With the 2018-19 season starting next Tuesday, it’s important we set expectations for the young Colorado Buffaloes. It’s not because we want to yell at Tad Boyle for missing the NCAA Tournament (if they do), nor is it to eventually yell at each other on Twitter if this article is accurate or not. We set expectations to have perspective, both before and after the season. It’s also a way to preview the season and, hopefully, get you excited to watch the team.
In 2017-18, the Buffaloes didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, much less the NIT, but they did go a solid 17-15 with some great upsets. Even as some hooligans clamored for the firing of Boyle — these same fools literally don’t know who Josh Scott is — it was a terrific season for such a young team. That team met expectations because expectations were modest. We didn’t think the Buffs were going dancing because we knew it was a year for growth. This season should have similar expectations, only a year more advanced.
The Buffs are still going to be one of the youngest teams in the country. They started four freshman last season — sometimes five! — and even though McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey are mature for their age, their youth showed in their play often. Mistakes like failed rotations, sloppy passes and inconsistent play on the road are markers of youth (although, that means all CU teams are youthful, no matter how experienced they are). In Year 2, Colorado should be cutting down on those mistakes and turning close losses to close wins, more so than they already did. Frustrating losses will inevitably happen, but they shouldn’t no-show at home against San Diego, nor should they get dominated by a Colorado State team that finished 11-21.
At the risk of looking like a dumbass who thought the football team could go 10-2, the non-conference schedule is soft. There will be an in-depth analysis of the schedule going up tomorrow, but their most challenging games will be at New Mexico and in the Maui invitational (assuming they can get to the final). Playing in Albuquerque is always difficult, but UNM lost four of five starters from a mediocre team last year. The Buffs could easily go 12-1 (or better) in non-con if they play with focus on the road. Having the right mix of winnable games with a road challenge will give this team the chance to grow together on the road without having any impossible games.
Looking at the Buffs’ conference schedule, they do have a difficult slate. They have six or seven games that will likely result in losses (@ Arizona, @ ASU, @ Utah, vs. Oregon, @ UCLA, @ USC, @ Washington), plus the usual road games that are never easy in this conference. After that, the Buffs will be hosting many potential key wins, such as Washington, Oregon, the Arizonas and the L.A.s, but those teams all have potential to be excellent so nothing can be assumed. The best case scenario is to sweep the home slate, steal a few on the road, finish with 11 or 12 conference wins and make the NCAA Tournament. It’s certainly possible, but definitely don’t expect that.
If Colorado continues to endure growing pains — which is more likely than not — we should be happy with around 20 wins and a spot in the NIT. They’re very likely going to drop a home game they shouldn’t — looking at you, Oregon State — and it’s never easy to play on the road, even in Pullman. Instead of getting mad about the NCAA Tournament, focus on the growth and development of the team.
Is McKinley Wright finding consistency in his jumper? Is D’Shawn Schwartz confident enough to take the next step? Can Lucas Siewert hold up enough on defense with Dallas Walton out? Will Namon Wright be a consistent two-way presence like George King? How is Evan Battey adjusting after missing the past two years of basketball? Just how good is Eli Parquet? Questions like these should be on your mind, not whether or not a road win at Stanford will help the resume.
This Colorado team is very talented, but they still have a year before the pressure is on. Be patient with their development and keep an eye on 2020. Then if CU does start pulling off upsets and winning close on the road, you will be pleasantly surprised if and when they’re on the bubble. Just please, please, don’t use the hashtag #FireTad or wonder if CU basketball will ever win another NCAA Tournament game.