Anyone who has paid attention to Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes over the past four seasons wouldn't be surprised that Boyle spent much of Wednesday morning's media day underscoring the importance of defense and rebounding.
"Defense and rebounding is what our team is about," said Boyle. "It is what our team will always be about as long as I'm the head coach here."
Boyle combined a sober tone with cautious optimism while talking about his 2014-15 team, noting the talent on the floor, while emphasizing that talent doesn't equate to wins and NCAA Tournament appearances.
Referencing his first CU team, which featured Alec Burks of the Utah Jazz, all-time leading scorer Cory Higgins, Levi Knutson, and Marcus Relphorde, Boyle noted that a combination of a slow start in November and a lack of defensive intensity led to a somber bunch of Buffaloes when selection Sunday rolled around in March of 2011.
"Our best team at Colorado, arguably, didn't make the tournament, and the three behind them did," said Boyle. "But they did because they defended, they rebounded, and we took care of business in November and December."
The two true freshmen on that 2010-11 team, Ben Mills and Andre Roberson, are now both gone, and with their absence comes a concern that the harsh lesson learned by that team may be lost on Boyle's current Buffs, who are now accustomed to NCAA Tournament appearances.
"One challenge we have is that there is not one player in our locker room who was at my house four years ago when we didn't get in," Boyle noted. "So our coaches understand the pit at the bottom of your stomach and that feeling of disappointment and disgust; our players don't understand it, our players, all they know is the NCAA Tournament right now."
Boyle was quick to point out that while his team's non-conference schedule may not carry attention-grabbing schools such as Kansas, Oklahoma State, or Baylor, the preseason slate will be able to prepare Colorado for the rigors of a fourth Pac-12 season.
CU opens against Drexel, who Boyle characterized as "a tough bunch of Philadelphia kids that are well-coached," and then turns around and plays Bruce Pearl's Auburn squad three days later. The biggest challenge Colorado will face in the first part of the non-conference schedule comes on November 22nd against Wyoming.
In the end, if things go according to Boyle's plan in the Diamond Head Classic tournament in Hawai'i over winter break, CU's non-conference schedule could actually be more difficult than last year's.
"If you make the assumption that when we go to Hawai'i and we are fortunate enough to beat DePaul, and we're fortunate enough to play George Washington in the semifinals and play Wichita State in the finals, our RPI from our non-conference this year is actually two points stronger than it was from our RPI last year," said Boyle.
If the Buffs had to play a game tomorrow, Boyle said he would select a starting five of Askia Booker, Xavier Talton, Xavier Johnson, Wesley Gordon, and Josh Scott. But Boyle also said if someone came into his office, and told him he could lock down the opposition's best player, he'd play him 30 minutes per game.
"I look at the last four teams we've had at Colorado," said Boyle. "Our first year, if there was a perimeter player on the other team that we had to get locked down, Cory Higgins was our guy. The next year Andre Roberson was our guy, the next year Andre Roberson was our guy, last year Spencer Dinwiddie was our guy. This year? Big question mark."
Boyle listed a number of players who have the ability to be a lockdown defender, including Booker, Talton, Johnson, Dominique Collier, and Jaron Hopkins.
A lockdown perimeter defender is key to one of two statistics Boyle always identifies as key to success year-in and year-out: field goal percentage defense.
"If we can be top-three in the league in field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin, and if we can get our offense to go from 43 percent field goal percentage to 46 or 47 percent, we'll be fine, we'll win plenty of games, we'll have a lot of success," said Boyle.
Boyle said sophomore George King will redshirt this season, and added that King had shown as much improvement shooting the ball as anyone on the roster... Over the offseason, Boyle met with former Boston College coach Steve Donahue and former Denver Nuggets coach George Karl, focusing on ways to improve offensively. Boyle's meeting with Karl was focused on transition offense, while his meetings with Donahue were centered mainly on half-court offense.