It’s time for Tad Boyle and CU basketball to take the next leap
Right now, the University of Colorado’s basketball program is in the midst of its glory years. The Buffaloes have never enjoyed a sustained run of success quite like their current one.
This season, CU is 20-7, ranked in the top-25 and almost assuredly headed for the NCAA Tournament. This is par for the course, as the Buffs have won 20-plus games in each of the past three seasons. In fact, it’s a level they’ve hit in eight of the last 11 years.
During that same time, the Buffs have cracked the top-25 four times, reaching as high as No. 15 in 2013-14, and been invited to the Big Dance four times, which would’ve been five if COVID-19 hadn’t caused the cancellation of last year’s tourney. That’s uncharted waters for Colorado.
Prior to this run of excellence, the Buffaloes had enjoyed three seasons with 20-plus wins in their history, reached the NCAA Tournament twice since 1969 and cracked the top-25 just once in a 40-year span. That’s the program that Tad Boyle inherited when he became CU’s head coach in 2010.
As a result, Boyle’s accomplishments in Boulder are nothing short of amazing. He’s hands down the best coach in the history of the school, taking the program to heights that most people never thought possible.
And now, it’s time for more.
It sounds ludicrous to not be satisfied with where the Buffaloes are at the moment. They’re currently enjoying a season that would’ve seemed impossible a little over a decade ago. They’re a perennial winner, something that has never happened before in the history of the program. That really should be enough.
But it’s not. At some point, the Buffs need to take the next step.
Every great journey of success follows an upward trajectory. Early on, that’s usually easy. Starting at the bottom makes reaching a new height relatively simple.
As time goes on, however, that becomes more difficult. At some point, it’s a case of having to one-up previous accomplishments.
That’s where Colorado currently sits. Yes, it’s great that they’re winning 20 games, cracking the rankings and getting an invite to March Madness. But that’s the same point they’ve been for nearly a decade.
The Buffs seem to always be in the same position. They’re a borderline bubble team, one that gets a middle-of-the-pack seed if they get into the tournament or is considered a “snub” if they don’t. Then, they’re one-and-done once the Big Dance gets underway.
Under Boyle, CU has been seeded No. 8 twice in the NCAA Tournament, No. 10 once and No. 11 once. Only in 2012, when they upset UNLV in their opening game, did the Buffs advance in the bracket. They lost to Baylor in the next round, however.
For the program to continue to grow, that has to change. Colorado has to actually make some noise once they get into the tournament. It’s no longer good enough to simply get invited.
Other schools have made the leap. Every year, there’s a Cinderella team that reaches the Sweet 16, Elite Eight or even the Final Four. Why can’t CU be this year’s Loyola-Chicago?
It’s certainly a season that shapes up as one where there will be surprises in March. The blue-blood programs are down, creating an opportunity for new faces to emerge.
Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina are all having bad seasons, with none of these perennial powerhouses in the top 25. Heading into this past weekend, the top-five teams in the country were Gonzaga, Michigan, Baylor, Illinois and Iowa. It’s a Bizarro World year in college basketball.
Which means it’s the perfect time for the Buffaloes to do something they haven’t done during the modern era. Many consider McKinley Wright to be the best player in the history of the program. The star guard is certainly good enough to carry CU on a postseason run.
As a top-25 team, they’ll be in position to do just that come tourney time. Barring a late-season collapse, the Buffaloes should received a No. 5 or 6 seed. That would give them an opening game in which they are favored, as well as a second game that doesn’t feature a match-up with one of the top teams in the country.
Thus, a trip to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament needs to be the goal. The recognition and attention that would come from such an accomplishment would elevate the program to the next level.
And that now needs to be the mission. Winning 20 games, cracking the top-25 and going dancing is no longer good enough.
That may sound crazy. It might even be considered greedy. But that’s the way progress work.
In 1961, the United States couldn’t figure out how to get a man into space. Finally that year, Alan Shepard was launched on a 15-minute, sub-orbital ride. Eight years later, two Americans were walking on the moon.
What once seemed impossible became commonplace, forcing dreams to become bigger and bigger. The one-time goal turns into nothing more than a stop along the path to greatness.
It’s time for the Buffaloes to set their sights on a higher goal.