Early start to Pac-12 play as CU Buffs men’s basketball hosts Stanford

Demanding week includes dates against two top-15 foes

BOULDER CO – January 16, 2021: Colorado’s Evan Battey drives to the basket  during the CU-Stanford game in Boulder on January 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER CO – January 16, 2021: Colorado’s Evan Battey drives to the basket during the CU-Stanford game in Boulder on January 16, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

The calendar says the Colorado men’s basketball team should be preparing for an opponent with a direction in its name, or perhaps a nearby regional foe.

Instead, the start of Pac-12 Conference play already has arrived. And that is probably the least intimidating part of a daunting week ahead for the new-look Buffaloes.

With just six games under their belts and the long Thanksgiving weekend not yet complete, the Buffs begin Pac-12 play on Sunday with a home date against Stanford. In the previous 118 seasons of men’s varsity basketball at CU, the Buffs have never before played a conference game in November.

The early, single-game league contests began last year in the Pac-12 as the conference moved to a 20-game league schedule. However, CU’s two early league games were postponed into the more traditional portion of the conference schedule due to COVID-19 concerns.

Despite the early juncture, a win will be critical for the Buffs, given their week continues with a date on Wednesday at No. 2 UCLA, followed by a home game on Saturday against No. 15 Tennessee. The shift to a 20-game conference schedule was made in large part to enhance league-wide NCAA Tournament credentials, and to take away a few of the hurdles from the more stringent nonconference scheduling guidelines enacted in recent seasons by the Pac-12.

Still, CU head coach Tad Boyle admitted he’s not sold on the concept.

“I’m not sure I am a fan of the 20-game (schedules),” Boyle said. “I think it’s good for the Power Five conferences. I’m not sure it’s good for college basketball as a whole. If we were not playing Stanford and UCLA right now, we’d be playing probably two home games. For argument’s sake, let’s say everyone is going to win those games at home and lose on the road.

“If we play 18 (conference) games, and we’re able to schedule two home games rather than that additional road game, maybe we have a chance of winning more games. I don’t know. But when one Pac-12 team wins and one loses, it’s a zero-sum game.”

Regardless, Pac-12 play is upon the Buffs, and in the Cardinal the Buffs will see an opponent similar to them with the mix of new faces and familiar veterans dotting the lineup.

Stanford still features holdovers like Jaiden Delaire, the winner of last season’s Most Improved Player award in the Pac-12, and 3-point ace Spencer Jones alongside freshmen like Maxime Raynaud and Harrison Ingram, one of the top rookies in the league.

Boyle said it will be crucial for his team to put together a strong game on the glass against a Stanford club that owns an average rebounding margin of plus-10.2.

“Really a talented group. They’ve got good individual players,” Boyle said. “I think they’re still trying to figure each other out, both offensively and defensively. They play a big, big lineup. They’ve played 12 different guys and have started eight different guys. So they’ve got a deep team. From the outside looking in, it seems like Jerod (Haase, Stanford’s coach) is still trying to figure them out. Getting roles defined, seeing who he can count on and that sort of thing.

“The biggest key for Stanford to beat them is we’ve got to keep them off the glass. Their best offense is offensive rebounding.”

Stanford Cardinal at CU Buffs men’s basketball

TIPOFF: Sunday, 5 p.m., CU Events Center.

BROADCAST: TV — Pac-12 Networks; Radio — 630 AM.

RECORDS: Stanford 4-2; Colorado 5-1.

COACHES: Stanford — Jerod Haase, 6th season (86-76, 166-129 overall); Colorado — Tad Boyle, 12th season (238-144, 294-210 overall).

KEY PLAYERS: Stanford — F Harrison Ingram, Fr., 12.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 apg; F Jaiden Delaire, Sr., 10.8 ppg, 4.2 rpg; F Maxime Raynaud, Fr., 8.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg. Colorado — F Jabari Walker, So., 14.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg; G Keeshawn Barthelemy, R-So., 15.3 ppg, 11-for-19 3-pointers; F Evan Battey, R-Sr., 13.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg.

NOTES: While this is the earliest date for a conference opener in CU men’s basketball program, it isn’t in terms of games played. The Buffs played at Kansas to start Big Eight Conference play on Dec. 13, 1986, in the fifth game of the season…CU’s Evan Battey needs 19 points to become the 38th Buffs player to score at least 1,000 in his career…The Buffs swept Stanford last season and have won their past seven home games against the Cardinal…CU is 4-6 in Pac-12 openers…Stanford was picked ninth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll.