Hoops preseason report

The college basketball season is just weeks away and should be an exciting one in Boulder with improved talent and experience and a new coaching staff. Get a look at the Colorado Buffaloes.


The respect theme could be pounded again by Colorado, and this time with a new coach.

After Jeff Bzdelik moved on to Wake Forest after directing the Buffaloes to an eighth-place finish in the Big 12 last season, Tad Boyle was hired out of Northern Colorado.

Unknowns exist regarding Boyle's transition into a power conference, which probably influenced the Big 12 coaches to pick the Buffaloes ninth. That was something of a surprise considering Colorado returns a pair of preseason Wooden Award candidates, Cory Higgins and Alec Burks.

This is the last year for Colorado to compete in the Big 12 before moving into the Pac-10 next season.

"It seems like we're getting better every day and learning new things, new plays, and our defense is more intense, too," guard Shannon Sharpe told the Boulder Camera. "I have a very good vibe about this year."

The potential exists to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 after the Buffs finished 15-16 a year ago and went 6-10 in the Big 12. While Higgins and Burks are each smooth on the offensive end and capable of creating their own shots after averaging 36 points collectively, the Buffs must improve underneath.

Their minus-7.5 rebounding differential was a killer last season, especially when compounded by an even worse average of minus-11.4 in Big 12 play. Deficiencies on the glass led to far too many easy put-backs for opponents, which contributed to opponents shooting 46.2 percent, the highest average allowed last season in the Big 12.

Banging the boards, however, remains an issue. Expect Boyle to harp on toughness, mentally and physically, much as Bzdelik did whenever he became frustrated over the Buffs' lack of inside muscle. Ben Mills, a 7-foot center from Hartland, Wis., will get a chance to mix it up inside, but the Buffs need improvement from two returning sophomores, 6-11 Shane Harris-Tunks and 6-10 Trey Eckloff.

With Higgins and Burks, the offense should flow smoothly, though another dimension could be added with Shannon Sharpe, a point guard who redshirted last season after injuring his knee in preseason conditioning. If Sharpe flashes the same playmaking promise he did before his injury, it will help any postseason push Colorado makes.


--Colorado will resume playing Air Force, a series that was dropped under former coach Jeff Bzdelik, who left the Falcons to take over the Buffaloes. First-year coach Tad Boyle, who came from Northern Colorado, said he is interested in playing as many Front Range schools as possible, such as Wyoming, Denver, Air Force. He added that a series against Northern Colorado is possible once his former players are no longer playing.

--A new basketball practice facility, which was stipulated by Bzdelik as an improvement Colorado had to add if he was to coach there, is under construction. "The one thing we ask of our coaches and players is to try to get better every day," Boyle said. "Once they have the facility they will be able to do that."

--One of the best recruiting jobs by first-year coach Tad Boyle was the retention of everyone on the Colorado roster except F Keegan Hornbuckle. Boyle's first visit, in fact, was to Grandview, Mo., the home of G Alec Burks. The 6-6 sophomore guard said he will wait to weigh his future options at the end of this season after averaging 17.1 points as an unheralded freshman who was not recruited by Missouri or Kansas. He also led the Buffaloes with a 5.0 rebounding average.

LAST YEAR: 15-16 overall, 6-10 in the Big 12.

HEAD COACH: Tad Boyle, first year as head coach (54-62, career).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've never looked at schools as being football schools or basketball schools. I've just looked at it as: Do you have the resources to be successful? Just talking about the practice facility and the arena we play in and the city and campus we have to recruit to, there's no question we can have success here." -- Colorado coach Tad Boyle, to the Boulder Camera.


PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Shannon Sharpe, SG Cory Higgins, SG Alec Burks, SF Marcus Relphorde, C Shane Harris-Tunks.

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Opposing defenses cannot key on Higgins or Burks, because each is equally adept at letting the other take over. They each are fluid off the dribble and can pop from the outside.

Sharpe's introduction as a redshirt freshman who sat out last season because of a knee injury will be most interesting. He should give Colorado more leadership at the point and be more forceful than G Nate Tomlinson, who also returns and provides experience after starting 21 games last season.

Relphorde is a slasher who showed potential as a junior college transfer a year ago. Harris-Tunks must improve after getting pushed around underneath, where the Buffs were woefully out-manned a year ago. Any help inside is largely unproven.

SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The big man recruited by new coach Tad Boyle will probably get some opportunities. C Ben Mills stands 7-0, but weighs only 210, so it's doubtful he can exert himself immediately on the boards. PG Andre Roberson is a 6-7 guard who gives the Buffs yet another slasher. The first class Boyle recruited certainly won't be his best, though it is all his. Former coach Jeff Bzdelik did not acquire any early signees and had no commitments when he left for Wake Forest.


--F Keegan Hornbuckle was the only Buff who transferred after the coaching transition. He became the fifth Colorado player to leave after one season under former coach Jeff Bzdelik. The others were Caleb Patterson, Kyle Wright, Toby Veal and Ryan Kelley. Most of the current Buffs expressed support for the promotion of former assistant Steve McClain, but Colorado opted to hire Tad Boyle instead.

--G Shannon Sharpe responded favorably during preseason workouts to the knee injury he suffered last preseason, which required microfracture surgery.

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