Wednesday, October 16, 2019

High expectations for Colorado basketball after a hot second half last season

Photo Credit: Adam Chalifoux

By: Adam Chalifoux
Twitter: @KungFouxHustle

BOULDER, CO— After failing to reach .500 the previous two seasons, the Colorado Buffaloes practically sprinted to the finish-line last winter, winning 10 of their final 13 games. 

While they have not made the NCAA tournament since 2016, their strong finish to last year is one of the main reasons that Colorado was voted to finish second behind Oregon by a vote of 27 Pac-12 media members.

Wednesday’s media day in Boulder was filled with an optimistic energy and perhaps a quiet confidence.

"Last year's team really improved as the season went on," said CU head coach Tad Boyle, who is entering his tenth season with the program. "We got hot at the end and played well down the stretch. It is important that we understand where we were at the end of the last year... This is a team where we can take off where we left off.”

Colorado returns a plethora of key players this season including last year’s rebounding, blocks, and scoring leader, Tyler Bey, as well as their leader in assists and steals, McKinley Wright. Both players are coming into their junior seasons and while the personnel has stayed very much the same, the circumstances have not.

Colorado is not a surprise team this year. In fact, they have some high expectations and failing to reach the NCAA tournament could even be seen as underachieving.

“The bar is high for us of course,” said Wright, “A lot of people expect big things from us and we are going to do our best to give these CU fans what they deserve.”

While the bar is higher than it has been in years past, the Buffaloes say that they don’t feel any extra pressure. When asked about handling the team’s expectations, McKinley shared a lesson from a former teammate.

“I’ve got a former teammate, George King who would always tell me, there is no such thing as pressure. Just be prepared; so I think coach is doing a great job preparing us and guys are getting in the gym everyday working on their game individually and getting in shape so I don’t feel no pressure. We’re excited to play basketball.”

This philosophy seemed to be a constant with the players Tuesday morning practice and perhaps a focal point of their coach.

“I put pressure on myself everyday,” said Boyle, “Every year that we don’t go to the tournament, I’m disappointed so I wouldn’t say there is anymore pressure. I don't put any more pressure on myself than I have on myself in years passed. I always go into the season with an expectation level and this year I’d be lying if I said that my expectation level wasn’t a little higher.”

Whether it be pressure, expectations, or both, the Colorado Buffaloes have a chance to make some noise this year as one of the more experienced and complete teams in the conference. The Buffaloes bring a modern skillset to the 2019-2020 season with talented passing big men, Evan Battey, and Dallas Walton.

Battey averaged eight points and four rebounds for the Buffaloes and has watched a lot of film on Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as he looks to expand on his game and particularly, his ability to pass from the post.

Walton meanwhile missed last season with a torn ACL but now, the 7-foot center is healthy and ready to compete with his teammates as the Buffaloes look ahead to next month’s season opener.

“Every practice when we say its on, it really means it really means it’s on,” said Walton. “Just like when we come into a game and we say its on, we can’t come out lackadaisical because then we will find ourselves down 15 or 20 at halftime and wondering what happened, so when we start practices we have to make sure everything is sharp and crisp and on point everyday; we gotta make sure that is a consistent thing.”

If the Buffaloes do plan on earning a spot to the tournament in March, consistency will be as important as ever. Whether they feel the pressure or not, it is real. Ten teams sit behind them in the preseason poll and will be hungry to get their chance to hunt the Buffaloes as the underdog, many of those teams will have revenge on their mind after losing to Colorado down the stretch last season.

Colorado will open its season on Nov. 8 in Shanghai, China against Arizona State, who ranked sixth in the Pac-12 preseason poll. Until then, the Buffaloes hope to remain consistent in practice and not let the pressure (if it does exist) get to them.