CU men's basketball preview: Denver

MATCHUP: Denver Pioneers (0-1) at Colorado Buffaloes (1-0).

GAME TIME: Tuesday, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center.

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

COACHES: Denver — Rodney Billups, 2nd season (16-15 overall and at DU); CU — Tad Boyle, 8th season (150-95, 206-161 overall).

LEADERS (top returning from 2016-17): Denver — Scoring: C Daniel Amigo, Sr., 15.5 ppg; Rebounding: Amigo, 7.1 rpg; Assists: G Jake Pemberton, Sr., 4.4 apg. CU — Scoring: G George King, Sr., 11.1 ppg; Rebounding: King, 6.8 rpg; Assists: G Dom Collier, Sr., 1.6 apg.

NOTES CU has won its past six games against DU. But a rivalry that was an almost annual affair through the 1940s now occurs so infrequently, that six-game winning streak began in 1978...DU's Neff brothers, junior Thomas Neff and sophomore Luke Neff, were teammates with CU redshirt freshman Dallas Walton at Arvada West High School...Former CU player Dwight Thorne II is the Pioneers' director of basketball operations...The Buffs will travel Wednesday to Virginia to begin preparations for the Paradise Jam tournament, which was relocated from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. The Buffs open the tourney against Quinnipiac on Friday at 4 p.m. MST.

A year ago, when he left the University of Colorado to return for his alma mater for his first head coach job, Rodney Billups said his Denver Pioneers weren't ready for a showdown against the Buffaloes and his mentor, CU coach Tad Boyle.

Even after a first year with the Pioneers that went better than expected, Billups still isn't certain his club is ready for the challenge of a Pac-12 Conference team on the road. However, inspired by a 16-14 record in Billups' first year at the helm, his players approached him expressing a desire for bigger challenges during the nonconference schedule.

That wish resulted in Tuesday night's matchup, as Billups returns to the Coors Events Center for the first time since ending his six-year run as a member of Boyle's staff. It also will be a homecoming of sorts for DU assistant Ricardo Patton, who led the CU program for 11 full seasons and part of another through the 2006-07 campaign.

"I'm not exactly sure if we're ready, but my guys in the spring came to me and said they wanted to play tougher opponents just to test our team early," said Billups, who was a standout point guard for the Pioneers more than a decade ago. "For me, to be in that building again and continue to learn from Tad — because I'll learn from the experience — and see and compete against some athletes that I helped recruit, it's all going to be a surreal feeling."

Former Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton returns to Boulder on Tuesday as an assistant coach for the Denver Pioneers.
Former Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton returns to Boulder on Tuesday as an assistant coach for the Denver Pioneers. (JOHN LEYBA / THE DENVER POST)

While CU opened the season with a solid 15-point win against Northern Colorado, the Pioneers struggled in their opener Sunday, shooting just .333 in an 83-69 loss against UC-Irvine. Billups admitted his team may have been caught looking ahead somewhat to Tuesday night's battle against the Buffs, where DU's inside game will provide a different defensive challenge for the young Buffs than what they encountered against guard-heavy Northern Colorado.

"The thing I like about playing a guy like Rodney is after the game, whether it's a day or two after, we'll be able to give some feedback on each other, because we do have that relationship, we do have that friendship," Boyle said. "He can really be honest with me about our team and I can do the same for him. We can help each other that way. When you play somebody you really don't know, you don't have that relationship, you win or you lose, you both move on and you go to the next game.

"I'm proud of him. I'm happy for him and the opportunity he has. I'm pulling for him because he's not only a very good coach, but he's a great human being and a very good friend.

The Boyle-Billups relationship has led to the first meeting between the state rivals in 10 years. Not only will it give Billups a chance to lead his own team in a venue that features his older brother Chauncey Billups immortalized on the arena wall, but he hopes it also proves to be a positive night for Patton, whose largely successful decade-plus run leading the program often is remembered less than the acrimonious end of his tenure.

Patton, who coached Chauncey Billups at CU, still ranks second all-time in the program's history with 184 wins (Boyle is third at 150). Only Sox Walseth (20 seasons) and Forrest Cox (13) coached basketball longer at CU than Patton, though Patton coached 108 more games with the Buffs than Cox.

"I'm hoping that the city and the fans give their appreciation for what he did for Colorado," Rodney Billups said. "I know they left on a sour taste, but I think he's excited. His wife is excited after living there so many years and raising their boys in Boulder. I just hope that the respect is given. I'm not sure that coach P is worried about it, but that's my concern."

Pat Rooney: or