2011/12 Pac-12 Preview – Colorado

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by: John Chase

Colorado finished the 2010-2011 season decently enough. A 21-13 record is far from terrible, but their 8-8 in conference is pretty mediocre. To be fair, The Big 12 had offered some fairly stiff competition in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Kansas, and Kansas State. Not the best, but not the worst team in the Big 12, Colorado enters the new Pac-12 in what appears to be a rebuilding year. The Buffaloes have lost five seniors to graduation and sophomore Alec Burks to the NBA draft (The NBA is still in a lockout for those who haven’t heard and the first two weeks of the season have been canceled thus far). The Buffaloes four top scorers (all double digit) are included in the above group and are left with then freshman, now sophomore, Andre Roberson as the returning leading scorer at 6.7 points per game. All told, the Buffaloes have lost 60 points per game out of their 80 point average. To me this looks a lot like the California team of 2010-2011 when they lost five seniors and four of their starting five. Much like the Huskies, the Buffaloes are looking for who can take over a game and light up the hoop. It’s somewhat unfortunate that Colorado wasn’t able to enter the Pac Conference one year earlier to make a better impression, but all signs point to Colorado get stepped all over much like is currently happening on the football side of things.
Key Losses:

Alec Burks 6-6 195lb

Burk was an exceptional player, averaging over 20 points, nearly 7 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. His range game needed some fine tuning, but he was dangerous in the lane for it not to be a problem. He was selected with the 12th pick of the NBA draft by the Utah Jazz. Burks was the driving force of this offense and will be missed sorely by the Buffaloes.

Cory Higgins 6-5 180lb

Another strong shooting guard, the senior averaged 16 points a game and nearly 35% from 3 point range. Higgins knew how do score and did it well throughout his career. His freshman season only averaged 8 points a game, but every year after he averaged between 16 and 18 points a game. Great numbers.

Levi Knutson 6-4 200lb

Knutson took a big step up this previous season, raising his scoring average from 3 points a game to nearly 12. The Buffaloes need someone to follow in Knutson’s footsteps and take a dramatic step up in talent and scoring.

Marcus Relphord 6-7 220lb

Relphord was the only other player to average double digits for Colorado at 11 points a game. Despite his taller size, he only managed 4 boards a game. In some sense this is a good thing for Colorado as they have less searching to do when it comes to rebounding (Andre Roberson is their returning leading rebound at nearly 8 a game).

The Buffaloes also graduated Javon Coney 6-3 210lb and Trent Beckley 6-9 240lb, but neither player saw significant time nor contributed significant stats.

Incoming Freshmen:

To replace the exodus of star guards and a pair of big men, Colorado was able to pick up some promising players in 3 guards and a power forward.

Jeremey Adams 6-5 200lbs

Adams is a transfer from Texas A&M. Rivals rated him a 3 star recruit. I couldn’t find much info on him and I don’t know for certain if he is eligible to play this season as he transferred in March of 2011 from A&M. NCAA rules dictate that most transfer students have to sit out a season. He has already used his redshirt at A&M. 6-5 is a good shooting guard height and he should match up well, in terms of size, to guys like C.J. Wilcox, or Scott Suggs. Not sure what kind of impact he can make, but with a few years of D-1 practice under his belt he should be a solid player for the Buffaloes.

Damiene Cain 6-6 215lb

ESPN has it right when they say Cain is an undersized PF at the high major levels. The Pac-12 is a high major conference and Cain will have difficulty scoring low against the big boys. Thankfully, for him and the Buffs, Cain has a nice outside shot and can make 3 pointers with reasonable accuracy. Unlike Jon Brockman, who was also an undersized paint player, Cain doesn’t have the weight and strength to bang down low consistently. Look for Cain to play as a 3/4 hybrid.

Spencer Dinwiddie 6-3 160lb

Now I’m not one to normally bash on the smaller guys, but Dinwiddie is my size exactly and I have no idea how he is supposed to compete with guys like Terrence Ross or drive the lane against Aziz N’Diaye. Then again, there is a reason I’m here typing this article and not playing the game myself. Dinwiddie has obviously put in the effort and practice to be able to compete despite his thin nature. Dinwiddie is definitely a pass first guard with a slower shot.

Askia Booker 6-1 160lb

Another smaller guard, but a needed replacement in terms of skill set. He has a great shot even outside 20 feet and has some nice dribbling maneuvers that allow him to attack the lane. His major drawback is his tendency to force poor shots or passes in heavy traffic. Colorado will need to get him to calm down a bit and let the play develop more before hustling off a shot. If Booker can minimize his turnovers and get open for shots, he has a legitimate chance to be one of the leading scorers for Colorado.

Returning Players:

Colorado will have some size in their mix this next season with their smallest guy at 6-1 and a fair few between 6-5 and 6-9.

Shannon Sharpe 6-1 200lb

Nate Tomlinson 6-3 190lb

Andre Roberson 6-7 195lb

Austin Dufault 6-9 225lb

Trey Eckloff 6-10 235lb

Ben Mills 7-0 215lb

Looking over the roster, it seems like tall, skinny guys are the theme. Ben Mills will be giving up 60+ pounds to Aziz and even Eckloff is giving up 30+ pounds. Their incoming guards are thin, but those currently on the roster are big enough. Colorado would do themselves a favor by handing out protein shakes a little more often.

Predicted Starting Line-Up:

G: Shannon Sharpe 6-1 200lb
G: Nate Tomlinson 6-3 190lb
G: Jeremy Adams 6-5 200lb
F: Andre Roberson 6-7 195lb
F: Austin Dufault 6-9 225lb

The door is wide open for players to grab starting spots and this line-up is based merely on who got the most play time last season and who has the most experience. Overall this give their starting 5 decent enough size. UW certainly played its fair share of games with a similar line-up and it’s not like we struggled to succeed.

What to Expect:

I don’t see as pretty a year for the Buffaloes as I originally thought. After looking more closely at their roster I can’t imagine that Colorado will win too many games. They should compete with ASU, Utah, and WSU. Maybe play decent enough against Stanford, OSU, or USC, but UW, UA, UCLA, Cal, and even UO should put a whooping on the newcomers.

What I am most sad about is that neither Colorado nor Utah will play at Hec-Ed this season. I know myself and fellow Dawg Pack members were really looking forward to some fresh meat to torture and tease. Colorado misses the Washington road trip and also misses the South Cal schools at home. Not sure if that is a good or bad thing for the Buffs. USC won’t be great this season and WSU definitely should not be that successful either.

UW and UCLA both have some great talent on their respective squads so these two trips seem about equal strength for me. Georgia is the only “big name” team I see on their non-conference schedule so expect to see Colorado do well enough before Pac-12 play rolls around and then pushed around in conference plays.