BOULDER - For the second consecutive season, Dwight Thorne II and Cory Higgins will captain the Colorado men's basketball team, and it's fine by both if all similarities to 2008-09 end there.
Thorne, the lone senior on CU's roster, and Higgins, a junior who was the team's most complete player a year ago, believe the Buffaloes are poised to improve on a season that satisfied no one linked to Jeff Bzdelik's program.
The Buffs hope to set the improvement in motion Friday night against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7 p.m., Coors Events Center).
"We want to come out and make a statement to fans and try to get a little more support for this program . . . a statement as to how hard we're going to play and the style of play we're going to have all year," Higgins said.
At various off-season stops, Bzdelik has preached what increased home attendance could mean for his third Buffs team, which figures to be deeper, more talented and more familiar with what he expects.
"We've had more competition in practice than in my freshman year . . . because we've got a lot of guys who will play and contribute," Thorne said. "The competitiveness has helped get a better work ethic in practice and get a better feel for what it's going to be like.
"I know there's a lot of anticipation from all of us and the coaching staff and the campus. We just have to come out and play hard. If the effort is there, it's going to be all right - it's going to segue into the whole year."
Higgins believes the addition of three true freshmen (Alec Burks, Keegan Hornbuckle, Shane Harris-Tunks), one junior college transfer (Marcus Relphorde) and the return of a bulked up Trent Beckley (he's now a 6-foot-10, 250-pounder) from a spinal stress fracture will keep him and other front-line players more lively longer.
"Depth is going to be a huge thing," said Higgins, the only sophomore last season to rank among 13 national players who led their teams in five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks).
"Quite frankly, I think we got a little tired in games last year," Higgins continued. "Everybody's minutes should go down because of that depth and we should be a little fresher.
"We're more balanced this year and scoring is going to come from a lot more people. It's going to be more of a team effort this year . . . and that takes a great burden off of me."
Chief among Higgins' goals this season is to be a better defender - he wants to make the All-Big 12 defensive team - and to prove that being a repeat team captain is justified.
"First, it's an honor," he said. "Second, with the honor comes a lot of responsibility. I just want to prove I deserve that responsibility and prove to the coaching staff that I can lead this team in the direction it needs to go."
Both captains said this team enters the season better prepared in all areas than the 2008-09 (9-22 overall, 1-15 Big 12 Conference) or 2007-08 (12-20, 3-13) squads.
Said Thorne: "We've worked hard in the weight room, we've got older guys . . . guys who've played a lot of minutes. All of us have experience and the mental fortitude to help us get over the hump.
"I'm excited; this is my fourth year doing this. It's business now. This is a big year for me and my team. I'm anticipating it and I'm ready to play, ready to run up and down and win. We're going to have a good time."
Higgins wasn't taken aback that the Buffs were picked to finish last in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll: "It's not a surprise because we did only win one game last year. So we kind of expected that. But there are some people who are going to be in for a surprise.
"Nobody else might like (CU's chances), but I like them a lot."