Pac-12 Post-Mortems: ColoradoPosted by Andrew Murawa on April 29th, 2014
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Colorado.
What Went Wrong
On the morning of Sunday, January 12, Colorado was getting ready to play Washington in its fourth Pac-12 conference game. Up to that point, the Buffaloes had gone 14-2 on the season, won all three of their previous conference games, and were rated 31st in KenPom, down a bit from their season high of 28th (following their non-conference finale against Georgia). And then, late in the first half against the Huskies, junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie took a false step on a fast break, his left knee buckled, and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed as a torn ACL was later verified. The Buffaloes went on to lose four of their next five games, and posted a middling 9-10 record the rest of the way, stumbling ever-steadily to a KenPom low of #68 by the end of the year. Tad Boyle and company could never truly recover from the loss of their best player and team leader.
What Went Right
Following the loss of Dinwiddie, the team did its best to rally together, with junior guard Askia Booker in particular deserving extra praise. Booker had been known as an inveterate gunner who had never seen a shot he didn’t like with Dinwiddie alongside him. But down the stretch of the season, Booker took over the bulk of the point guard duties and played the part of good teammate, looking to get everybody involved. Sure, he wasn’t always particularly effective in that new role, but the Buffs fought the good fight the rest of the season with him in the lead.
Without a doubt, Spencer Dinwiddie was the team’s best and most important player, something that we didn’t need his absence to prove. Not just the team’s floor general, he was the team’s best high-efficiency scorer, its best defender, and a pure point whose better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio doesn’t begin to describe his abilities as a half-court play-maker. Without Dinwiddie’s potent three-point game and ability to feed the post, big man Josh Scott’s numbers tumbled in the back half of the season, and Colorado’s efficiency numbers dwindled on both ends of the court.
Adding insult to injury, not only did that fateful day in Seattle represent Dinwiddie’s final game of the season, it was also the last game of his collegiate career, as the junior opted to make himself eligible for this summer’s NBA Draft. Everybody else returns for the Buffaloes, but Dinwiddie’s absence will leave a huge hole in the lineup.
Players Coming In
While Booker did his best to fill in for Dinwiddie, he’s clearly not the answer at the point guard position for next season’s Buffaloes. The good news is that among the incoming freshmen, 6’2” Dominique Collier – an ESPN top 100 recruit – is a guy who could walk right onto campus and snatch up the starting spot. A true point who is capable of creating for himself and others, Collier will likely compete with sophomore Jaron Hopkins for Dinwiddie’s spot, with Booker sliding into the role only in an emergency. The other half of Colorado’s two-man recruiting class is 6’8” power forward Tory Miller, a talented youngster who will possibly provide frontcourt depth early in his career.
Reason for Hope
Josh Scott is a skilled 6’10” center with nice post moves, a solid face-up game, and the ability to rebound very well in the middle. His sophomore campaign was a huge improvement over his first year on campus, and his junior year could see him take yet another step forward. Likewise, classmate Xavier Johnson’s game improved last year and he’s got plenty more to give. Then there are a handful of freshmen – like Wesley Gordon, Dustin Thomas, Tre’Shaun Fletcher, and Hopkins – who could show their own sophomore improvements next season. If any one of those guys takes his game to the next level, and if Boyle can find a steady answer at the point, the Buffaloes could be a far sight better than they were down the stretch this season.
Reason For Concern
Still, with a healthy Dinwiddie back next season, the Buffaloes might have been the second-best team in the Pac-12 with serious designs on a deep March run. Without him, their upside may be limited, especially with a new point guard destined to learn the ropes on the job. Booker will be a senior ready to help transition the program into a new era, but the 2014-15 season doesn’t shine on the horizon as brightly as it once did.
C+. How many teams in the nation could suffer the loss of a player as important as Dinwiddie and still rally together to keep the boat afloat? On the other hand, this is a team that got outscored by a grand total of 49 points in its final two games of the season, and clearly a squad that was never really the same after his injury. While Boyle is still in the process of building an annually strong program, Colorado fans will surely look back on the eventual outcome of this season as a bitter disappointment.