Things didn’t go totally according to plan this year with Colorado coming up short of the NCAA tournament’s field of 68. However, an opportunity still presented itself for this young squad in the form of an NIT invite.

CU hosted two NIT games the past week, defeating Seton Hall in the first round before falling to Utah Valley in the round of 16. There was plenty to take away from this mini tourney run – not just for this season, but to take into the offseason and 2024.

Here are three takeaways from Colorado’s 2023 NIT run.

Buffs’ roller coaster ride finally ends

Colorado’s 2022-2023 basketball season was endlessly described as a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and their NIT trip was nothing short of that.

Colorado only shot 39% from the field against Seton Hall but held the Pirates to 64 points — enough for a first-round win. Buff Nation was then treated to a much better shooting night in the second round when CU shot 47% from the field, but that total was overshadowed by Utah Valley putting up 81 points on the road.

The loss to Utah Valley was only the eighth non-conference home loss in the Tad Boyle era, and a lot of it can be attributed to the lack of experience on this team.

“It’s a lack of focus,” said Boyle. “It’s a lack of toughness at times. I don’t think our guys are lazy. I [just] don’t think we’re always playing very smart.”

The lack of focus and intelligence as a team stems from a lack of leadership. Some of that could be attributed to starting guard KJ Simpson having been out of the lineup for multiple weeks. But, it’s evident that there were many hurdles in the way for this team, mostly stemming from the Buffs’ lack of experience.

Although Colorado’s NIT run didn’t end like they hoped it would, those two games alone were incredibly valuable experiences to take into next year.

“[The NIT] can be a springboard for these young players,” said Boyle. “This experience is invaluable for the guys.”

Hopefully from this NIT berth CU can begin to steady the ship for a less turbulent 2023-2024 campaign.     

Luke O’Brien’s game made a big jump

In a year without Battey and Walker, and Hadley going down with an injury, Luke O’Brien’s growth has really shone through.

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged career highs in all major categories this year, but from February on LOB began to cook. Over a month-and-a-half span, O’Brien averaged nine points per game and grabbed eight rebounds per game.

His presence on the glass was evident in CU’s first-round win over Seton Hall when the junior big man tallied a career-high 14 rebounds.

“It’s his grit and competitiveness,” said Tristan da Silva. “His confidence rose in the past couple of months.”

The intangibles that O’Brien’s style of play brings to the table worked beautifully in Tad Boyle’s gritty system.

Since February, the junior has played at least 20 minutes in every game, where he’s been a ball hawk that pounces on every loose ball opportunity.

“He’s a battler,” head coach Tad Boyle said. “[Luke] has really come into [his] own here.”

While this was not the way the junior was hoping his season would end, there are lots of things to build upon for his final dance with the program next year.

Tristan to test NBA waters

The main storyline from this season has been the growth of Tristan da Silva. The junior averaged 16 points per game this year – a seven-point increase over his sophomore season.

The German got into a groove during Pac-12 play, totaling 20+ points in five straight contests from January 22nd to February 5th. He finished with respectable point totals of 15 and 12 in the Buffs’ two NIT games.

After the loss to Utah Valley, the Buffs’ leading scorer was asked about his future plans and if he intends to return for a fourth season or not.

“Yeah I feel like I should definitely test the waters — See how it goes and get some feedback,” said da Silva. “That doesn’t tie me to anything. That’s kind of the process for the summer and I haven’t made a final decision yet.”

Da Silva’s name has received some attention in 2024 NBA mock drafts, but it’s tough to tell what interest he’s garnering from NBA teams currently.

Another name to keep an eye out for is KJ Simpson.

“My guess is KJ might [test the waters],” said Boyle.  “We’ll see what that is and then we’ll move forward.”

While it is uncertain what either of them will decide, many still expect da Silva and Simpson to be repping the black and gold next fall.

“You guys are going to be the first ones to know,” said da Silva.

Stay tuned to DNVR Buffs for all the latest news about the CU men’s basketball team this offseason.