Brooks: UNC Special For Boyle, But He’s Facing Forward
BOULDER – Saturday afternoon’s game against Northern Colorado might offer Tad Boyle a time for reflection, but he hasn’t been in a reflective mood for the last couple of days. Give him a rain check, if you don't mind.
UNC gave Boyle his head coaching break, hiring him in spring of 2006 before losing him to Colorado in the spring of 2010. That first job as a head coach is special, usually representing a step – if not a leap – of faith by an administration in an assistant who arrives highly recommended but still game-day raw.
Plus, this HC job just happened to be in Boyle’s hometown – Greeley – and that added another extraordinary quality to his hiring. “All” Boyle had to do was take the opportunity and run with it. “All” he did was revive UNC’s program and jump start his coaching career. The NABC named him its Division I coach of the year, as did the Big Sky Conference, after he pushed the Bears to a school-record 25 wins in his fourth season.
Five years later, the 20-win bar has become a CU standard. The Buffaloes have won at least 21 games in each of Boyle’s four seasons and have appeared in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in school history. And CU’s newfound basketball success started at UNC, which offered Boyle a chance.
If he wanted, reflection on Saturday and in the days before would come easy. Genuine appreciation came even easier, but he’ll save the longer reflection for another time. As he said the other night after a two-point home loss to Colorado State – a rarity in the Boyle era – the Buffs currently are a decent team, but decent doesn’t cut it.
So Boyle is facing forward rather than back as his first game against his former school looms. CU has lost consecutive non-conference games for the first time since his second season (2011-12; Wichita State, Maryland) when the Buffs made a pre-Thanksgiving trip to Puerto Rico. Prior to the 62-60 loss to CSU, CU lost 64-57 at Georgia.
In both of those games, the Buffs suffered from twice as many turnovers as assists – 13 errors against 6 assists at Georgia, 14 vs. 6 against CSU. Their proposed up-tempo offense was slowed down by each opponent being deliberate on the offensive end and rarely CU transitional opportunities. Plus, in their half-court sets, the Buffs’ planned attack-the-basket mode usually degenerated to wait-and-see on the perimeter.
“We’re good when we attack,” Boyle said. “When we don’t attack we’re not any good. When we come down and move the ball side-to-side, around the perimeter and shoot a jump shot . . . if we just attack the basket our numbers go up. (But) we have to pass the ball cleanly, catch the ball cleanly, have to make good decisions.”
Boyle and his staff chart “zero attacks” – or the number of possessions in a game that his offense fails to make its first look (attack) inside. The charted numbers, he said, show a scoring rate of 64 percent on the first attack “when we attack the paint and scored or got fouled.”
That didn’t happen in the last two games, with a combined 5-of-40 “zero attacks” – and that figure includes a 1-of-21 at Georgia, a paltry 5 percent that unsettles Boyle about his team’s half-court efficiency. “The word is out on how to beat Colorado,” he said. “You take them out of transition. Late in the game (CSU) had one guy on the free throw lane, three guys back. ‘You’re not getting a transition basket; we’re going to make you score in the half court.’ Teams can do that. Wyoming did it, they got back and took us out of transition.
“When we were in transition (against CSU) we weren’t very efficient in terms of scoring. We had a couple of transition baskets so we have to learn how to execute in the half court better. As much as I’d like it to be a 90-possession game, an 80-possession game, teams are going to come into this building and make us guard for 30 seconds. That’s what Colorado State did – they took their time offensively.”
Boyle has looked to former NBA coach George Karl as an up-tempo mentor, but he said if Karl watched the CSU loss “he would have puked. It was such a slow, low-possession game. Now, again, Colorado State is pretty damn good. We knew that was going to be a high-level game. The thing is, when we get into Pac-12 play, every team that comes in here, it’s going to be a battle.”
The Buffs’ offensive concerns a couple of nights ago weren’t limited to pace or half-court attacks. Their leading scorer, post Josh Scott at 16.6 points a game, whiffed on seven attempts from the field and finished the night with two made free throws as his only two points. Scott left the court visibly frustrated, but Boyle doesn’t expect that frustration to linger or Scott to dwell on his off night.
“He’ll be fine,” Boyle said. “I said it after the game, if anybody deserves a mulligan, it’s Josh. (But) what I want Josh to understand – and we have talked about it in the past so there’s no reason to beat a dead horse – what I don’t want is frustrations on offense to leak over to defense. And that happened (Wednesday) night in the second half. The big kid – No. 15 (Tiel Daniels) – had six points, all in the second half inside. That’s not the Josh Scott I know. But he’s human.”
Boyle posed this question: “Could we win when Josh goes 0-for-7? We have could have (Wednesday) night. There were multiple opportunities to win that game. So it wasn’t Josh going 0-for-7. We can overcome that, we’re going to have to overcome that.”
Among the questions that Boyle (and others) are asking is, “Has this team learned to play without Spencer Dinwiddie? Or, why hasn’t it?” Boyle repeated the numbers: “We were 14-2 with Spencer (before his knee injury), we were 9-10 without him. We’ve got the same group . . . it’s the same cast of characters we had last year. Have we gotten better? I don’t know. That’s the challenge we have.”
A missing ingredient for a large portion of non-conference play has been freshman guard Dom Collier. An ankle injury and a two-game suspension limited him early, now a left wrist injury (sprained ligaments) will keep him benched until at least the Buffs’ first game in the Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22 vs. DePaul).
Collier sees the court and has what appears to be a natural play-making ability. Getting him back on the court for more experience before Pac-12 play begins next month would be a backcourt benefit. Until then, starting guards Askia Booker and Xavier Talton, and their host of subs, must do their part to make half-court sets more efficient.
The Buffs as a whole must get the turnovers down, the assists up and acknowledge Boyle’s long-standing virtues – defense and rebounding.
“It’s simple,” said Talton. “We’ve got to get better. Nobody in our program wants to be 5-3 – not the players, not the coaches. But we are.”