Dufault to handle more responsibilities as Buffs move to Pac-12BOULDER, Colo. — The Colorado Buffaloes sizzled instead of sulked after they were surprisingly left out of the NCAA tournament last season.
By: Pat Graham, The Associated Press
BOULDER, Colo. — The Colorado Buffaloes sizzled instead of sulked after they were surprisingly left out of the NCAA tournament last season.
Fired up, they re-channeled their fury and made a run all the way to the Final Four of the NIT. In the process, they galvanized a fan base starving for a winner on the court.
Now, the Buffs will attempt to build on that foundation in coach Tad Boyle’s second year in charge.
They’ll have their work cut out with Boyle’s floor leader gone, his top scorer departing early for the NBA and his team heading into a new conference he knows very little about.
“I tell people all the time that it’s like my second first year,” Boyle said, chuckling.
The Buffs certainly wouldn’t mind a replication of last season after winning a school-record 24 games and setting numerous team records along the way.
Despite losing the leadership of Cory Higgins and scoring of Alec Burks, a first-round pick of the Utah Jazz, the cupboard is far from bare as the Buffs embark on their first season in the Pac-12.
“I’m ready for and I know my players are ready for this challenge,” Boyle said.
The top priority is replacing the scoring of Higgins and Burks, who combined to average just under 50 percent of the team’s offense. They were a big reason the Buffs set a new mark for points scored in a season (3,025).
“You don’t replace them,” Boyle said. “Not with one person. What I told our returning veteran players is they’re going to have bigger roles.”
That responsibility falls on the shoulders of players such as Austin Dufault, Nate Tomlinson and Carlon Brown, a transfer from Utah who has one season of eligibility left.
Dufault, a Killdeer High School Graduate, averaged nearly 7 point a game last season, while Tomlinson had the third-most assists on the squad. Brown sat out last season after a solid three seasons with the Utes that saw him turn in 43 double-digit games.
“Those three guys are going to have to show us great leadership and be aggressive — have great years for us,” Boyle said.
Colorado also has another transfer coming aboard in guard Sabatino Chen, who played down the road at Denver before arriving in Boulder.
Sophomore Andre Roberson will be counted on heavily in the rebound department. Last season, Roberson grabbed 297 boards to become the first freshman to lead the team in that category.
Besides tinkering with a roster that features just four seniors, Boyle is taking a hard look at what lies ahead in the Pac-12. He has no idea what to expect — sort of like last season in his first foray through the Big 12.
At least back then, Boyle’s players knew the ropes and could offer up advice.
This time, there’s no institutional knowledge of how to attack a team like Arizona or stymie a Stanford squad.
“We’ll learn as we go,” Boyle said. “That’s basically what we did last year.”
And it worked out well, too.
The Buffaloes nearly advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. So confident they would make the field, the players and coaching staff even gathered at Boyle’s house for the selection show.
The upbeat mood soon turned somber when they were snubbed. It stung, too, especially after beating NCAA tournament team Kansas State three times, along with ranked squads such as Missouri and Texas.
Colorado proceeded to win three straight NIT games at home before falling 62-61 to Alabama in the semis at Madison Square Garden.
That run helped generate some buzz around basketball in Boulder. The fans actually flocked to games most of the year, selling out the arena a school-most five times and setting a new single-season attendance mark.
This just could be the start of something, even if they’re picked by many to finish near the bottom of the conference.
“I expect us to surprise a lot of people,” said Dufault, who spent part of the offseason playing for Athletes In Action in Eastern Europe. “People aren’t expecting much of us, so we kind of have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder as the underdog. We definitely have something to go out and prove, especially moving into the Pac-12.”
For Boyle, the success of the Buffs boils down to taking care of two areas — defense and rebounding. Do those well and they’ll be off and running.
“Those are the two areas we emphasize every day in practice, to be rock solid,” Boyle said. “Having so many new players and so many other players in new roles, it’s hard for me to know what the strength of this team is going to be. Sometimes, that can evolve.
“But I do know we have great balance and we move the ball well offensively. And playing at 5,300 feet, we’re going to play fast and we’re going to move the ball.”
This helps: The team has a new, plush practice facility. Just another way for Boyle to sell the program to recruits.
“That has helped a lot,” Boyle said of the multimillion-dollar practice center. “The success of our program last year, winning 24 games, having five sellouts, has also helped a lot. Going into the Pac-12 has helped, too.
“There’s a lot of momentum and positive energy around our program right now.”