Georgetown, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina and Indiana.
CBS (No. 12), ESPN (No. 16) and USA Today (No. 16) also project the Buffs as Arizona's primary challenger for the Pac-12 title.
If Roberson returns for his senior season, a decision that doesn't have to be made until April 28, Boyle will have all five starters back from this year's NCAA Tournament squad.
The coaching staff is also excited about the development of redshirt freshmen Wesley Gordon and Chris Jenkins and believes incoming true freshmen Jaron Hopkins, Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Dustin Thomas could all have a significant impact if asked to contribute right away.
"I think anytime you start seeing yourself in top 20 polls, whether it's preseason or regular season, I think it's a sign of respect and a sign people recognize you've got talented guys in your program," Boyle said at an end-of-season press conference on Thursday at the Coors Events Center. "But with that comes a lot of expectations, a lot of responsibility to live up to those expectations."
During last year's offseason, as CU was coming off a Pac-12 Tournament championship and set to welcome a nationally ranked recruiting class, Boyle did his best to downplay the external buildup prior to the 2012-13 campaign.
The young roster experienced some growing pains (November losses at Wyoming and Kansas) and adversity (the controversial loss at Arizona and a 1-4 start in conference play) early in the season.
But despite late-season concussions to big men Josh Scott and Shane Harris-Tunks, as well as Roberson missing the final two games of the regular season with a viral illness, the Buffs finished 21-12 and made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in 50 years.
Spencer Dinwiddie joined Roberson, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, as a first-team all-conference selection.
The Buffs went 4-3 against ranked opponents and finished first in defense in the Pac-12, allowing just 62.2 points per game against conference foes.
Returning players say it's OK to believe the April hype, as long as everyone in the locker room is focused on the big picture during spring and summer workouts.
"I think it's great. It shows that Colorado basketball is on the rise, it's not just a small little local team," sophomore-to-be Xavier Johnson said. "We have a great team and great players."
Boyle, who watched his former employer Wichita State battle eventual national champion Louisville to the wire at the Final Four, said the next step for CU basketball is to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
"I'm always trying to minimize (expectations) and downplay them as much as possible," Boyle said. "But just the natural progression is each year is going to be bigger and better."
No Kentucky derby
Kentucky, which is adding one of the most heralded recruiting classes in the history of the sport, is No. 1 in the preseason polls.
Boyle tried to set up a series with the Wildcats, but his friend John Calipari wasn't interested in playing the Buffs outside of the Blue Grass State.
"We were trying to get a game with Kentucky. That was on the docket, but the deal breaker was them coming to Boulder," Boyle said. "That was not going to happen, at least while (Calipari) was the coach there. He kind of laughed me off."
Boyle needs to add five more games to CU's non-conference schedule. Kansas and Wyoming are both coming to the Coors Events Center next season with the Buffs playing at Air Force and Colorado State.
Louisiana Tech is one of the many teams CU is trying to lure to Boulder for a "buy" game where the visitors take home a nice payday for agreeing to play in front of 10,000 fans at 5,345 feet.
"We're probably going to have to go with some neutral court games because I think that's the happy medium," Boyle said. "It's harder and harder to get people to come here."
Some of the honors handed out during CU's end-of-season banquet on Wednesday night at the Coors Events Center included:
Chauncey Billups Most Valuable Player Award: Dinwiddie.
Jay Humphries Assist Award: Dinwiddie.
Stephane Pelle Rebound Award: Roberson.
Most improved player: Johnson.
Most inspirational player: Sabatino Chen.
"We're going to be good with or without (Roberson)," Boyle said. "Obviously, we're a better team with him, but it's not going to be a make-or-break decision for Colorado basketball."
Boyle said if Roberson declares for the NBA draft the coaching staff would target a specific transfer, who would sit out in 2013-14, to use the scholarship on. If they don't get that player the scholarship would be "banked" for the 2014 class. ... CU's 2013 freshmen are all expected to be on campus in June taking classes and working out with their new teammates. ... Boyle said "in a perfect world" he would redshirt a couple of players every season.
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