In less than two weeks, preseason practice officially begins for the Colorado men’s basketball team.
In the weeks between that opening workout on Sept. 27 and the Nov. 8 season opener against Arizona State in China, the chatter certain to surround the Buffaloes will only grow more complimentary. And louder, too. Expectations abound for the Buffs and head coach Tad Boyle, who enters his 10th season at CU looking at perhaps his best chance at making a meaningful run in the NCAA Tournament since guys like Spencer Dinwiddie and Andre Roberson last suited up for the Buffs.
Already the Buffs are garnering preseason recognition. Keeping what Boyle consistently describes as “the noise” at arm’s length, while maintaining the goal of daily improvement that served the Buffs so well down the stretch in 2018-19, is destined to be a critical preseason talking point when practice begins next week.
“My message to them is pretty simple: Don’t listen to the noise, and it’s all noise,” Boyle said. “This year, wherever they end up picking us, it doesn’t mean anything. I want our players to understand the only expectations that are important to me are the internal expectations we put on ourselves. Which is to come to practice every day, work our tail off, and get better. If you can just focus on the day-to-day, incremental improvements as an individual and certainly as a team, that’s where success comes from. That was true last year, and that’s going to be true this year.
“What we can’t get caught up in is the external expectations or, as I call it, noise. We have to be able to block that out. I have to be able to do it. Our players have to be able to do it. It’s easier said than done, but that’s the challenge.”
Folks around the country are taking notice of the Buffs, who in a few seasons have morphed from a talented but extremely young team relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores to the most experienced returning roster in the Pac-12 Conference. The latest version of ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early Top 25” published last week slotted the Buffs at No. 24. On Monday, national college basketball reporter Andy Katz tabbed CU junior guard McKinley Wright as the preseason favorite for the Pac-12’s Player of the Year honor while predicting a No. 8 seed in the 2020 NCAA Tournament for the Buffs.
Of course, none of these honors mean anything in September. And the Buffs will have to buck the trend of their recent seasons to meet their lofty expectations.
Since a run of four NCAA Tournament appearances in five seasons ended after a first-round loss at the 2016 tourney, the Buffs generally have countered preseason expectations every season. When the Buffs were expected to compete — like when they were picked third in the Pac-12 preseason poll for 2014-15 and fifth in 2016-17 — CU has stumbled, with those two seasons easily counting as the most disappointing of the Boyle era.
On the other hand, the Buffs were picked seventh in 2015-16, only to finish fifth while advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs again were picked seventh last year but finished fifth and reached the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. That run was part of a stretch of 12 wins in 15 games that sent the Buffs into the NIT quarterfinals and immediately stirred anticipation for the 2019-20 season soon to tip off.
“The one year that I thought we had the highest expectations that we underachieved was the year we had all those fifth-year seniors (2016-17),” Boyle said. “That team underachieved. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. We underachieved based on our talent level and experience level. A lot of these guys weren’t around then. So our players don’t know what they don’t know.”