BOULDER – Tad Boyle and Colorado coaching staff were kicking around what makes a good basketball season, a very good basketball season or a great basketball season.
They came to the conclusion that the Buffaloes’ 2012-13 season fell squarely into the “good” category. And in a program that knows something about lean years, Boyle and his guys - they just signed off on their third year in Boulder - have the numbers to back up their assessment.
The Buffs won 20 games (21-12) for a third consecutive season (a program first), made a third consecutive postseason appearance (another program first) and made their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance (the first time in 50 years).
Good season, indeed.
“There were a lot of first and some seconds that we were pretty proud of,” Boyle said, and his pride in his CU program continues to grow. It’s almost ridiculously early to be fashioning Top 25 polls for 2013-14, but that hasn’t stopped a handful of outlets from merrily launching into that project.
The Buffs are being shown an uncanny amount of April love by organizations such as The Big Lead (No. 9), Sports Illustrated (No. 11), CBSSports.com (No. 12) and USA Today (No. 16).
“You guys know I’m always trying to minimize and downplay (expectations) as much as possible,” Boyle said. “But as we progress as a program – you go to three straight postseason tournaments and back-to-back NCAAs – just the natural progression is the thinking that each year is going to be bigger and better.
“We think we have the opportunity next year with the personnel in place to have a great year. But at the end of the day, (the projections) don’t mean anything, other than people recognizing that you’ve got something pretty special going on.”
True, what all the springtime hearts, flowers and cyber kisses will mean come November is TBD. But know this: Boyle likes his returning team – even if Andre Roberson isn’t on it. (More on that later.)
A pair of redshirt freshmen (6-8 Wes Gordon, 6-7 Chris Jenkins) will join three incoming freshmen (6-5 Jaron Hopkins, 6-6 Tre’Shaun Fletcher, 6-7 Dustin Thomas), adding physical length and depth and impact how Boyle and his staff go about things defensively next season.
“Our depth will be much improved, our athleticism will be much improved,” Boyle said. “I think we’ll be a more skilled team (and) we have to become a better half-court offensive team . . . that’s probably priority No. 1 in the off-season. Priority No. 2 is using that depth and that athleticism and length on the defensive side of the ball.”
Translated: Boyle wants to extend his defense, utilize more full-court pressure and, in turn, “get the game up and down and have a high-possession game,” he said.
A third priority – one that Boyle wants for next season and definitely wants to address in his 2014 recruiting class – is finding a consistent shooter. Or, in his words, “a knockdown shooter, a guy that comes in and makes shots.”
He believes there are several players on his current roster who can be that guy, mentioning Jenkins (if he improves his consistency), guards Eli Stalzer, Xavier Talton and Askia Booker (despite his subpar second half of the season). And there’s Spencer Dinwiddie, but as was shown in the NCAA Tournament loss to Illinois, he has to have a counterpart if he’s burdened with fouls or a defense targets him.
Boyle is letting the will-he/won’t-he Roberson NBA Draft saga play out, offering the 6-7 junior and his family all the information and advice they want. What concerns Boyle is the amount of misinformation circulating and who else might have the Roberson family’s ears and attention.
If Roberson, said Boyle, commits himself to the same hard work he’s shown in his three seasons at CU, he definitely will develop as a player next season. But the burning question is where? Will it be at CU, in the NBA Developmental League, overseas or at the end of an NBA bench?
“That’s a personal choice that I can’t make for him,” Boyle said. Roberson and his family have until April 28 to mull that question and others that make this decision so gut-wrenching.
I asked Boyle if the Buffs’ appearance in so many early Top 25s sway Roberson in any way. Boyle doesn’t believe so. “Andre knows we’re going to have a good team next year,” he said. “I’ve told Andre and his parents we want what’s best for him. Bottom line, that’s what this whole thing’s about. If he leaves early, I want him to be in the NBA and I want him getting paid. If he leaves early and he’s not in the NBA and he’s not getting paid, it’s a disappointing decision on his end and our end. They know that.”
Last fall’s signing class, said Boyle, was fashioned with Roberson’s departure in mind: “We’re going to be good with or without him. Obviously we’re a better team with him . . . but it’s not going to be a make-or-break decision for Colorado basketball.”
The Robersons’ decision, added Boyle, “will come down to risk/reward. I look at where Alec Burks was two years ago and . . . there was very little risk that he was going to be a first-round pick. There’s a great reward to be a first-round pick.
“(With) Andre, it’s almost just the opposite. The reward there is iffy, the risk is pretty drastic, pretty major.”
But Roberson, said Boyle, strongly believes in his ability and, like other college players before him, wants to help provide for his family. Boyle and Roberson have studied the past four NBA Drafts – who went where and how high. “But at the end of the day, there are no guarantees – unless you’re a first-round draft pick,” said Boyle.
CU continues to work on its 2013-14 non-conference schedule. Boyle spoke with Kentucky coach John Calipari – a longtime friend and colleague from their respective Kansas eras – about scheduling a series.
“Coach Cal” was interested – for about half a minute. “The deal breaker was them coming to Boulder . . . that was not going to happen – at least while he’s the coach there,” said Boyle, whose three-year home record at CU is 44-7. “So he kind of laughed me off.”
The Buffs, said Boyle, likely will wind up with more neutral site games. “That’s a happy medium. It’s harder and harder to get people to come here. We’ll get somebody; some of them you have to play (big bucks) to come here and that’s always a fun negotiation that you go through this time of year.”
In addition to its Pac-12 Conference opponents, non-conference foes already set for next season include Kansas and Wyoming in Boulder and Colorado State and Air Force on the road. Last season, CU won the Charleston Classic – a neutral court bonanza that aided the Buffs’ RPI. Next season, Boyle said probable neutral court games on the West and East Coasts would be ideal for building the Buffs’ RPI and burgeoning national exposure.
The RPI lesson this season, said Boyle, is that games against quality teams are more beneficial in the long run than games against “teams with RPIs in the 300s. That’s not going to help. We might have one or two of those, but we can’t have too many.”
BUFF BITS: Boyle’s goal is to be able to redshirt one or two incoming freshmen every season. But he realizes that might not always be possible . . . . In analyzing the NCAA Championship Game, Boyle liked Michigan’s offensive style and Louisville’s defense – particularly how the Cardinals’ pressure and attacking style dictated the game . . . . Aside from senior Sabatino Chen and graduating juniors Shane Harris-Tunks and Jeremy Adams, Boyle said Roberson is the only roster player considering leaving the team . . . . If Roberson does declare himself eligible for the NBA, Boyle said his scholarship will be “banked” unless CU could find a four-year transfer with immediate impact potential.