CU men’s basketball: Buffs eager to erase losing taste in 2015-16

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado basketball coach Tad Boyle keeps a watchful eye on practice last week. Boyle and the Buffs are preparing for Friday’s season opener against No. 7 Iowa State.

After seeing a season go sideways for the first time in what previously had been an upwardly mobile tenure at the University of Colorado, Tad Boyle was more than ready to turn the page.

The leader of the CU men’s basketball program occasionally points out that his first season as a collegiate head coach ended with a 4-24 mark, yet that blip occurred nearly a decade with ago with a Northern Colorado program that Boyle led to a school-record 25 wins just three seasons later.

That rising star didn’t dim with Boyle’s move to CU. While his first four seasons certainly contained various peaks and valleys, all of them featured at least 21 wins per season — a run highlighted in 2012 with a Pac-12 Conference tournament championship and the program’s first NCAA tournament win in 15 years.

Then came last year’s 16-18 train wreck, when a season of high expectations was leveled by injuries and an erosion of team chemistry. As soon as it was over, Boyle wanted no part of reflections or evaluations. He immediately wanted the Buffs to get in the gym to work toward an improved 2015-16.

“It’s funny … sometimes when you have a good year, No. 1, you don’t want the year to end, but you also almost feel like you have to take a breath and exhale and let’s take a couple weeks off,” Boyle said. “Last year, I didn’t feel like that at all. Last year, when the season was over, I was like, ‘Let’s go.’

“I didn’t deserve a vacation last year. We were 16-18. It was time to get back to work and figure out what went wrong.”

The Buffaloes begin their 115th season of men’s basketball with a demanding Friday matinee date against No. 7-ranked Iowa State in Sioux Falls, S.D. It is a critical season for both Boyle and the program, and yet one that begins with a number of question marks.

Gone is 2014-15 leading scorer Askia Booker, whose eye on his future left frayed nerves in his wake last spring. Big man Josh Scott is the team’s unquestioned leader, and both Boyle and his players consistently have reported feeling far better team chemistry this preseason.

Nevertheless, the quest to return to the 20-win plateau remains riddled with variables, from how effective Providence transfer Josh Fortune will be at extending opposing defenses to Wesley Gordon’s quest for more consistency. Never mind the need for Dom Collier to take control of the point guard spot and getting improved contributions from role players such as George King, Tory Miller and Tre’Shaun Fletcher.

“We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to start our season off like this,” Fletcher said. “Coach Boyle mentioned in practice the other day that a lot of people are counting us out. We can’t talk about it anymore. We just have to go out there and play hard and let our game do the talking.”

Boyle said in years past he typically has expected his players to endure June workouts focused largely on strength and conditioning, followed by time off in July when the players often returned home for summer visits. This year there was no vacation, as Boyle prioritized putting the Buffs through their paces pretty much as soon as last season ended with a loss against Seattle in the College Basketball Invitational.

That taste the Buffs are so eager to erase? There perhaps would be no tastier mouthwash than an upset win against a top 10 team on Friday afternoon.

“It’s kind of a refocusing, if you will,” Boyle said. “Some years are going to be better than others. Some teams will be better than others. We have internal goals and standards that we slipped up on last year. It’s not what we want to be about. Our players understand that.

“The one thing about life is you learn more from your failures than the success you have. Last year was more of a learning opportunity for me than maybe the first four years were in many respects.”

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