As the page turns toward the 2021-22 season for the Colorado men’s basketball team, head coach Tad Boyle and his staff already are piecing together next season’s schedule.
It could turn out to be one of the more entertaining non-conference schedules in recent memory.
Assuming the 2021-22 season marks a return to college basketball normalcy, the Buffs will play a 31-game regular-season schedule, with 11 non-conference games in addition to the second season of the Pac-12 Conference’s 20-game slate.
The Buffs already have at least five of those non-conference dates settled. Most prominently will be the home date with Kansas as the finale of a home-and-home agreement between the schools. CU visited the Jayhawks early in the 2019-20 season, but the schools agreed to postpone this past season’s visit to CU by Kansas after schedules were shortened to 27 games due to the coronavirus pandemic.
CU also will host Tennessee, an NCAA Tournament team that finished 13th in the final NET rankings. The Buffs and Volunteers entered into a three-game agreement on the fly last season, with the Buffs suffering a 56-47 loss in Knoxville on Dec. 8. Tennessee is set to visit the CU Events Center next season, with the teams scheduled to meet again in Nashville during the 2022-23 season.
For the second time in five seasons, the Buffs are scheduled to play at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands (CU won the tournament in 2017, though it was moved to Liberty University after extensive hurricane damage in the Virgin Islands). The Buffs are guaranteed three games against a field that also includes Colorado State, Creighton, Bradley, Brown, Duquesne, Northeastern, and Southern Illinois.
Colorado State still owes CU a date in Boulder, though it is uncertain if both teams’ participation in the Paradise Jam might push that game to another year. Regardless of when the current CSU contract expires, Boyle said he was in a sort of wait-and-see mode about extending the state rivalry beyond the one game still pending in Boulder.
The Buffs and Rams were scheduled to meet in December in Boulder but the game was canceled due to coronavirus issues. It was the first time since the 1990-91 season the teams didn’t meet.
“I’m not making any commitments to anybody right now in regards to that,” Boyle said about extending the CSU rivalry. “We’ll see how it all plays out.”
Also unclear is the immediate future of the Pac-12 Coast to Coast Challenge. The event was supposed to be instituted last year as a means of giving the Pac-12 an annual, high-profile non-conference showcase, with CU originally scheduled to play TCU in Las Vegas in December. The event eventually was scuttled, and while the Buffs were slated to play TCU again in 2021-22 in Dallas, Boyle said it is uncertain what the Buffs’ possible role in the showcase will be next season.
All the original one-game agreements signed for last season that didn’t happen, like a scheduled home date against Pepperdine, are off the docket. That leaves the Buffs looking for up to six nonconference games or as few as four, depending on the fate of the CSU home game and the Pac-12 Coast to Coast Challenge.
“I do know this — with Kansas and Tennessee on the schedule, and the tournament in the Virgin Islands, and a young team, we’ve got to think about home games and building some confidence and having success,” Boyle said. “Because we know we’ve got 20 league games still ahead. And you have Tennessee and Kansas, that’s like 22 league games. You run into Creighton or somebody like that down in the Virgin Islands, that’s like 23 league-type games. For a young team, that’s a lot.”
Following Baylor’s dominating win against Gonzaga in the NCAA title game Monday night, the final USA Today/NABC Coaches poll was released on Tuesday, with the Buffs finishing at No. 23. It is the first time CU has finished a season among the top 25 since 1996-97, when the Buffs finished 24th in the AP poll and 25th in the USA Today/Coaches poll. Other Pac-12 schools in the final coaches poll were UCLA (7), USC (9), Oregon (17), and Oregon State (20).