Brooks: Will CBI Offer Positive Glimpse Of 2015-16?
BOULDER - This should be interesting, quite possibly entertaining, and for Tad Boyle's and the Buffs' sake hopefully beneficial for their 2015-16 season. That's what this is all about; we can safely say it's not about the money - unless you count what's going out rather than what might be coming in.
With no interest shown by college basketball's other postseason tournaments - those preceded by the letters NCAA and NIT - Colorado makes its first foray into the CBI Tournament on Wednesday night. CU plays Gardner-Webb (7 p.m. Coors Events Center, Live Stream), and if the reconfigured Buffs survive the Runnin' Bulldogs, they play the Seattle-Pepperdine winner on Monday night (site TBD).
When Oregon ended CU's Pac-12 Tournament run in last week's quarterfinals, Boyle still believed his team winning three of its last five games and finally getting healthy constituted momentum enough to consider a CBI bid. It came and the Buffs went for it.
"It's a sneak peek into next year and that's kind of the whole idea of playing in this tournament - get a jump start, get some rotations and a look at some guys," Boyle said.
Don't get him wrong: the object still is winning the 16-team tournament, and if that happens the Buffs' overall record (15-17) jumps past the 20-win mark. But the first game - even at home in the CBI - won't be a stroll through the CEC. CU will be without leading scorer Askia Booker (17.2 ppg) and emerging reserve Dustin Thomas (4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg). Booker, a senior, has opted not to play; Thomas, a sophomore, is transferring.
Thus, Boyle will get the opportunity to toy with rotations against undersized Gardner-Webb (20-14). Booker's 30.2 minutes a game likely will be spread among Dom Collier, Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins, with Tory Miller's playing time increasing in Thomas' absence. And Boyle's best-case scenario includes finding playing time for walk-ons such as Brett Brady, who "deserves some minutes. I think he can help us in spots . . . I'd love to get them (all) some minutes but we're playing to win."
Boyle said Miller "is the one guy I want to get kind of in the flow and playing more than he has over the last six to eight games. He's got a bright future . . . it's a great opportunity for everybody but we're going to play to win. We'll try to advance as far as we can and take this thing as far as it'll go."
AT 6-9, MILLER HAS TWO INCHES on the Runnin' Bulldogs' tallest starter (6-7 Tyrell Nelson). Add 6-10 Josh Scott, 6-9 Wes Gordon, 6-7 Tre'Shaun Fletcher and 6-7 Xavier Johnson to the Buffs' mix and Boyle's game plan comes into very clear focus.
He also hopes the altitude complements his team's height advantage, but adds, "What we have an advantage on in size they have an advantage in shooting from the perimeter from a lot of different positions. That's an advantage for them. It'll be a great challenge for us to guard the perimeter . . . our 'bigs' will have to get out on the floor and guard a little bit, which is something they're capable of doing. But we'll hopefully get the ball inside and make them pay."
The Runnin' Bulldogs like to, well, run. They average just over 74 points a game, eight 3-pointers a game and likely won't object to the CBI's experimentation with a 30-second shot clock. Three of their players - Jarvis Davis, Tyler Strange and Adonis Burbage - have made 50-plus treys and are shooting above 36 percent from beyond the arc. But the team's leading scorer (19.0) and rebounder (10.2) is 6-5 forward Jerome Hill, who recorded a league-best 15 double-doubles and was an All-Big South first-team selection.
Like CU, GW won three of its last five games, reaching the conference semifinals before losing 73-70 to eventual champ Coastal Carolina. Playing on a power conference team's home court won't awe the Runnin' Bulldogs; they played road games this season at LSU (93-82 loss), at Arizona (91-65 loss), at Purdue (89-84 win), and defeated Clemson (72-70) in the first round of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands.
So the Buffs had best be as enthused as they seemed to be at Monday's first practice after their Vegas experience. "We came out with a lot of energy and got better," Talton said. Added Collier: "I think all of us are looking forward to it . . . just looking to get better and carry our energy from the last five games."
In CU's 93-85 Pac-12 quarterfinal loss to Oregon, Collier scored a career-high 14 points, accompanied by four assists and only one turnover, in 35 minutes. He was more aggressive on both ends than he was during most of the regular season.
"I just didn't want to lose," he said. "I was trying to do whatever, I just took it back to what I best know how to do in high school - just be aggressive on offense and defense. And looking for my shots - don't hesitate or think too much, that's when you usually make mistakes."
Compensating for the absence of Booker's points, said Collier, will require more confidence than the Buffs showed at times during the regular season. "I don't think it's going to be that difficult because coach Boyle told us (that) without him we're shooting 54 percent or something like that. We have to step up offensively and be confident. Sometimes we relied on him too much to get us a basket, so we just have to step up. It's important to show ourselves and our coaches that we're able to play a full game, we're able to defend and rebound and score."
MILLER'S MINUTES INCREASED IN January and early February when Scott was recovering from a back ailment. But when Scott returned, Miller's court time took a hit. He said it was no more frustrating than most other things that confront freshmen: "You've got a lot of things coming at you at one time. You learn to play hard and get through the bumps and bruises of the season . . .
"I didn't feel like a freshman when I got here. From the jump they didn't talk to you like a freshman, they didn't treat you like a freshman. There were a few things here and there, but it's never really been like, GÇÿAh, he's a freshman, he'll be all right.' That's not how we do it around here (and) I don't feel like a freshman anymore production-wise, development-wise."
Boyle is hopeful that Miller and his teammates see the CBI for what it is - a last chance to play basketball in a season that got away from the Buffs. "We wanted to play in the NCAA, but like coach says, we're playing," Miller said. "I think we're excited to just get a win, get some momentum built up for next year."
Collier doesn't think his teammates are put off by the lesser stature of the CBI: "I don't think they're just looking at the tournament, I think they're looking at playing basketball. We all love playing basketball and don't want our season to end . . . after we heard it was the CBI Tournament I think that left our minds and we just thought about playing basketball and not trying to lose."
And Boyle is confident that the players who will suit up are all in. At least that was the impression he came away with after conducting one-on-one meetings with players Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to discuss their specific situations, goals, where they fit in his program, his expectations as well as theirs.
"The guys I talked to have both feet in," he said.
Boyle, of course, is in with both feet and up to his eyebrows.
"I enjoy coaching this team, I'm looking forward to it," he said, noting that on Monday he was as excited "as any day we've had. I feel like I'm born again . . . I know it's the middle of March and guys' bodies might be a little tired and their minds might be a little tired, but hey we've got a chance to compete and play in March and that's why we play all season. We recognize it for what it is but we're going to take the floor and compete our tails off."