For a few moments, Tad Boyle admitted to having NCAA Tournament flashbacks. A highly-ranked opponent no one saw coming suddenly was on Colorado’s schedule, and it was time to cram for a big-time showdown.
Yet when Boyle arrived at his office on Saturday, ready for a coffee-fueled study session breaking down film of the Tennessee Volunteers, 2020 tapped CU’s head coach on the shoulder. There was no current film on Tennessee while his own club hardly is in midseason form, let alone postseason form, after COVID-19 concerns shut down the CU program last week and scuttled the first two Pac-12 Conference games.
Nevertheless, the Buffs’ wild, week-plus run will end Tuesday night, presumably, as the Buffs get an unexpected gauge as to how they stack up against top national competition in a rare visit to 12th-ranked Tennessee.
The Buffs have not played since a Nov. 27 win at Kansas State, shutting down for two days last week amid a second positive coronavirus test within the program. The first of those positive tests was incurred by senior D’Shawn Schwartz on Nov. 25 prior to an opening night win against South Dakota, and while Boyle said he expects Schwartz to return to the rotation in Knoxville, he also said he expects his team to remain shorthanded for the third time in as many games.
Tennessee, meanwhile, will be playing its delayed season opener after shutting down during the preseason and extending the hiatus on Nov. 24, costing the Volunteers their first four games in a run that included dates against Gonzaga and Notre Dame. On Monday, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said it would be without sophomore reserve Drew Pember and prized freshman forward Corey Walker against CU.
The game is CU’s third scheduled Dec. 8 matchup in less than a week, following the postponing of originally planned foe Colorado State and canceling a matchup against replacement foe Colorado Mines. After its shutdown, Tennessee was scheduled to open the season Wednesday against UT-Martin, but when UT-Martin was unable to play, the Volunteers quickly pivoted to the Buffs.
“Coach (Mike) Rohn, he’s a veteran and he’s got the scout,” Boyle said. “We looked at obviously some of the actions that they ran last year. Rick Barnes has been around for a long, long time. We tried as best to prepare for what we think they’re going to run offensively, what we think they’re going to do defensively, and then obviously their personnel. The great thing about the internet is it used to be with a freshman or a transfer, you didn’t have film on him. Now we have film on everybody that’s on their team. Now, they may not be in a Tennessee uniform, but we can at least see what they’ve done and get some information on them.”
Tennessee moved up one spot in the latest AP Top 25 to No. 12, and the Volunteers were picked to win the SEC in the preseason media poll for the first time since 2007. Barnes said despite returning to practice late last week, Tuesday’s game will mark the first time he has had his entire team together on the Tennessee bench the entire preseason.
“I do think the older guys can handle it more so than the younger guys,” Barnes said. “Our younger guys, the starts and stops have definitely affected them more in terms of their recall, being able to understand what we’re doing.
“This is the first time our young guys have gone through this. (Tuesday) it’s all going to be new for all those guys. Although we had started preparing prior to our shutdown to get ready for (opening foes) Charlotte and VCU, (Sunday and Monday) was the first time we’ve been able to do what we normally we do.”
CU Buffs men’s basketball at No. 12 Tennessee Volunteers
TIPOFF: Tuesday, 4 p.m. MT, Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, Tenn.
BROADCAST: TV — SEC Network+. Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Colorado 2-0; Tennessee 17-14, 9-9 SEC in 2019-20.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11th season (212-134, 268-200); Tennessee — Rick Barnes, 6th season (105-64, 709-378 overall)
KEY PLAYERS: Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 22.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.0 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, Sr., 10.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg; F Jabari Walker, Fr., 9.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg. Tennessee (top returners with 2019-20 stats) — F John Fulkerson, Sr., 13.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, .612 field goal percentage; G/F Yves Pons, Sr., 10.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 2.4 bpg; G Santiago Vescovi, So., 10.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg; 3.3 rpg.
WHAT TO WATCH: Boyle called the frontcourt matchup “an interesting one to watch” with Pons and the 6-foot-9 Fulkerson squaring off against the Buffs’ rotation of Dallas Walton, Evan Battey, Jeriah Horne and Jabari Walker. Despite being just 6-foot-6, Pons matched Tennessee’s single-season blocked shots record last year (73) and became the first Volunteers player to win the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year honor.
NOTES: This is only the second visit by CU to Tennessee, and the first since an 89-67 loss on Dec. 13, 1980…Boyle said the postponed game against Washington State, originally slated for Dec. 5 at home, will likely be played in late January when both teams have one-game weeks (CU at home against Utah; WSU at UW)…Tennessee’s newcomers include a pair of freshmen in five-star recruits Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, as well as graduate transfer EJ Anosike, who collected more than 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in three seasons at Sacred Heart…This will be the first of three games between the Buffs and Vols. Tennessee is scheduled to visit CU next year, with the teams also planning to meet in Nashville during the 2022-23 season…The Buffs haven’t defeated a ranked foe in a true road game since a 48-47 win at No. 19 Oregon on Feb. 7, 2013…CU is scheduled to be off until a Dec. 14 home date against Northern Colorado.