Colorado: 2011-12 Post-MortemPosted by AMurawa on April 10th, 2012
Over the course of the next two weeks, the Pac-12 Microsite will break down each team’s season: what went well, what didn’t, and a look ahead at the future. Today’s subject: Colorado.
What Went Right
In its first season in the Pac-12, Colorado came into the season missing its top four scorers from 2010-11 and was picked to finish right near the bottom of the conference. Instead, the Buffs rode a strong homecourt advantage to an upper-division finish in the regular season then they ripped through the conference tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Not content to stop there, they actually won a game, upsetting UNLV in the round of 64, quite a season for a team for whom there were no real expectations in November. Head coach Tad Boyle gets a lot of credit for shuffling these pieces together in such a way as to make the most of the team’s talent, but even with three serious contributors to this year’s success on the way out due to graduation, the Buffaloes developed plenty of young talent this season that should prepare them for some successful seasons in the near future.
What Went Wrong
If there was one real problem for Colorado this season it was its relative inability to produce wins in a true road environment against quality competition. Despite a 4-7 record on the road, a closer look shows those wins coming against Air Force (7th place in the Mountain West), USC, Arizona State, and Utah (three teams that finished between #10 and #12 in the Pac-12). While the Buffs lost just two home games this season and just one home game in conference play, they’ll need to find a way to score quality road wins in order to compete for a regular season Pac-12 title.
While seniors Carlon Brown, Austin Dufault, and Nate Tomlinson all provided veteran leadership and some combination of scoring, rebounding and defense that likely went beyond what their individual numbers suggest, there is little doubt that sophomore forward Andre Roberson was the best and most important player on the team. Not only did he average a double-double for the season, but he was the second-best defensive rebounder in the country and one of the better offensive rebounders in the land. His tireless work on the glass helped make him the team’s second-most efficient offensive player (behind freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie), while his playmaking ability on the other end of the floor anchored the Buffs’ stout defense.
Brown, Dufault, and Tomlinson all graduate (as does practice warrior Trey Eckloff), and each leaves behind a role which Boyle will need to find someone to fill. Brown was the highly athletic slasher who could double as a primary ballhandler when needed. Dufault was the hard-working interior grinder who could step out and knock down the clutch three. And Tomlinson was the floor general with the reputation for deadly three-point shooting (although that three-point accuracy certainly went missing for much of his senior year). As a whole they brought experience and toughness to the team and passed on knowledge about how to win games from the previous generation of Buffaloes to the next.
Players Coming In
There is no shortage of players coming into the program for Boyle to draw from to replace his departed seniors. At present, Boyle’s got a six-man recruiting class coming in with possible help at each different position. Josh Scott is one of three in-state kids that stayed at home to play for the blossoming program, and he’ll get a chance to earn immediate minutes in the middle as a skilled and athletic big man; fellow Coloradan Wesley Gordon will also compete for interior minutes, although his game is more rugged and less skilled than Scott’s. The third in-state recruit is point guard Xavier Talton, a combo guard that should be due for reserve minutes early in his career. Wing Xavier Johnson leads the list of the out-of-state recruits, and he is a talented Californian who can score from inside or out. His high school teammate Eli Stalzer is Boyle’s latest signing, a shooter with a reputation for intangibles, while Chris Jenkins, out of Michigan, is a combo forward.
Reason for Hope
That six-man recruiting class is rated as the 21st best recruiting class in the country (according to Scout) and it joins a Colorado team that will return three youngsters who made a significant impact on the team this past season. Along with Roberson and Dinwiddie, guard Askia Booker is expected to jump into the starting lineup as a sophomore and continue his potent and extroverted offensive game. Shane Harrris-Tunks, a 6’11” center, also showed improvement following a season lost to a torn ACL in 2010-11, especially late in the season as he was called on for tough minutes inside during March. Boyle would love to see his game take a big step forward as a junior, and he will need to fight off some of the newcomers to earn further minutes.
Reason For Concern
As good as Dinwiddie and Booker were as freshmen, they will need to step into a leadership role in their sophomore years as Brown, Dufault and Tomlinson depart. They made it look easy the first time around, but they will need to prove that they have the demeanor to run a basketball team on which high expectations will be placed. Up front, Roberson has shown his ability to rebound and defend, but he will need to improve his offensive game in his junior campaign. And, for a 6’7” guy with designs on an NBA career, Buffs fans have to hope he doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time honing his skills at the three – he will help Colorado the most on the interior.
A. A team that was picked #10 or #11 in the conference (depending on whom you ask) and was replacing its top four scorers, won the conference tournament and was the last team in the Pac-12 standing in the NCAA Tournament. In a year of disappointing returns west of the Rockies, this is the one out-and-out success story in the Pac-12 conference this year.