Anyone who has spent all of five seconds following the Colorado men’s basketball team over the past 12 years knows defense and rebounding are near and dear to coach Tad Boyle’s heart.
The Buffaloes were decidedly average in both categories last year.
Defensively, Boyle’s crew this season has the potential to be above the curve, given the Buffs’ depth of long-armed wing players and the prospects of a full season from an improved Lawson Lovering, CU’s 7-foot-1 center. The rebounding will be a different challenge.
While the Buffs were an average rebounding team a year ago, they also boasted the individual Pac-12 leader in Jabari Walker. With Walker now with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and Evan Battey, CU’s second-leading rebounder last year, beginning his pro career in Bulgaria, filling the void on the glass remains one of the big priorities of the preseason.
“That’s yet to be determined,” Boyle said regarding who might take charge on the glass. “If our players want to play, they’d better rebound. The guy who rebounds consistently in practice and in our scrimmages and exhibition games and all the things we have in front of us, the guys that rebound the ball, the tie goes to them.
“I think it will be by committee. I don’t know if we have a league-leading rebounder on our team this year.”
Junior Nique Clifford is the Buffs’ top returning rebounder (4.6 per game) and he spent much of last season as the team’s No. 2 rebounder until he was passed by Battey down the stretch. Despite playing more minutes when he was inserted into the starting lineup following a midseason foot injury to former Buffs guard Elijah Parquet, Clifford’s rebounding production still dipped down the stretch. In the first 16 games off the bench, he averaged 5.1 rebounds. While starting the final 17 games, Clifford averaged 4.2 rebounds.
Lovering and Tristan da Silva also could be in line for improved rebounding numbers. The 6-foot-9 da Silva averaged only 3.5 boards and he grabbed more than six just once, recording seven in an early nonconference game against Southern Illinois. Lovering is a near lock to play more than the 10.5 minutes he averaged during his injury-shortened freshman season, but he will be counted on to average much more than the 1.9 rebounds he produced during those minutes.
Beyond those returnees looking to increase their production, Boyle and the Buffs also will lean on the three transfers — J’Vonne Hadley, Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright — who have track records of playing bigger than their size, albeit at levels lower than the Pac-12 Conference.
Hadley, a 6-foot-6 newcomer from Indian Hills Community College, averaged 6.2 rebounds last year at the junior college level and was even more productive down the stretch, averaging 8.1 rebounds over the final 14 games. Wright, a graduate transfer from Princeton, ranked fourth in the Ivy League last season with 6.9 rebounds a game despite being a 6-foot-3 guard.
“If you look at the analytics about players who move up a level in college basketball, their numbers go down,” Boyle said. “Sometimes that’s because of the minutes. Sometimes that’s because of the level of competition. With that being said, rebounding does translate. I don’t know if scoring always does. If you can rebound, you can rebound.
“I don’t know if Ethan will get six a game, but I want our guys to be selfish rebounders defensively. And offensively, the three, four and five, J’Vonne Hadley will be playing one of those positions. Ethan may not get as many offensive rebounds, because that won’t be his role. But if he can prove he can do it, I’ll change his role.”
Black and Gold scrimmage
CU announced the details of its annual Black and Gold intrasquad scrimmage, which will be held Oct. 15 ahead of the Cal football game and its noon kickoff. Doors to the CU Events Center will open at 8:45 a.m., with the scrimmage set to begin at 9 a.m. The workout is open to the general public and admission is free.