It will be an uphill climb, to say the least, for the Colorado men’s basketball team to eventually battle its way into the top half of the Pac-12 Conference.
Yet a nearly-identical uphill climb was almost pulled off by a CU team that endured an even worse start in league play just two years ago. It’s a history lesson head coach Tad Boyle has revisited this week as his club looks to start gaining ground with a Thursday night home date against Oregon State (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
Two years ago, the Buffs started 0-7 within the Pac-12 but went 8-3 the rest of the way, finishing with an 8-10 mark and the seventh seed in the league tournament. Like that season, this year’s squad began league play with five of seven games on the road. CU brings a 2-5 Pac-12 mark (10th place) into their lone matchup this season against the Beavers.
“We have talked about that. We’ve talked about that more than we’ve talked about ‘Hey, we have to win at home,'” Boyle said. “We just talked about the fact that we’re not 0-7. We really feel like we should be 3-4. I thought going into it we could be 5-2, if not better. I do feel we have an opportunity to win every time we step on the floor.”
While that 2017 Buffs team arguably featured more raw talent with future NBA draft picks in Derrick White and George King, it also played in a much stronger Pac-12 that boasted three year-long top 20 teams in UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon, with the Ducks eventually reaching the Final Four.
The top of this year’s Pac-12 is nowhere near as strong, and a Buffs team that played well at home during the nonconference schedule plays seven of its final 11 regular-season games at the CU Events Center.
“My freshman year we started 0-7, so we’re a little better than we were that season,” said junior Lucas Siewert, the only active Buffs player who was part of that 2017 turnaround. “We still had seven of 11 games at home and we made a big run at the end of the season. I think we’re more than capable of doing the same thing this year.”
Despite an 8-1 start in nonconference play that has eroded into a mess of injuries and an 11-8 overall record, Boyle remains steadfast in the confidence his club can get its season turned around.
“That’s where this program is now. I’m not sure I felt like that maybe when I first got here,” Boyle said. “Part of it is I hadn’t been through it before. I was just kind of hoping we would win. I expect it now. And I think our fans expect it, I think our players expect it. And I think that’s why there’s disappointment when we don’t. That expectation can be a good thing, and it can be a bad thing when you don’t play well enough to win, like we did against Stanford.”
As freshman Jakub Dombek has acclimated to college life in the United States alongside his development as a Division I basketball player, Siewert has provided a helping hand.
They are two of the Buffs’ three international players, with Dombek arriving this season from the Czech Republic and Siewert hailing from Brazil. Unlike Dombek, Siewert had the advantage of going through three and a half years of high school in California before arriving in Boulder, and he has given the younger forward a sounding board during Dombek’s redshirt season.
“When he first got here, I saw a lot of myself when I first got to L.A. for high school,” Siewert said. “He was pretty intimidated and didn’t speak a lot of English. His English has come a long way since he got here. During school, he said he was struggling a little bit. I went through the same thing. But he’s figuring it out. He’s getting better in the classroom and on the court as well. The game is slowing down for him.”
Since going 5-for-10 in the Buffs’ home win against Washington State on Jan. 10, CU guard Shane Gatling has gone 9-for-36 (.250) on 3-pointers over the past four games…CU sophomore point guard McKinley Wright (267 career assists) needs six assists to match Jaquay Walls for 15th-place among the Buffs’ all-time leaders…That 8-3 finish in the Pac-12 in 2017 began with a home win against Oregon State in the Beavers’ most recent visit to the CU Events Center. King hit four 3-pointers and paced the Buffs with 24 points.