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Handling pressure, expectations the challenge for CU Buffs basketball in 2019-20

Buffs host annual media day

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    McKinley Wright IV attracts a crowd during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Evan Battey during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick?Staff Photographer

    McKinley Wright IV attracts a crowd during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 16, 2019: Assistant coach, Bill Grier, right, works with Dallas Walton, during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on October 16, 2019. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Evan Battey talks to the media during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Jakub Dombek during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick?Staff Photographer

    McKinley Wright IV during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Maddox Daniels during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Tyler Bey during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Shane Gatling talks to the media during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Maddox Daniels talks Mark Johnson during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Dallas Walton talks to the media during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Head MBB coach,Tad Boyle, talks at the press conference during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 16, 2019: Head coach, Tad Boyle, right, talks to the team after the University of Colorado basketball practice on October 16, 2019. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Dallas Walton talks to the media during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Head coach, Tad Boyle, talks to Keeshawn Barthelemy during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Keeshawn Barthelemy during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Maddox Daniels during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Alexander Strating, left, and Keeshawn Barthelemy during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    McKinley Wright IV during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Alexander Strating during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Lucas Siewert during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Tyler Bey during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Lucas Siewert, left, Alexander Strating, and Frank Ryder, during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    McKinley Wright IV attracts a crowd during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Daylen Kountz during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Lucas Siewert during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Assistant coach, Bill Grier, during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Eli Parquet during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Jakub Dombek during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    McKinley Wright IV during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Keeshawn Barthelemy looks to pass over D'Shawn Schwartz during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    Eli Parquet during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on Oct. 16, 2019.

  • Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer

    BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 16, 2019: during the University of Colorado basketball media day and practice on October 16, 2019. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

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It wasn’t so long ago, nine months, really, that the Colorado men’s basketball team remained firmly entrenched in its familiar middling status in the Pac-12 Conference.

Then a young Buffaloes team suddenly grew up in a hurry. CU managed to put together a run of 12 wins in 15 games late last season, a stretch that included an appearance in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals before the season-changing burst ended at Texas in the NIT quarterfinals.

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
Colorado head coach Tad Boyle and the Buffs will have a lot of expectations heading into the season.

In those two months, CU managed to change the entire complexion of its 2019-20 season. With each and every player back from that stirring late-season run and depth across the entire rotation, the Buffs all of the sudden are one of the Pac-12 teams boasting a big target on their collective backs. It’s a shift in dynamics coach Tad Boyle and his players discussed Wednesday during the team’s annual media day at the CU Events Center.

“I’ve got a former teammate, George King, who would always tell me there’s no such thing as pressure if you’re prepared,” CU point guard McKinley Wright said. “I think coach is doing a great job of preparing us. Guys are getting in the gym every day working on their games individually, getting in shape. Getting in there and running on our own. I don’t feel no pressure. We’re excited. We play basketball. We put five guys on the court. Our opponent puts five guys on the court. We’re ready to go.”

The goal in 2019-20 is to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, and certainly the Buffs go into the season with greater expectations than any squad since the 2016-17 team, which fell short of those expectations with a first-round exit in the NIT.

For Boyle, the forthcoming season represents an opportunity to restore the CU program to the standard set during his first six seasons, which started with a run to the NIT Final Four before tallying four NCAA Tournament berths in five seasons. The Buffs posted just one first-round win in those four tourney appearances, yet a standard was set in which that sort of postseason participation would be the norm under Boyle.

The past three seasons have scripted a different story. After the disappointment of the 2016-17 season, Boyle restocked the roster in 2017-18 and weathered the ups and downs of a new, younger core of players led by Wright, Tyler Bey, D’Shawn Schwartz, Evan Battey, and Dallas Walton.

Those players are veterans now, and on Wednesday Boyle admitted one of his biggest challenges this season will be to make certain the Buffs play to their internal expectations and not to the whims of outside pressure.

“Every year we don’t go to the tournament I’m disappointed. I wouldn’t say there’s any more pressure. I don’t put any more pressure on myself this year than I have in years past,” Boyle said. “I always go into the season with an expectation level. And this year I’d be lying if I didn’t say my expectation level wasn’t a little bit higher than maybe it has been in years past.

“I don’t look at it as pressure. I look at it as an expectation level and a standard that we’ve set for this program. And our players understand it as well. But I think it’s really important that for our team…you forget you’re dealing with 18, 19, 20, 21-year old kids, that we don’t put pressure on them. You guys can. That’s what the media sometimes can do. But it’s important to us internally, both as a coach and our players, that we don’t play with pressure. We’ve got to play with a standard and expectation we have of ourselves, but not pressure. I don’t feel any more this year than in years past.”