The clock had just struck zero on Colorado's fourth loss in six games, and despite his disappointment coach Tad Boyle was trying to stay focused on the positives.

His Buffaloes are competing. One member of his highly regarded freshman class is a budding star. Another is showing glimpses of the lofty potential Boyle himself lauded throughout the preseason. The 7-footer recruited as a project with knee issues has, at the very least, erased doubts about his ability to contribute at this level.

As far as developing promising talent goes, it hasn't been a bad start at all.

Nevertheless, it could be a long winter for the Buffs within the Pac-12 Conference.

With league play set to begin Friday at Oregon State, Boyle is caught in a difficult conundrum unique to his particular coaching career. His is a business judged on wins and losses. And yet a successful 2017-18 season probably will be defined less by the final record than the continuing progress of the freshmen.

"I lump (Iowa) and the Colorado State and the San Diego games as ones that we lost. I didn't feel like we got beat," Boyle said. "That's hard."


No doubt, there is hope for the future. That budding star, McKinley Wright, might already be a star. The rookie point guard is leading the way at 17 points per game while shooting .507 from the field. Never advertised as a deadly 3-point shooter, Wright is shooting a team-leading .410 from beyond the arc. He leads the team in assists (56), steals (15), and ranks second in rebounding (5.2 per game). Freshman forward Tyler Bey has grabbed 25 rebounds the past three games, equalling the total he produced over the season's first nine games. And the 7-foot Dallas Walton keeps putting together longer stretches of quality minutes, going into the holiday hiatus sporting a .567 field goal percentage.

D'Shawn Schwartz and Lazar Nikolic generally have displayed far more promise than disappointment. Those are the good things.

Unfortunately for the Buffs, with youth comes inconsistency. And Boyle has been unable to get the Buffs' veterans to fill the void when the youngsters falter.

During the preseason Boyle offset the expectations of his freshmen by saying, "I think what we need out of our seniors is we need a level of consistency, a level of stability that they can bring." That hasn't happened. Senior forward Tory Miller-Stewart went down with a season-ending injury after six games. Guard Dom Collier again has struggled to maintain a consistent role, with his overall field goal percentage (.329) and 3-point percentage (.250) dipping to career-lows.

George King remains the most important piece to that senior class, and the one player most capable of turning future winnable games into actual victories instead of missed opportunities. King has been a trooper shouldering a bigger load for the Buffs' young and, without Miller-Stewart, undermanned frontcourt, leading CU with a career-best 8.3 rebounds a game. Yet the expanded inside game seemingly has come at the cost of King's explosive outside marksmanship.

Boyle (and, to his credit, King) have denied the idea that the focus inside has chipped away at King's 3-point shot. However, given that King began the season on the cusp of owning CU's career record for 3-point percentage, putting together an overall field goal percentage of .477 (a career high) alongside an uncharacteristically low 3-point percentage of .347 lends credence to the theory. King's 2-for-19 mark on 3-pointers in CU's four losses hasn't helped.

Glancing at the Pac-12 schedule, the other potential back-of-the-Pac clubs already have picked up better wins than the Buffs, their championship against a ho-hum field at the Paradise Jam notwithstanding. Washington State has defeated St. Mary's and San Diego State. Washington knocked off second-ranked Kansas in Kansas City. And while it may shape up as an unfortunate year to get Cal just once, a Golden Bears team that was routed by Chaminade also played Wichita State tough, won at San Diego State, and defeated a Wofford team that upset No. 5 North Carolina last week at UNC. The Buffs were impressive winning three games in three days at the Paradise Jam against Quinnipiac, Drake, and Mercer, but those wins fall short in any comparison to the best wins posted by those league rivals.

"There was a lot of positives to take from (Iowa). Unfortunately it goes in the loss column," Boyle said. "That's just the way it goes. But we've got to build on the positives, and we have to learn to get better from the negatives."

The Buffs' worst Pac-12 mark since joining the league was 7-11 in 2014-15. The approach Boyle outlines might be the only one he and his staff can take with a young cast certain to expect bigger things in 2018-19. Yet it might make matching that 7-11 a monumental challenge over the next two-plus months.

Pat Rooney: or