Category archive: Northern Colorado Bears

Colorado had to show an interest in basketball.

If the Buffaloes didn't, all the talk about wanting to be competitive was moot. Sure, they could pop up every few years and make some noise in the Big 12. But to be a serious player, to be taken seriously, they had to do something tangible.

A year ago, Jeff Bzdelik seriously considered becoming an assistant coach with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. And he didn't hesitate to jump when Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman called. It was a no-thought decision. Wake Forest has always shown a commitment to college basketball. Colorado hasn't. You can't compare being the head coach at Wake Forest and Colorado.

Are the Buffs finally giving the appearance that they care enough to do something about it? Bzdelik pushed from the day he arrived to improve the facilities, and it's starting to happen -- although he won't be in Boulder to see his hard work pay off.

Tad Boyle, who was the coach at nearby Northern Colorado, was the Buffaloes' choice over Bzdelik's top assistant, former associate head coach Steve McClain (who went on to join Tom Crean's staff at Indiana).

Tad BoyleDouglas C. Pizac/US PresswireAfter leading Northern Colorado to 25 wins last season, Tad Boyle has moved south to Boulder.

The Buffaloes pale in comparison to the rest of the Big 12 in facilities, but Boyle will benefit greatly from a new indoor basketball/volleyball practice facility next to the Coors Events Center, set to be completed in April 2011.

In a year (or possibly two), CU will be in the Pac-10, a conference still playing catch-up in the facilities chase. Once Colorado has its own, it will move into the middle of the pack, behind Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, USC (and UCLA is upgrading in a year), but at least not at the bottom.

"All I have to do is look out my window and see that they've broken ground and know that it's going to happen," said Boyle this week. "Jeff talked about how much they needed it for two or three years. But it's happening. Jeff was a big part of this commitment. But they stepped up."

"Buildings don't make programs; it's what's inside," said Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon, who hired Boyle to be his assistant after the two played together at Kansas under Larry Brown in the early '80s. Turgeon and Boyle were together at Oregon under Jerry Green, and then Boyle split off to Tennessee under Green before reconnecting with Turgeon as his assistant at Jacksonville State and ultimately at Wichita State before venturing off on his own at Northern Colorado.

"At some point, Colorado had to step up, and Jeff worked hard to get it going," Turgeon said. "Colorado realized that it had to do something to have a chance. They had to show interest in basketball, to sell it to recruits, to the administration to put money into the program."

But as Turgeon said, what's inside matters. And Bzdelik left Boyle two players that give him a chance to be more than just competitive in what could be CU's last year in the Big 12. Colorado is coming off a 6-10 Big 12 season (15-16 overall), ahead of Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Nebraska. The return of rising senior guard Cory Higgins (18.9 ppg) and sophomore guard Alec Burks (17.1 ppg) means the Buffs will be able to score.

"We've got a good nucleus," Boyle said. "I think the only way we establish credibility here early is how quickly it happens. I know you need a breakthrough year."

The opportunity exists. He did turn Division I and Big Sky newcomer Northern Colorado -- 4-24 and last in the RPI in his first season -- into a postseason team (CIT) in his fourth and final season as the Bears finished second to Weber State at 12-4 (25-8 overall) last season. He was the Big Sky Coach of the Year, and if you were up late on ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon night you would have seen Boyle lead the Bears to a win at Hawaii to jump-start the season. The Bears lost to Oklahoma by one point in Norman and won at TCU during a breakthrough season.

"Can he make the jump?" said Turgeon, who worked hard to help Boyle get the job. "Yes. He played at this level. He's helped major programs. He's the full package. He's an excellent coach, a great recruiter. And before he got into coaching, he was handling people's money [Boyle is a former Boulder-based stockbroker], so he'll be a good fundraiser. He did that at Northern Colorado, and he'll do the same at Colorado."

The jump from the Big Sky to the Big 12/Pac-10 shouldn't be a shock anymore. Ben Howland broke the stereotype of needing a middle step when he went from Northern Arizona to Pitt.

"I know he'll do the coaching part," Turgeon said of Boyle. "He's the perfect fit for the job. Look at how successful Bo Ryan was at the Division III level before he got to Wisconsin [from UW-Platteville before a stop at D-I Wisconsin-Milwaukee].

"Yes, you normally have a middle step, but timing is everything," said the 47-year-old Boyle. "It was a perfect fit, whether we're in the Big 12 or the Pac-10."

The Buffaloes needed to jump-start their program after years of floundering toward the bottom of the Big 12, for the most part. Colorado is a better fit academically in the Pac-10 and men's basketball has a new chance to start the program over and build on its own history without preconceived impressions. And if there were ever a time to enter the Pac-10, it's now, as the league tries to climb out of a down cycle.

Boyle said he might not recruit the Texas area as much anymore, shifting the emphasis to fertile California, although it will be even more competitive there with Utah joining the fray as well.

And Boyle, a Colorado native, is no fool. He hired Rodney Billups for his staff. Billups is the brother of Chauncey Billups, currently with the Denver Nuggets and the easily the most famous CU basketball alumnus in the NBA.

"I know this is a heckuva challenge," Boyle said. "But I know what we did at Northern Colorado was pretty special. We won 25 games. We were dead last in the RPI when we got there. That speaks volumes. I know we can do this.

"The only way you establish credibility is on the court, and how quickly that happens I don't know. I want it to happen sooner than later. There's a great nucleus here, and Coach Bzdelik left good players in the program. We just have to add the pieces."

Assuming his grades are reported as expected, UTEP will add enigmatic center Derrick Caracter to its lineup Sunday against New Mexico State. (Update: As announced Saturday, Caracter will indeed make his debut with the Miners this weekend.)

UTEP coach Tony Barbee doesn't expect a hitch in getting Caracter into the Miners' rotation. He backloaded their nonconference schedule knowing the team would be without Caracter early in the season.

The Miners, a trendy pick to push Tulsa and Memphis and win Conference USA, are 5-0 with a glut of nonconference games remaining against Ole Miss in Southaven, Miss. (Dec. 16), Oklahoma in Oklahoma City (Dec. 21), at Texas Tech (Jan. 3) and against BYU (Jan. 9). Their C-USA schedule begins SMU on Jan. 6.

"I tried to play the fewest amount of games I could prior to Dec. 13," Barbee said. "If I could have played two games, I would have, but there weren't enough dates after it. I had to play some home games."

According to Barbee, Caracter has been a model citizen since his arrival in El Paso after transferring from Louisville because of differences with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino about weight and work. Barbee said Caracter, who was hyped as the "next great thing" since he was 14 years old and attending school in New Jersey, has been a loyal foot soldier on the scout team.

But don't for a second think that Caracter is the only reason UTEP should be watched throughout the season.

The Miners, who lost to Oregon State in a decisive third game of the College Basketball Invitational in April, have one of the better-balanced scoring rosters.

UTEP has five players averaging double figures -- guards Randy Culpepper, Julyan Stone and Christian Polk and forwards Arnett Moultrie and Jeremy Williams.

"I told Derrick that he wasn't coming here to be the savior or that this would be a one-man show," Barbee said. "This is a team that we've built here. This is our fourth year, and we're where we want to be. We talked about being balanced, and we are. Derrick will make us better, but he doesn't become our team."

The Miners relied heavily on Stefon Jackson early in Barbee's tenure. But although Culpepper and Stone don't have similar star power, they're much more of a complementary pair. Moultrie is a developing talent who will thrive even more with Caracter next to him. The Miners should have the best shot-blocking tandem in the league with this pair, even more so than true center Jerome Jordan of Tulsa, who wouldn't have as meaty a mate next to him as Moultrie will with Caracter.

Barbee talked about how high this team can go once he has everyone eligible. Still, the Miners may not have as much room for error in Conference USA, which should be extremely competitive. Building a résumé with wins now will only help, and unlike a lot of other potential NCAA teams, the Miners have purposely gotten off to a quiet start. Once Caracter is eligible, the higher-profile games will start rolling in, and we'll have a more accurate picture of the possibility of UTEP being a true team to watch for the next three months.

• Florida's loss meant there were 15 remaining unbeaten teams this season. It's still so early and it doesn't mean that much -- yet.

But still, which is the most surprising unblemished team?

Texas Tech.

The Red Raiders' overtime win over Washington is still one of the more surprising results this season.

New Mexico probably would finish second in this group. The Lobos play Texas A&M on Saturday in Houston.

Which of the one-loss teams has been one of the most overlooked?

Saint Mary's.

If the Gaels had beaten Vanderbilt instead of losing by a deuce, they might've been one of the more-talked-about teams. Omar Samhan has been stellar so far, and so has the guard play. The Gaels got overshadowed by Gonzaga and Portland in November, but check who is atop the West Coast Conference standings in overall record in mid-December.

Of schools outside the power six leagues, which one-loss teams should you keep tabs on? Northern Colorado at 8-1 is now a favorite to win the Big Sky, and a battle is brewing in the Missouri Valley among undefeated Missouri State (8-0), Illinois State (7-0), Wichita State (8-1) and preseason favorite Northern Iowa (6-1).