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Breaking Down the Home Team: Buffs Basketball

Tomorrow Night's game against Arkansas Pine-Bluff will only cost $1 to attend...not to mention they are giving out some sweet t-shirts.  There should be no excuse not to support this very very young team!

I never thought I would say this but it appears that CU football and basketball are in very similar positions at the present point in time.  The Big 12 has been a force in football and basketball for years but Colorado has largely been MIA recently.  The future seems bright for both programs however because of the recent coaching changes.  Dan Hawkins brought a breath of fresh air to the football program and Jeff Bzdelik is doing the same to the basketball team.  It is going to take some time to see consistent results but optimism is abound for the Buffs.

Last year was hopefully the last season where the team looked like it was being coached by Ricardo Patton.  CU went 12-20 on the season which included a 3-13 record in the Big 12 conference.  Season highlights were few and far between.  CU played some good competition outside the Big 12 but the games were never that competitive.  Wisconsin and Stanford were the headliners of their non-conference slate last year but both of those games resulted in 20+ point losses.  Year two of the Bzdelik reign should produce better can't get much worse.

Bzdelik will have to replace some departed productivity from a season ago.  Looking back on it, I wish Richard Roby would have left a year or two sooner.  Roby was on plenty of draft boards after his sophomore and junior season but elected to stay in school and finish out his career as a Buff.  Roby was one of the better players to ever play basketball at CU.  The athletic wing scored 17 points a game last year and added 7 rebounds.  He's going to be greatly missed and was a joy to watch, hopefully we see him again in the NBA.  Marcus Hall is another departure that will hurt CU.  Hall put in 14 points a game last year and was a huge factor in the Buffs' outside shooting ability.  Xavier Silas, Marcus King-Stockton, and Caleb Patterson have all finished out their careers at Colorado last season as well.  These three were relatively effective when they were on the court.  Silas was a exciting guard to watch but never saw the floor much.  King-Stockton was your typical "eat up minutes" big man and Patterson rarely saw the court.  The absence of Hall and Roby is also going to hurt this team's chemistry and leadership.  They were the two go to players on the floor and it will be interesting to see who steps up in their place.

The 2008 recruiting class was a very good one for Jeff Bzdelik and is major reason why people are so optimistic about this program's future.  The one guy to watch for to make an immediate impact is Toby Veal.  CU has not had a good interior game in recent years and Veal should be a solid buidling block in the low post.  At 6'8'', Veal is the most college ready out of the recruits.  Don't expect a ton of results out of him on the offensive end right away but he was an excellent defender in high school and has a nose for grabbing rebounds.  Fellow incoming bigs Trey Eckloff and Austin Dufault will provide some nice size in the paint for CU and also have pretty good games around the perimeter.  An intriguing player for the Buffs this year is point guard Nate Tomlinson.  Australian players have become pretty popular in college basketball and Bzedelik seems to be building a recruiting pipeline in Oceania.  Tomlinson is a pure point guard in that he is an excellent passer and does all the fundamental things right.  By the end of his career at Colorado, he should be an excellent player and floor general.  Another young guard that the staff is excited about is Ryan Kelley.  Kelly is a talented scorer, averaging 17 points a game in his senior season.  After transferring from Wake Forest, Casey Crawford will make his debut for the Buffs this season.  At 6'9'', 230 pounds, Crawford is going to be relied on to produce for this extremely young team.  Even though he has three years of eligibility left, Crawford will be looked on as a veteran.  Like the other CU bigs, he is very versatile and should be a good inside out player.  The coaching staff has done an outstanding job with this class in molding them to fit Bzdelik's Princeton style offense. 

continue reading after the jump to see the CU season outlook...

This season is going to rely heavily on the few returning players that CU actually has.  This team is freakishly young.  They have 10 players on the roster that are freshmen or sophomores.  The guys that everyone is going to be looking up to is sophomore Cory Higgins, junior Dwight Thorne II, and lone senior Jermyl Jackson-Wilson.  These three will probably be joined by two freshman (Veal and Tomlinson) in the starting lineup.  Higgins and Thorne are both guards who will have to replace the scoring of Marcus Hall.  Jackson-Wilson is a steady but small forward at 6'6''.  Higgins has to be the guy this year.  As a freshman last year he had some flashes of excellence.  He started all 32 games for Bzdelik and was the fourth leading scorer on the team with nine points a game. 

Looking at the Buffs' schedule, they really face no team that is light years better than them.  The staff realized that they have one of the youngest teams in the nation and they'll need to get their feet wet before you throw them in the deep end of the Big 12.  They play Stanford but this is a very, very winnable game and should be a game that dictates the rest of the season for CU.  If they win that game, the rest of the non-conference sets up that they could have an excellent record heading into conference play.  Like we have seen with CU this year, they tend to toil in mediocrity so if they lose to Stanford don't be surprised if they have some losses to teams like Harvard and Prarie View A&M.  Luckily the Buffs play in the Big 12 north which is noticeably easier than the Big 12 south...sounds like football.  Kansas should win the North this year but they are a team that many don't even have in their top 25's (myself included).  The South has three very solid teams that I like a lot.  Oklahoma is the class of the conference this season with Griffin and Warren.  Texas is always solid under the direction of Rick Barnes and Damion James may be my favorite player not in a Gonzaga uniform.  I also love Curtis Jerrells and Baylor, they are a major sleeper this season.  The schedule sets up for the Buffs to go over .500 but it remains to be seen what kind of team will show up on the floor.

Look for the starting lineup to go something like this:  It's probably going to have to be a three guard lineup so I give the nod to Tomlinson at the point, with Higgins and Thorne at the other two guard/wing spots.  Down low you will probably see another freshman starting in Toby Veal.  He'll be joined by Jermyl Jackson-Wilson. 

It's hard to project any type of season results for this team because of the youth that is present.  They have the talent to be a mid-level Big 12 team but this season is going to have some ups and downs.  I don't think they will be at the bottom of the Big 12, hopefully that team is Iowa State or Texas Tech.  They should be a very fun and fresh team to watch this season.  Bzdelik finally has some guys that he recruited and will be able to fit them into his system very easily.  The young core of Higgins, Veal, and Tomlinson should be very fun to watch for the next three years.