After watching his team get routed on the road, Tad Boyle was ready to channel his inner Mike Tyson.
That’s not to say the head coach of the Colorado men’s basketball team was ready to bite someone’s ear off, though he might have been angry enough to at least consider it after watching his team sleepwalk through the first 10 minutes of Sunday’s lopsided 82-67 exhibition loss at Nebraska.
Instead, the thumping at the hands of the Cornhuskers made Boyle wonder how his team will react to an old-fashioned beatdown as the Buffs zero in on the regular season opener.
“It’s like that old Mike Tyson line. ‘Everybody’s got a plan until you get punched in the face.’ Well, we got punched in the face for the first time,” Boyle said. “Our practices have to get better. More competitive.”
As the Buffs resume practice this week, they flip the script from the preseason to game week ahead of the Nov. 9 opener against Montana State at the CU Events Center. On Monday, less than 24 hours after completing the preseason with the defeat at Nebraska, Boyle sat down with BuffZone to review the preseason and discuss his team’s most pressing issues.
Here’s a look at three priorities for the Buffs leading up to the visit from Montana State.
Find the range
Chances are, the Buffs aren’t going to spend the 2021-22 season shooting .139 from 3-point range. But that’s the mark CU posted in its two preseason games after going 2-for-17 against Colorado Mines and 3-for-19 at Nebraska.
It goes without saying the Buffs have to get better.
“Against Nebraska, we had 11 bad shots,” Boyle said, referring to all field goal attempts and not just threes. “We had 16 turnovers, and we had three situations where we had a wide-open guy that we didn’t pass to. That’s 30 possessions out of 73 that were empty. That can’t happen.”
Some of it can be attributed to a couple cold games. Jabari Walker proved last year as a freshman he can light it up from long range, so his 0-for-5 mark in two preseason games most likely was an anomaly. Yet the Buffs certainly are counting on better 3-point results from guards Keeshawn Barthelemy (1-for-8 in preseason games) and KJ Simpson (2-for-8).
Given the overall inexperience littering the rotation, a few more cold-shooting nights should be expected. That’s what made the early defense against Nebraska so disappointing.
The Buffs actually outscored Nebraska the rest of the way after falling behind 33-11 midway through the first half. But it was far too little, much too late. What’s alarming was that the wide-open looks Nebraska took full advantage of early occurred mostly against CU’s most experienced players — returning starters Elijah Parquet (a Pac-12 All-Defense selection) and Evan Battey, along with Walker, Barthelemy, and Tristan da Silva.
“Very concerning,” Boyle said. “I don’t know if it’s just not being ready to play, not being ready to go. I don’t know. I’ve got to figure that out.”
The reality is the rotation most likely will feature two players who contributed limited minutes last year off the bench taking over starting roles (Walker, da Silva), two sophomores who hardly played at all (Nique Clifford and Luke O’Brien), and two true freshmen in Simpson and Lawson Lovering (and possibly a third in Julian Hammond III).
There is certain to be rough moments, and possibly some bad and ugly losses, particularly early. Yet the week leading up to the lights going on against Montana State needs to be a microcosm of the season: Regardless of the results, the young Buffs have to continue improving week to week.
“I knew that we didn’t face good competition in Costa Rica,” Boyle said. “I knew the School of Mines, as disciplined as they are and as well-coached as they are, I knew they weren’t going to give us the look we’ll see in the Pac-12, once we get there. That’s what the Nebraska game was for.
“It was the culmination of our summer, our fall. Are we ready? And the answer was a resounding no. The thing about this team is we’re capable on any given possession. What we’re not capable of is sustaining it for extended periods of time, extended possessions. That’s where we have to get to.”