After Colorado’s home loss to Wyoming on December 9, it looked like the Buffaloes were going to live up to their projected 11th-place finish in the Pac-12. They were struggling, sitting at just 5-4 on the season.
Then finals week happened.
Tad Boyle regrouped his troops during the short break, and Colorado has since reeled off six straight wins, including three in the Pac-12.
“We really made a commitment to get better,” Boyle said. “During that period of time, you have no classes, you practice a lot, you hopefully make your players better. They’ve taken that to heart and have made tremendous strides over the past two-to-three weeks.”
Colorado has been the surprise of the conference so far this season. The Buffaloes opened league play with a 40-point win over Utah, but the game that put them on the map was an 18-point victory against Washington.
Although the Huskies aren’t living up to preseason expectations, no one anticipated that sort of dominance.
“I think the Washington game gave us a lot of confidence; that was a key game for us,” Boyle said. “Confidence plays such an important role in college athletics, and we gained a lot of it.”
Last season, Colorado was one of the last teams left out of the NCAA tournament, but lost prolific wing scorers Alec Burks and Cory Higgins from that team. Double-figure scorers Levi Knutson and Marcus Relphorde are also gone. All in all, the Buffaloes lost 75 percent of it scoring from a season ago.
Several players have made huge jumps in production from a year ago, including Andre Roberson. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 11.3 points and 11.7 rebounds this season, providing a presence on the boards despite his size. Senior forward Austin Dufault is also playing the best basketball of his career.
Utah transfer Carlon Brown leads the team in scoring, and has picked up his play recently. Brown is averaging nearly 19 points per game in Pac-12 games. Freshman Spencer Dinwiddie has been a pleasant surprise in the backcourt, and classmate Askia Booker provides scoring off the bench.
“We’re really sharing the ball offensively,” Boyle said. “Defensively, we’re really helping each other. Our rotations have gotten a lot better.”
With so many newcomers playing major minutes immediately, Boyle wasn’t sure what he had at this disposal. He knew there were some veterans on the team leftover from last season, but he didn’t know which ones were primed for a big step forward.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised or not. I didn’t know what to expect,” Boyle said. “This is a transitional year. We had a few bumps early. I’d say I’m a little surprised, but not crazy surprised. I expect a lot from our team.”
The upcoming northern California road trip to California and Stanford will tell a lot about the Buffaloes. They’re just 1-3 away from home this season, and all three Pac-12 wins came in the altitude-heavy confines of Coors Event Center. Moreover, Cal and Stanford were arguably the two best teams in the Pac-12 heading into league play.
Boyle knows what’s at stake in the coming days.
“It arguably might be the toughest trip of any in the Pac-12 – and we start out with it,” he said. “We’ll find out right away where we stack up."
It might be very difficult to sweep California and Stanford on the road, but a split would still bring Colorado plenty of respect in the Pac-12. It would be a huge accomplishment for a team that wasn’t expected to even crack the top 10 of the conference.
Since the Buffaloes seem to do well with no attention, Boyle is trying to lessen the hype.
“We absolutely have to temper [expectations],” he said. “We’re three games into an 18-game schedule. It’s a marathon.”
After this weekend, though, it could be impossible to quiet the attention.
Photo: US Presswire