Boyle came out swinging at CU's media day, opening up his statements by proclaiming, “Right now, if I had to describe this team in one word, it would be overrated.” Admittedly, Boyle is known to favor tempering expectations prior to the season starting, but that statement would qualify as more brash than standard. Only time will tell whether he was foreshadowing a drop in production for these Buffs or just offering a tasty bit of motivation for his veteran ball club.
In the second installment of the Colorado basketball season preview, we break down this year’s roster and get you educated on this year’s group of guys.
There will be plenty of familiar faces running around Sox Walseth court this winter, but none have the presence of the now departed Josh Scott. Scott was undoubtedly one of the best basketball players ever to play in Boulder, and his reliability and defensive prowess will be missed dearly. The Buffs can probably replace his scoring without much concern, but there isn’t a player on the roster capable of duplicating his ability to defend the rim and create more offensive possessions through his relentless rebounding. While easily the most important piece, he’s not the only departure from the program. Xavier Talton has graduated as well, and while he had a tumultuous four years at Colorado, he was a vital rotation player for the Buffs. A capable perimeter shooter and willing defender, you were never quite sure what you’d get in Talton, but there’s no doubt he won CU several games throughout his time in Boulder. He often played down the stretch of games because of his perimeter defensive skills, and he was a reliable free-throw shooter in the clutch as well, hitting over 90 percent in his senior year. Treshaun Fletcher is no longer with the program, choosing to transfer in search of more playing time. Similar to Talton, Fletcher had a frustrating few years in Boulder, often showing flashes of brilliance, but also struggling through prolonged stretches where he lacked confidence on the court. He possessed the tools to be a prolific defender, but he was never able to lock in consistently on that end. Also departed are little-used reserves Kenan Guzonjic and Eli Stalzer, the former transferring down a level, and the latter graduating. It would be hard to argue that Guzonjic moving on wasn’t an addition by subtraction situation, he just wasn’t capable of playing at this level.
The next question becomes, can Tad Boyle replace these key departures effectively? When one of those replacements has been a reliable weapon in your program previously, those odds certainly increase. Enter Xavier Johnson. Enigmatic, emotional, but undeniably talented, Johnson is fully recovered from last season’s Achilles injury that sidelined him the entire campaign. This year’s bunch needs a vocal leader, and 'X.J.' must be that man. No one can energize the Coors Event Center the way Johnson can, but he also must learn to control his emotions. When they get the best of him, he can become a liability. His versatility makes him dangerous above all else. He’s effective in the post, from long range, and his length can cause problems defensively or on the glass for opponents. It isn’t often that a Division II player can walk onto the practice court for a high-major NCAA Tournament team and stand out. Make no mistake though, Derrick White did just that. A smooth scorer who excels as a finisher through the lane, White is a capable long-distance shooter who has the poise and handle to be a consistent playmaker for this offense. He’s not an elite athlete, so his ability to defend opposing guards will be questioned until he’s a more proven commodity. Freshman standout Lucas Siewert appears ready to be an immediate impact player for the Buffs offensively. The 6-foot-10 big man has a silky smooth perimeter game, and he has the frame to hold up in the post as well. He’ll have a rocky transition to this level defensively at times, but there’s no doubt he’ll be a burden for opposing defenses this season. Fellow incoming freshman Bryce Peters will likely find himself in the rotation as well. His defensive intensity fits right into Coach Boyle’s philosophy and he’s a tremendous athlete. He will need to work on his patience offensively, and his jump shot needs some mechanical corrections before he becomes reliable most likely.
Three additions are unlikely to see the floor this year. Missouri transfer Namon Wright will be saddled to the bench this year due to NCAA transfer rules. Wright can be described as a plus athlete and valuable perimeter defender, he’s capable of high-volume scoring spurts but he lacks ideal efficiency. He’ll be a capable replacement for several departing wings when eligible next season. Freshmen Deleon Brown, Dallas Walton, and Alex Strating are rumored to be redshirting this upcoming season. Brown is an undersized two who has unusual length that he uses defensively. The resemblance in his game to former NBA wing Delonte West is uncanny. Slow down, he won’t provide us that level of production. But his build, silky left-handed approach, and mannerisms all point to a similar style of game. Walton has quickly proven himself as a legitimate high-major big man. He already looks comfortable defensively, he can step out and shoot with ease from the perimeter, and his frame is more ready than expected coming in. You can tell the game is moving quickly for him offensively to this point, however, and he could use another season to build up his lower half and recover more gradually from his ACL issues in high school. Strating is a physical wing that will provide some physicality during his redshirt year. We will have to watch his development closely, but I wouldn’t be comfortable setting the expectation he will be anything other than a low-end rotation piece in Boulder.
The Buffs have plenty of veteran talent left in the cupboard as well. No one in the Pac-12 shot the ball more efficiently from three than George King last season. Now the next step in his development must be to create opportunities for his teammates, while developing a mindset that in crunch time, he runs the show. He’s a high-flier who can score from anywhere on the court, that needs to be the case every single night. He improved dramatically defensively last year, if he can avoid mental lapses on that end, he’ll be a legitimate two-way player. The Buffs have a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Wesley Gordon. He won’t have Josh Scott standing next to him in the paint anymore, which means it is time for Gordon to step up. He’s been electric with Josh Scott out with injury in the past, but often too passive when Scott was available. He’s improved his outside jumper, hitting 40 percent from three-point range last season, but now he must focus on finishing over (and through) contact in the paint. For the Buffs to reach their potential this season, he needs to be a double-double candidate every night. Josh Fortune represents the most polarizing figure on the Colorado roster. Sometimes unconscious, other times inexplicable, Fortune must focus on being a reliable weapon off the bench this year. He’s arguably the Buffs best perimeter defender, and he’s an elite shooter, but he often times attacks where there is no space and is a turnover machine, especially in crucial moments. The addition of Derrick White should relieve him of some ball handling responsibilities that didn’t suit his skill set. If Fortune can focus on playing a controlled game and being a lethal weapon on the outside, he could be a very valuable piece this season. It is now or never for former Colorado preps standout Dom Collier. His development has caused a lot of frustration throughout the fan base, so much so that at this point he’s probably underappreciated. He struggles to finish through contact due to his size, and his defensive potential hasn’t been reached because his athleticism is more limited than advertised coming out of high school. Quietly though, last year he dramatically improved his shooting percentages while nearly doubling his assist, steal, and scoring totals from his freshman year. If he can post similar improvement across the board this season, he’ll make some noise for the Buffs. If not, Thomas Akyazili will be ready to take the reigns. Akyazili provided fans with an up-tempo basketball showcase in his freshman campaign, until he shot the ball. He’s electric in transition, a physical defender, a terrific passer, but his shooting numbers were awful. If he can improve those shooting percentages with any rate of success, this kid has all the intangibles to be an all-conference floor leader as an upperclassman. No one on the roster has transformed physically more effectively than Tory Miller. The big man is absolutely chiseled; opponents will experience some misery keeping him off the offensive glass. He needs to improve defensively, especially off the ball as a shot blocker. Offensively, he rushes and often takes bad shots, he needs to let the game come to him and create opportunities on the offensive glass. He’ll put a few people on a poster throughout the year, this much we know.
Collectively, this group is arguably Tad Boyle’s deepest since his arrival in Boulder, but they lack a go-to guy, when adversity hits, who will be there to calm the troops? The strength of this roster lies within its versatility; Boyle will be able to feast on matchup issues created by their ability to run out multiple lineups. George King and Xavier Johnson will be able take smaller defenders inside or punish larger defenders on the wings. As far as concerns, college basketball typically lends itself to guard play, and the Buffs have struggled there in recent years. Can Thomas Akyazili or Dom Collier make enough strides to lead this team to another NCAA Tournament berth?