In October, as the Colorado men's basketball team began preseason practice for what was expected to be an improved 2018-19 campaign, Tad Boyle had the sort of problem coaches typically don't mind dealing with.
Depth was likely to be a strength of the Buffaloes, with the very real possibility a player who otherwise would be a regular contributor might get relegated to the end of the bench simply because of a numbers crunch. Suddenly that problem feels like a long time ago.
Due to myriad factors — injuries, academic issues, a sudden plague of foul trouble — the Buffs ended Saturday night's 77-70 loss against Washington with only six scholarship players available. Some of it was temporary, with forwards Evan Battey and Lucas Siewert fouling out down the stretch. Some of it was self-inflicted, with junior guard Deleon Brown in street clothes after being ruled academically ineligible. And some of it was due to the unpredictable nature of injuries, with point guard McKinley Wright adding his name to the list of CU's walking wounded after leaving Saturday's game in the first half due to a left shoulder injury.
Beginning with the loss of 7-footer Dallas Walton to a preseason torn ACL, the Buffs have experienced a reversal of injury karma following several relatively healthy seasons. Wright's status for Sunday's road date at Utah (4 p.m. MT, ESPNU) likely will not be clarified until later in the week, but with or without Wright there are a number of ways the Buffs can re-stock their suddenly thin depth.
• Get Namon Wright healthy. The 6-foot-5 guard has missed three consecutive games due to a nagging foot injury. Boyle has said the foot is structurally sound, so there is a chance the slower, one-game week will be a benefit to Namon Wright ahead of the matchup at Utah. It is difficult to envision the Buffs staying afloat in the chase for a postseason berth without a return to the early-season form of their only senior; Wright scored at least 11 points in three of the first four games but has reached double digits only once since.
• Stay on the floor. A common denominator of the Buffs' three losses in four Pac-12 Conference games so far has been foul trouble, particularly in the frontcourt. Too often Boyle has had to patchwork combinations because multiple players have been saddled with too many fouls. At Arizona, Siewert picked up his second foul 3 minutes, 35 seconds after tipoff. Tyler Bey followed suit seven minutes later. Bey and D'Shawn Schwartz suffered early foul trouble at Arizona State, and against Washington it was Siewert again alongside Battey before both players fouled out.
"Evan Battey played great," Boyle said following the loss against UW. "But he only played 10 minutes."
• Get Brown back. The junior guard has missed seven games this season, including the past six in a row, due to academic issues that have left Brown ineligible for the second semester. Boyle has said Brown still has a chance to work his way back on the active roster in February, without clarifying when in February or what exactly that will take from Brown. Brown will never be able to replace McKinley Wright's play-making ability and scoring skills. Yet a Brown comeback would give the Buffs a tough defender and an experienced option in the backcourt in the case of a long-term absence from either of the Wrights.
"I told our team this week of practice is the most important week of practice we're going to have all year long," Boyle said. "Because we're going to have to get better during this stretch before we play Utah next Sunday. We've got to dig our heels in, get better, figure out how to win on the road because we've got three road games coming up. If we can figure that out, we've got five of our last seven at home coming down the stretch."