Much-anticipated 2019-20 season finally tips off for CU basketball in China

Buffs expect early test in familiar foe Arizona State

Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Colorado’s McKinley Wright and the Buffs will open the season against Arizona State on Friday in China.

McKinley Wright’s tunnel vision isn’t so focused that he didn’t expect to enjoy some of the non-basketball amenities of the Colorado men’s basketball team’s trip to China.

Still, from the moment Wright took off with the rest of the Buffaloes nearly a week ago, that focus has been centered on one thing above and beyond everything else. For Wright, when the Buffs finally open a much-anticipated 2019-20 season against Arizona State in the Pac-12 Conference’s annual game in China, the win is the thing.

“As far as the itinerary, I could really care less about that. I’m just trying to just win a game and come back home to America,” Wright said. “It’s going to be a good experience, going to Disneyland and the boat tour. It’s going to be fun. But my main focus is to win the game.”

After a week of recreational tours and a lopsided exhibition match, the Buffs face a familiar foe in a season-opener that will be played as a nonconference contest. The matchup is the Buffs toughest season-opening hurdle since they took on a seventh-ranked Iowa State team in Sioux Falls, S.D., to open the 2015-16.

And, with apologies to Oregon’s Payton Pritchard, the matchup also features an intriguing showdown between two of the top point guards in the Pac-12 in Wright and ASU junior Remy Martin. The pair has squared off five times, with Wright and the Buffs holding a slim 3-2 edge.

The Arizona State showdown also is the first matchup in what will be a ramped-up nonconference schedule for the Buffs through December. If CU ultimately realizes its goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, it will be earned in part during a November-December slate that includes games away from home against ASU, Kansas, Colorado State, Dayton, and either TCU or Clemson.

“Usually your players are going to be keyed up for that opener. If not, you’re going to have a long season,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “They’ve been off the whole offseason and they’re ready to play. And our guys are ready to play. We know we’re playing a level of opponent like Arizona State, who has been to two straight NCAA Tournaments in a row. We haven’t. They picked us second. I don’t know where they picked them, but that gives them a little bit of a rallying cry, so to speak. Our rallying cry should be that these guys have been to the NCAA Tournament two years in a row. We haven’t.”

While Friday night’s showdown is just the first of 31 regular season games for the Buffs, it will be the first glimpse at how Boyle will address the few unknowns surrounding his veteran team. There remains a question of who will start at the two-guard spot. The Buffs’ depth might force capable players to the back end of the rotation, and it remains to be seen what sort of spark CU’s lone newcomer, junior college transfer Maddox Daniels, might provide.

“My expectation is, and I don’t know, Arizona State will probably be playing smaller than they did last year just based on what they lost,” Boyle said. “But some of their new guys, they’re unknowns right now. They’ve got some size but I just don’t know who Bobby ((Hurley) is going to put on the floor. And who he puts on the floor might dictate who I put on the floor.

“That’s what makes the games this time of year so interesting. We know their returning players and what they can do and how good they are. But they had offseasons just like our guys had offseasons. They know most of our guys coming back except for Maddox. They probably have a few more unknowns than we do.”

CU Buffs men’s basketball vs. Arizona State

TIPOFF: Friday, 8:30 p.m. MT, Shanghai, China.

RECORDS (2018-19): Colorado 23-18, 10-8 Pac-12 Conference; ASU 23-11, 12-6.

COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 10th season (189-123, 245-189 overall); Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 4th season (73-58, 115-78 overall).

KEY PLAYERS (2018-19 stats): Colorado — G McKinley Wright, Jr., 13.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.8 apg; F Tyler Bey, Jr., 13.6 ppg, 9.9 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Jr., 9.2 ppg, 3.7 rpg. Arizona State — G Remy Martin, Jr., 12.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.2 rpg; G Rob Edwards, Sr., 11.1 ppg, .375 3-point percentage; F Romello White, Jr., 8.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg.

NOTES: While the game will be played as a nonconference date, CU was picked second in the Pac-12 preseason media poll and ASU was picked sixth. The teams meet just once in Pac-12 play on Jan. 16 at ASU…The Buffs will begin their journey home after the game and are scheduled to return to practice Tuesday morning…The teams’ last meeting in a neutral setting was in the opening round of the 2018 Pac-12 tournament, with the Buffs posting a 97-85 win…CU is 7-2 in season openers under Boyle but, like Friday’s matchup, both losses occurred in neutral-floor games —  against Baylor in Dallas to start the 2013-14 season, and against No. 7 Iowa State in Sioux Falls, S.D. to start the 2015-16 season. All seven of the wins were at home…CU will be idle until it hosts San Diego in its home opener on Nov. 16 (8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks.)