With a little less than two weeks remaining until the 2021-22 season officially tips off, Colorado men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle understandably is not yet committed to a starting lineup.
Yet if Wednesday’s exhibition victory against Colorado Mines offered a sneak preview, the Buffaloes are going big.
To jump-start the Buffs’ 78-48 win against the Orediggers, Boyle began with a sizeable trio up front in 6-foot-8 Evan Battey, 6-foot-9 Jabari Walker, and 6-foot-10 Tristan da Silva alongside a backcourt of Keeshawn Barthelemy and Elijah Parquet.
Boyle explained the grouping on Thursday, saying the versatility of Walker and da Silva, who both can play the three and four spots, along with the overall depth of CU’s big men, inspired the move.
“It’s an interesting group, because we basically have four big guys,” Boyle said. “We have Jabari. We have Tristan. We’ve got Evan. We’ve got Lawson (Lovering). It’s hard to play four bigs, but all four of those guys have got to play. A way to get that done is to start Tristan at the three. You can play him at the three for at least eight to 12 minutes a game, and then he can go into the big rotation.
“So like (against Mines), if Jabari gets in foul trouble, Tristan can play some more four.”
The trend of position-less basketball isn’t necessarily what the Buffs are striving for, but if Wednesday’s frontcourt pairing remains intact for the Nov. 9 season opener at home against Montana State, it will be a unique and versatile trio. The shortest player of that trio, Battey, is playing the five spot while the tallest, da Silva, mans the small forward position.
In recent years, the three spot has been held by players like the 6-foot-7 D’Shawn Schwartz and 6-foot-6 George King. If not for the desire to get solid minutes for all four big men, Boyle said 6-foot-6 sophomore Nique Clifford would be a viable option to start at the three.
“I said it last night, Nique is like a sixth starter,” Boyle said. “The way he’s rebounding the ball, I would start him at the three normally. But letting Tristan start at the three allows me to play him more minutes and still get Lawson minutes.”
As the Buffs get set to wrap up the preseason exhibition schedule at Nebraska on Sunday morning, Boyle admitted a redshirt season remains an option for freshman wing Javon Ruffin.
Ruffin was slowed this past summer by a dislocated right knee that required surgery to repair cartilage damage. He did not play during CU’s four-game exhibition trip to Costa Rica in August but was ready for the first week of preseason practice a month ago.
Ruffin, though, recently missed two practices to curtail swelling in the knee, and he played just four minutes on Wednesday against Mines — by far the fewest among CU’s scholarship players. Given his less-than-100 percent physical status and the fact the Buffs won’t go through the regular season with an 11-man rotation, a redshirt season might prove to be the best fit for Ruffin.
Boyle said there was some hesitancy since the Buffs have only 11 healthy scholarship players following the midsummer departure of transfer guard Mason Faulkner and the season-ending hip injury suffered by freshman Quincy Allen. So, even if Ruffin isn’t dressed for the opener, his status could change if the Buffs encounter unexpected hurdles like injures.
“Javon and I have talked about that. I think with his knee, he’s still getting a feel for that,” Boyle said. “We’ve talked about it and had some discussions, but we don’t have to make a decision on it until November ninth. With 11 scholarship players I’m a little more reluctant to do it, because I think we may need him at some point.
“But Javon knows his knee is not 100 percent right now. It might be another month or two before he feels like he’s 100 percent. And he missed so much of the summer and fall prep time. We’re just going to take it day by day and week by week.”