CU men's basketball preview: Northern Colorado

MATCHUP: Northern Colorado Bears (11-18 in 2016-17) at Colorado Buffaloes (19-15).

GAME TIME: Friday, 6 p.m., Coors Events Center.

BROADCAST: Radio — 850 AM; TV — Pac-12 Network.

COACHES: Northern Colorado — Jeff Linder, second season (11-18 overall and at UNC); Colorado — Tad Boyle, eighth season (205-161 overall, 149-95 at CU).

LEADERS (top returning from 2016-17): Northern Colorado — Scoring: G Jordan Davis, Jr., 19.3 ppg; Rebounding: G Jonah Radebaugh, So., 5.5 rpg; Assists: Davis, 5.6 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G George King, Sr., 11.1 ppg; Rebounding: King, 6.8 rpg; Assists: G Dom Collier, Sr., 1.6 apg.

NOTES: Prior to his CU tenure, Boyle compiled a 56-66 in four seasons as the head coach at UNC. The Bears went from 4-24 in his first season to 25-8 in his final year...CU leads the all-time series 20-18 with wins in the past eight consecutive matchups...The Buffs have won nine consecutive home openers...CU hosts the University of Denver, coached by former Buffs assistant Rodney Billups, on Tuesday before departing for three games at the Paradise Jam in Virginia.

Tad Boyle and second-year Northern Colorado coach Jeff Linder have met before.

When Linder was just beginning his high school career at Northglenn, his first varsity scrimmage as a sophomore was against the Longmont Trojans, which at the time were coached by Boyle.


Linder went on to play for former CU standout Bob Hofman at Western State and received his first job on a collegiate staff as the director of basketball operations at CU under Ricardo Patton during the 2000-2001 season.

Now the leader of the Bears, Linder will bring an experienced and savvy UNC team to the Coors Events Center for a season-opener Boyle described as "without a doubt, the most challenging home opener since I've been here" Friday night at the Coors Events Center.

"There are a lot of connections in these games. Coach Boyle and I, we go back a long, long way," said Linder, who completed his prep career at Centaurus. "I've got a lot of respect for him and his coaching staff. To have the opportunity to go back and coach in Boulder, which is near to home, is great. It's amazing how many people come calling for tickets. I have to remind them it's a road game, not a home game. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity and the challenge a coach Boyle team is going to present to us."

The source of Boyle's concern is that UNC presents an experienced foe, particularly in the backcourt, compared to a Buffs team that will feature eight players suiting up for CU for the first time.

Linder arrived at UNC on the heels of the program self-reporting a number of NCAA infractions. With the Bears ineligible for postseason play last year, Linder gave two of his senior guards, Anthony Johnson and Tanner Morgan, the option of taking redshirt seasons with the possibility of enjoying a more competitive final year in 2017-18. They accepted and will return on Friday along with senior guard Andre Spight, who sat out last season after transferring from Arizona State.

Add to the equation the Bears also welcome back junior guard Jordan Davis, the team's leader in scoring (19.3 points per game) and assists (5.6 apg) last year, and the new-look Buffs should expect to have their hands full.

"They've got a heck of a team now," Boyle said. "They've got three guards who can play literally anywhere in the country. The Davis kid and Anthony Johnson, and the Spight kid was at Arizona State so we know a little bit about him. And they've added some nice pieces. They've got some nice role players that can shoot the ball and score off those other guys' penetration.

"That's three kids that sat out last year that were practicing with them. They're not new to the system. They're executing right now in midseason form."

While the Buffs barely outrebounded Division II Colorado Mines last week in an exhibition match, UNC went on the road and took Colorado State down to the wire in an exhibition game last weekend. Those four UNC guards — Davis, Johnson, Spight, and Morgan — combined to go 24-for-48 from the field while scoring 66 of the Bears' 79 points.

"We've made improvements overall as a team, but we have to keep pushing for sure," CU senior George King said. "And I know for a fact we will. My advice (to the freshmen) would be to tell them they've been playing basketball for the majority of their lives and there's a reason we recruited them here to play at this level. Obviously there's going to be a little nerves, and that's fine. But just be confident in yourself and play hard."

Pat Rooney: or