Brooks: Boyle Calls His Buffs ‘A Little Overrated’
BOULDER – It’s seven games into his Colorado team’s basketball season, and if Tad Boyle isn’t quite certain of his Buffaloes’ identity he sounds pretty sure about this: “We’re not the third-best team in the Pac-12, I can tell you that. Just look at the standings.”
Boyle quickly added this qualifier when I spoke with him on Monday morning after practice: “Now, that could change but it’s up to the players to decide who they want to be.”
And therein lies the Buffs’ dilemma. Late fall/early winter is the period when basketball teams begin to establish an identity they hope sticks tight through mid-March – provided, of course, that identity is winning some games.
But at this early stage, here’s a little of what we know about the Buffs:
· They’re huge at home (5-0) but tend to shrink a bit on true road trips (0-2) in low-possession games, which opponents have figured out;
· When they want, they can accomplish most of what Boyle expects in playing defense (58.6 points allowed per game) and rebounding (37.1-30.3 edge);
· Their shooting from the field has ranged from lights out (58.5 percent at home vs. Auburn) to low wattage (27.9 percent at Wyoming);
· Through seven games they’re very close to an unremarkable 1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, with 85 assists and 87 turnovers;
· They’ve developed a costly habit of trading baskets instead of getting stops, which prevents them from putting games away or catching up – the latter never more apparent than in Sunday’s 64-57 loss at Georgia.
· And as for playing a full 40-minute game, the Buffs can point to the impressive Auburn win (90-59) but it’s real difficult finding another.
At Monday’s practice, Boyle’s emphasis was heavily weighted toward taking charges, sacrificing for the team and playing for each other. When I asked him if those shortcomings were a sign of a team searching for its identity, he answered, “It’s a sign of selfishness, that’s what it is.”
He recounted a particular possession at Georgia where CU had cut the Bulldogs’ lead to eight points with 4:30 to play. The Buffs, he said, “had a great defensive possession going, with ten seconds left on the shot clock.”
THEN THE POSSESSION WENT from great to a groan. The Buffs were closing out on Nemanja Djurisic in the right corner when he offered a head fake, got a step on his defender, and freed himself for a baseline drive.
Said Boyle: “He drove it from the dead corner and laid it in the basket on the other side. Four Colorado players were in the lane, but no one touched him . . . didn’t stop the ball, didn’t try to block his shot, didn’t try to foul him, didn’t try to take a charge.
“That was the epitome of what our team is right now. We don’t have that mindset of, ‘Hey, we have to get a stop.’ If we get a stop, it’s a six-point game at the four-minute media timeout. Now, it’s anybody’s game. But instead, it goes from eight to ten (points) and we can’t get back in it.
“To me it’s a sign of toughness, it’s a sign of selfishness, it’s a sign of a lot of different things when you aren’t willing to do what you need to do to win a basketball game on the road. It’s not easy. If it was easy, everybody would do it.”
Does this team have the leadership to grow into that?
“We’ll find out,” Boyle said. “I’d like to think so. You question their toughness and they take issue with it. You question how much they care and they take issue with it. Which is fine. They can take issue with anything they want. They can talk the talk, but until we walk the walk and show on the floor what our mouths are saying, it’s just all fluff. All those words ring very, very hollow.”
As Boyle suggested earlier, take a look at the Pac-12 standings. In the league’s preseason media poll, CU was the projected No. 3 finisher behind Arizona and Utah. Less than three weeks before Christmas, the Buffs’ 5-2 record has them tied with Oregon State in sixth place as non-conference play trickles toward its final half month.
Granted, ground can be made up quickly once the conference schedule begins in January. Or ground can be lost quickly. But as they do every November and December, Boyle and his staff want the bugs eradicated – or at least inhibited – between now and the new year. The Buffs have five non-league games remaining, the first coming Wednesday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network) against unbeaten Colorado State (8-0) at the Coors Events Center.
Boyle isn’t into comparing what he’s seen from his team in two road games this season to what he saw from the Buffs away from home last season.
“I don’t look year to year,” he said. “It’s hard for me to even remember last year’s team and its identity. I just know that we’ve had some good defensive teams here. I do know that last year’s team was our worst defensive team since we’ve been here. This year’s team, by the numbers, is pretty good – but not when it counts, which is going on the road. We gave up 55 percent (from the field) to Wyoming and 47 percent (at Georgia).”
Since Boyle’s arrival, Buffs basketball has set a higher standard. He and his assistants are emphasizing that reaching that standard and going beyond are the only true ways to grow the program.
“WITH COLORADO BASKETBALL now, the players that have come before – the last three or four years – have elevated this program to one where we’re viewed as a legitimate NCAA Tournament team,” Boyle said. “When you have that stigma attached to your name, people – whether it’s Georgia, Northern Colorado, whoever – want to beat you. And it’s always going to be Colorado State and Wyoming wanting to beat us and they take great, great pride and pleasure in doing so. We’ve already lost to Wyoming and if we don’t have our boots strapped up, Colorado State will come in here and whip our (butt).”
CU has been to a school-record three consecutive NCAA Tournaments, which lends credence to Boyle’s remark. He stops short of saying the Buffs walk into every arena wearing a bulls-eye: “Not to the degree that Kansas does, or Arizona or Kentucky does, but certainly to more of a degree than in years past. And our players have to understand that. I don’t know if they do or don’t – only they can answer that.
“My thing is, talk is cheap. You better put up or shut up, and right now we better shut up and play. Right now, we have no room to talk. This is no disrespect to any team we’ve played, but San Francisco is the best team we’ve played so far. We haven’t beaten an NCAA Tournament yet this year and we’re 5-2. I’m not sure we’ve lost to an NCAA Tournament team. Time will only tell if Wyoming or Georgia get there . . . I don’t know, but not a bonafide year-in, year-out NCAA team.
“It’s funny, when I ask our players if they think we’re better than Wyoming, they laugh. Guess what? We’re not. Are we better than Georgia? Guess what? We’re not. And there’s nothing you can do about it. You can go in the locker room and rationalize and talk all you want, but the bottom line is we’re 5-2 and we’ve lost to both of those teams.”
Former NFL coach Bill Parcells was fond of saying, “You are your record” – and Boyle doesn’t disagree.
“The thing that’s hard is this is really the first year where we’ve had to deal with those issues,” he said. “In years past they’ve underestimated us and this year they’ve overestimated us. I’m just being honest. I always say recruits coming out of high school are overrated or underrated. Basketball teams are the same way, and right now we’re a little overrated.”
Or underwhelming. The good news: The Buffs still have plenty of time to lose the selfishness, find the leadership and establish their identity. Overrated can be swapped for any number of more flattering terms.