Pac-12 Team Preview: Colorado BuffaloesPosted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 5th, 2013
We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.
Strengths: While Colorado has a lot of strengths, its biggest may be balance. They’ve got a veteran backcourt featuring an all-conference point guard in Spencer Dinwiddie, but they’ve also got a frontcourt with size, athleticism and, perhaps most importantly, upside. Sophomores Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson are regarded as possible breakout players, while redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon is ready to get back into the swing of things after spending last year improving his body and his game. They’ve got guards that score in the paint and from deep and they’ve got frontcourt guys who can not only post up, but can step outside and knock down perimeter jumpers. This team has a lot of options.
Weaknesses: There are a few main concerns for Colorado. First, while Tad Boyle thinks he’s got enough frontcourt bodies to ease the transition away from the Andre Roberson era, there is no one guy who can do all the things that Roberson did. For instance, while Josh Scott was quite effective on the offensive glass last season, he’ll really need to step it up on the defensive end to make up for Roberson. And frankly, there is nobody with the defensive versatility that Roberson had; the Buffs will need to prove that they can defend as well without Roberson’s freak athleticism. Then there remains the concern that Askia Booker still hasn’t seen a shot he didn’t like and is far too inefficient an offensive force (31.2 percent from three and just 39.5 percent from inside the arc) to be monopolizing so many shot attempts (12.7 FGAs per game). With efficient scorers like Dinwiddie, Scott and, to a lesser extent, Johnson around, there are far better options than Booker hunting looks.
Non-Conference Tests: The Buffs open up on Friday with a tough battle against a talented Baylor team in Dallas, and that is just the first of three match-ups against former Big 12 rivals on their excellent non-conference slate; the other two come in December: a visit from Kansas followed by a neutral site game against Oklahoma State in Las Vegas. There are also three Mountain West teams on CU’s schedule: Wyoming, Air Force and Colorado State. None of those teams are world-beaters, but they’ll all help the RPI numbers. Throw in a visit from a very good Harvard team, a visit from an Elon squad that is the favorite in the Southern Conference, and a visit from a middling SEC team in Georgia, and Boyle has put together arguably the best non-conference slate in the Pac-12. Put together a good record before the New Year and the Buffs will be prepped for a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Toughest Conference Stretch: The Buffs get a decent shake with the unbalanced conference schedule, getting to skip the Oregon trip and missing Cal and Stanford visits to Boulder. But their toughest stretch of the regular season may be their final five conference games, beginning with visits from Arizona State and Arizona, then three consecutive road games to close out the season: at Utah, at Stanford, and at Cal. Even if things go well until the middle of February, the Buffaloes will need to be on their game in order to head to the Pac-12 Tournament with momentum.
If Everything Goes Right… This is a team that could be playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. While Dinwiddie is rock solid at the point, it all depends on the play of sophomores Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson. If Scott gets more comfortable playing with physicality and cleaning the glass, and if Johnson’s strong play from the conference slate last year continues (10 of his 12 double-figure games last season came against Pac-12 teams), Boyle will have one terrific frontcourt, especially if Gordon can live up to his advance billing. Oh, and it sure would be nice if Booker could reign in his unbridled enthusiasm for jacking up shots.
If Nothing Goes Right… The defense without Roberson takes a significant step back, and while Scott and Johnson both improve offensively, it is not to all-conference levels, while Gordon and the freshman class underwhelm in their first seasons. All told, their offense isn’t a whole lot better than it was in 2012-13, when it was 123rd most efficient in the nation, according to KenPom. Close losses in the tough non-conference slate diminish the team’s confidence, and in a Pac-12 with plenty of solid teams at the top, the Buffaloes find themselves settling into a spot right in the middle of the pack, so much so that they have to sweat out Selection Sunday.
Projected Starting Lineup
- PG Spencer Dinwiddie (Jr, 6’6” 200 lbs, 15.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 3.0 APG)
- SG Askia Booker (Jr, 6’2” 170 lbs, 12.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.2 APG)
- SF Xavier Johnson (So, 6’7” 220 lbs, 8.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG)
- PF Wesley Gordon (RFr, 6’9” 225 lbs)
- C Josh Scott (So, 6’10” 245 lbs, 10.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
This is basically the team’s starting lineup from last season – just sub in Gordon for Roberson. While Gordon surely isn’t what Roberson was, his production can be replaced by a group effort.
- G Xavier Talton (So, 6’2” 180 lbs, 1.5 PPG, 0.7 RPG in 7.3 MPG)
- G Eli Stalzer (So, 6’3” 190 lbs, 1.4 PPG, 0.8 RPG in 9.1 MPG)
- PF Dustin Thomas (Fr, 6’7” 220 lbs)
- G Jaron Hopkins (Fr, 6’5” 190 lbs)
- SF Tre’Shaun Fletcher (Fr, 6’7”, 200 lbs)
The Buffaloes got some bad news yesterday when they announced that 6’7″ redshirt freshman wing Chris Jenkins would be leaving the team. A lanky athlete with a good stroke, it seemed like he was in line for minutes at the three slot, but this move seems to indicate that freshmen like Hopkins, Fletcher and even George King may have been eating into Jenkins’s potential role. Up front, Thomas looks to be the only significant depth at the 4/5 position, although there’s also senior seven-footer Ben Mills for more size. In the backcourt, Talton and Stalzer earned token minutes last year, but with guys like Sabatino Chen and Jeremy Adams gone, there will be available minutes this year for them. That is, if guys like Hopkins, King and Fletcher don’t snatch those minutes up. There are a lot of options off the bench, but Boyle has shown that he’ll define a tight rotation pretty early, so it is possible some of these youngsters will wear a redshirt this season.