The Lost Art: The Regular Season

Last night’s Spurs vs. Cavs match-up had all the makings of a premier showcase.  The national networks pumped it up, coloring it as a “rivalry” game between LeBron and the Cavs and his biggest nemesis of all, the Spurs.  After all, they own a 2-1 record against him in the NBA Finals, and are in many ways responsible for his homecoming in Cleveland.  He looked around at his counterparts after getting demolished in last season’s Finals and knew that in order to come out in top, he’d need to make a change.

Fast forward to present, and those who watched were treated to a fantastic game.  There was something notable missing though, even with the Spurs managing to actually play their entire roster, a rare reprieve from their normal strategy of giving little thought to the opening months of the regular season.  The game was tightly contested throughout, the Cavs had one of their premier defensive showings of the year, and the contest came down to the final possession.  The end result, though, meant little.  The Cavs proved they belong, yes, even when the expectation was that they wouldn’t, but the reactions post-game were mild at best.  That’s just the issue, the Spurs, despite gracing us with their entire roster, aren’t alone in their approach of the regular season.

The Cavs currently sit at 5-5, with three early home losses, including embarrassing efforts against the lowly Knicks and Nuggets, yet few people care.  Of course, there are built in excuses that come along with a roster with nearly a dozen new faces.  The defense needs time to mold, bad habits from stars who haven’t tasted the playoffs must be broken, and a first time NBA coach must find a workable rotation.  I get all that.  The problem, though, is that at this point, the first few months of the regular season are a glorified practice session.  Not only do they have time to make all of those adjustments, but few even have to pretend to be concerned about the progress, or lack thereof, thus far.

Even further, few cared to watch.  I’ve never understood the NBA’s stubborn view that the start of their season needed to coincide with the upcoming NFL playoffs.  By shifting the season just a few months, you’d have little need to compete with football, and the playoff run would fall just prior to the return of America’s beloved sport.  As of now, the two months of July and August serve as a sports black hole for most fans in a country where baseball is much closer to a distraction than a pastime these days.  Could you imagine if the NBA wised up and filled that gap with their playoffs?

Over the years, the NBA has gained a reputation as a league who cares little about its regular season.  The quality of the games is, at best, passable prior to the All-Star break, because it just doesn’t matter.  The season is too long, the games have little meaning.  The players coast through until it matters, and then the real fun begins.  The coaches act in kind, sitting stars to keep them fresh until they deem them necessary.

There is literally no reason that a match-up between the league’s best team and its best player should mean so little.  When teams find it more appealing to rest their stars than show out for a game, an alarm should be sounding in the league office.  When people have to be grateful that a team played all of its players in such a game, doesn’t that suggest changed must be made?

The Spurs and Cavs are a combined 12-10, yet no alarms are sounding, and they shouldn’t be.  That’s whats wrong with the product.

Colorado Basketball: The Predictions

We’ve reached the culmination of the Colorado basketball TheAirUpHere preseason preview.  We’ve dissected each and every angle of this team leading up to their opener with Drexel tomorrow (man, that’s fun to type!). The schedule has been broken down, the roster has been analyzed, the numbers have been crunched, and the Pac-12 breakdown has been laid out.

Now, there’s just one thing left to do!

Its prediction time!

Below you’ll find a variety of predictions regarding the Pac-12 itself, including standings, awards, and NCAA Tournament teams.  Additionally, there are a few team specific predictions as well.

Tell me where we’re wrong, tell me where we’re right, tell me you’re ready for some Colorado Buffaloes basketball!

Pac-12 Predictions:

Conference Standings (W/L totals)

  1. Arizona Wildcats (16-2)
  2. Utah Utes (13-5)
  3. Colorado Buffaloes (12-6)
  4. Stanford Cardinal (11-7)
  5. UCLA Bruins (11-7)
  6. California Golden Bears (9-9)
  7. Washington Huskies (9-9)
  8. Oregon Ducks (8-10)
  9. Arizona State Sun Devils (7-11)
  10. Washington State Cougars (6-12)
  11. USC Trojans (4-14)
  12. Oregon State Beavers (2-16)

NCAA Tournament Berths (5)

  • Arizona Wildcats (1), Utah Utes (6), Colorado Buffaloes (7), Stanford Cardinal (9), UCLA Bruins (10)

Postseason Awards:

  • Pac-12 Player of the Year:  G Delon Wright, Utah Utes
  • Freshman of the Year: F Stanley Johnson, Arizona Wildcats
  • Defensive Player of the Year:  G Delon Wright, Utah Utes
  • Most Improved Player of the Year: G Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington Huskies

1st Team All-Conference:

  • Anthony Brown, Stanford Cardinal
  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona Wildcats
  • Stanley Johnson, Arizona Wildcats
  • DaVonte Lacy, Washington State Cougars
  • Norman Powell, UCLA Bruins
  • Chasson Randle, Stanford Cardinal
  • Josh Scott, Colorado Buffaloes
  • Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington Huskies
  • Joseph Young, Oregon Ducks
  • Delon Wright, Utah Utes

2nd Team All-Conference:

  • Brandon Ashley, Arizona Wildcats
  • Askia Booker, Colorado Buffaloes
  • Jordan Loveridge, Utah Utes
  • David Kravish, California Golden Bears
  • TJ McConnell, Arizona Wildcats

1st Team All-Conference Defense:

  • David Kravish, California Golden Bears
  • TJ McConnell, Arizona Wildcats
  • Norman Powell, UCLA Bruins
  • Robert Upshaw, Washington Huskies
  • Delon Wright, Utah Utes

Colorado Buffaloes (BOLD) Predictions:

  • Askia Booker will average more than 4 assists per game
  • Josh Scott will average just shy of a double-double this season (16.3ppg, 9.5rpg)
  • Dustin Thomas will at least double his 3PT% from last season, when he shot 18.2%
  • Freshman Tory Miller will play more minutes this season than freshman Dom Collier
  • Wesley Gordon will average more than 2 blocks per game
  • The Buffs will have 8 players average 5+ PPG this season
  • Colorado will lose just ONE home game in 2014-15
  • Most Valuable Player:  C Josh Scott
  • Most Improved Player:   F Wesley Gordon
  • Most Important Player:  F Xavier Johnson

Let’s get this season underway, the Buffs have a lot of questions to answer!

#RollTad #KeepitReal

Colorado Basketball: The Pac-12 Breakdown

The Pac-12 is coming off one of its stronger years in recent memory, placing six teams into the NCAA Tournament field, including three (Arizona, Stanford, UCLA) that made runs to the Sweet Sixteen.

This year most expect the Pac-12 conference to enter a bit of a recession due to a mass exodus of talent among the league’s teams this off-season for a slew of reasons.

First, the league had a ton of talent declare (or graduate) into the NBA Draft.  This includes lottery picks Aaron Gordon (Arizona) and Zach Lavine (UCLA), along with first round picks Jordan Adams (UCLA), CJ Wilcox (Washington), Josh Huestis (Stanford), and Kyle Anderson (UCLA).  Additionally, Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), Nick Johnson (Arizona), and Dwight Powell (Stanford) were selected in the second round.  Even further, Eric Moreland and Jahii Carson elected to enter the draft early, but went undrafted.  Moreland is currently playing in the D-League, while Carson is playing overseas in Australia.  Graduated UCLA twins David and Travis Wear are also making a splash in NBA waters, with Travis playing for the New York Knicks, and David playing in the D-League.

Additionally, a lot of top notch talent transferred out of their respective programs for a variety of reasons.  One of the best freshmen in the league, Hallice Cooke left Oregon State for Iowa St.  Byron Wesley, one of the league’s leading scorers, bolted USC for the greener pastures of Gonzaga.  Princeton Onwas, a solid role player for resurgent Utah, moved on to San Jose St.

In Oregon, the storyline was far more grave, where the team has been decimated with departures due to rape allegations (Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin), transfers (Ben Carter and AJ Lapray) and graduation (Jason Calliste, Mike Moser, Johnathan Loyd, Richard Amarti, Waverly Austin).  Needless to say, we’re going to see some unfamiliar faces in Eugene this season.

In the previous three installments of this year’s Colorado basketball preview, we broke down every aspect of the team, from the schedule, to the roster, to the numbers.  In this fourth segment, we break down the rest of the Pac-12, providing some context behind what we see forthcoming in Boulder this season.

Just in case, here’s another visual reminder of what TheAirUpHere has upcoming in this five-part series, and of course, links to the previous pieces as well.

Arizona Wildcats: 33-5 (15-3)

  • 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament
  • NCAA Tournament Elite 8 Appearance

Returning:  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley, TJ McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski

Departures:  Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson

Arrivals:  Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Craig Victor, Stanley Johnson, Dusan Ristic

Despite losing studs Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, who both left early for the NBA, there isn’t a team in the league with more talent than Arizona.  Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is expected to be a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, as is frosh standout Stanley Johnson.  Craig Victor and Dusan Ristic arrive as impact freshmen as well, and you can’t leave out Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski. Zeus is a menacing beast who has worked hard to improve his offensive repertoire, and Ashley is an athletic match-up nightmare.  That group represents the best front-court in college basketball.

PG TJ McConnell is the perfect fit for this roster, tenacious defensively and a pass-first pure guard who will have no problem penetrating opposing defenses and handing off to one of his uber-talented sidekicks.

Arizona State Sun Devils:  21-12 (10-8)

  • 3 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament

Returning:  Johnathan Gilling, Shaq McKissic, Bo Barnes

Departures:  Jahii Carson, Jermaine Marshall, Jordan Bachynski

Arrivals:  Connor MacDougall, Tra Holder, Kodi Justice, Savon Goodman, Gerry Blakes

Few teams in the league lost more significant talent than Arizona State heading into this season (nearly 59% of their minutes and 68% of their scoring are now departed).  Jahii Carson was one of the league’s best players, and big man Jordan Bachynski was one of the most dominant rim protectors I can remember in college basketball.  Jermaine Marshall was an underrated piece of the puzzle for the Sun Devils last season as well, averaging over 15ppg.

It is never a good sign when Shaq McKissic and Jon Gilling are your best returning players, and while ASU brought in a solid freshmen class, they likely aren’t going to have enough impact to return this program to the NCAA Tournament this season.  That said, rumor is that Tra Holder has been fantastic in camp, and Kodi Justice, Gerry Blakes, and Connor MacDougall will be integral pieces for this group as well.  Transfer Savon Goodman is a tough player who should help their depth issues when he becomes eligible in mid-December.

California Golden Bears:  21-14 (10-8)

  • 4 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 2 seed in the NIT Tournament
  • NIT Elite 8 Appearance

Returning:  Jabari Bird, Tyrone Wallace, David Kravish, Jordan Mathews

Departures:  Richard Solomon, Justin Cobbs, Ricky Kreklow

Arrivals:  Dwight Tarwater, Kingsley Okoroh

There is no denying the talent at the top for California, despite losing studs Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon to graduation. Their sophomore class just oozes with potential, with Jabari Bird still being considered a potential lottery pick despite an underwhelming freshman campaign.  Jordan Mathews is a crafty player who can score in a variety of fashions.  Tyrone Wallace has steadily improved in his two years in Berkeley, but can he improve his outside game enough to complement his lethal ability to attack the paint off the dribble.  That said, there wasn’t a player more clutch in crunch time than Cobbs, and Solomon was one of the league’s best big men.  They will be sorely missed on a roster lacking any semblance of depth.

The problem, as hinted above, is their front court.  David Kravish is a capable big man with a tremendous spot up game and remains a quality defensive presence and a plus shot blocker.  But then…who?  Christian Behrens is probably the next man standing, but he’s proven little thus far and Cornell transfer Dwight Tarwater is undersized.  Freshman Kingsley Okoroh may be forced to play significant minutes this season, which has to be a concern for the Golden Bears.

Colorado Buffaloes:  23-12 (10-8)

  • 5 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament

Returning:  Askia Booker, Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott, Wesley Gordon, Xavier Talton

Departures:  Spencer Dinwiddie

Arrivals:  Domonique Collier, Tory Miller

Last season was undoubtedly a tale of two halves.  Heading into Washington, the Buffs sat 15-2, were ranked #15 in the country, and were considered to be a legitimate threat to make an NCAA Tournament run.  Down goes Spencer Dinwiddie, and down goes the dream.  The Buffs limped to an 8-10 finish down the stretch, and struggled to score consistently.

Luckily, no team in the Pac-12 has more returning than the Buffs statistically.  Dinwiddie, now in the NBA, is the team’s lone departure, and the Buffs still have plenty of talent on the shelf.  Josh Scott is the Pac-12’s top returning rebounder, and he’s probably a dark horse candidate for Pac-12 Player of the Year.  Askia Booker will look to assume the team’s leadership role in Dinwiddie’s absence, and will look to reign in his sporadic play.  Xavier Johnson, despite a disappointing sophomore season, might be one of the league’s most underrated players.  He’s among the league’s top ten returning scorers, and top eight returning rebounders.  Wesley Gordon was one of the better freshmen in the Pac-12 last season, but will need to be more assertive offensively this season.

The depth will be what determines this team’s future, though.  Sophomores Tre Fletcher, Dustin Thomas, and Jaron Hopkins all showed flashed last season, but someone must step up and become a consistent and reliable weapon for this team to make the next step.  Freshmen Dom Collier (elite defensive capabilities) and Tory Miller (physicality) provide unique attributes last year’s roster sorely missed.

Oregon Ducks:  24-10 (10-8)

  • 7 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament
  • NCAA Tournament 3rd Round Appearance

Returning:  Joseph Young, Elgin Cook

Departures:  Johnathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, Brandon Austin, Waverly Austin, Jason Calliste, Ben Carter, AJ Lapray, Mike Moser, Richard Amarti

Arrivals:  Jordan Bell, Ahmaad Rorie, Dwyane Benjamin, Michael Chandler

As mentioned above, no team in the country has been decimated more savagely than Oregon.  Seniors Jason Calliste, Mike Moser, Richard Amarti, and Johnathan Loyd provided veteran leadership to a strong group of young talent.  Damyean Doston, Brandon Austin, and Dominic Artis were all unmistakably talented, but now they’re unmistakably absent after getting kicked off the team amidst rape allegations.  On a positive note, Joseph Young, one of the league’s best players, is returning, as is quality starter and fellow transfer Elgin Cook.

The Ducks will once again lean heavily on transfers with Dwyane Benjamin and Michael Chandler likely to earn starting roles this season after playing elsewhere previously.  Freshman Jordan Bell has been turning heads in the preseason, and you can expect to see Ahmaad Rorie for extended minutes as well.  There’s no doubt the Ducks are in for a tough season, but if they can gel together, they may be able to surprise come conference play.

Oregon State:  16-16 (8-10)

  • 10 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • CBI Tournament appearance

Returning:  Langston Morris-Walker, Malcolm Duvivier, Victor Robbins, Olaf Schaftenaar

Departures:  Roberto Nelson, Eric Moreland, Devon Collier, Angus Brandt, Challe Barton

Arrivals:  Gary Payton

The talent was there in Corvallis last season, but as was commonplace with Craig Robinson, the pieces never fell together.  Robinson is now gone, and replacing him is Wayne Tinkle, who has already made a significant impact on recruiting.  Unfortunately, those pieces aren’t arriving until next season, and the Beavers will be without their top four contributors from last season, including the conference’s leading scorer in Roberto Nelson and leading rebounder (had he played enough games to be eligible) in Eric Moreland.

Left is Langston Morris-Walker, a solid contributor last season no doubt, but when he’s your best player things aren’t projecting well.  Gary Payton’s son is now on campus, but he’s a ways away from matching his dad’s contributions.  Don’t fret though Beavers fans, Coach Tinkle will get this program headed in the right direction.

Stanford Cardinal:  23-12 (10-8)

  • 6 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 10 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Appearance

Returning:  Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown, Stefan Nastic

Departures:  Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis

Arrivals:  Reid Travis, Michael Humphrey, Robert Cartwright, Dorian Pickens

Chasson Randle is probably one of the two preseason favorites for Pac-12 Player of the Year, and Anthony Brown was the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player last year.  Nastic blew up at the end of the season and will be one of the league’s most talented big men this year.  The question on the Farm, though, will be can this team guard?  They lose two of the league’s best defenders in Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, who were both animals on the glass as well.

Their incoming freshmen class is by far the most talented they’ve brought in for years.  Reid Travis will be an immediate impact freshman most likely, and they should return to the NCAA Tournament with any production from the remaining trio of Michael Humphrey, Robert Cartwright, and Dorian Pickens, all ranked within the Rivals150.

UCLA Bruins:  28-9 (12-6)

  • 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament
  • NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Appearance

It might not be a stretch to say that UCLA lost more talent than ANYONE in college basketball from last season, pretty incredible given Kansas boasts the #1 and #3 overall picks.  Get this though, they lost three first round picks (Zach Lavine, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson) and the Wear twins, Travis is playing on the Knicks, and David is in the D-League.  That’s an entire starting five playing on an NBA/D-League roster!

Luckily, they remain UCLA, and thus, there is talent in the wings.  Norman Powell is one of my favorite players in the Pac-12, a do-it-all physical bulldog of a guard who should make a name for himself this season.  Tony Parker has the talent and size to be an elite NCAA big man, but he’s been less than consistent and will need to get into better shape this season.  Bryce Alford will be asked to run the offense full-time this year, will he step up, or prove he looked elite passing to elite players last season?  Transfer Isaac Hamilton is now eligible, but it remains to be seen just how productive he can be despite his immense talents.

The freshmen class brings a lot of big names, most notably Kevon Looney.  Many have pegged him as the best freshmen in the league, even above Stanley Johnson, but in my eyes, its always a risky proposition to put so much pressure on freshmen to contribute at that level.  Their depth is undoubtedly suspect, any significant injury or an underwhelming start could put them in a bit of trouble, but its also reasonable to project them to have another big season.  They probably represent the biggest unknown in the conference right now.

USC Trojans:  11-21 (2-16)

  • 12 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament

Returning:  Julian Jacobs, Nikola Jovanovic

Departures:  Omar Oraby, PeShon Howard, JT Terrell, DJ Haley, Byron Wesley

Arrivals:  Jordan McLaughlin, Elijah Stewart, Malik Martin, Katin Reinhardt

Dunk City hasn’t flown out to the West Coast quite yet for head coach Andy Enfield, but the recruiting has certainly picked up, so the Trojans are definitely trending upwards.  Unfortunately, they’ve got a long ways to go before they find relevancy.  Byron Wesley transferring to Gonzaga really hurt the Trojans this off-season, effectively ending their chances of making a huge leap in the conference this year.  Returning are Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic, who both had very productive freshman seasons and will have bright futures in LA.  Joining them is Katin Reinhardt, a local kid who transferred back home after playing for UNLV two seasons ago.  Reinhardt is extremely talented offensively, capable of creating his own shot at any time, but he struggles to guard.

This team is extremely young, with freshmen Jordan McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart expected to play big roles next to their trio of sophomores, and that lack of veteran leadership will likely show at the end of games this year.  The experience gained, though, will be vital for future seasons, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see USC find themselves in the top half of the league in a few years time.

Utah Utes:  21-12 (9-9)

  • 8 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament
  • 4 seed in the NIT Tournament

Returning:  Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor, Dillon Bachynski

Departures:  Princeton Onwas, Renan Lenz

Arrivals:  Brekkot Chapman, Kyle Kuzma

Many thought last year’s Utah squad was good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament, but their embarrassing non-conference slate failed to impress the committee and their inability to win close games down the stretch sealed their fate. The out of conference schedule won’t be an issue this season, with match-ups vs. San Diego St, Wichita St, BYU, Kansas, and UNLV looming.  Last year, they were able to fly under the radar and surprise teams throughout, but this year, the national spotlight will be upon them, as they enter the year ranked #25.  Will they wilt under the pressure, or prove the pundits right?

Delon Wright is the best player in the conference, lethal defensively with his length, and nearly impossible to guard on the other end.  If Wright can become a reliable outside shooter, you might as well just turn out the lights on trying to game plan him.  Jordan Loveridge is making the transition to small forward after playing inside, and his versatile skill set should allow him to thrive on the wing.  Incoming freshman Brekkot Chapman is the highest ranked recruit Utah has landed in awhile, and his presence inside next to Dillon Bachynski will really be the key to their success this season.  Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker are quality rotation pieces that will be reliable throughout the season.

Washington Huskies:  17-15 (9-9)

  • 9 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament

Returning:  Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Jernard Jarreau, Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson, Shawn Kemp Jr.

Departures:  CJ Wilcox, Perris Blackwell, Desmond Simmons

Arrivals:  Robert Upshaw, Donaven Dorsey

This group probably represents the league’s biggest chance for a dark-horse NCAA Tournament participant.  Last year, they were just middling in all aspects, but Nigel Williams-Goss was fantastic last year as a freshman and will likely be among the league’s All-Conference teams come March.  Andrew Andrews is a little-recognized guard who could have a huge impact this season if he can improve his FG%, and Jernard Jarreau has the potential to be a big time player if he can stay healthy.  They will obviously miss CJ Wilcox’s perimeter talent and Perris Blackwell’s veteran toughness, but there are pieces here.

Robert Upshaw will ultimately be the X-factor on this team’s success, however. The big man was one of the nation’s best big man prospects a few years ago, struggled at Fresno St, but has looked phenomenal this off-season and will be a big-impact rim protector for the Huskies this season.

Washington State Cougars:  10-21 (3-15)

  • 11 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament

Returning:  DaVonte Lacy, Dexter Kernich-Drew, Junior Longrus, Que Johnson

Departures:  DJ Shelton, Royce Woolridge

Arrivals:  Jackie Davis

The good news?  DaVonte Lacy returns this season.

The bad news?  Most of the rest of the roster from Washington State returns this season.

But in all seriousness, the Cougars should be much improved this season, but that may not mean all that much.  DaVonte Lacy is a lethal scorer capable of blowing up on any given night.  Que Johnson is a quality complementary piece, as is Dexter Kernich-Drew, who can shoot the lights out.  Junior Longrus could blossom into a quality Pac-12 performer as well, his length and potential seems limitless.

Unfortunately, their big man in the middle, DJ Shelton, has graduated, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of their defense.  Royce Woolridge also transferred out, and without a freshmen of any notoriety, the Cougars will remain a few years away from competing in the Pac-12.

Be on the lookout for the final piece of this preseason breakdown, where TheAirUpHere breaks down all of the info you’ve seen over the previous four segments, and predicts how the Pac-12 season will play out, along with specific team predictions related to your Colorado Buffaloes.

Colorado Basketball: The Numbers

Game week has finally arrived!

On Friday, Tad Boyle, Askia Booker, and the rest of your Colorado Buffaloes men’s basketball team will welcome the Drexel Dragons to the Coors Event Center to tip-off the season.

Previously in this five-part series previewing the upcoming season, we spent time breaking down this year’s schedule, and going in-depth on this year’s roster.  If you missed the previous two segments, you can find them linked below, along with a preview of what you’ll see in the final two pieces, coming out later this week.

In this middle ground segment, we break down Colorado basketball through the numbers, a favorite topic of mine on social media outlets and on this blog. The focus will be on several key statistics that the Buffs must improve on to take that next step into becoming an NCAA Tournament threat to advance, as well as some other numbers that I think you all will find interesting.

.85/1

The Buffs assist/turnover ratio last season, ranking them 291st in the country.  This number has been the Buffs biggest off-season priority according to head coach Tad Boyle.  With Spencer Dinwiddie no longer in Boulder, the Buffs lack an elite scorer and their ability to create for others becomes even more vital this upcoming season.  Ball movement would certainly be a solid remedy for the prolonged scoring droughts we’ve seen over the past few seasons.

31.8%

The percentage of three pointers Colorado made last season, just 289th in the country.  This roster once again lacks an elite perimeter shooter, but guys like Xavier Johnson, Xavier Talton, Tre Fletcher, and Askia Booker will be relied upon to improve this number this season.  Even a modest improvement to 35% (a number Tad Boyle has targeted in interviews this off-season as well) would make a significant impact on the offense this season.

14.1/8.4

The points and rebounds per game averages for big man Josh Scott last season.  The casual basketball fan would tell you those numbers are fairly pedestrian, and without context, that might in fact be true.  However, college basketball is a guard dominated sport, and thus, big men traditionally see their numbers stunted.  For proof, just six centers were ranked among the NCAA’s top 250 scorers last season, and none of them played in a power five conference.  His rebounding numbers are good enough to place him 60th nationally, but he’s 10th among P5 players, and 4th in the Pac-12.  No returning player in the Pac-12 averaged more rebounds than Josh Scott last season.

68.2

The points per game that Colorado’s defense gave up last season, good for 119th nationally.  That may seem like an underwhelming statistic, but that ranked the Buffs 4th in the Pac-12, just behind Arizona, Utah, and Washington St.  If they can maintain that ranking within their conference, and improve offensively by working on the aforementioned numbers above, they should find themselves among the league leaders in the standings this upcoming season.

+5.9

Colorado’s rebounding margin last season, 2nd in the conference behind Arizona and among the best margins nationally.  They were first in the Pac-12 in DReb %, and second in the league in OReb %.  Those who follow the program know that Tad Boyle preaches rebounding and defense above all else, so the expectation will be set that these numbers are maintained throughout this season as well.

90.9% / 88.2% / 93.67% / 81.36% / 86.95% / 95.65%

These numbers represent the percentage of returning minutes, points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks for Colorado basketball this season.  Those are staggering numbers that really highlight the amount of experience we have returning this season, we can no longer use youth as an excuse.

Those returning percentages rank 1st in the Pac-12 in every single category outside of assists, where the Buffs rank 2nd behind Utah.  In fact, no other team outside of Utah has 80% returning production in any single category.

3

The number of Buffs that rank among the top ten returning scorers in the Pac-12 conference.  Josh Scott (5), Askia Booker (6), and Xavier Johnson (10) make Colorado the lone team to boast three players among this list.  This number also represents the number of Buffs among the top eight returning rebounders in the conference.  Josh Scott (1), Wesley Gordon (6), and Xavier Johnson (7) once again make Colorado the only team to have three players appear on that list.

Finally…these two Askia Booker stats made me double take…

81.8%

Askia Booker’s FT % last season, 7th in the conference and the 2nd highest returning percentage this season (behind Oregon’s Joseph Young).  He shot just 3.9 FTs per game, however, a number he needs to improve on this season to take advantage of his improved numbers there.  Josh Scott’s 81.0% ranked 9th in the league last year, and makes him the 3rd best returning FT shooter in the conference.

1.32/1

Booker’s A/TO ratio last season, which shockingly, ranked 11th in the conference last season and 6th among players returning this year.  For a player who has been crucified (and before I saw this, I would have said rightfully so) for costly turnovers, that is a pretty respectable number.

Colorado Basketball: The Roster

November has arrived, ladies and gentlemen!  Just in time, too, after watching the football program blow yet another 2nd half lead with costly turnovers and mind-numbing mistakes.

We are now just nine days away from #RollTad, well, rolling in to the Coors Event Center for the first time this season.  A few weeks ago, we took the inaugural step in reviewing this year’s version of the BasketBuffs by breaking down the schedule, and here we’re moving on to the second step, the roster.

This year’s group should represent the deepest we’ve seen in the Tad Boyle era, with a plethora of talented second unit players, and a starting five who’ve started 224 career games. Boyle has hinted that he will use that depth to try and play more uptempo this season, a move that would further take advantage of Colorado’s unique built in asset, the altitude.

Here is a reminder on what else we have on tap in the coming days.

  • Colorado Basketball:  The Schedule
  • Colorado Basketball:  The Roster
  • Colorado Basketball:  The Numbers
  • Colorado Basketball:  The Pac-12 Breakdown
  • Colorado Basketball:  The Predictions

I wanted to move away from ranking the players individually so I’ve grouped them by their likely impact on the team, and placed them into three separate groups.

The Walk-Ons:

Walk-ons are always the crowd favorite, everyone loves an underdog, and typically their insertion into the line-up marks a comfortable victory for the Buffs.  This year, the roster features four walk-ons, including newcomer Josh Repine, formerly of local Kent Denver HS.  Returning are Geoffrey Bates, Brett Brady, and Kevin Nelson.  Nelson probably boasts the most decorated career, originally signing with MWC power New Mexico out of high school.  Injuries derailed his time there and he’s played in spot minutes here in Boulder.  Brett Brady, also from a local HS (Highlands Ranch) dazzled the crowd at a recent open scrimmage by playing tenacious defense and turning that effort into several easy buckets in transition.  He’s a plus shooter but don’t get too far ahead of yourselves, he won’t see minutes outside of garbage time like the rest of this lot most likely.

The Bench:

The highest rated prep Colorado prep hoopster outside of Josh Scott since Chauncey Billups, Domonique Collier has generated quite the buzz since his commitment to Tad Boyle and the Buffaloes in May 2013.  He’s also the first Denver-area kid to commit to play in Boulder in nearly 40 years.  Collier is an undersized PG prospect, but he’s already added noticeably weight since his arrival on campus, and his tenacity as a defender has to have Boyle drooling.  He’s shown a knack for creating for himself and others while attacking the paint, and his long ball has improved drastically in recent years.  Unfortunately, he rolled his ankle a few weeks back and has been unable to participate in practice, further delaying his development.  The Buffs need his presence in the back court, especially defensively, so hopefully he’s able to get back on track soon.

Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury obviously had a major impact on the team last season, but lost among that hoopla was the absence of TreShaun Fletcher, arguably the Buffs’ most impressive freshman throughout the first half of last year’s campaign.  Fletcher, who was progressing at the time of his injury, had played double digit minutes in seven of his previous ten appearances.  His significant knee injury kept him out for essentially the rest of the year, as his rust was evident upon his return in the Pac-12 Tournament and he scored just two combined points in the four games he saw action in after his return.  He flashed signs of brilliance attacking the rim, and possesses a smooth lefty release on the perimeter that suggests he could be a reliable weapon from outside the arc in future seasons.  Additionally, he uses his length effectively on the defensive side of the court, and could be the perimeter stopper the Buffs lacked in the second half of last season.

Unquestionably, the most productive true freshman season belonged to Jaron Hopkins.  The ultra-athletic combo guard started 9 games for the Buffs last season, averaging a respectable 4.9/2.5/1 while playing a healthy 638 minutes.  He also shot 38% from 3PT range, a pleasant surprise for a player who has a noticeable hitch in his release and has never been viewed as a quality perimeter shooter.  Boyle initially tried to slot him into more of a ball-handling role, which, to put it simply, turned out to be a failed experiment.  His questionable handles made it difficult for him to avoid turnover spells, and he struggled to enter the ball into the post.  He appeared much more comfortable on the wing and slashing off-ball to the cup, a role that played to his strength as an athlete and a finisher.  Jaron also committed 77 fouls last season, the second most on the team despite playing the 6th most minutes.  He’s an aggressive defender who excelled as a prep athlete, but this level comes with a healthy dose of humble pie.  As he gets more accustomed to the speed at the college level, I’d expect his defensive prowess will start to show.  The rumblings are that Boyle has focused with J Hop improving his PG skills in the offseason, so we can expect to see him in that role again this season.  We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

Lack of size has been a consistent roster flaw for Colorado.  Tad Boyle made it a priority to find an additional big to take pressure off of Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott to body up with some of the conference’s bigger teams in the post.  Enter Tory Miller.  Miller is a physical specimen who played at New Hampton Prep (like former walk-on Beau Gamble and current walk-on Josh Repine) and also played AAU ball with fellow frosh Dom Collier.  He’s a brute rebounder with sufficient athleticism and a developing touch around the hoop.  He’s the perfect complement to Josh Scott and will no doubt be a frustration for opposing big men.

With the arrival of Collier, there may be limited minutes for Eli Stalzer this season.  A late addition to the 2012 class, Boyle loved the focus Stalzer brought to the intangibles of the game.  He’s the consummate team guy, does what he’s asked, moves the ball, and only shoots when open.  His development hasn’t progressed how many had hoped when he arrived here, but in spot minutes, he can be relied upon to make the right play.

There probably isn’t a guy on the roster looking forward to this season more than Dustin Thomas.  Thomas had people buzzing leading up to last season, where the word was that he was an elite scorer with a repertoire of offensive moves that would make him dangerous for opponents.  His feathery stroke made it seem like every single shot would fall, but last year, not many did.  His confidence clearly diminished as the season got underway, he couldn’t make shots, he couldn’t defend without fouling, and he struggled to box out bigger opponents.  Thomas played small school ball in Texas, and he clearly struggled to tweak his game to succeed against bigger and more athletic opponents.  He also turned the ball over 49 times, an incredibly high number for someone who played limited minutes and didn’t have the ball in his hands much.  In summary, last year didn’t go as planned for Thomas, and he’s itching to get some revenge.  The talent is there, we saw that in brief glimpses last season, if he can trust his game and stay within the flow of the offense, and work hard defensively, Thomas could be the X-factor that pushes this team to the next level this season.

The Starting Five:

The little engine that could… more like the little engine that must.  That “little engine” is Askia Booker, the single-most important piece for this year’s Colorado basketball program.  When he plays well, this team is extremely dangerous, when he doesn’t, it all falls apart.  Last season, Booker shot better than 40% in just two of Colorado’s losses.  This team often goes how he goes, and now he’ll be relied upon to lead this team, both off the court and on it.  He must continue to push the pace and finish with efficiency on the break, but he also needs to be able to balance that attack with persistent patience in the half-court set, limiting turnovers and drastically improving his assist totals.  He’s worked hard to gain weight in the off-season hoping to improve his finishing ability as he’s severely undersized.  He also needs to become a defensive leader, not a gambler, in his senior season.  He’s got the quickness, but he hasn’t shown consistent effort on that end.  There aren’t many players as entertaining to watch as “Ski”, but that sentence would be true if you replaced entertaining with frustrating as well.  That must change for the Buffs to become an elite team.

There isn’t a player on the roster I was harder on than Wesley Gordon last season.  His defensive reputation seemed to exceed his effectiveness on that end last season, but there’s little doubt the foundation is in place.  Gordon is an elite athlete and a natural rim protector, but he’s undersized for that role and he doesn’t rebound as well as his skills would suggest.  Of course, I often forget Gordon was just a redshirt freshman last season, and his development is still in the beginning stages.  Last season, he was hesitant to impact the game offensively, often passing up quality looks for nearly impossible passes, causing a slew of unforced turnovers.  He also struggled to finish at the foul line, and was ineffective on jump shots.  Gordon worked hard in the off-season to gain weight, and now looks more prepared to take on a season’s worth of paint pounding.  If he can improve his impact on the offensive end of the floor, and make more impact players defensively, he has a chance to be one of the league’s more improved players this season.

I think most, himself included, would characterize last season as a disappointment for Xavier Johnson.  After a promising freshmen season, Johnson took a step back in many ways.  He shot just 46% last season (down from 52% as a frosh), and just 36% from 3PT range (also down from 44% as a frosh).  It also can’t be denied, though, that he turned it up immensely after Spencer Dinwiddie got injured.  In his first 15 games, Johnson averaged just 10.1ppg, and attempted more than 10 FGs exactly 0 times.  In the 18 games post-injury, he put up 13.6ppg and took on a more productive offensive role, putting up 10+ FGs in nine games.  He’ll be asked to shoulder a similar load this season, and his focus should be on maintaining positive energy after dealing with adversity.  He’s hard on himself, too hard on himself.  His energy is infectious, and when he’s engaged, this team is fun to watch, but when he sulks, the energy quickly gets sucked out of his teammates.

Josh Scott has often been unfairly compared to Tim Duncan because of their similar focus on basketball fundamentals, similar build, and average verticality.  He’ll never be “The Big Fundamental” but Scott could easily be called “The Big Reliable”.  Scott tallied double digit scoring efforts in 31 of his 35 appearances last season, and posted at least seven rebounds in 27 of those games.  His footwork is unmatched by any college-level big, and his ability to finish with both hands makes defending him a headache.  Oddly, he favors his left (he’s a natural righty), and at times, relies on that too heavily.  A more balanced attack would serve him well around the rim.  He continues to put on pounds of muscle, and he’ll now compare favorably physically against most bigs he faces.  He struggled to pass out of double teams last season, a skill he’s worked hard at this summer, and hopefully he’ll focus on finishing with authority at the rim as well.  The college game is dominated by guard play, but Askia Booker and the rest of the guards must hammer the ball into Scott in the post until his hands bleed, he’s that good.

The final piece of the starting puzzle was probably the Buffs’ most improved player last season.  Xavier Talton has been overlooked his entire life, so when he’s the guy most pundits want a younger player to replace in the starting line-up, he isn’t phased.  He’s a capable defender with long arms, and he’s really come on as a spot-up shooter.  He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but he’s a well rounded guard who fits well next to Askia Booker’s game.  He often passes up shots in favor of ball movement, but those are shots he needs to start taking more often as one of the Buffs’ better shooters.  His defensive mindset has always been good, but he goes through stretches where he earns silly fouls, if he can avoid that this season he should find himself more effective against Pac-12 guards.

Be on the lookout for the third piece of this series, Colorado Basketball:  The Numbers, coming soon!