College basketball season is creeping up fast, and Athlon Sports is counting down to Midnight Madness and the start of practice on Oct. 17.
No. 17 Colorado is enjoying the best era of basketball in program history. Tad Boyle has led the Buffaloes to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments and four consecutive postseason appearances despite an injury to their top player a year ago. Colorado has managed to recover from injuries and major departures, and the Buffs, when healthy, should be in Pac-12 contention.
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The Buffs advanced to their third consecutive NCAA Tournament and fourth consecutive postseason — but the season felt like it ended in January.
When point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL and freshman guard Tre’Shaun Fletcher suffered a sprained knee —both in the same game at Washington on Jan. 12 — it was obvious the Buffs weren’t going to go as far as they hoped.
Tad Boyle managed to rally his young team to a to a tie for third place in the Pac-12 and a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs played poorly in their only postseason game and were ousted with ease by Pittsburgh.
Dinwiddie bolted for the NBA to no one’s surprise, but the remainder of the team returns. This will be Boyle’s deepest and most talented team from top to bottom even if it lacks that one true star in the mold of Dinwiddie, Andre Roberson or Alec Burks.
For the second consecutive season, CU will have legitimate goals of contending for a Pac-12 title and advancing to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That’s the next big step for a program that has significantly raised the expectations of its fan base since Boyle was hired.
No. 17 Colorado Facts & Figures
Last season: 23-12, 10-8 Pac-12
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 3
Coach: Tad Boyle (92-49 overall, 39-31 Pac-12)
Pac-12 Projection: Second
Postseason Projection: NCAA round of 32
Forward Josh Scott is expected to be one of the elite big men in the the nation in his junior season after a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds. He has produced 15 double-doubles in his first two college seasons combined with the majority coming last year. Scott made 51.1 percent of his shots and knocked down 81 percent of his free throw attempts. The area in which he must improve is handling double teams and passing out of them.
The program is hoping for a jump in production from sophomore Wesley Gordon, who is one of the most athletic players on the team. Gordon started 27 games last season but wasn’t much of an offensive threat. He averaged 5.9 points per game and shot under 50 percent from the floor.
The addition of 6-9 freshman Tory Miller will boost depth in the post. Boyle describes Miller as “physically ready to play at this level.” Junior Xavier Johnson and sophomore Dustin Thomas are the only other players on the roster who are capable of providing minutes inside, though both generally play on the wing.
Senior guard Askia Booker has the opportunity to become the first player in CU history to play in the NCAA Tournament in all four years of his career. He started every game the past two seasons. Booker improved as a decision-maker as a junior, but he still has a tendency to try to do too much, and he’s not a consistent enough shooter to take chances. He made only 37-of-136 3-point attempts as a junior.
Boyle calls Fletcher the X-factor because he was developing nicely in the first two months of his freshman season before his injury. “He never really kind of got back in the flow and never really got back in the rotation cause he came back so late,” Boyle says. “He has great length and great size. He can put the ball on the floor. He can shoot it. He’s got a chance to really make an impact on this team.”
Point guards Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins averaged more than 18 minutes per game last season. The hope is one takes control of that job this season to allow Booker to play his role as a shooter and freshman Dominique Collier to ease into the college game.
Both Talton and Hopkins to approve their assist-to-turnover ratio in a big way. If neither player shows significant improvement, Collier could move into a significant role as a true freshman.
Junior Eli Stalzer and sophomore George King each played in 27 games last season. They add solid depth.
The Buffaloes have the talent an depth to compete for a Pac-12 title. It’s not a team without flaws, however. To make a serious run at Arizona — the overwhelming favorite to win the league — Colorado must identify a primary point guard and improve its shooting from the perimeter.
Guard Dominique Collier comes to Boulder with big expectations after winning the state championship on his future college home court.. CU also landed big man Tory Miller, who should add some physical toughness immediately. He will be asked to rebound and defend first.