Family considerations aside, Tad Boyle's Christmas list isn't that much different from the one he drew up in mid-October and the one he'll propose in early March.
Of course, we're talking about his basketball to-do list, and as long as his work days find him lacing up a pair of sneakers and pulling on warm ups he'll be focused on his teams playing stingy defense and rebounding more efficiently.
This week, Boyle's list grew, a result of his Colorado Buffaloes having an eight-day layoff between games. Semester finals were this week, but that didn't mean a week away from hoops. To the contrary, before the Buffs began critiquing Northern Arizona, Boyle and his staff critiqued the Buffs and what they wanted accomplished before Friday's 6:30 p.m. tipoff against NAU at the Coors Events Center.
Here's what Boyle wants sharpened in CU's final two tune-ups (Hartford visits Saturday, Dec. 29) before Pac-12 Conference play begins on Jan. 3 at No. 4 Arizona: Half-court execution, turning the assist-to-turnover ratio into the Buffs' favor, scoring more effectively and efficiently, and, of course, tightening up defensively.
The imbalanced assist-to-turnover ratio has bothered Boyle throughout non-conference play. Through 10 games, eight of them wins, CU has committed 146 turnovers and dealt 91 assists.
A 9.1 assists per game average ranks the Buffs last in the Pac-12, as does their 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. That's not nearly good enough for what lies ahead.
"We're pretty good when we share the ball," Boyle has said on numerous occasions over the past seven weeks. On the flip side, the Buffs get themselves in trouble when they don't share it and turn it over. They've got a couple more opportunities to try and smooth things out before the degree of difficulty takes a steep climb.
SHORING UP THE BENCH: With conference play looming, Boyle wants more productivity from his bench. In fact, in the final two non-conference games, he says he will "play my bench earlier in both of these games regardless of what's going on on the floor. It's time now to do that. We're not looking past Northern Arizona and Hartford . . . it's just that I have to do it."
In a 50-43 win at Fresno State, CU's bench was outscored 20-3. In the Buffs' eight wins, their bench has outscored the opposition just three times, which underscores the obvious: the five starters are carrying the scoring load. Freshman Xavier Johnson, averaging 5.5 points, has been the top scoring reserve.
That four of his five starters are his chief point producers - the foursome each is averaging in double figures - is a stat that Boyle doesn't dwell on.
"I don't concern myself with that," he said. "We've got guys that can score coming off the bench. It's just a matter of feeling more comfortable and playing with more confidently. Eli (Stalzer) is a capable scorer, Xavier Talton is, Xavier Johnson is . . . and Shane (Harris-Tunks) can give us a presence down there. I don't concern myself with those kind of stats."
Johnson's 18.2 minutes a game are the most among CU's reserves, with Stalzer next at 11.1. They are followed by Harris-Tunks (8.8), Talton (7.7) and Jeremy Adams (6.9) on what amounts to a nine-man bench.
Adams' minutes have been on the upswing since November, but Boyle believes they can still increase.
"You never know with Jeremy how his knee's going to be or how his energy level is going to be," Boyle said. "He's a guy who can bring something to this team, there's no question with his body and experience level now. But you just never know each day how his body is going to be. It's just kind of a hit and miss thing."
'X' MARKS THE SPOT(S): The Buffs pair of freshmen Xaviers - those would be forward 'X' Johnson and guard 'X' Talton - have performed well in the first month and a half of their college careers.
Talton, said Boyle, is "playing more aggressively" as he continues to adapt to the game at this level. "When he takes care of the ball and is aggressive, he's good."
Johnson's goal is learning to play physically and not let fouls diminish that brand of play.
Said Boyle: "The whole thing with Xavier is . . . experience is the best teacher. He just has to play smarter defensively. We don't want to take away his physicality; he's a physical player. You can be physical without fouling. There's an art to that that he has to figure out. It takes time. If you look back at what Andre (Roberson) went through his freshman year, he was in foul trouble a lot and frustrated a lot.
"I think Xavier is going through the same thing right now. He just has to keep learning and take away the silly fouls. It's the silly ones he has to get rid of. He's going to have some just because he's a physical player . . . I think it's between the ears."
The 6-6, 220-pound Johnson agreed. "I just have to stay out of foul trouble; I've been in it a lot," he said. "I just have to keep my head in the game, stay mentally and physically focused. I'm known for being an aggressive player and that sometimes gets me in trouble. And lately it's been getting me in trouble. So if I stay out of foul trouble, coach says he'll play me a lot."
The foul issues aside, he said his development at the college level has been what he expected: "Definitely. It might not be showing as much in the games, but in practice you can definitely see that. I think my teammates see it; now I just have to show it in games."
TAKING CHARGE BY TAKING CHARGES: If the Buffs learned anything in non-conference play, they can point to a lesson administered in Laramie by Wyoming's Leonard Washington.
The Cowboys' 6-7 post offered a clinic in putting himself in the right places inside and taking charges. It was all caught on tape, and Boyle made sure his players understood what Washington's overall effort meant to Wyoming's 76-69 win.
"Since the Wyoming game I've seen a big difference in our guys," he said. "I think Leonard Washington taught our guys something - how effective you can be and the impact you can have on a game by just taking some charges. I think we saw it against Fresno . . . Jeremy (Adams) does a good job of that. You can see it in practice, too."
Boyle believes the Buffs now understand how taking a charge can provide a "huge" momentum shift. "It's usually two points taken away from the other team because they're attacking the rim," he said. "And those plays usually are at the rim . . . it's two taken away, we get the ball. Mentally for players, it get us going."
EARLY BENEFITS OF SEAL TRAINING: Style points were not plentiful in the Buffs' first true road win last week at Fresno State. No matter; enough points to win were provided in the final minutes by grit - and those were what Boyle appreciated most in the 'W.'
Senior Sabatino Chen's pair of late layups epitomized what Boyle wants from the Buffs: heady plays at critical times. "Those (layups) couldn't have been bigger," Boyle said.
Said Chen: "I wanted to be more aggressive, and I think our team as a whole wanted to. You don't want to settle for jump shots on the road. That's the easiest way for the home team think they've got the upper hand."
Before the season began, the Buffs completed an afternoon and morning of intense conditioning work patterned after Navy SEAL training. That mental strengthening and team-building program might have contributed to grinding out the win at Fresno.
"As a young team facing adversity, (the SEAL work) definitely paid off," Chen said. "I think from that program we've grown up more."
Johnson called getting the first true road win "a great accomplishment for us. I wish it had been by more points and a bigger margin, but we did what we had to do."
The Buffs' first venture into Pac-12 play last season found them cast as a relative unknown. That changed almost immediately, and by mid-March when they won the conference's postseason tournament, the league was aware of CU.
"Towards the end of conference, everyone came ready to play us," Chen said. "I think we'll face that more toward the beginning this year."
Chen also said he wasn't sure what to expect from this season's Buffs: "There were so many question marks on different players. Our most experience was with Andre; we knew what we'd get from him. But I think if everyone hasn't played to expectations, they've gone above them."
Boyle's pre-Pac-12 to-do list might suggest otherwise. Still, he probably would agree that nine wins by Christmas and a tenth before 2013 arrives would be a decent start.