George King leads talented, but unproven Buffaloes
Tad Boyle came to Colorado in 2010 with the intention of turning the Buffaloes into winners, and he wasn’t looking for a quick fix.
“The challenge with Colorado basketball isn’t to build a successful team; it’s to build a successful program that can sustain itself over the course of time,” Boyle says.
Now entering his seventh season in Boulder, Boyle has done that. The Buffs have been to the postseason six consecutive years, including four trips to the NCAA Tournament (they got there three times in 47 seasons before Boyle’s arrival).
To keep it going, the Buffs have to replace one of the best players in program history in Josh Scott, but they’ve got a talented roster that features four fifth-year seniors and eight players with significant college experience.
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At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Tad Boyle
2015-16 RECORD (PAC-12): 22–12 (10–8)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to UConn 74–67 in the first round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Fifth in the Pac-12
G Tre’Shaun Fletcher (7.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
F Josh Scott (16.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg)
G Xavier Talton (4.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
With Scott gone, Wesley Gordon becomes the focal point up front. He’s arguably more talented than Scott and has proven to be an exceptional rebounder, shot blocker, defender and passer. At times, he’s also been a solid scorer. CU is depending on Gordon to take his game to a higher level, though, and that means becoming a more consistent contributor.
Like Gordon, Tory Miller can have a breakout season. He has improved each year and now steps into a bigger role. When he keeps his emotions in check, he’s a force inside.
Freshman Lucas Siewert is a versatile big who can stretch the floor. Dallas Walton tore his ACL twice in high school and is a redshirt candidate but might be needed to provide depth.
While depth is a problem up front, the Buffs have as many as eight players who can compete for spots in the rotation on the perimeter. That will lead to more four-guard lineups and might cause Boyle — a long-time proponent of man-to-man defense — to employ a zone more than he prefers.
Derrick White, who sat out last season after transferring from Colorado-Colorado Springs, could be a star and turn some heads in the Pac-12. He did it all in Division II, averaging 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.1 blocks in 2014-15. Last season in practice, he was often the best player on the court. “He is worth the price of admission,” Boyle says.
Xavier Johnson is back after missing last year with a torn Achilles tendon. He has averaged 10.4 points during his career, can score in a variety of ways and has the athleticism to play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward. He’ll be asked to score, rebound and step up defensively. Emotion is a big part of his game, too, but he needs to provide positive energy.
After redshirting in 2014-15 to develop his game, George King exploded with averages of 13.6 points and 4.7 rebounds last year, and he led the Pac-12 in 3-point percentage (.456). Like Johnson, he can play near the rim or on the perimeter on both ends of the floor and will be called upon to step up as a rebounder and defender.
Point guard Dominique Collier was second in the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting (.444) and led the team with 91 assists. He needs to be more consistent, however, and assert himself as a leader on the floor. Josh Fortune averaged 10.3 points but also led the team in turnovers. His challenge, Boyle says, is to “make the game simple” and play to his strengths.
Backup point guard Thomas Akyazili figures to play a key role off the bench once again, while freshmen Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters can push for playing time, too. Both play with big-time energy and effort and raise the level of competitiveness in practice.
This group can score, but poor ball handling has plagued CU, and improvement there is critical. White will help in that area, but the rest of the group has to take better care of the ball.
CU is thin up front, which means it’ll need either Lucas Siewert or Dallas Walton — or both — to provide quality minutes off the bench. Guards Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters both have the talent to push for playing time in a crowded backcourt. Fifth-year senior Derrick White was an All-American at Division II Colorado-Colorado Springs and has the ability to be among CU’s leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists.
The Buffs have more talent and experience than they’ve had in a while. It’s a group that has yet to play together, though, and finding cohesiveness will be crucial early in the season. CU is capable of being the best shooting team in the Pac-12, and if the Buffs stick to their principles of defense and rebounding, there’s no reason they can’t finish near the top of the Pac-12, get back to the NCAA Tournament and advance once they get there.