Rooney: Critical offseason unfolding for CU basketball and coach Tad Boyle

Lewis Geyer / Staff Photographer
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle and the Buffs have missed the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons.
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Is this the biggest offseason of Tad Boyle’s coaching career at the University of Colorado?

The Buffaloes’ leader would probably tell you they’re all equally important, with the identical goals requiring the identical amount of hard work over the course of each and every spring and summer.

In theory, that’s true. The idea always is to train as if aspiring to win championships, whether that’s a feasible goal or not. Yet not all teams are created equally, and in the balance of roster makeup against projected expectations, it’s easy to classify the next five-plus months ahead of the opening practices of the 2019-20 preseason as the most important offseason stretch of Boyle’s tenure.

That tenure officially will reach 10 seasons in the fall, tying Boyle for the second-longest active stay within the Pac-12 Conference. The company he is keeping includes Oregon’s Dana Altman, who has multiple Pac-12 tournament titles, a Final Four, and even this season’s late surge into the Sweet 16 to his credit during his nine seasons in Eugene. The longest-tenured Pac-12 coach is Arizona’s Sean Miller, whose Teflon-like resistance to the years of controversy hovering over his job security received further reinforcement Friday when a federal court in New York ruled the UA coach will not have to testify at next week’s trial in the FBI college basketball corruption probe.

Boyle’s resume, of course isn’t without its highlights — an NIT Final Four, a Pac-12 tourney title, four NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons though with only one win — but those accomplishments all occurred within the first six years of his tenure. The past three non-NCAA Tournament seasons (though with two more NITs berths) have left fans aching for a return to the Big Dance.

As the only Pac-12 team returning fully intact, and with an encouraging late-season push that included runs to the Pac-12 semifinals and NIT quarterfinals, it’s up to Boyle and his staff to make certain that progress continues through the next level.

Given how CU improved throughout the second half of the 2019-20 season, the guess here is there is little question the Buffs will put in the requisite work to make certain those goals become reality. McKinley Wright, Tyler Bey, and rising leader Evan Battey aren’t likely to let this club rest on its still-thin laurels. The biggest challenge for Boyle and a CU staff still in flux (Boyle declined comment on the reported hiring of former Arizona State assistant Anthony Coleman until the personnel transactions become official) will be managing expectations that are likely to keep building until the 2019-20 season finally tips off.

That hasn’t been a strong suit of late for the CU program, which generally has exceeded expectations when they were low and have fallen short when they’re high. After the discouraging finish in 2015, the Buffs were picked seventh in the 2015-16 Pac-12 preseason coaches poll. They finished fifth and advanced to the last of those four NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons.

The next year, with sudden NBA playoff star Derrick White joining a veteran mix, the Buffs were picked fifth but started league play 0-7 before rallying enough for a seventh-place finish. The revamped roster in 2017-18 basically produced a stalemate (picked ninth, finished in a tie for eighth) while this past year saw the young Buffs picked seventh before finishing fifth.

Next fall, the Buffs will be a near-lock to get picked among the top four teams in the preseason. Depending on who returns and who doesn’t among some of the other potential favorites, CU might even garner a few first-place votes.

Will the Buffs be able to manage those expectations? That might be the most critical aspect of the offseason workouts in the months to come.

 

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