Tipoff finally arrives for highly-touted CU Buffs men’s basketball

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle begins his seventh season with the Buffs on Friday against Sacramento State.

CU men’s basketball preview: Sacramento State

MATCHUP: Sacramento State Hornets (14-17 in 2015-16) at Colorado Buffaloes (22-12).

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

BROADCAST: Radio — 760 AM; TV — Pac-12 Mountain.

Sacramento State — Brian Katz, ninth season (91-147 at Sacramento State and overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, seventh season (130-80, 186-146 overall).

LEADERS (top returning from 2015-16): Sacramento State — Scoring: F Justin Strings, Jr., 15.5 ppg; Rebounding: F Nick Hornsby, Jr., 6.9 rpg; Assists: Graves, 4.4 apg. Colorado — Scoring: G George King, Jr., 13.6 ppg; Rebounding: F Wesley Gordon, Sr., 7.6 rpg; Assists: G Dominique Collier, Jr., 2.7 apg.

NOTABLE: Boyle compiled a 6-2 mark against Sacramento State while he was the head coach at Northern Colorado…The programs have met just once previously, with CU recording an 80-56 home in on Jan. 26, 1994 behind 24 points from Donnie Boyce…Gordon begins his senior season ranked 12th all-time at CU in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots…CU has won its past six season-openers at home…Sacramento State posted an 84-53 win against Pacific Union in an exhibition game.

As the Colorado Buffaloes gathered at midcourt for their daily end-of-practice team huddle Thursday, an exciting and completely different thought passed through Derrick White’s mind.

For once, White didn’t face the prospect of returning the next day for what felt like the thousandth practice since he transferred to CU more than a year ago.

Finally, Friday is game day.

White’s long-awaited debut is just one of the myriad storylines waiting to unfold for the Buffaloes as they begin a season of high expectations against Sacramento State Friday night at the Coors Events Center (7 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).

“That last circle was kind of weird — we won’t have a practice tomorrow, and I won’t be sitting on the bench,” said White, a former Division II All-American at UCCS who practiced with the Buffs last year after transferring. “I’m really excited. I’m looking forward to playing in front of the crowd and getting out there to help my team win.”

The Buffs open 2016-17 with three consecutive home dates against Sacramento State, Seattle, and Louisiana-Monroe — opponents that should provide a soft learning curve before the Buffs play two games in Brooklyn in the Legends Classic, beginning with a date against Notre Dame on Nov. 21.

Nevertheless, CU coach Tad Boyle first became familiar with Sacramento State coach Brian Katz during his time as a league rival at Northern Colorado, and he has been quick to caution his club about overlooking a Hornets squad that returns four starters and just over 76 percent of its scoring production from a year ago.

It also hasn’t been lost on CU’s leader that Sacramento State hit the road to play another Pac-12 program, Arizona State, last year for its season-opener and came away with a stunning and surprising three-point win. A year ago the Buffs opened the season on the road against a top-10 Iowa State team while playing in front of a national television audience. On Friday, CU will be challenged with bringing the same intensity against the most dangerous of the Buffs’ opening three opponents.

“They’ve got some good players and they’re going to have an edge about them,” Boyle said. “All I’ve got to talk to our guys about is they went into Arizona State and won last year in the first game of the year. If that doesn’t give our guys maybe some reason to perk their head up, we’ll be in a big-time tussle Friday night.”

In addition to White’s debut at CU, the Buffs will welcome back senior Xavier Johnson, who returns to action just 10 points shy of the 1,000-point career mark after missing last season due to a torn Achilles tendon. Buffs fans will get their initial look at newcomers Lucas Siewert and perhaps Deleon Brown as they suit up for CU for the first time.

However, on Thursday Boyle announced another freshman expected to contribute immediately, guard Bryce Peters, will miss the first two games while serving a suspension for a violation of team rules, putting a momentary glitch in a rotation Boyle has said could run 10 players deep.

“I feel really good about the attitude. The players, they want to play,” Boyle said. “There’s always a sense of uncertainty when you approach the first game, no matter who you’re playing. But I know the players are excited. They’re ready.

“Early in the season in college basketball you see some kind of head-scratching scores sometimes, and the reason is nobody has tested yet. You can’t be over-thinking the game, and that’s been my message to the guys…they just have to play.”

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07