It has been a little more than six months since the Colorado men's basketball walked dejectedly off the floor at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa, heartbroken by another first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
Much has changed for the Buffaloes during the ensuing months — almost all of it for the better.
While leading scorer and rebounder Josh Scott has graduated, ending one of the most memorable careers for a big man in CU history, the Buffs hardly feel like a team scrambling to fill holes as they begin official preseason practices Friday morning.
Former Division II All-American Derrick White is eligible after his transfer season and ready to assume a prominent scoring role. George King is fully recovered from minor foot surgery, ready to build on his breakout sophomore season. And senior Xavier Johnson is back in the mix, eager to get the Buffs back in the Big Dance in his final collegiate season.
This week began with even more good news for the Buffs, as four-star recruit Evan Battey from Villa Park, Calif., made a verbal commitment that has the 2017 class looking like the best of head coach Tad Boyle's tenure. As the week ends and CU embarks on a journey it hopes will end with the program's fifth NCAA Tournament bid in six seasons, here is a look at the plot lines to watch ahead of the Nov. 11 season-opener at home against Sacramento State.
His first season as CU's primary point guard was marked by inconsistency for junior Dominique Collier. While the Denver East product displayed vastly improved marksmanship, improving his 3-point percentage from .269 to .444, his pedestrian 1.32 assists-to-turnover ratio and knack for getting into foul trouble prevented Collier from taking off.
Boyle is confident Collier will make the sort of jump as a floor general this season as he did a year ago as a shooter.
"Dom and Thomas (Akyazili), in terms of that point guard position, are both improved. They both had great offseasons," Boyle said. "You look at the difference in Dom's body from his freshman year to his sophomore year, he made a jump. He's continued to make a jump. He's got some strength and I think he's going to be able to absorb more contact.
"This could be a breakout year for Dom, no question about it. I think he's got the confidence now."
With Tory Miller coming off the bench to spell Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon last season, the Buffs generally featured two post players on the floor at the same time. Expect Gordon and Miller to man the post solo more frequently this season, given the deep cast of wing players that makes up the team's strength.
"Schematically, it's going be a totally different team to coach this year," Boyle said. "There will be times when Tory and Wes are going to be on the floor together and we'll have that traditional two-post look. But there are going to be times when we don't have Tory and Wes on the court together and we're going to have a different look. That's something as a staff we've talked about. It's going to be different, without a doubt."
Boyle, the man-to-man defense devotee who often treats "zone" like a vile four-letter word, is open to employing a zone defense more frequently this season. Don't expect the Buffs to turn into zone savants like Syracuse, but with the depth of long-armed wing players at his disposal Boyle is willing to adjust to his team's strengths.
"We'll have ability and maybe the need to play a little more zone," Boyle said. "It's something we're looking at. As a coaching staff this offseason we've looked at a lot of different possibilities and we're going to institute some of those. One thing I've got to do a good job of with this team is I've got to be open to playing differently than we've played maybe since we've been here."