Men’s basketball ready to impress

Colorado men’s basketball has come a long way since Tad Boyle took the program’s reins in April of 2010. Perhaps the best indicator of the vitality of Boyle’s program is the fact that the team’s best player, Andre Roberson, left Boulder for the NBA, and the Buffs will still likely be ranked in the preseason top 25 when October rolls around.

“I think it’s a sign of respect,” said Boyle, who is set to begin his fourth season at the foot of the Flatirons. “It’s a sign that people recognize that you have talented guys in your program. But with that comes a lot of expectations and a lot of responsibility to live up to those expectations.”

The Buffs are coming off a solid 2012-13 campaign, where a 21-12 record led to a fifth-place finish in the Pac-12. Colorado also earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, and its second straight appearance overall. CU’s season came to an end in the second round of the Big Dance, as seventh-seeded Illinois withstood a furious rally from the No. 10 seed Buffaloes, winning by a 57-49 margin.

Four starters from Colorado’s March matchup with the Illini return to campus this fall. Guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who led the Buffs in scoring and spent the summer competing with USA Basketball in the World University Games, figures to lead the Buffalo backcourt with fellow junior Askia Booker. The frontcourt will be anchored by two sophomores, Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott, both of whom had excellent freshman seasons.

Seven-foot senior Ben Mills will be called upon to contribute far more this winter than in his first three years in Boulder. Sophomore guards Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer saw their fair share of the floor last season, and Boyle is looking for one of the two to develop into a top flight three-point shooter over the offseason.

“We need to recruit a knock-down shooter,” Boyle said. “We need a guy who can come in and just make shots. I think we have some guys in the program who can develop into that.”

Forwards Wesley Gordon and Chris Jenkins should be itching to hit the floor after redshirting last season. Boyle’s incoming crop of freshmen figures to be as strong as ever. Tre’Shaun Fletcher out of Tacoma, Wash., will add to the Buffs’ athleticism. Combo guard Jaron Hopkins from Mesa, Ariz., comes to Boulder with arguably the most hype out of any of the four freshmen. Dustin Thomas is a combo forward who might just be the knockdown shooter Boyle is looking for, and sleeper wing George King from San Antonio rounds out Boyle’s 2013 recruiting class.

The Buffs’ talent, new and old, will be tested with a rigorous non-conference schedule that includes familiar Big 12 foes Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. The Cowboys feature one of college basketball’s most exciting talents in Marcus Smart, a contender for Naismith College Player of the Year honors. Perennial powerhouse Kansas will come to Coors Events Center to meet a Colorado team looking to avenge a 90-54 trouncing in Lawrence in December of 2012. The Jayhawks will bring the nation’s consensus top freshman in Andrew Wiggins.

“I’m always trying to down play [expectations] as much as possible,” said Boyle. “But when you progress as a program — again, going to three straight postseasons, and back-to-back NCAAs — just the natural progression is to be bigger and better. We think we have the opportunity with the personnel in place to have a great year.

“I couldn’t be more excited about Colorado basketball and the direction we’re headed.”

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