Matthew Jonas / Staff Photographer
Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
As the Tad Boyle Era stretches into territory shared by only a small handful of coaches in the 118-year history of the Colorado men’s basketball program, it is easy to break his previous eight seasons into two distinct halves.
There are the first four years, a run that opened with a stirring run to the NIT Final Four and continued with an unprecedented three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Interest in Buffaloes basketball, as judged by attendance at the CU Events Center, had never been higher.
Then there are the past four years, a rollercoaster ride that, while including another NCAA tourney berth, also has been punctuated by dwindling attendance and the two most underachieving seasons (2014-15 and 2016-17) of Boyle’s tenure.
Year Nine of the Boyle Era officially begins Tuesday, as the Buffaloes convene for the first preseason practices of the 2018-19 season. Optimism abounds, as the youth movement instigated last year gives the Buffs a 2018-19 roster that remains young and talented, yet now boasts experience to match.
A year ago the freshman class of 2017 was simply trying to make sure they were getting to the right spots in the various sets of the Buffs’ system. Now they are ready to lead a charge toward the program’s first NCAA tourney berth since 2016.
“When I got the job, my goal was to make Colorado basketball a top-40 program in the country year in and year out. We wanted to build a program that can sustain that,” Boyle said. “We got traction early, which helps when you’re taking over a program. We were fortunate enough to do that. But staying good is harder than getting good. I don’t want to say we lost momentum, but certainly I feel like two years ago we underachieved with that senior-laden group. I don’t feel like we underachieved last year.
“But it’s time for us to get back to where people are talking about Colorado basketball. And the only way you do that is by winning and getting into the NCAA Tournament. That hunger is there. It’s time for us to get back.”
The Buffs finished 17-15 last year, but did so while starting three or even four freshmen for the majority of the season. Those freshmen — McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey, Dallas Walton and D’Shawn Schwartz — are back and expected to build on the solid impressions they made as rookies. Add to the equation the return of redshirt freshman forward Evan Battey, eager to make an impact after being sidelined by eligibility and health issues, along with the addition of junior college sharpshooter Shane Gatling, and the Buffs are in the enviable position of being an up-and-coming team in what is expected to be a wide-open Pac-12 Conference.
The Buffs will have exactly six weeks to prepare for their Nov. 13 season-opener against Drake at home. Namon Wright, the team’s lone senior, along with juniors Deleon Brown and Lucas Siewert, must support McKinley Wright’s role as the floor general by stepping up their own leadership roles. McKinley Wright must improve on the .204 3-point during league play that counted as his most glaring weakness during his rookie season. And while Battey’s effectiveness after two years on the sideline and a mid-winter stroke last year might be a question until he shows otherwise in game situations, any uncertainty in the Buffs’ frontcourt also will be aided if the 6-foot-10 Siewert and the 7-foot Walton can successfully build on the strong finishes they put together last spring.
At the very least, the Buffs expect to be entertaining. The fun begins Tuesday.
“I look at last year, as I look at it in totality we had enough good wins to get into the NCAA Tournament,” Boyle said. “We swept UCLA. We beat Arizona and Arizona State and beat them in the (Pac-12) tournament. We just had too many bad losses in November and December. We were good enough, talented enough. But we didn’t perform well enough in November and December.
“We’re not interested in being mediocre. We want to compete for championships and we want to put ourselves in the top half of the league. In the middle of February, we want every game to mean something. We want to put ourselves in position for postseason play, and last year was the first year we hadn’t done that. That taste is not good.”