- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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It’s never too early to start to look ahead to next season. In the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 that could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Colorado Buffaloes.
Ask 20 people to name the best coaching hires in the last five years and 19 of them probably wouldn't name Tad Boyle.
His isn’t the sexiest or splashiest name to cross the transaction wires in recent history, but sexy and splashy only win the news day; guys like Boyle win games.
Before he arrived in Boulder, slipping into town from nearby Greeley, home to Northern Colorado, the Colorado Buffaloes went 11 long years without an NCAA tournament berth.
How good has Boyle been? Let’s put it this way: Everyone from fans to players to coaches were disappointed that the Buffs didn’t make it to the tournament this year. Instead, a 16-18 finish ended in a CBI berth, stopping a streak of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Expectations are the byproduct -- and often the expense -- of success, and for the first time in a long time, the Buffs are feeling them. Getting to some randomly lettered postseason is no longer enough. A losing record -– though the first in Boyle’s tenure -- is untenable.
But the expectations aren’t just from the fan base; they’re extremely internal. There is not just an expectation of success at Colorado now, but an expectation that the work needed to succeed will be done.
Boyle questioned that commitment before this season even ended, wondering whether his players were getting a little too comfortable with winning.
And so to ensure that this past season would be the outlier and not the norm, he made a small but critical change to the Buffaloes’ offseason plans.
This year, summer vacation for the Buffs is in Boulder with strength coach James Hardy.
The early reports have signaled a reawakening among the players, a feeling that there is a rejuvenated sense of purpose that maybe got lost last year.
Is it enough to return the Buffaloes to the NCAA tournament, especially in an increasingly competitive Pac-12?
That’s the real question.
What the immediate future holds: Potential sometimes sounds damning with feint praise, but in the case of the Buffs it’s a compliment. There is the potential here for a quick turnaround to what ailed Colorado. The potential is there for a good season.
Now for the challenge – realizing it.
Colorado loses Askia Booker and his 17 points per game, a big blow for a team that was at best, unpredictable in the scoring department. Guards Jaron Hopkins and Dustin Thomas, both solid off-the-bench contributors, are also gone, each asking to transfer.
But Boyle has more than enough to work with – six of the top seven scorers return for Colorado, plus four guys new to the Buffs’ program.
Though there is more depth at the guard/small forward spots, it’s power forward Josh Scott who holds the key to the Buffs' success. The rising senior spent the previous summer in Boulder – before Boyle’s edict – adding 25 pounds of muscle to his frame. The result, was a solid junior season in which he finished second in scoring to Booker (14 points per game) and led the team in rebounds (8.0 per game) despite missing time with an ailing back. Scott has a chance to be one of the best post players in the league this year.
Almost as critical to Scott will be Dom Collier. A prized recruit, the point guard struggled in his first college season. He averaged just 4.7 points per game and more troublesome, 1.5 assists to 1.3 turnovers. The season was hampered by injuries -- first a sprained ankle, then a sprained wrist -- and the stop and start didn’t help him acclimate. Boyle repeatedly sang his point guard’s praises during the season, trying to buoy his spirits, but there’s no question that the Buffaloes need Collier to play like the top recruit he once was.
Hardy, the strength coach, already has said that working with Collier will be one of his primary jobs this summer.
The rest of the rotation should be solid and experienced – with Xavier Johnson (10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds) making for a good inside tandem with Scott, as well as Wesley Gordon (6.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game), Tre'Shaun Fletcher (5.4 points) and Xavier Talton (4.3) returning. George King, who redshirted last season, also will be available.
Plus Boyle will be able to insert Josh Fortune, a shooting guard by way of Providence, into the backcourt. Primarily a defensive stopper with the Friars, Fortune still averaged 8.4 points per game as a sophomore.
That seems like more than enough for the Buffaloes to meet expectations, especially because they’ll be led by a coach who already has exceeded them.