Colorado men's basketball coach Tad Boyle doesn't mind his players talking about achieving big goals this season -- but only if they back their talk with the walk.

To call the upcoming season a walk for the Buffaloes, however, would be akin to calling a climb of Mount Everest a hike.

CU, which opens its season on Friday in Dallas against No. 25 Baylor (8 p.m., ROOT Sports), faces perhaps the most difficult schedule in program history. The Buffs (21-12 a year ago), must embark on this journey without one of the best players in program history (Andre Roberson left early for the NBA), no clear leaders and with a roster filled with as many untested youngsters as experienced veterans.

This is no leisurely stroll the Buffs are about to take. Like a climb of Everest, it should be a mix of exhilarating moments and struggles with adversity. Should the Buffs reach their summit -- a long stay in the NCAA Tournament -- it'll be one of the most memorable seasons ever in Boulder.

"I think we can be great," said Boyle, who is entering his fourth season as the Buffaloes' head coach. "The potential is there to be as good as we want to be."

Boyle has guided the Buffs to a 69-38 record and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in his three seasons. With a talented roster led by potential NBA first-round pick Spencer Dinwiddie at point guard, CU enters the year on the cusp of the Top 25 rankings and with high expectations, both from inside the program and out.


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Starting Friday against Baylor, the Buffs have to prove they are worthy of the hype.

"Talent and potential are the two more dangerous words in athletics," Boyle said. "I don't care what sport you're talking about. We're in a results-oriented business."

To get the results they want, the Buffs must find the answers to several key questions, including the following:

1. With a roster that includes five true sophomores and five freshmen, can the Buffs handle the high expectations?

Boyle has done his best to prevent his players from listening too much to outsiders. This week, with the opener on the horizon, they appeared grounded.

"It's a lot of fun," Dinwiddie said of the recognition the Buffs are receiving. "Instead of being the hunter, we're being the hunted. It's going to be a different feeling this season and nobody is going to overlook us anymore. We're getting prepared to take everybody's best shot. That's exciting, but you also have to prepare for that."

Junior guard Askia Booker said that if the Buffs can stay focused on each practice and each game, "We'll be just fine."

2. Who will emerge as the leaders of this team?

In his three seasons in Boulder, Boyle has had just one team with great leadership -- the 2011-12 squad that won the Pac-12 Tournament. Seniors Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson willed that team to success.

On the eve of opener, Boyle still wasn't exactly sure where the leadership was going to come from on this squad, although he does think Booker and Dinwiddie could emerge. Dinwiddie believes that's his job, as the marquee player on this team.

"Any time you have a team that has expectations, it's always on the leader to set the tone," he said. "That's my job, go out there to set the tone defensively and offensively."

3. Will Dinwiddie keep his focus and not get distracted by his own hype?

He has been one of the Pac-12's best players the last two years. He shined on the international stage this summer as a part of Team USA at the World University Games. And, most believe he will skip his senior year and enter the 2014 NBA Draft. Dinwiddie is a remarkable talent, but he has to be focused on the team and not his bright future.

"He needs to be dialed in, both offensively and defensively," Boyle said.

4. Can the Buffs replace the 11.2 rebounds per game and exceptional defense that Roberson took with him to the NBA?

Yes and no.

Between Wesley Gordon, Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and, hopefully, a few more boards from Dinwiddie, the Buffs could find those 11.2 boards. What the Buffs will miss most is Roberson's defense. He was the Pac-12 defensive player of the year and well deserving of that honor.

"Defensively we can't replace him," Boyle said. "Not even close. ... Not even close."

5. Will Booker be a consistent scorer?

A year ago, Booker was second on the team with 12.4 points per game. He made just 36.4 percent of his shots, however, including 31.2 percent from 3-point range. Those were significant drops from his freshman percentages (40.2 and 37.2).

Booker has looked great in practices and has worked hard on his shot during the offseason. CU cannot afford to see him go through a prolonged slump again.

"Ski's an X-factor for us," Boyle said. "Ski is a guy that feels he can score on anybody and get a shot off at any time, but he's got to make good decisions when it comes to that."

6. How will CU handle what is possibly its toughest schedule ever?

The Buffs shouldn't have a problem getting amped for Baylor, Kansas and other marquee games. The key is being ready for teams like Tennessee-Martin and Jackson State. Needing two overtimes to defeat Texas Southern at home last year taught CU that lesson.

"Everybody is really excited and we're not overlooking any team," Dinwiddie said.

Several of CU's opponents, like Elon, don't have much name recognition, but have high expectations of their own in their respective leagues.

"Our players need to understand how good these guys are," Boyle said.

7. With so much talent and so many scoring options, will there be enough shots to keep everyone happy?

"We have to have no agendas," Boyle said. "We have to play for Colorado basketball and not play for our own personal agendas. That's easier said than done, because they all have goals, they all have dreams. The last thing we need to be concerned about is how many shots we're getting. If we can put the team's goals ahead of our own individual goals, we'll be fine. If we can't do that, it's going to be tough."

8. Which of the four true freshmen will contribute the most?

"From what I'm seeing, I think Dustin (Thomas) and Jaron (Hopkins) have shown up in practice more consistently than George (King) and Tre'Shaun (Fletcher)," Boyle said. "I think George and Tre'Shaun are a little bit further behind in terms of understanding the concepts that we're trying to get through, but those two guys have great basketball instincts. They're still thinking a lot rather than playing. I'd say Dustin and Jaron -- early on, I expect maybe a little bit more from."

9. How quickly will Boyle and his staff figure out what they have on the roster?

Because there are five key players who have never played a minute of college basketball, there are plenty of unknowns for the CU coaches. But, with eight games in November, the roster figures to take shape quickly.

"I think I know what we have, but you don't know until you see these guys in action and the lights come on," Boyle said.

10. Is the program where Boyle wanted it to be heading into year No. 4?

For the first time ever the Buffs have reached the postseason three years in a row, including a trip to the NIT in 2011. Perhaps even better is that the Buffs appear to have stockpiled enough talent to keep this run going for a while.

"Yeah, I think it could be a lot worse," Boyle said of where his program sits today. "What I'm trying to do is, I'm not building for a (particular) year. We're trying to sustain our level of competitiveness and success."

So far, the Buffs have done that under Boyle. If they can continue the upward trajectory, this could be a fun season.

"I think we can be excellent," Booker said. "I think we can be in the top 25. I think we can most definitely make the NCAA Tournament, possibly win the Pac-12 tournament."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.

CU men's hoops preview

FRIDAY: The Colorado Buffaloes (21-12 last year) face the No. 25 Baylor Bears (23-14 last year) in an 8 p.m. game at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

BROADCAST: Radio -- KOA (850 AM), with Mark Johnson on play-by-play. TV -- ROOT Sports, with John Morris on play-by-play and Jim Haller providing color commentary.

STORYLINES: This game is part of the Buckets and Boots Showcase. Earlier in the day, Oklahoma will face Alabama and SMU will face TCU. ... Baylor and CU were Big 12 rivals until CU left the conference after the 2010-11 season. They have faced each other each year since, however, with Baylor beating the Buffs 80-63 in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and CU beating the Bears 60-58 in the Charleston Classic last November. ... Baylor won the NIT last season and is picked to finish third in the Big 12 this season. ... CU reached the NCAA Tournament last season and is picked to finish third in the Pac-12. ... This is the first time CU has ever faced a ranked opponent in the season opener. ... A year ago, CU averaged 67.6 points and allowed 63.6 points. Baylor averaged 76.0 points and allowed 66.4. ... CU is 13-8 in neutral site games under coach Tad Boyle. ... This game features three potential 2014 NBA first-round picks: CU's Spencer Dinwiddie and Baylor's Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson.

KEY STAT: Last year, Baylor was 19-8 when scoring at least 70 points (and 12-2 when scoring at least 80) and 4-6 when held below 70. CU would love to keep the score down in this one.

COACHES: Tad Boyle is 69-38 in his fourth season at CU and 125-104 in his career. Scott Drew is 178-138 in his 11th season at Baylor and 198-149 in his career.

PROBABLE STARTERS: Colorado (2012-13 stats) -- G Spencer Dinwiddie, 6-6, Jr. (15.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.0 apg); G Askia Booker, 6-2, Jr. (12.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.2 apg); F Josh Scott, 6-10, So. (10.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg); F Xavier Johnson, 6-7, So. (8.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg); F Wesley Gordon, 6-9, Fr. (redshirted). Baylor -- G Brady Heslip, 6-2, Sr. (8.6 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Gary Franklin, 6-2, Sr. (4.0 ppg, 1.1 apg); G Kenny Chery, 5-11, Jr. (16.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.7 apg at State Fair Community College); C Isaiah Austin, 7-1, So. (13.0 ppg, 83. rpg); F Cory Jefferson, 6-9, Sr. (13.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg).

SERIES: CU leads 16-10, including 5-2 in neutral site games.

UP NEXT: CU will host Tennessee-Martin on Sunday at 4 p.m.