The Golden Age of CU Basketball – The Tad Boyle Era

I was going to name this essay: “It’s a Tad, Tad, Tad, Tad World”, but I wasn’t sure how many of you would get the reference to the movie classic

It’s hard to quantify just how good the University of Colorado program has been under Tad Boyle. Not when measured against the history of the likes of Arizona and UCLA, to be sure. But when Tad Boyle’s numbers are put up against the history of other coaches of the Buffs, it’s clear that we are in the Golden Era of Colorado basketball.

Take a look …

— The Big Eight did not conduct its first post-season tournament until 1977. In the 20 years of the tournament’s existence (1977-96, before the creation of the Big 12), the University of Colorado men’s basketball team won a grand total of four games. That’s a 4-20 record over two decades of trying to be relevant in the Big Eight. The Buffs were the only Big Eight team in that span not to win a postseason tournament. In fact, the Buffs made the Big Eight conference tournament finals only once (in 1990).

Four conference tournament wins in twenty years.

In the first season of the Pac-12 tournament, the Buffs, under then second-year head coach Tad Boyle, won four games, becoming the first team in the history of the Pac-8/10/12 to win four games to claim the title.

To recap … CU in Big Eight conference tournaments, 1977-96, the Buffs won four games.

Tad Boyle equaled that win total in CU’s first year of the Pac-12.

— And it wasn’t much better for the CU program as members of the Big 12. From 1997-2010, CU participated in Big 12 15 tournaments, compiling a 9-15 record. The Buffs never won a Big 12 championship. Hell, the Buffs never even made it to the finals of a Big 12 tournament. The one time in 15 years in the conference that CU advanced even as far as the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament was the Buffs’ last year in the league, 2010-11.

The coach that year? Tad Boyle … in his first season in Boulder.

— In Tad Boyle’s 12 seasons, Colorado has (to date) 26 post-season victories (NCAA, NIT, CBI, conference tournaments). Second on the list in CU coaching history? Richard Patton … with 8.

Here is the list of CU head coaches with at least four victories in the postseason:

  • Tad Boyle … 26 … (26-19)
  • Ricardo Patton … 8 … (8-18)
  • Frosty Cox … 5 … (5-5)
  • Joe Harrington … 4 … (407)

Colorado has a grand total of 54 post-season victories … and Tad Boyle has 26 of them.

If you are talking just about conference tournaments … Big 8, Big 12, and Pac-12 … Colorado has 29 all-time wins.

Tad Boyle has 18 of those wins (18-11 … 16-10 in Pac-12; 2-1 in Big 12). Since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs is 9-2 when the higher seed; 7-8 when the lower seed. Six of CU’s losses in the Pac-12 tournament, including the loss to Arizona this season, have come against the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds.

— Want to talk regular season records?

Colorado has 13 20-win seasons in its history … Tad Boyle has been on the bench for nine of those campaigns. In the regular season, the Buffs have hit the 20-win mark eight times, with six of those seasons coming under Boyle – including the last three seasons.

Before Tad Boyle came along, the University of Colorado had four 20-wins seasons in its history. Tad Boyle matched that mark in his first four years in Boulder.

Put another way: In 109 seasons of basketball, there were four CU teams which reached the 20-win mark.

Under Tad Boyle, the Buffs doubled that mark … in his first four seasons.

The Buffs have 21 wins (so far) this season, already tied for the eighth-most wins in Colorado history:

  • 1. 24 wins … twice … 2010-11; 2011-12 (both Tad Boyle teams)
  • 3.23 wins … three times … 2013-14; 2018-19; 2020-21 (all three Tad Boyle teams)
  • 6.22 wins … twice … 1996-97; 2015-16 (the latter being a Tad Boyle team)
  • 8.21 wins … four times … 1968-69; 2012-13; 2019-20; 2021-22 (the latter three being Tad Boyle teams)

Despite the success of this year’s team, it has, to some, under-achieved.

— So let’s look at the 2021-22 season

The Buffs were coming off of a 23-9 season in 2020-21, including a 14-6 record in the Pac-12 conference. CU had earned its first-ever bye in the Pac-12 tournament, earning a No. 3 seed. The Buffs made the Pac-12 tournament finals, and were a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Buffs mauled No. 12 Georgetown, 96-73, before falling to No. 4 Florida State in the second round.

And yet very little was expected of the Buffs for this season.

Why? Two words.

McKinley Wright.

The perception was that, even with CU’s sustained success in the Tad Boyle era, that the Buffs would step back in the 2021-22 season. Athlon picked Colorado to finish seventh in the conference, while the preseason media poll had Colorado as the No. 6 team in the conference.

The Buffs did have the best Pac-12 recruiting Class coming in, to help replace McKinley Wright, De’Shawn Schwartz, and Dallas Walton, but that Class never had the chance to make its mark:

  • Four-star forward Quincy Allen underwent hip surgery in September, missing the entire season;
  • Three-star guard Javon Ruffin had issues with his knee, and missed the entire season;
  • Four-star center Lawson Lovering struggled in his early encounters against Pac-12 competition before suffering a season-ending MCL injury in January, shelving him for the remainder of the season.

This left KJ Simpson and and Julian Hammond to pick up the slack, a burden which was only increased when senior defensive specialist Eli Parquet was lost for the season in early February. Both Simpson and Hammond have had their moments, but also have had their moments showing they are true freshmen.

With far from a full complement of players, Tad Boyle’s Buffs could have been given a pass on the 2021-22 season.

No such luck.

After a humbling loss to Washington State in late January, the message boards were far from kind:

  • “No leadership, no excitement, no love for the game … From Tad, all the way through the team, nobody looked like they cared”
  • “It’s a continued swoon late season that we see more often than not. It’s a lack of team chemistry that again we have seen too often. It’s terrible ball management which is also starting to become a regular occurrence”
  • “Tad recruits too many players who are athletes instead of basketball players who may not be great athletes”
  • “Tad’s lost the team. Fire him”

Of course, the Buffs then went on to win eight of their next nine games, including a 79-63 win over No. 2 Arizona. The Buffs finished with a 12-8 conference record, good enough for a No. 4 seed … just the second season the Buffs have earned a bye in the Pac-12 conference tournament (but for the second season in a row). The Buffs made it to the semifinals for the fifth time as members of the Pac-12 (again, after making the semi-finals a grand total of one time as members of the Big 12 … with that one appearance coming in Tad Boyle’s first season).

Are Buff fans upset that the Buffs won’t be in the Big Dance for the second year in a row (and would have been going for three years in a row, had the 2019-20 season been completed)? Sure.

But the fact that we are disappointed is a reflection of how far the program has come, and how the expectations have risen.

The Buffs have been to the Big Dance five times in 12 seasons under Tad Boyle … 2011-12; 2012-13; 2013-14; 2015-16; and 2020-21 (and should have been six, had the 2019-20 team been allowed to complete its season).

Before Tad Boyle came along, over the span of over 40 years, the Buffs earned a bid to the NCAA tournament … twice (1996-97, behind Chauncey Billups; and 2002-03, behind David Harrison).

The Buffs are currently sitting with a record of 21-11, with an opportunity to add to that total in the NIT. Three wins would tie for the most wins in a season in Colorado history … not bad for a team finishing the season with eight scholarship players available.

Tad Boyle is currently sitting at 254 wins, second on the all-time CU list. And it won’t be long until that record belongs to Boyle as well:

  • Russell “Sox” Walseth … 261 wins (261-245, .516 in 20 seasons)
  • Tad Boyle … 254 wins (254-154, .622 in 12 seasons)

Sometime early in the 2022-23 season, perhaps in late November or early December, Tad Boyle will become CU’s all-time winningest coach. It will likely come in a non-conference game, with a crowd at the CU Events Center something far short of capacity.

And that would be a shame.

The best coach in Colorado history deserves nothing less than a capacity crowd, counting down the final seconds to CU history with a deafening roar.

Another chance to savor in the Golden Age of Colorado Basketball … the Tad Boyle Era.

Related … “CU at the Game Podcast Interview: Evan Battey” …

Related … “Evan Battey: Mayor of Boulder” …

Related … “CU at the Game Podcast Interview: KJ Simpson” …

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14 Replies to “The Golden Age of CU Basketball – The Tad Boyle Era”

  1. CU MBB is on a trajectory that is far from its ceiling. Was this class better than prior class? Was the prior class better than its predecessor? Are seniors graduating with more wins than prior years? Did this senior class play/qualify for more post season than any prior? Them’s the facts.

    Haters hate, it’s the only way to make themselves feel good. So sorry for them.

  2. Stu, it’s the big W!

    And, I think Jabari comes back, which will help make next season’s team pretty damn fun to watch. They will be fine without him, but potentially dominating with him.

    Go Buffs

  3. From a results/performance basis the transition occurred long ago….but we all need to consider making the shift to the MBB program over FB. Support, fans in the stands, dollars (NIL and AD), upgraded facilities, etc., etc. If Gonzaga can stay a power in this environment, then certainly CU could be a ‘destination school’ for BB.
    Also as opposed to our FB teams….Tad clearly has improved this team leaps/bounds from the start of the season. All you could ever ask for with this group.

  4. Stuart, this is an excellent article that really puts things in perspective. Many seem to feel that Tad has reached his peak and can’t take the Buffs to the next level. While I’m quite happy watching a competitive, top-half of the conference team likely to win 20• games each year, I also think that Tad has become a better coach and recruiter over time. I don’t think he has peaked. The way this young team came together and improved down the stretch, when they could have easily folded is a tribute both to his coaching and his ability to build a tight-knit team.

    I’m excited to watch them continue their season and hopefully go deep in the NIT.

    I also hope Tad stays at CU for the rest of his career. Having watched the Miller, Harrington, and Patton teams during my time at CU, many don’t realize how good we’ve got it now.

    Stuart, thanks too for your excellent NIL interviews! They just keep getting better.

  5. yup
    basketball was swimming around in the cesspool before Tad got here
    Tad has a bunch of 20 plus win seasons….check
    Tad is a great recruiter….check
    because Tad is a great guy and does things the right way…..check
    All great and wonderful things and things that have made me a die hard Buffs hoop fan.
    Now I wont be just walking on eggshells but diving into the deep end of blasphemy when I say, as a die hard fan, I want more but see a ceiling here.
    So bring on the hate when I call it the Silver age of CU basketball.
    Tad has brought the Buffs to the dance I think 5 times in his 12 seasons, a record many many other schools would love to have, but thats where it bogs down. I may be wrong but out of those 26 post season wins only 2 were at the dance. One against a good UNLV team and another against an over rated (read name) Georgetown.
    Now I dont want to fire Tad (falling on deaf ears I know). He has too many good things in place already. Thats what makes the dance thing frustrating. All it would take is just some more cohesion on offense. There have been some beautiful wins this year where the players were taking care of the ball, sharing the ball and getting 4 or 5 of them in double figures. Even if that was here and there they manage to win a number of games with sub par performances in that area.
    I’m still going to be a Buffs fan even if we continue to hit the dance wall. 20 some wins certainly helps with that. I have high hopes for next year with this team. I just hope they continue and dont miss the spirit that I know Evan as created.

    1. Stats don’t lie. Thanks Stuart!
      Whats harder – to win at an established program with loyal fan base and reputation sky high or to build a winner out of historically bad decades of basketball. Tad is the man and thanks for the reminder about how to treat that game when he does pass Sox next fall!

  6. NIT

    Low like the players…………yur poll

    Just wondering where you got that

    “You’ve really got to embrace it,” said Battey, who helped push CU into the NIT quarterfinals in 2019. “Whether it’s the NIT, NCAA Tournament, whatever it is you’ve got to embrace it and be present and be where your feet are. And just try to have fun with it. It’s a blessing to be playing at this time of year. There’s plenty of people who are not playing at this time of year. You’ve just got to be grateful.”

    Go Buffs……………..Still playing

  7. My four years in Boulder spanned the end of the Tom Apke era and the first three years of the Tom Miller era. In the mid-to-late 1980s when the Big Eight included players such as Danny Manning, Stacey King, and Mookie Blaylock, the Buffs played boring, non-competitive basketball. Working off memory I do not think that between the 1985-86 season and the 1988-89 season (when I was an undergrad) they ever won more than 12 or 14 games in a single season.

    You don’t have to sell me on this being the Golden Era of CU Basketball. I know from personal experience that it is.

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