The pain on his face told you everything you needed to know. There was no need for Buff Nation to hold it’s breath for the news on Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury. His fate was inevitable immediately. The concern on Tad Boyle’s face, Xavier Johnson sitting on the court next to his teammate, friend, and leader, there was no doubt that the worst possible scenario for one of the nation’s premier teams had become all too real.
They say a picture says a thousand words, well this one said more, and yet in a way, it said just one. Crushing. Dinwiddie, a likely first round NBA draft pick, represented the face of the program. He was their experienced court general, their best offensive player, their creator, their closer, and most importantly, their premier perimeter defender. There were few players across the country more vital to a team’s success than Spencer Dinwiddie, pure and simple.
The team struggled to recover, losing a halftime lead and eventually bowing out in Washington 71-54, their worst defeat of the season. But that result’s relevance paled in comparison to the realization that this team was now without the Mayor.
How exactly can this program fill the void left by undoubtedly it’s most important presence?
One, Dinwiddie can’t disappear. While his production obviously will be lost, his leadership can not be. His role must transition into a teacher, mentoring younger guards like Jaron Hopkins and Xavier Talton, who will be heavily relied upon to perform in his absence. He needs to maintain a positive mentality and support his teammates as they transition into new roles. He can help mitigate the drop-off by representing an emotional and encouraging influence.
Secondly, Askia Booker must become an entirely new player. He now becomes the team’s most experienced guard, he was their vocal leader even with Dinwiddie healthy, and that must continue going forward. He must transition his game into the team’s facilitator, he can’t hoard all of the shots that Dinwiddie will no longer be taking. His assist numbers must dramatically improve, and he needs to prove he can make his teammates better. Without that transformation, this team has no chance to succeed.
Wesley Gordon, Xavier Johnson, and Josh Scott must see additional paint touches. That now becomes our advantage over opponents. Josh Scott is better than nearly every big man we will face throughout the rest of the season. College teams struggle to get elite paint players consistent touches. We must figure it out, and do so quickly. Our half-court offense must become more efficient, and there’s no better place to start than Scott. Gordon and Xavier Johnson must aggressively search for shots, especially Johnson, who’s struggled to find his shot this season.
Someone must step up defensively. This team no longer can lean on Dinwiddie’s elite defensive abilities as a crutch. The team’s focus on the perimeter must never waver, will someone be capable of stepping up and being the next lock down defender? Treshaun Fletcher would have likely become that guy, but with him also being out for the remainder of the regular season, we’ll need to go even further down the bench to find a spark. George King and Jaron Hopkins would be the leading candidates, we’ll need one of them to develop quickly or this team’s defense could be running on life support.
The question at this point becomes, are the Colorado Buffaloes still a tournament team?
The immediate answer is: who knows? Honestly, it will probably take a few weeks as our young guys adjust to more prominent roles.
Unfortunately, we’re now at the mercy of the committee, who is by no means obligated to even consider the resume we compiled with Dinwiddie on the court. Honestly, that’s fair, that team won’t be on the court in March, so to them, it means next to nothing. Come March, you’ll look at our resume and say that’s absolutely tournament quality, and I’d agree, but we’ll be judged solely on our performance in these last 14 games and the Pac-12 Tournament.
The goal should be to finish conference play at 7-7, there is precedent for tournament teams to finish with a .500 record in high-major conference play and still make the tournament. We won’t know if this is a realistic goal until we see the newly crafted Buffs take the court, but for now, it’s a reasonably guideline for argument’s sake. The Buffs still have winnable match-ups with USC (home and away), Washington State (at home), and Utah (at home). Additionally, they have Arizona State twice, Washington at home, Stanford on the road, and Utah on the road as potential opportunities to sneak out victories.
One thing we know for sure, is that this team will fight. Askia Booker, Josh Scott, and Tad Boyle will demand it. This team still has talent superior to the team’s throughout the first decade of the 2000s, all is not lost.
This team needs our support more now, than ever. I expect to see every seat filled for UCLA, every body donning white, and going absolutely bananas for the team that we love. Coors Event Center has a few tricks up her sleeve if we do our part, it’s time to bring the ruckus.
GO BUFFALOES AND ROLL TAD!