Ready, Set, Go: Buffs To Open Regular Season

Jeff Bzdelik makes his regular-season debut as head coach at Colorado Friday as the Buffs open with New Mexico. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. and a big crowd is expected. Inside, notes in advance of the game.

* Who Dey?
The Buffs have won 11 consecutive season-opening games. But none of those wins have come against programs near the caliber of New Mexico.

The Lobos are expected to contend for the MWC title this season under their new head coach, Steve Alford. Alford came to UNM prior to this season from Iowa. In 16 seasons as a head coach, his teams have produced 20-win seasons eight times, and Alford has led his team to the postseason 11 times.

But when most of this CU team thinks about New Mexico, the first thing in their minds is last year's 106-65 loss last year in Albuquerque.

The subject has been broached.

"Coach (Bzdelik) talked about it in the early practices to get us fired up, saying, you know, how much we lost by," junior Jermyl Jackson-Wilson said. "It leaves a bad taste in your mouth — a bad feeling."

While both Alford and Bzdelik are making their debuts as head coaches of their respective schools Friday, Bzdelik and his top assistant, Steve McLain, may have one small advantage. Both Bzdelik (Air Force) and McLain (Wyoming) were head coaches in the MWC last season, while Alford was in the Big Ten. CU's staff, then, is more familiar with the New Mexico players than vice versa.

Giddens Again
Colorado will try and erase any memories of that bad feeling against a Lobos team that returns four of its starters. That includes senior J.R. Giddens, who scored 28 points in the two teams' meeting last year. In fact, Giddens, a 6-5 senior guard, has been a thorn in the Buffs' side since he started playing them as a freshman at Kansas, before transferring to New Mexico.

"With a player like that, if he gets a hot hand, there's not much you can do," CU senior Richard Roby said. "We've got to make sure he doesn't get a lot of confidence going, maybe limit his touching and make sure he doesn't get anything easy."

Bzdelik pointed out, too, that more players on the UNM roster than Giddens can hurt you offensively.

New Offense?
There's been a buzz about the new offense Bzdelik is installing at Colorado. But we haven't yet been able to see it because the two opponents in exhibition play ran zone defenses. Bzdelik wishes the Buffs could've gotten a chance to work on the "one in/four out" set up they'll use vs. man to man defenses before Friday night. But they had no control over it.

Alford typically uses a man to man defense, but Bzdelik said earlier in the week he wouldn't be surprised to see some zone, too.

No Magic Wand
While there's considerable interest from fans anytime a new head coach makes his debut, and that seems heightened given Bzdelik's track record, Bzdelik has cautioned all preseason that he's not a miracle worker. Earlier in the week, he said "I don't have a magic wand," referring to the fact the Buffs were 7-20 last season. Also challenging is the Buffs' short bench and lack of size.

Bzdelik will likely use eight players, nine at most. Only Jackson-Wilson (6-6) and Marcus King-Stockton (6-9) are bigger than 6-foot-5.

"It's a huge challenge," said Bzdelik of the opening night matchup. But he added, "You can't draw conclusions after one game or after two months. It's about getting better every day."

JJW adopted a conservative tone, too, when asked about he significance of the game with New Mexico.

"I think good teams show their best basketball at the end of the season, not the beginning," he said. "I've been around quite a while. If you start off well, that's always good too. (But the NMU game will) let us know what we need to work on. Hopefully, we go out there and get a win. But you can always improve on everything — win, lose or draw, you can improve, watch film and get better. It'll let us know what we need to work on for the next week for the tournament in Wisconsin."

Higgins Debut
Freshman Cory Higgins is expected to start for the Buffs. Teammates have noted since he stepped on campus and laced up his kicks that his game is more mature than the typical first-year player. The 6-5 guard earned a start in the second exhibition game and responded with a game-high 20 points in 30 minutes.

Lots Of Foam In The Dome
CU officials expect as many as 8,000 fans for the game. That would well exceed the Coors Events Center record for season openers. (The current record is 6,388 vs. Elmhurst in 1984.) But a final number will largely depend on how many CU students attend.

Some 4,200 students have purchased a CU sports pass, which includes a men's basketball student season ticket, but the two exhibition games earlier this month were void of students. As an enticement, the Buffs are providing free pizza to CU students at the game. The first 2,000 CU students will also receive a commemorative CU basketball t-shirt.

The CU players have heard there should be a good crowd on hand. "Hopefully, we'll give them something to cheer about," Roby said.

Roby had planned to wear No. 20 this season, and Higgins No. 22. They used those jerseys numbers in the two exhibition games. Until the team was reminded both numbers are retired (Cliff Meely wore 20; Burdie Haldorson wore 22). Roby will wear No. 23, Higgins, No. 11.

Next Week
The Buffs have five scholarships to give for next season. And five players are expected to sign LOIs during the early period, which begins Nov. 14.