The Colorado men’s basketball team was a solid rebounding club a year ago and has every reason to believe it will be even better on the glass this season.
Yet if there as a glaring coaching point for Tad Boyle to focus upon that came out of Saturday’s exhibition win against Pomona-Pitzer, it’s that dominating the glass won’t occur simply because the Buffaloes step on the floor.
Last year, the Buffs led the Pac-12 Conference in rebounding margin, a statistic among the most favored by Boyle. With essentially the entire team returning in 2019-20, including the league’s top returning rebounder in Tyler Bey, the Buffs expect to be even better in that department this season. The key, according to Boyle, will be in the little details, like being hungry for rebounds and making a point of taking care of business on the offensive glass.
“I want somebody to try and get as many rebounds as Tyler is,” Boyle said. “I want them to compete on the boards. Not just with the other team, but with our own team. Make it a competitive thing. I want them to be selfish, thirsty rebounders. All five guys should be rebounding defensively.
“And then offensively, that’s one area where we can become a better rebounding team. That’s not equal opportunity. There’s responsibilities with some guys getting back (on defense) and we don’t crash five to the boards. But the three that go have to go and not lean on people’s backs. Watching film early in practices we got a lot of guys that ball watch or lean on guys’ backs. You’re not going to get offensive rebounds doing that.”
Last season, with Bey leading the way at 9.9 rebounds per game, the Buffs posted league-best totals of a plus-6.3 rebounding margin overall and plus-4.5 in league games. Certainly rebounding margin alone isn’t necessarily a perfect indicator of team success. Within league games last year, the teams immediately behind the Buffs in that category were UCLA and Stanford, which were among the most disappointing squads in the league. Regular season champ Washington finished 10th (minus-3.2). Pac-12 tourney champ Oregon finished sixth (plus-0.3).
Still, even with the Buffs’ wealth of experience, there will nights when CU doesn’t boast the most raw talent on the floor. Keeping a similar pace on the glass as last season can be a dependable equalizer.
“As a coach you can train a guy to do what you want him to do. But you can’t train him to go get the ball. That’s the innate, instinctual part of rebounding,” Boyle said. “Andre Roberson had an instinct for the ball. Tyler Bey has an instinct for the ball. You can coach box-outs. You can coach the habits of going to the glass, getting in the lane. You can’t coach the habits or instincts of going and getting the ball. Rebounding is a little bit of both. But I think as a team, as a group, we were pretty good last year and there’s no reason we can’t be a great rebounding team.”
Beyond Bey, a number of Buffs have the potential to increase their rebounding totals from a year ago. Forward Evan Battey averaged 4.4 rebounds as a redshirt freshman and could be in line for a significant jump. Same with junior wing D’Shawn Schwartz, who averaged 3.7 rebounds for the season but 4.4 over the final 10 games. The Buffs also welcome back 7-footer Dallas Walton, who could improve on the 3.4 mark he posted two years ago.
While Boyle probably was somewhat proud the leading rebounder in Saturday’s exhibition was his son, Pomona-Pitzer senior Jack Boyle with 10, he called it “not Colorado basketball” that his club was outrebounded 47-43 by the Sagehens. Granted, an exhibition featuring liberal substitutions probably isn’t a great measuring stick — CU outrebounded Pomona 23-22 in the first half when the starters logged the bulk of their minutes — it nonetheless served as another reminder the Buffs must be the tone-setters on the glass.
“It proves in the numbers and proves in the stats how we led the league in rebounding. But in certain times, we didn’t do our jobs,” Battey said. “I think that’s the next step for us. We obviously led the league in rebounding but in situations — late game, crunch time when we need to win — that’s what needs to separate us this year.”