Colorado Preview: What’s The Point?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 9th, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Boulder.

Colorado Buffaloes

Last year was not good in Boulder. It was understood there were going to be growing pains following the Spencer Dinwiddie era, but at least there were plenty of seemingly good options to step into his old point guard role. Not only did none of those options really pan out, but there were also issues everywhere else. This year, despite the fact that there may be a smidgen less talent on the Colorado roster, the hope is that a little more cohesion will help get Tad Boyle’s program headed back in the same direction it was in a couple of years ago.

Josh Scott Is Arguably The Best Returning Player In The Pac-12 (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Josh Scott Is Arguably The Best Returning Player In The Pac-12. (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Strengths. The Colorado frontcourt has a chance to be among the best in the conference this season. That’s quite a statement given that Xavier Johnson is likely to miss the entire season after tearing his Achilles tendon. Let’s start with senior center Josh Scott, who might be the best returning player in the conference. He’s a highly efficient scorer who can hit mid-range jumpers, score over either shoulder with a jump hook, and also pick up some hustle buckets on the offensive glass. Next to him at the power forward spot will be garbageman extraordinaire Wesley Gordon, who is skilled enough to score more than the 6.6 PPG he averaged last season, but also content to clean the glass, set picks and play hard-nosed defense. Backing up those two spots will be sophomore Tory Miller, who showed flashes of brilliance in limited minutes during his rookie campaign. Miller has drawn rave reviews over the offseason, so a big leap could be coming from him in year two. At the wing position, Boyle will employ a combination of junior Tre’Shaun Fletcher and redshirt sophomore George King, players who are capable of filling lanes in transition, stepping out and hitting threes, or getting dirty work done inside. In fact, there will likely be times this year when Fletcher and King are on the court at the same time with two Colorado bigs, allowing the Buffs to go large and find a way to get their best players the most minutes.

Weaknesses. While there is reason for hope at the point guard position, the Buffs also must prove that they can get consistency out of that spot for it not to be considered a weakness. Askia Booker earned far more minutes at point guard last season than was good for anybody, but after him, the guy who spent the most time initiating offense was Xavier Talton, who just wasn’t very good, especially on the offensive end. His 83.4 KenPom offensive efficiency rating had to be pretty close to the lowest for a player on a power conference team who earned better than 50 percent of his team’s minutes. The problem was that the only other legitimate option on the team was freshman Dominique Collier, and he wasn’t a whole lot better. Collier earned 48 minutes and one start in the team’s two CBI Tournament games last season and did alright in those appearances, but the hope is that with some greater experience under his belt and a full offseason in the program, he’ll be ready to take over full-time point guard duties. Still, there will likely be a learning curve for the sophomore; he’ll need to show he’s capable of setting up those talented frontcourt players for the Buffs to challenge for a finish in the upper half of the Pac-12.

Colorado Really Needs Dominique Collier To Own The Point Guard Spot This Year (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Colorado Really Needs Dominique Collier To Own The Point Guard Spot This Year. (Jeremy Papasso, Daily Camera)

Non-conference Tests. Boyle built a healthy schedule for this team. The Buffs open with a big game on a slightly less-than-neutral court against Iowa State on Friday. They follow that up with a trip to Auburn, which is a decent but winnable test. Then there’s about three weeks of glorified scrimmages before a road trip against intrastate rival Colorado State is followed by a home game against BYU the next weekend. Again, both are good tests but potentially winnable games. Next, there are a couple more throwaway games in December before the Buffs head to Las Vegas for a pre-Christmas tournament to face Penn State and then perhaps SMU in the championship game (or Kent State if things go south). For a team that has a lot to work on prior to conference play this season, this type of non-conference slate is just fine.

Toughest Conference Stretch. The Buffs definitely won’t get a chance to ease into 2016. They will open conference play on New Year’s Day at Cal with a game at Stanford coming two days later. They’re then rewarded with a three-game home stand during which they’ll host Utah, Oregon State and Oregon. In only one of those opening five conference games does Ken Pomeroy currently make them a slight favorite (Oregon State, where he projects Colorado as a two-point favorite).

Biggest Story. After missing the NCAA Tournament for eight straight seasons, the Buffaloes’ first three seasons in the Pac-12 ended with invitations to the Big Dance. Last year was the program’s first since joining its new conference that Colorado was left on the outside looking in. How will the program respond? Will 2014-15 be a minor speed bump in an overall upward trend for the program? Or will we view those three seasons when Mayor Dinwiddie ruled Boulder as the exception to the rule of Colorado as a basketball backwater? There are enough nice pieces in the frontcourt here for the Buffaloes to be very good, but in basketball, you’re often only as good as your point guard allows. If that one-year blip turns into two and Colorado recruiting continues to wane, it is all too easy for a once-promising upstart program to slip back down to its usual level of mediocrity.

If Everything Goes Right… Collier is solid, turning his 26.9 percent three-point shooting into something more like 33.0 percent, and his 1.15 assist-to-turnover ratio into something close to 2-to-1. Fletcher dials up his number of three-point attempts and his percentage (45.8%) doesn’t drop very drastically, if at all. Providence transfer Josh Fortune immediately steps into the starting lineup and confirms his reputation as a reliable three-point shooter (freshman guard Thomas Akyazali is a prime candidate to be a floor-stretcher). If all that happens, the talented frontcourt will have a reasonable chance to excel. From there, an NCAA Tournament bid is within range.

If Nothing Goes Right… Collier as a sophomore isn’t a whole lot different from Collier as a frosh, meaning Talton continues to get big minutes. Fletcher’s numbers decline in more playing time and there is nobody of significance to stretch the floor for the Buffs, allowing defenses to sag in on Scott and the rest of the frontcourt. Colorado becomes a very hard team to watch on the offensive end of the court — if you thought last year’s 16-18 season was difficult to enjoy, get a load of this team with five fewer seconds on the shot clock and no insta-offense Askia to bail them out.

Projected Starting Lineup

  • PG Dominique Collier (So, 6’2”, 190 lbs, 4.7 PPG, 1.5 APG, 26.9 3P% in 19.3 MPG)
  • SG Josh Fortune (Jr, 6’5” 200 lbs, 8.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.1 APG, 35 3P% in 2013-14 with Providence)
  • SF George King (RSo, 6’6”, 220 lbs, 1.5 PPG, 1.5 RPG in 5.5 MP in 2013-14)
  • PF Wesley Gordon (Jr, 6’9” 220 lbs, 6.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.4 BPG)
  • C Josh Scott (Sr, 6’10” 245 lbs, 14.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG. 54.4 FG%)

This should be the starting five, although Fletcher could still battle it out with King at the three. This lineup benefits from Fortune’s ability to knock in threes, but could use some additional floor spacing from King or Collier.

Key Reserves

  • PF Tory Miller (So, 6’9” 245 lbs, 3.0 PPG, 2.2 RPG in 8.6 MPG)
  • SF Tre’Shaun Fletcher (Jr, 6’7” 205 lbs, 5.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 45.8 3P% in 18.3 MPG)
  • PG Xavier Talton (Sr, 6’2” 185 lbs, 4.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 1.6 APG in 22.5 MPG)
  • SG Thomas Akyazali (Fr, 6’2” 180 lbs)

If we’ve learned anything over the years watching college hoops, it is that putting the words “senior” and “guard” together, especially with the word “point” in the middle often leads to special things. Still, it will be a positive for this team if Talton’s minutes are limited to short stretches off the bench in relief of a more offensively competent player. The newcomer Akyazali could be a factor in this rotation before long due to his ability to knock in threes. Likewise, JuCo transfer Kenan Guzonjic could find a role for himself as a stretch four if other shooters on this team fail to find their range.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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