New-look CU men’s basketball set for unofficial 2021-22 tipoff in Colorado Mines exhibition

Battle for backcourt rotation takes spotlight

BOULDER, CO - Sept. 28, 2021: ...
Keeshawn Barthelemy during University of Colorado Boulder men’s basketball practice on September 28, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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For four weeks, the new-look Colorado men’s basketball team has gotten to know one another a little more deeply while pummeling each other at practice.

Finally, the Buffaloes have a chance to put their learning curve to the test against outside competition. On Wednesday night, CU unofficially tips off the 2021-22 campaign with an exhibition game against Division II power Colorado Mines (7 p.m.).

Regardless of exactly how many seats are filled at the CU Events Center, it is certain to be the biggest home crowd enjoyed by any of the Buffs, outside seniors Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet, given last year’s COVID season.

The Buffs continue the exhibition slate on Sunday morning in a charity match at Nebraska and do not open the regular season for another two weeks, tipping off on Nov. 9 against Montana State. But with the glut of sophomores and true freshmen looking to break into the rotation for the first time, head coach Tad Boyle is eager to see how the youngsters respond against competition far superior to what they faced during the program’s four-game exhibition trip to Costa Rica in August.

“I’m looking for guys that want to compete and not pace themselves,” Boyle said. “Guys that want to guard and can get us extra possessions by offensive rebounding, taking charges, loose balls, 50-50 balls. Guys that want to compete and play with great toughness.

“Play how you practice. I don’t want to have guys come out when the lights come on and become somebody they haven’t been the last 20 practices. I know what guys can do and what they can’t do. I’m looking for guys who can play within themselves.”

While some pieces of the Buffs’ rotation are likely set — Battey, Parquet, and sophomore forward Jabari Walker are ticketed for big minutes — Wednesday’s exhibition will offer the first glimpse at how the newcomers might fit in the 2021-22 plans.

It is unlikely Boyle will use all 11 available scholarship players in the regular season rotation, and versatile sophomore Tristan da Silva and 7-foot-1 freshman Lawson Lovering are almost certain to play key bench roles, at the very least. That leaves the backcourt rotation as the most intriguing battle as the preseason hits the home stretch.

Third-year sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy has owned the inside track at the point guard job vacated by all-timer McKinley Wright IV, but Boyle during the preseason has said freshmen KJ Simpson and Julian Hammond III will be in that conversation. In limited minutes last year, Barthelemy posted a solid assist-to-turnover rate of 1.91. The exhibition against the Orediggers will give a first glance at whether those numbers might translate to a bigger role in 2021-22.

“In practice, it has not been as good this year as it was last year in games,” Boyle said about Barthelemy. “That’s something that we’re in constant communication with him. And KJ, and Julian. Obviously Eli knows about it because he’s a senior. I look at those (intrasquad) scrimmage stats, and Eli had three assists and no turnovers. KJ, Julian, and Keeshawn had 16 of our 24 (turnovers) in the scrimmage. That dog won’t hunt, as they say.”

Colorado Mines at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Wednesday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: None.

RECORDS (2020-21): Mines 18-3; CU 23-9.

TOP RETURNEES (2020-21 stats): Colorado Mines — G Kobi Betts, R-Sr., 12.4 ppg, .448 3-point percentage, 3.1 rpg; G Ben Boone, Sr., 9.9 ppg, .452 field goal percentage; G/F Brendan Sullivan, Sr., 18.1 ppg, .409 3-point percentage, 4.0 rpg. Colorado — F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 10.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg; G Elijah Parquet, Sr., 5.2 ppg, .476 field goal percentage; F Jabari Walker, So., 7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .526 field goal percentage.

NOTES: Mines was the No. 1-ranked Division II team in the nation for six weeks last season and reached the Elite Eight for the second time in program history…Mines was ranked fifth in the NABC preseason Division II poll released on Tuesday…The Orediggers and CU last met for an exhibition game three years ago ahead of the 2018-19 season. Mines held a 33-27 halftime lead in that game before the McKinley Wright IV and Tyler Bey-led Buffs pulled away for a 66-57 win…One player who will suit up for the Buffs for the first time is freshman Javon Ruffin, who still was recovering from a knee injury during CU’s exhibition trip to Costa Rica in August…Mines features one BoCoPreps-area player on the roster in Silver Creek graduate Trent Dykema. Dykema appeared in all 21 games off the bench for the Orediggers last year, averaging 4.6 points while going 11-for-19 on 3-pointers.