by Matt Sparkman
Equipped with arguably the best talent the team has seen since Chauncey Billups donned the silver and gold, Colorado men’s basketball enters a new era under new head coach Tad Boyle.
Last year’s squad finished eighth in a conference that sent seven teams to the NCAA tournament. They celebrated a win over Baylor, who went to the Elite Eight, and took number one Kansas to overtime. The program also won its first Big 12 road game since 2005. Following the season, former head coach Jeff Bzdelik accepted an offer from Wake Forest to become the program’s head coach.
Boyle, one of three candidates interviewed by the CU search committee, was introduced on April 19, becoming the programs’ 18th head coach. Also considered was former Oregon associate head coach Mike Dunlap and Bzdelik’s top assistant while at Colorado, Steve McClain.
Among many changes that will be made by Boyle, none will be larger than the switch to a more up-tempo offense. Bzdelik’s CU teams ran the Princeton offense, a slow-paced offense predicated on back cuts, milking the shot clock and making the defense make a mistake. Also, Boyle will feature more man-to-man defense than Bzdelik, who ran several variations of zone defense, while occasionally going to a man-to-man look.
There is no question the Buffaloes have momentum. Construction on a state-of-the-art practice facility has begun, and there will be updated scoreboards and concessions inside the Coors Events Center. The upcoming move to the Pac-10 figures to give Colorado an image boost as well. “I think if anything, it’s brought Colorado basketball to people’s minds,” Boyle says of the conference switch during a recent teleconference.
Boyle’s Buffs return all their regulars, with the exception of Dwight Thorne, who graduated last spring and who will continue his basketball career in Germany. Among the returners, guards Cory Higgins and Alec Burks stand out from the rest. Higgins, a senior, earned an all-Big 12 selection, averaging almost 19 points per game, while pacing the rest of the conference in steals, averaging 1.9 per game. Burks, a sophomore, named Big 12 freshman of the year, tallied 17.1 points per game. He broke Billups’ record for points scored by a freshman, slashing and slamming his way to a staggering 512.
For a short time, there was some uncertainty as to whether Burks, who is projected by some as an NBA lottery pick, would return following the departure of Bzdelik.
“With the kind of freshman season he had, he was important to keep in the fold,” said Boyle, who had to re-recruit his star guard, so to speak.
Boyle, 47, came to Boulder after spending his last four years as head coach at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Boyle transformed one of the worst basketball programs in Division I into a 25-game winner. Previous stops included Wichita State, Jacksonville State, Tennessee and Oregon as an assistant. Boyle entered the coaching business after a career as a stockbroker working on Pearl Street in Boulder.
A year after competing in the prestigious Maui Invitational, Colorado will be in another challenging preseason tournament, the Las Vegas classic. The Buffaloes will face stiff competition — such as Indiana, New Mexico and Northern Iowa — as the four-day, Christmas-time tournament gives CU a warm-up for the ultra-competitive Big 12. The Buffs will also face schools from major conferences when Oregon State travels to Boulder in December and when the Buffs go to Athens for a matchup with Georgia.
Whether or not this positive momentum turns into victories on the court is yet to be seen. But if everything goes according to plan, the Buffs figure to be a factor in postseason play.