Ready or not, the Pac-12 Conference awaits the Colorado Buffaloes.
It was far from unexpected the revamped and generally inexperienced rotation of the CU men's basketball team would suffer its share of growing pains throughout the 2017-18 season. CU completed nonconference play with an 80-73 loss against Iowa in South Dakota on Friday night, finishing that portion of the schedule with an 8-4 record and a head coach still attempting to uncover the proper places for all his team's new pieces.
"When you have lack of consistency as a coach, it's really hard to get that core group," CU coach Tad Boyle said. "We know what George (King) can do. We know what McKinley (Wright) can do. Outside of that, we've got ups and downs. We're going to try and build on the positives, but until we get consistency, it's a difficult team to know who to go with on a night-to-night basis."
By giving freshman Tyler Bey the first start of his career against Iowa, Boyle has now utilized six different starting lineups in 12 games, including four different lineups in the six games since Tory Miller-Stewart went down with a season-ending injury.
Much of the shuffling can be traced to the inevitable growing pains that come with regularly using four true freshmen and a redshirt freshman in the rotation. Dallas Walton, the redshirt freshman, started five games in a row before coming off the bench against Iowa. He responded with his most impressive effort yet, going 6-for-10 and finishing with a season-high 13 points in 21 minutes.
D'Shawn Schwartz, a freshman from Colorado Springs, recently went through a stretch in which he played single-digit minutes in three of four games. Yet he has started the past two games, logging at least 20 minutes each time. Bey, who has doubled his season rebounding total over the past three games, also has played more minutes over the past two games than in any of the previous 10 (26 in a double-overtime win against South Dakota State last week, 25 against Iowa).
Another freshman, Lazar Nikolic, recently started three games in a row but played only seven minutes against Iowa, in part due to a minor ankle injury that limited his effectiveness.
"Coach Boyle always says the two things that mean the most to him are defense and rebounding, so I'm just trying to focus on that," Schwartz said. "That's where I'm going to get minutes. On the offensive end I didn't really shoot the ball well (against Iowa) but I had a couple more rebounds than I usually do."
Outside of Wright and King, the lineup likely will continue to shuffle as the Buffs embark on their 18-game Pac-12 schedule beginning Friday at Oregon State.
"I've gotten a lot of help from the seniors — George, Dom (Collier), (Josh) Repine, and even Tory on the sideline, just telling me to be more aggressive on offense and look for the opportunities," Walton said. "I'm a good passer when I get it in the post, so I'm always looking to help the team."