Rooney: 2019-20 sports slate should be interesting for CU Buffs fans

Men’s hoops, Mel Tucker debut top the bill

Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer
Colorado head coach Mel Tucker is set to begin his first season in Boulder.
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According to the calendar, summer officially is only a few weeks old.

Yet for Colorado Buffaloes fans, the fall sports calendar is just around the corner. The countdown before the official dawn of the Mel Tucker era with CU football’s first practice on Aug. 1 can be measured in weeks, even days. Soon afterward the rest of the fall sports squads will follow suit, with the Buffs’ soccer, volleyball, and cross country teams all looking to make a mark nationally.

Certainly the 2018-19 school year featured a number of highlights from the Buffaloes athletic department, from a pair of national championships by Dani Jones to a second straight appearance in the NCAA women’s volleyball tournament to a promising finish by the men’s basketball team that could set the stage for what CU hopes will be one of its biggest highlights in 2019-20.

Indeed, that 2019-20 school year should be even better.

As Buffs fans spend July lounging by the pool and dodging the seemingly daily dose of hail storms, here are a few of the storylines most likely to take center stage on campus during in 2019-20.

Tucker takes charge

Preseason expectations will be loftier at the CU Events Center over the winter than at Folsom Field at the end of the summer. Yet football dominates the passions of Buffs fans, and the hiring of Tucker following four seasons as the defensive coordinator at two of the top programs in the SEC.

Hired as the 26th head coach in CU history in December, Tucker inherits a situation far more palatable than those of his predecessors, and the Buffs’ new leader has spent the offseason as the proverbial man about town, building excitement around the program that seemingly has stirred enthusiasm among the Buffs’ veterans while providing some encouragement on the recruiting trail.

Still, this is a program that has enjoyed just one winning record over the past 13 seasons. The Buffs routinely have been listed at the bottom of the Pac-12 North in preseason publications, and many of the veterans Tucker will rely upon heavily in his first full season as a head coach anywhere were the same ones at center stage during the 2018 spiral that turned a promising 5-0 start into a 5-7 final record and the end of Mike MacIntyre’s tenure at CU. Still, with a seasoned, big-armed quarterback running the show in Steven Montez, combined with a talented receiver corps led by Laviska Shenault and a tougher schedule than 2018, at the very least the first season of the Tucker era should be an entertaining one.

Hoops madness

As the calendar turned from 2018 to 2019, the CU men’s basketball team appeared to be in deep trouble. Coach Tad Boyle’s Buffs had just sleepwalked through the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, losing two of three games, and CU started 2-6 in Pac-12 play.

Then a switch flipped for the youthful Buffs. CU reeled off 12 wins in 15 games before losing at Texas in the NIT quarterfinals. The entire cast that authored that late surge returns for the 2019-20 season, with the Buffs boasting a potential 2020 first-round NBA pick in small forward Tyler Bey and arguably one of the top 15 point guards in the nation in McKinley Wright. The Buffs have never finished better than fifth since joining the Pac-12 and haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since a run of four bids in five seasons ended in 2016. With the Pac-12 likely to be mired in mediocrity once again, the pressure will be on the Buffs to seize the opportunity.

Andy Cross / The Denver Post
Colorado men’s basketball head coach Tad Boyle.

Run Dani, run

CU’s track and cross country programs boast lengthy lists of All-Americans and national champions. Jones is making a case to etch a permanent place among those legends.

Jones became the first CU runner in 16 years to post consecutive league championships with her second straight win at the Pac-12 cross country finals before leading the Buffs’ women’s team to the national championship while winning the individual title. Jones’ eligibility has expired for cross country, but she still has a year remaining with the track program after winning the national title in the 5,000-meter run in June. Jones, who also has two indoor national titles on her resume, became the first woman in CU history to win national championships in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. She will be in great position to add to those totals next winter and spring.

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Dani Jones