Woelk: As Season Nears, Five Storylines To Watch For Boyle's Buffs
BOULDER — With the Colorado men's basketball season opener now just two weeks away — and the exhibition opener vs. Colorado School of Mines set Wednesday at the CU Events Center (7 p.m.) — coach Tad Boyle is anxious to get his Buffaloes on the floor and see them play against someone other than themselves.
Boyle normally likes to play closed scrimmages to prepare for the regular season. Those workouts offer coaches more of a chance to work with players and set up specific situations, and they usually entail much more than 40 minutes of playing time.
But with just two players on the roster who have played in front of college crowds, Boyle opted to go the exhibition route this year. After Wednesday, the Buffs will play at Nebraska on Sunday in a 10 a.m. exhibition, a series that will see the Huskers pay a visit to Boulder next fall.
Then comes the Nov. 9 season opener against Montana State at home.
Boyle has a highly talented but mostly untested group this year. While he has a pair of key veteran leaders in big man Evan Battey and guard Elijah Parquet, only one other player on the roster who has started even one college game is point guard Keeshawn Barthelemy.
The situation will place a big emphasis on growth and development in the non-conference schedule, a process Boyle wants to accelerate as much as possible.
Here are five key storylines to watch as the Buffs' season begins to unfold:
1. Development of sophomores Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva. These two ultra-talented youngsters will be critical to Colorado's success this year. Both had flashes of outstanding play last year; the key this year will be for each to bring consistency to the table.
Walker is a big (6-foot-8, 200 pounds), athletic forward who can score at the rim, rebound, shoot from the outside and defend. He averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds last season in barely 14 minutes a game — highly productive numbers. He had moments when he looked like an all-conference player.
But his biggest issue was foul trouble, as he more than once found himself on the bench with two (or three) fouls after only a few minutes on the floor.
Da Silva (also 6-8, 200 pounds) is a smooth, versatile player who can play multiple positions. He can also rebound, shoot and defend, and his versatility will give Boyle the opportunity to use a variety of combinations with him on the floor.
Both players last year had the benefit of being unknowns. That won't be the case this year, particularly for Walker. Both will be on everyone's scouting report, and they will have to work for every shot they get.
2. Who will become the every-night scorers? Three of CU's top-four scorers from last season are gone. The only returning double-digit scorer from a year ago is Battey, who averaged 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds.
Battey will be expected to increase both of those totals on a consistent basis this year. The Buffs need him to score and be an every-night threat in the post. Boyle has stressed that throughout the preseason, and Battey looks ready for the challenge.
But the Buffs will also need consistent scoring from elsewhere. The candidates are plentiful — Walker, da Silva and Barthelemy are all potential double-digit scorers, as are several of the newcomers. Neither will it be a surprise if Parquet significantly adds to his scoring output of a year ago (5.3 ppg).
But right now, the title of "go-to" guy in the clutch is up for grabs. It's a job that is earned over time, and it will be interesting to watch how the situation unfolds in November and December.
3. Development at point guard. With one of CU's all-time greats now plying his trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves, the big question is who will replace McKinley Wright.
The short answer is "no one." Boyle has stressed that the point guard spot will likely be a "three-headed monster," with Barthelemy and freshmen K.J. Simpson and Hammond all seeing some time there.
But Barthelemy will no doubt get the opportunity to show that he is prepared to be the quarterback the point. The sophomore had an excellent offseason, staying in Boulder the entire time to get in more time in the weight room and more time on the floor with his teammates. He had a very good intrasquad scrimmage and has added maturity to his game, on and off the floor. He can score, rebound well for a guard, is lightning quick and he sees the floor well.
But the key for Barthelemy will be developing his own identity, establishing himself as a leader, and earning the trust and confidence of his teammates over an extended period of time.
4. Establishing a rotation. Right now, this isn't a big concern for Boyle. He simply wants to see which of his young players can perform when the lights go on, who can be consistent and who can adhere to the foundational fundamentals of Colorado basketball — defense and rebounding.
Truth is, the Buffs have 12 players who could ostensibly fit into an eight-man rotation — and of course, that's not possible.
What Boyle will be looking for early is players who show they are willing to play defense and rebound, players who don't "pace" themselves and players who do the little things that make a big difference. Players who take charges, fight for offensive rebounds and grab loose balls will be the players who earn a few more minutes on the floor.
What Boyle already knows is this team has plenty of offensive potential. What he wants to see is who will bring extended energy to both ends of the floor every night.
5. Can Parquet take his game to the next level? On the surface, that's asking a lot of a guy who was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team member last season. An athletic, strong guard who can defend the perimeter and block shots, he brings a great skill set to the Buffaloes' defense.
But he'll need to be even better on the defensive end this year, especially because he will be surrounded by youngsters much of the time. He will be expected to not only be a shutdown defender, but also a player who serves as a leader in the backcourt. If he continues to set an example, it will rub off on his teammates — and that will make the Buffs better in every regard.