The Colorado Buffaloes are trying to get back to the NCAA Tournament this season, but is that a realistic goal for the program?
Since arriving in Boulder, head coach Tad Boyle has fundamentally and permanently changed expectations for Colorado. After all, when a coach accounts for nearly a quarter of a program’s NCAA Tournaments by year four of his tenure, it says a lot.
Colorado certainly was not a college basketball bottom-dweller before Boyle arrived, but all told, Colorado was an afterthought in the Big 12. After all, Colorado never won a conference championship during the program’s time in the conference and had just two NCAA Tournament appearances from 1969 to 2012.
Needless to say, fans weren’t exactly booking tickets to the Final Four on a regular basis.
However, since Boyle arrived, things have been much different. Colorado not only put together 20 win seasons in each of Boyle’s first four years with the program, but also made the NCAA Tournament for three straight years for the first time in program history from 2012 through 2014.
Of course, things certainly have not been perfect during Boyle’s tenure with Colorado. Under Boyle, the Buffaloes have never advanced past the third round of the NCAA Tournament, have never won the Pac 12 regular season title, and missed the big dance last year.
Still, even with the issues, the expectations for Colorado have changed under Tad Boyle. But by how much?
Well, expectations are never as simple as a win-loss record, but what’s telling is that last season was considered an underwhelming year for Colorado. It’s a clear sign that Boyle has changed how fans view the Buffaloes. After all, Colorado’s 16 wins last season would have actually been a decent year before Boyle arrived.
Here’s what SBNation’s Colorado site wrote about last season:
“Decent. If there is one word to describe the 2014-2015 Colorado basketball season, it would be decent. It never was able to live up to the significant expectations that was placed upon it this year. The Buffs never had any truly dominant games or jaw dropping moments and in many facets, Colorado came up short. It choked against CSU, and Hawaii, CU was only able to record two road wins, struggled to inbound the ball almost every game, and at some points in the season was downright maddening to watch.
“Yet, the season was not awful. Colorado was able to pull off an impressive win over Stanford, and Askia Booker wrote the perfect final chapter in his career as a Buffalo against ASU. All of these highs and lows balanced out to a season that is utterly decent, nothing more and nothing less.”
No longer is a 16-18 record and a trip to the CBI seen as acceptable in Boulder. Rather, it’s viewed as a failure to live up to expectations. This is the bar that next year’s Colorado team will have to face when trying to have a successful season.
Which leads to the natural question: can Colorado reach that bar this year?
There’s certainly a lot to like about the Buffaloes this season. The team only loses three contributors from last year’s team and the only major departure is Askia Booker. Not every returner looks great, but there are a lot of known commodities and some players like Dominique Collier with a lot of potential to grow.
(Stats via Sports Reference.)
The advanced stats also argue that Colorado has a lot of upside as a team. The Buffaloes finished at just No. 242 nationally in KenPom’s experience rating and No. 273 in KenPom’s luck metric. Not only was Colorado a young team, but it was also an unlucky one.
Since arriving in Boulder, head coach Tad Boyle has raised expectations for Colorado basketball. Sometimes, expectations can be unfair and unrealistic, but here, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Realistic expectations should be for the Buffaloes to get back in the big dance and that appears to be absolutely achievable.
If Colorado can find a way back to the big dance, perhaps Boyle will finally get the national praise he rightfully deserves in reshaping Colorado’s program.