It’s only the season opener. Yet the level of Tad Boyle’s angst and concern already is at peak, midseason form.
The Colorado Buffaloes begin their 119th men’s basketball season, and the 12th under Boyle, on Tuesday night at the CU Events Center. On one bench will be the Buffs, a program that has reached five of the 10 NCAA Tournaments held during Boyle’s tenure and is trying to strike the delicate balance of retooling with a younger rotation while remaining nationally relevant.
On the other bench will be a deep and experienced squad that is the source of Boyle’s concern, Montana State. The Bobcats fell just short of an NCAA Tournament bid last season and will give the new-look Buffs a respectable opening-night test.
Boyle joked that former Director of Player Development Nate Tomlinson, who took the lead on compiling the schedule, should be fired by former CU assistant Kim English at his new assistant coach job at George Mason for scheduling such a demanding opener. What is no joking matter is the challenge Montana State will present on opening night.
“This is bad scheduling. It’s bad scheduling on my part,” Boyle said. “We’re in for a dogfight. They have three super seniors, and they went into UNLV for the opener last year and won by 13. They’re a veteran group. They have really good players. I coached in the Big Sky (at Northern Colorado), and this is a very, very good Big Sky team.”
Montana State very nearly stole an NCAA Tournament bid at the end of last season, topping top-seeded Southern Utah in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament before dropping the title game against Eastern Washington.
The Bobcats return their top four scorers and top three rebounders from that squad. Three of them — guards Amin Adamu, Abdul Mohamed, and Xavier Bishop — were seniors last year who opted to return for the extra season of eligibility granted by the NCAA for the 2020-21 COVID season. Meanwhile, the Buffs will counter with at least two freshmen set to make their official debuts in KJ Simpson and Lawson Lovering. And no Buffs player outside seniors Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet has played in front of an Events Center crowd larger than the 2,406 on hand for CU’s exhibition win against Colorado Mines two weeks ago.
“(Montana State) has a chip on their shoulder,” CU sophomore forward Jabari Walker said. “They were one game away from the tournament last year and they believe they should make the tournament this year. We’re both looking to get off to a strong start. They’re coming in here looking to win. They probably feel like they’re slept on. I know they’re coming in here with an underdog mentality and nothing to lose. It will be a good test, for sure.”
Given the experience in the Montana State lineup, the Buffs certainly can’t struggle through the first 10 minutes like they did last week in an exhibition loss at Nebraska, where CU fell quickly into a 20-point hole while the Cornhuskers drained five of their first seven 3-point attempts, mostly from wide-open looks.
“This is a scary game,” Boyle said. “We cannot be sleeping. It’s our home opener, we should be ready to go. We should have energy. We should have the eye of the tiger. This is going to be a hell of a basketball game.”
Montana State Bobcats at CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Tuesday, 8 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Mountain. Radio — 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS (2020-21): Montana State 13-10; CU 23-9.
COACHES: Montana State — Danny Sprinkle, 3rd season (29-25 overall and at Montana State) ; Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (289-209 overall, 233-143 at Colorado).
TOP RETURNEES (2020-21 stats): Montana State — G Amin Adamu, Sr., 14.7 ppg, 5.0; G Xavier Bishop, Sr., 13.9 ppg, 3.9 apg; F Jubrile Belo, Jr., 14.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg; F/G Abdul Mohamed, Sr., 5.9 ppg, 4.8 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: Montana State was picked to finish third in the Big Sky Conference preseason media poll…Hard to believe, but CU hasn’t posted a win against Montana State since 1924. The Bobcats have won the six matchups since, most recently recording an overtime victory in Boulder on Nov. 18, 2008…CU is 9-2 in season openers under Boyle…The Buffs will try to rediscover their long-range touch after going just 5-for-36 on 3-pointers (.139) in two preseason exhibition games…Montana State posted preseason exhibition wins against Yellowstone Christian and Providence (The small school in Great Falls, Mont., and not the Providence Friars of the Big East)…CU’s three-game, season-opening homestand continues on Saturday against New Mexico (4:30 p.m., Pac-12 Mountain).