Operation toughen the (heck) up is underway for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
The Buffaloes returned to practice in Boulder on Tuesday with a single agenda on the mind of head coach Tad Boyle: Get his club tougher, before the promising early wins get completely nullified by the mediocrity of a .500 record.
For the first time since the start of the regular season more than two weeks ago, CU (3-3) will have an opportunity to practice intensely multiple days in a row. Boyle intends to take full advantage of that opportunity as the Buffs get ready for a Sunday home date against Yale (1 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
“(Tuesday’s) practice was one of the more physical that we’ve had,” Boyle said. “We went on that road trip, and we got one decent day of practice because you were playing so many games in such a short period of time. The way you get tougher is you challenge kids. You show them on film how they’re getting punked. Like we got punked against Boise.
“You’ve got to piss your players off. It’s OK for them to be pissed at the coach. If they’re not pissed at me, I’m probably not coaching them hard enough. All three losses, we physically got punked. So you show them that on film. You challenge them. You piss them off. You do whatever you can to light a fire under them and say we’re not going to let this happen again.”
Boyle criticized his team’s lack of toughness on Sunday night following a defeat against Boise State that left the Buffs with a 1-2 mark at the Myrtle Beach Invitational and a 2-3 record during the long road trip — despite posting wins against a pair of ranked foes in Tennessee and Texas A&M. He attempted to quantify that lack of toughness with a look at a few of his players’ rebounds per minute, a metric he turns to the most frequently when measuring rebounding productivity.
For instance, leading rebounder J’Vonne Hadley, who has missed the past two games due to a shoulder injury, is averaging .371 rebounds per minute (14.9 per 40 minutes). Two players lagging in that department are 6-foot-9 forward Tristan da Silva (.125 per minute, 5.0 per 40 minutes) and 6-foot-5 wing Jalen Gabbidon (0.75 per minute, 3.0 per 40 minutes).
“Not having J’Vonne Hadley against Boise — he’s our best rebounder, he’s our toughest player. Getting punked, J’Vonne Hadley helps with that,” Boyle said. “But J’Vonne was out. No excuses, next man up. Next man up wasn’t ready. We have a 10-man rotation, and the fact of the matter is Tristan da Silva is our eighth-best rebounder (per minute). Jalen Gabbidon is our 10th-best rebounder. Physically speaking, those guys should be better rebounders.”
Given the makeup of the roster, it was easy to see how freshman RJ Smith would be ticketed for a redshirt season, barring a rash of injuries along the wing. As it turns out his classmate, Joe Hurlburt, could have the same fate.
That wasn’t the original plan for the 6-foot-11 Hurlburt, who was expected to at least provide spot duty up front on a team thin on frontcourt depth. But Boyle said after the Boise State loss Hurlburt is “not ready.” And if Hurlburt couldn’t get off the bench with Hadley out, da Silva sidelined for the final 14-plus minutes, and 7-foot-1 Lawson Lovering returning to the floor with two fouls during the first half, it’s difficult to envision a more likely scenario in which Boyle would turn to the freshman forward.
“I’ve talked to Joe about it, and it’s something we’re really going to have to talk about this week,” Boyle said. “I’ve got to think about what’s best for the kid, what’s best for the program. You don’t want to put kids in situations where they’re not going to succeed.”
Boyle provided a brief update on wounded Buffs Hadley, da Silva and KJ Simpson, who turned his right ankle late against Boise State.
Boyle said “KJ’s fine,” and also clarified that da Silva is not in the concussion protocol, describing his setback less as a blow to the head than the junior forward getting poked in the eye. Boyle said he is expecting da Silva and Hadley to be ready by the time Yale arrives, but their status will not be clarified until later this week.