Lots of unknowns as Buffs enter Pac-12
Tad Boyle is resisting the characterization that Colorado is in a full-blown rebuilding mode this season.
Instead, Colorado's second-year coach sees his squad as being in what he called a transitional mode, one that includes
moving into the newly configured Pacific 12 Conference from its previous home in Big 12.
"I don't want to consider it rebuilding because we have a chance to be better than people think," Boyle said. "We definitely did lose a lot, and you're not going to replace Alec Burks and Cory Higgins. Those kids, they're very, very special. But we can be a different team. We can be a team that's maybe a little more balanced offensively, and if we do that, I think we'll be hard to guard."
With the early departure of Burks to the NBA and the loss of Higgins, Levi Knutson, and Marcus Relphorde to graduation, the Buffaloes lost about 75 percent of their total scoring from a squad that last season reached the NIT semifinals, won a school-record 24 games and ranked 12th in the nation in scoring (79.6 ppg).
Returning lettermen Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault, along with Andre Roberson, who led the Buffs in rebounding last season as a true freshman, will be counted on to pick up their games offensively to help fill the void left by the loss of the team's top scorers.
Newcomers Carlon Brown, a senior who sat out last season after transferring from Utah, brings Division I experience and a promising offensive game. Boyle also is high on the potential of incoming freshman guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker. "They're going to play," Boyle said.
Brown led Utah in scoring (12.6 ppg) as a junior two years ago, and Colorado figures to lean on his athleticism and shot-making abilities as it gears up for its new conference competition.
"I think Carlon Brown is going to be critical, because like Cory and Alec did, he has the ability to make plays," Boyle said.
The Buffs' 6-foot-11 center, Shane Harris-Tunks, is on target to return after missing all of last season with a knee injury. He's expected to bolster Colorado's inside game and provide a physical presence down low on the defensive end. Shannon Sharpe, who played in all 38 games as a redshirt sophomore last season, provides additional depth in the back court.
Still, even Boyle admits at this point, he has more questions than answers as Colorado embarks on unchartered territory, from its transition to a young, relatively inexperienced team to its inaugural season in the Pac-12 that will have it playing some schools for the first time in decades.
"You just take it as it comes," Boyle said. "The difference is you just don't have a lot of past experiences draw on. Players don't, the coaching staff doesn't. Everything is new. But they haven't prepared for us, either. So, it's new for them, too."
--Austin Dufault took part in an Athletes in Action tour last spring that went to Macedonia and Kosovo in Eastern Europe for two weeks of exhibition play.
--Andre Roberson, the Buffs' leading rebounder as a freshman last season, will be throwing a little more weight around when he mixes it up on the boards. He has added 15 pounds of muscle through a regimen of offseason workouts. The 6-foot-7 Roberson now weighs 210 pounds.
--With the move to the Pac-12, Colorado will be playing Arizona State and Washington State for the first time in more than 40 years. The Buffs will be making a foray to Los Angeles to play Southern California and UCLA, schools they last played in 1975 and 1977, respectively. Overall, Colorado is 60-57 against schools in the Pac-12, including Utah, which also joined the conference this season.
LAST YEAR: 24-14 overall, 8-8 in the Big 12
HEAD COACH: Tad Boyle, sixth year as head coach (24-14 in one year at Colorado; 80-80 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I want to maintain the momentum. I'm not going to judge this team on the number of wins it makes. I'm going to judge our team based on the amount of improvement we make from November to March. That's how we're going to judge ourselves." -- Coach Tad Boyle, on replicating last season's success.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Nate Tomlinson, SG Carlon Brown, SF Austin Dufault, PF Andre Roberson, C Shane Harris-Tunks.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault, both returning starters, are coming back to new roles. After working in offensive support roles last season, the two are being counted to step up their play-making and shooting to help provide Colorado with the scoring punch it needs following the departures of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins. Carlon Brown, a transfer from Utah, also has the ball-handling and athleticism to become an offensive focal point. Andre Roberson gives Colorado a tough, physical presence on the boards and plays ball-hawking defense, but he'll need to hone his offensive skills. Center Shane Harris-Tunks will be looking to establish himself as a post presence after suffering a knee injury that kept him out all of last season. He applied for and received a medical redshirt and has three years of eligibility remaining.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: The Buffaloes expect immediate contributions from a pair of incoming freshmen, guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Recruited from Southern California, Dinwiddie is a point guard, while Booker is known as a shooter capable of driving the lane and finishing over taller defenders. Dinwiddie is adept at handling the ball and passing it off to teammates in scoring position. Other newcomers who figure to make an impact are Carlon Brown, a senior who sat out last season after transferring from Utah. Also a guard, Brown has explosive moves and speed to bolster Colorado's offense. Another transfer looking to make a push for playing time is wing player Jeremy Adams, who joined the program after a season with Navarro Junior College in Texas. He was an offensive force at Madison (Miss.) Central High School, where he averaged 27.2 ppg as a senior. He could help pick up the scoring slack for Colorado.
--So far, so good for C Shane Harris-Tunks, who is coming off a torn ACL that sidelined him for all of last season. Harris-Tunks' early work in practice was solid. A team spokesman said Harris-Tunks was "conditioned and ready to go."
--G Spencer Dinwiddie was named the Los Angeles City section Player of the Year as a senior at Taft High School in Woodland Hills, Calif. He averaged 11.2 points and 7.7 assists as a senior. He brings to Colorado a track record of floor leadership, instinctive play and a knack for keeping teammates involved on both ends of the floor.
Krystkowiak embarks on a major rebuilding job
New Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak's frustration with coaching in the NBA was the lack of practice time.
"If something is broken," he said, "you can't fix it."
At Utah, he's inherited a program that is broken, and it's his assignment to fix it. He knows it won't be easy.
Utah's third head coach in six seasons, Krystkowiak said details of the challenge are clear.
"There really are no little things," he said. "Just a lot of big things."
The first thing he must do is recruit talent back to the program. After the school fired coach Jim Boylen last spring, eight players left the program, including 6-foot-7 wing Will Clyburn, who averaged 17.1 points and 7.8 rebounds last season and led the team in scoring 18 times.
Clyburn landed at Iowa State, while J.J. O'Brien (6.2 ppg) transferred to San Diego State and Shawn Glover (6.2 ppg) to Oral Roberts.
Only four players are back from last year's team, and they face a season likely to result in a finish near the bottom of the Pac-12.
The Utes' best player is 6-foot senior point guard Josh Watkins, who averaged 14.5 points and 3.5 assists. Krystkowiak may opt to go with a twin-towers approach inside, pairing 7-foot junior Jason Washburn (6.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and 7-3 senior David Foster (2.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Foster was sixth nationally last season with 3.2 blocks per game.
The remainder of the roster includes 13 newcomers, three of them walk-ons.
Krystkowiak knows good basketball. He was a star at Montana under current Cal coach Mike Montgomery, and enjoyed a career in the NBA. He was 42-20 in two seasons as coach at his alma mater.
Getting there at Utah will take some time.
"The wins and losses at the end of the day are the benchmark for everything," Krystkowiak said, "but I'm not overly concerned for 'X' amount of wins. I just want to see some marked improvement as we go through this thing."
--The Coach K era at Utah begins Nov. 14 with a home game against San Diego Christian, an NAIA school that was 8-22 a year. Highlights of the non-conference schedule include playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, an eight-team tournament on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Utah opens the event against Harvard. Other entries include Florida State and Connecticut. The Utes will play big in-state matchups Dec. 10 vs. BYU and Dec. 22 at Weber State.
--The best player in the Utah team photo is the coach. Larry Krystkowiak was a 2,000-point scorer at Montana, then played parts of nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 8.2 points and 4.9 rebounds. His best season was in 1988-89, when he produced 12.7 points and 7.6 rebounds for the Milwaukee Bucks.
--Two of the top players on the roster are transfers not eligible to play until the 2012-13 campaign: Former LSU starter Aaron Dotson and Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year Glen Dean of Eastern Washington, both guards from Seattle. Dotson averaged 6.8 points for LSU in 2010-11, and Dean averaged 12.7 points and 4.3 assists over two seasons with EWU.
LAST YEAR: 13-18 overall, 6-10 in the Mountain West
HEAD COACH: Larry Krystkowiak, third year as head coach (first year at Utah; 42-20 career)
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I haven't worked harder anywhere else than the last few months with Coach K." -- Senior C David Foster, on the impact of new coach Larry Krystkowiak.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP: PG Josh Watkins, SG Chris Hines, SF Anthony Odunsi, PF Jason Washburn, C David Foster.
LINEUP BREAKDOWN: Coach Larry Krystkowiak's lineup figures to be quite fluid, at least until he can sort out his personnel. Even Watkins, the top returning scorer, could face a challenge at point guard from freshman Kareem Storey of Baltimore. Hines, one of four returning squad members, gets a head start at shooting guard but will be challenged by newcomers Anthony Odunsi and Dijon Farr. Krystkowiak could use a pair of 7-footers up front, or he may go with a smaller, quicker lineup that includes 6-6 junior college arrival Javon Dawson at power forward.
SCOUTING THE NEWCOMERS: There are 13 new names on the roster, three of them walk-ons. Those given the best chance to see significant playing time are freshmen Anthony Odunsi, George Matthews and Kareem Storey, and junior college transfers Javon Dawson, Dijon Farr and Cedric Martin. Storey is a pass-first point guard who provides a counterpoint to starter Josh Watkins, a scoring point. Odunsi is a 6-3 wing with a good shooting touch, while Matthews, at 6-7, also is regarded as a perimeter player. Dawson, a 6-6, 260-pounder from Gulf Coast JC, could provide some muscle inside. Farr also is a combo 3-4 man, while Martin is best suited to play shooting guard.
--Senior PG Josh "Jiggy" Watkins scored in double digits in 23 games last season, including five games of 20 or more. He had 24 vs. San Diego State and 23 vs. Pepperdine. He hopes to improve his 26.7 percent 3-point shooting and reduce his turnovers.
--Senior C David Foster, the tallest player in the Pac-12 at 7-foot-3, had more blocked shots (99) than field-goal attempts (80) last season. He had six games of at least five blocks, including a seven-block game vs. Butler.
--Freshman F George Matthews, a 6-foot-7 native of Phoenix, is the only one of ex-coach Jim Boylen's recruits who stayed. He broke his foot in March and was behind in conditioning in the early fall, but he is expected to be fine.
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