Boyle's Buffs Ready For Shot At No. 12 Volunteers
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Just a few weeks into the college basketball season, the coronavirus pandemic has created previously inconceivable circumstances when it comes to scheduling.
Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes have already had two games postponed and another date hold three different opponents.
But Tuesday, that ever-changing schedule will actually present the Buffs with a nice opportunity — a shot at the 12th-ranked team in the country. Thanks to some last-minute juggling, 2-0 Colorado will tip it off at 4 p.m. against 0-0 Tennessee on the Volunteers' home floor (SEC+).
The original schedule had Colorado playing host to Colorado State on Tuesday. But that game was canceled when CSU had to pause its program because of coronavirus difficulties. Then, Colorado Mines agreed to play in Boulder in what would have been an exhibition game for Mines.
But last week, CU director of player development Nate Tomlinson began talking with Tennessee assistant Kim English, a former Colorado assistant. The Vols were also having issues getting a game played, with their first four contests of the season all canceled.
When yet another contest — Wednesday night's scheduled tilt with Tennessee-Martin — was also scratched, it opened up an opportunity for Colorado to head to Tennessee. After some late-week discussions, the two programs finalized the deal, which is actually a three-game series. The Vols will visit Boulder next year and the two teams will then meet in Nashville in the 2022-23 season.
"When the Tennessee opportunity came up, it was too good an opportunity for our guys to pass up," Boyle said Monday. "We talk to our players a lot about controlling what you can control. From my standpoint as a coach, I'm going to try my best to get 27 games (the NCAA maximum this season). A guy like McKinley Wright comes back for his senior year and we have four other seniors. They deserve to play games in terms of what they've done and the sacrifice they've made and hard work they've put in."
The game is no doubt an opportunity for the Buffs to put their name squarely in the national conversation. Rick Barnes' Volunteers were picked in the preseason media poll to win the SEC, and while they have yet to play a game, they're still ranked No. 12 in the latest AP poll.
"This is a chance to get into a different part of the country and show what we're all about," Boyle said. "We're just going to go compete our tails off and give ourselves a chance. If we're able to win, great. If we don't we're going to use it as a great learning opportunity."
The task of preparing for the Vols hasn't been easy for Boyle's staff, mainly because Tennessee has yet to play a game. But they do know UT has a pair of standout returnees in forwards John Fulkerson and Yves Pons. Fulkerson, an all-SEC pick a year ago, led the Vols in scoring (13.7 ppg) and rebounding (5.9 rpg) last year while Pons recorded 73 blocked shots and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, Barnes also welcomed one of the nation's top-ranked recruiting classes that boasts three top-75 prospects, including five-star guards Keon Johnson and McDonald's All-American Jaden Springer.
The Tennessee front line should no doubt be a great test for Colorado's veteran big men, Evan Battey and Dallas Walton, as well as freshman Jabari Walker.
"We've tried as best we can to prepare for what we think they're going to run offensively, what we think they're going to do defensively, and obviously personnel," Boyle said.
Boyle has actually squared off against UT's Barnes before. In Boyle's first season in Boulder, his Buffs took a 91-89 over Barnes' Texas Longhorns in Boulder in Colorado's last season in the Big 12.
Barnes has taken four different schools to the NCAA Tournament — Providence, Clemson, Texas and Tennessee. He and Boyle have come to know each other off the court, as they both serve on the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee.
"I look at Rick Barnes' career and I'm really in awe," Boyle said "He's been successful everywhere he's been. He's really well respected within the coaching community. I really appreciate him as a man, as a human being, and he's a helluva basketball coach. He's proven that every place he's been."
Barnes said he appreciated CU being willing to make last-minute travel plans and agree to play in Knoxville.
"Any time you've got a chance to play a quality program with a coach that's as upstanding and runs a clean and as good of a program as there is in the country, you want to be involved with them," Barnes said. "I've got great respect for (Boyle). "
BEEN THERE BEFORE: Boyle's trip to UT's Thompson-Boling Arena should bring back some memories. Colorado's coach spent one season in Knoxville as an assistant under Jerry Greene in 1997-98.
"Our first son, Jack, was born in Knoxville," Boyle said. "I remember everybody in Knoxville at the time was asking us if we were going to name him Peyton, because Peyton Manning was a senior (on the football team) and he was the big man on campus."
Boyle said he had great memories of Knoxville, where he had the chance to meet and talk basketball with Tennessee women's coaching legend Pat Summitt.
The Buffs will also see something they haven't yet seen this season — fans in the stands, as Tennessee will allow about 3,500 people in the stands for the game.
Thompson-Boling's capacity is 21,678, but Boyle said he thinks his players will enjoy the energy even a small gathering can bring.
"I don't think it will be a formidable home court for them, but I'm sure those fans who do show up will be energetic and cheer for the Vols," Boyle said. "It will be a road atmosphere, no doubt about it."