MERILATT MONDAY

It’s time to start questioning Boyle’s underachieving Buffs

Feb 5, 2024, 4:00 AM


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Expectations are a good thing. In fact, they are a necessary thing.

Without them, achievement isn’t possible. And constantly raising them is what makes progress a reality.

That’s the way the world works, whether in business, academics, sports or any other endeavor. It’s a fact that has stood the test of time.

Jeff Bezos didn’t become the richest man in the world by setting the bar low. It certainly didn’t happen by being satisfied once Amazon became the biggest online bookstore in the world.

The valedictorian at every commencement ceremony this spring didn’t reach the podium by accepting anything other than perfection. They certainly didn’t get to give the graduation address by being happy with one semester of straight A’s.

And the Nuggets aren’t the defending NBA champions because they were fine with being a perennial playoff team. At some point, with a two-time Most Valuable Player on the roster, the goal had to become bigger in Denver.

There are thousands of examples to support this idea. Continually upping the ante, raising the stakes and creating loftier aspirations is how great things are accomplished.

For some reason, however, that’s not allowed in Boulder. When it comes to the University of Colorado’s men’s basketball team, expectations aren’t something anyone wants to hear about.

Currently, the Buffs are 15-7 on the season. Fresh off a 73-68 loss at Utah, CU is currently tied with the Utes for fifth place in the PAC-12, sitting at an extremely pedestrian 6-5 in conference play.

Anyone who dares complain about these results is quickly met with a constant refrain. Questioning whether or not Tad Bayle’s team is underachieving will generate a response about how bad things used to be in Boulder.

This isn’t incorrect. Prior to Boyle coming to Boulder in 2010, the Buffs had made just two NCAA Tournament appearances in the previous four decades. Since the head coach’s arrival, Colorado has gone dancing five times. During his tenure, CU has had nine 20-win seasons.

That’s obviously a vast improvement. It’s arguably the greatest era in the history of CU basketball.

But that doesn’t mean it’s good enough. Not by a long shot.

Since 2016, Boyle’s team has made the Big Dance just one time. During his decade and a half in Boulder, the Buffs are just 2-5 in tournament play. They’ve never advanced beyond the first weekend.

Boyle’s second season at Colorado might’ve been his best. The 2011-12 season was capped with a victory in the first-ever PAC-12 tournament. The Buffs went on to beat UNLV in the round of 64, before falling to Baylor with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.

Since then, CU has been on a plateau. At best.

And that’s not good enough. They’ve had six NBA draft picks on their roster under Boyle, three of which have gone in the first round. At some point, that has to result in something beyond being a perennial bubble team.

At this point, the Boyle-led Buffs should be an automatic tournament team. They should be competing for conference titles on an annual basis. They should be a threat to go deep in the dance.

But they aren’t. And they haven’t been for years.

This season is perhaps the most-frustrating season of all. Colorado has a generational player on their roster, as Cody Williams is projected by some to be the No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft. Yet, the Buffaloes are languishing in the middle of the pack.

The excuse makers will point out that the freshman phenom has only played in 13 games. That’s true, but CU is just 9-4 when he’s played.

A loss at Colorado State in late November highlights the problem. In the 88-83 loss, Williams finished with 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting. But the forward didn’t score in the first half, as the Buffaloes did nothing to get him involved in the offense.

That’s on Boyle. That’s a coaching issue. That’s not understanding how to maximize the talent on the roster.

Not winning big with Alec Burks, Spencer Dinwiddie and Derrick White is one thing. Failing to seize the day during the one season Williams figures to don a Buffs uniform is inexcusable.

Boyle has a little over a month to right the ship. Colorado has nine games remaining, only one of which is against a ranked opponent. That comes on Saturday against No. 11 Arizona in Boulder.

The Buffs need to go 7-2 during that stretch. They need to win a game or two in the final PAC-12 tournament. They need to get themselves off of the bubble and earn a seed that gives them a chance come tournament time.

Finishing the regular season at 22-9, with a final mark of 23-10, would get the Buffs a top-six seed. It would put them into position to reach uncharted waters.

Along the way, they need to figure out how to make Williams the centerpiece of their offense. Things shouldn’t go through junior K.J. Simpson (19.5 points per game) or senior Tristan de Silva (15.3). They need to go through the freshman; he’s the ticket to the Sweet 16.

That’s an adjustment Boyle needs to make. If he doesn’t, it’s time to start asking questions about the Buffs head coach.

Yes, flirting with 20 wins and a tournament bid would’ve been super exciting 15 years ago. Now, it’s no longer a thrill.

Times have changed in Boulder. That’s a credit to Boyle. But it’s time to have higher expectations.

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