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BOULDER - When Tad Boyle took over in April as the Colorado men's basketball coach, an exhaustive search wasn't necessary to identify the areas in which the Buffs needed immediate improvement.

In defense and rebounding, CU finished Nos. 11 and 12 respectively last season in the Big 12 Conference en route to a 15-16 overall finish. The Buffs allowed 74.2 points a game - one spot better than Texas Tech at 76.1 - and managed just 28.5 rebounds a game - one slot worse than Nebraska at 32.4.

On Monday's Big 12 summer hoops teleconference, Boyle reiterated that he and his staff are committed to seeing those numbers improve. They'll have to if the Buffs hope to continue their upward mobility.

"We're going to try and hang our hat on defense and rebounding," Boyle said, noting that statistics in both categories need to climb not only from last season but from those CU managed in the preceding years.

Improvement, he added, "is not going to come from any one player . . . it's got to be a group effort, a commitment by the program."

When taking over a new program, which Boyle did four seasons ago at the University of Northern Colorado, he identified the biggest challenge as "getting everybody on the same page (and) unifying us." He said that process continues this summer as players work on strength and conditioning.  

With a move to the Pacific-10 Conference looming, Boyle's first season in the Big 12 also could be his last. The 2010-11 campaign could be a "bridge season" for the Buffs, whose 6-10 conference mark in 2009-10 was the best under former coach Jeff Bzdelik.

Boyle said the approach to his debut season at CU won't be "a whole lot different" because of the imminent conference switch. However, recruiting in areas that he initially believed would be in the Buffs' best interests likely will change because of the move to a new league.

There will be a stronger emphasis on recruiting California, he said, but added, "We would have recruited (there) anyway. We still need to recruit Texas and recruit nationally, but we'll focus on the California market.

"We still need to recruit at the highest level and still need to get great players. If anything, (the conference change) has brought Colorado basketball to people's minds."

There will be no difference in recruiting to the Pac-10 as opposed to the Big 12, Boyle said: "You want to get guys who can pass, dribble and shoot . . . I learned lot from Larry Brown (at Kansas). You want guys who are well-rounded players. That's not going to change . . . we're going from one great league to another great league."

CU's top pair of returning standouts - perimeter players Alec Burks and Cory Higgins - currently are working at counselors at a Nike skills camp. Boyle called it a "great opportunity" for both players because of the chance to compete against other camp counselors from top national programs.

"Good players learn from other good players," he said. "That's the biggest benefit from those camps."

Boyle believes players make their most notable improvement between their first and second seasons. Thus, he's anticipating even better things this season for Burks, last season's Big 12 rookie-of-the-year.

"Alec had a great freshman year . . . he's a key part of what we have coming back," Boyle said. "His upside and improvement between his freshman and sophomore years is a key element to our future success . . . but if everyone has the kind of improvement we want, I think we'll be good next season."

THE 18-GAME SCHEDULE:  With CU and Nebraska, which is headed for the Big Ten Conference, poised to leave the Big 12, the remaining coaches are looking at a 10-team league and the likelihood of an 18-game conference schedule - possibly as early as the 2011-12 season.

Their reaction is mixed, ranging from Kansas' Bill Self being a strong opponent of the plan, to other coaches taking an "it is what it is" attitude, to yet others saying bring it on.

Self said he always has been a "strong advocate" of a 16-game league schedule and that two extra games "make a big difference . . . (because) you're adding two potential losses." With an 18-game schedule, Self believes a 14-4 record "will be a championship season."

The Jayhawks won the Big 12 last season with a 15-1 mark.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin, whose squad finished 11-5 and in a three-way tie for second, said while an 18-game schedule could be beneficial for a league's upper-tier teams, "It's just absurd, how difficult it's going to be . . . everyone knows each other (within the league), everybody knows each other's style. But if you're a competitor, that's how you want it to be."

If the 18-game schedule is adopted for the 2011-12 season, several coaches said their schools likely will rethink how they select their non-conference opponents.

"I think our league goes to being the best basketball league in the country (with 10 teams)," Oklahoma State's Travis Ford said. "I still think you're going to get your seven teams in (the NCAA Tournament)."

"As a coach, it'll be really tough," Texas A&M's Mark Turgeon said of an 18-game schedule. "I've done it in the Missouri Valley (at Wichita State) and in the Pac-10 (at Oregon). It's a grind, but 16 is a grind, too. It makes tough on a basketball team, but it's great for the fans."

ALL HAIL FOOTBALL: In the conference realignment frenzy earlier this month, basketball was an afterthought; the engine that drove the train was football.

"Football's the top dog," Martin said.

Added Turgeon: "It's always been that way . . . you know who makes the money for the university and we understand that."

"Most coaches realize football generates revenue and basketball coaches support football," Baylor's Scott Drew said. "But maybe it shocked some people how great the disparity was between football and basketball."

Nebraska coach Doc Sadler said he saw his athletic director, Tom Osborne, "maybe two minutes" before their school's move to the Big Ten. "He hasn't talked to me about it . . . but I was at the press conference."

For most basketball coaches, said Sadler, there was a prior understanding that major athletic department decisions would be based on what was best for football.

"That's not something that happened this year . . . I wasn't surprised," he said. "It'll continue to be forever - as long as they have it (football)."

BIZARRE WELCOME: In addition to Boyle, the Big 12 will have another new coach this season in Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg, a former Cyclones standout who was dubbed "The Mayor" during a stellar career in Ames, Iowa.

Hoiberg admitted the weeks following his hiring, when CU and Nebraska pulled out and the Big 12 appeared on the verge of collapse, were nerve-wracking.

"I was very excited about coaching at my alma mater; it was my dream job . . . a dream come true," Hoiberg said. "I grew up in Ames, won a state championship. It was very exciting.

"Then all the conference talk started . . . I was nervous; I didn't know what was going to happen. It was hard to figure out what to believe."

But for Hoiberg, it's all ended well - if indeed it has ended. He believes the Big 12 was the nation's top hoops conference last season and that the slimmed down version will only get better.

Sadler, meanwhile, doesn't expect the Cornhuskers will encounter crowds in Big 12 venues this season that are more hostile in what could be his school's "farewell tour" before moving to the Big Ten.

"Just because it's the last go-round, I don't think it will impact us anymore than normal," he said. "I don't think it'll be any harder, but I know it won't be any easier."

CU and Boyle could find themselves in the same situation if Big 12 and Pac-10 administrators come to an agreement later this summer on when the exit/entry will take place.

Contact: BG.Brooks@Colorado.EDU