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Boyle's Buffs Draw Motivation From Pac-12 Preseason Prognostications

Nov 12, 2020
CU coach Tad Boyle and senior McKinley Wright believe some folks might be "sleeping" on the Buffs.

Tad Boyle Media Day Zoom | McKinley Wright IV Media Day Zoom

BOULDER — Not that Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes were in need of any extra motivation — but just in case, the Pac-12 preseason media poll provided a little extra dose Thursday morning.

The annual prognostication by reporters who cover the league picked the Buffs to finish seventh, a prediction that had to leave Boyle smiling just a bit on the inside.

"I just know that being at Colorado, now going into year 11, we're usually at our best when people are sleeping on us," Boyle said during the conference's Media Day interviews. "I think people are sleeping on us a little bit this year."

To be fair, the Buffs' relatively low pick shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those not intimately familiar with CU's roster.

After all, Colorado must replace last year's leading rebounder, second-leading scorer and conference Defensive Player of the Year, Tyler Bey. CU must also replace the key contributions of graduated seniors Lucas Siewert and Shane Gatling.

Those are some rather big holes to fill.

But the Buffs are confident that they have the players to fill those gaps — and maybe more. Thanks to a standout freshman class, the return of redshirt freshman Keeshawn Barthelemy, another year of maturity for D'Shawn Schwartz, Evan Battey, Dallas Walton and Eli Parquet, those inside the Colorado program are confident they can surpass their seventh-place prediction.

Oh, and there's one more piece of the puzzle to add to that equation: senior point guard McKinley Wright IV, a first-team all-conference player the last two years and a preseason first teamer this season.

Wright tested the NBA waters in the offseason before ultimately deciding to return to CU for his senior season and complete some unfinished business — mainly an NCAA Tournament berth. The seventh-place pick no doubt added a little fuel to his already burning fire.

The underdog role, Wright said, fits just fine.

"That's who we are," Wright said. "That's the type of guys our coaching staff recruits. Guys with chips on their shoulders who have something to prove and ready to step up and do that. We do. We have a lot of guys who feel like they belong and I'm going to continue to play with a chip on my shoulder … There's chips on all of our shoulders and we want to continue to prove that we belong and we're one of the best teams in this conference."

Just last season, the Buffs were picked second in the preseason poll, and for much of the year, looked ready to live up to that prediction. But a five-game slide at the end of the season left them tied for fifth in the final standings. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which eliminated any chance of redemption in the NCAA Tournament.

That resulted in a long, long offseason for the Buffs.

"We have a lot to prove," Wright said. "We lost some people. Obviously it puts a chip on my shoulder. We want to come out and prove that we're a top team in this conference. We're going to come out and play hard and continue to try to prove that."

Wright is no doubt the straw that stirs the Buffs' drink. A two-time all-league pick, he led CU last year in scoring (14.4 ppg) and assists (5.0), was second in steals (36) and third in rebounding (5.7 per game).

But the one number that gnawed on him in the offseason was turnovers. He finished the season with 96 turnovers — three per game — a statistic he knows he will have to improve to take the Buffs to the next level.

Thus, while he spent the offseason working on his game in the gym, he also dedicated far more time to studying film. A member of the CU staff produced video clips of every turnover Wright committed last season — and Wright watched those clips.

Over and over and over.

"I watched those with coaches, I watched them with my trainer over the summer, I watched them with a number of different people," Wright said. "I've watched a lot of film. Film has helped me a lot more than I ever thought … A lot of guys nowadays just want to watch the highlights of what they're doing well and can't self-criticize themselves. I've matured in that sense and doing a lot of critiquing and watching my bad play to improve in that area."

It was an effort that didn't escape the attention of Boyle.

"It's just another step in the maturity process that kids go through," Boyle said. "Especially so many kids today with social media, they want to be hearing about the great things that are going on, all the good things that are happening to them or their friends. They don't want to look at the dark side sometimes. At some point, as you become an adult, you realize that's really not the way you take the next step."

PRESEASON POLL: For the first time since the 2011-12 season, UCLA was picked to win the Pac-12 title. Just 10 points separated the top three teams, with UCLA finishing with 251 points in the balloting, Arizona State with 246 and Oregon with 241. It was the closest vote among the top three teams in the 37-year history of the conference's preseason picks. 

The poll and points (first-place votes in parentheses):

1. UCLA (9) 25
2. Arizona State (5) 246
3. Oregon (7) 241
4. Stanford (1) 209
5. Arizona 173
6. USC (1) 154
7. Colorado 149
8. Utah 131
9. Washington 85
10. Cal 65
11. Washington State 54
12. Oregon State 36

ALL-CONFERENCE: Colorado's Wright was the only Buff to be named to the first team, but CU did have an honorable mention selection on the preseason all-conference team in junior big man Evan Battey.

The selections:

FIRST TEAM
F Timmy Allen, Jr., Utah
G Matt Bradley, Jr., Cal
F Oscar da Silva, Sr., Stanford
G Chris Duarte, Sr., Oregon
G Remy Martin, Sr., ASU
F Evan Mobley, Fr., USC
G Will Richardson, Jr., Oregon
G Chris Smith, Sr., UCLA
F Ziaire Williams, Fr., Stanford
G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., Colorado

SECOND TEAM
G Isaac Bonton, Sr., Washington St.
G Tyger Campbell, So., UCLA
G Josh Christopher, Fr., ASU
G Ethan Thompson, Sr., Oregon St.
G Alonzo Verge, Jr., ASU

HONORABLE MENTION (received votes from four-or-more members of the media): James Akinjo (Jr., Arizona), Evan Battey (Jr., Colorado), Quade Green (Sr., Washington), Jalen Hill (R-Jr., UCLA), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (So., UCLA).

BOOST FOR ROAD TEAMS: Early in the season, at least, there will be virtually no fans allowed in the stands in Pac-12 arenas.

In a sport where the home crowd can provide a huge advantage, Boyle said he thought the absence of crowds would no doubt help visiting teams.

"I don't think there's any question about that," Boyle said. "It's going to even the playing field … I have no feel for what that gameday atmosphere is going to feel like, whether we're at home or on the road. But all I know is we're going to have to create our own energy and atmosphere because it's not going to be created for us by the fans."

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu