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Colorado Looks For Their Fourth Consecutive NCAA Tournament Appearance

Colorado basketball is finally back and the Buffaloes are looking for a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

The last time Askia Booker played for the Buffs, they were getting embarrassed in the NCAA Tournament.
The last time Askia Booker played for the Buffs, they were getting embarrassed in the NCAA Tournament.
Kevin C. Cox

The last time the Colorado Buffaloes stepped on a basketball court, they were getting thrashed and embarrassed in the NCAA Tournament. It was the third straight year the Buffs went dancing, but their place in the field of 68 was impossible to be thrilled about because of one torn ACL. That torn ACL of Spencer Dinwiddie's lingered.

Can this team really do anything without him? That was the question that never left fans' minds. Excluding the game he got hurt, the Buffs were 14-2 with The Mayor and 9-9 without him. It became clear that Colorado couldn't compete with the better teams without their star. But now another season begins. Dinwiddie has moved on to the NBA and the returning starters already got an impromptu look at the upcoming season.

This team will go as far as Askia Booker takes them. Booker took 116 more shots than any other player last season, but attempted to change his game after Dinwiddie's injury, which provided mixed results. After only having six assists or more once in the first 16 games, Booker had six of those games in the next 18. His assist-to-turnover ratio for the season was 1.32 and an even better 1.42 over the final 18 games.

At times, players would look to him for all of the offense and it seemed like too much of a burden for him to carry down the stretch. In six of Colorado's final eight games, Booker's offensive rating was below 85. But if Booker can continue his role as a facilitator and be more efficient, picking and choosing his spots at the right time, the offense has a chance to be more effective this season.

Josh Scott, who has quietly put together two terrific seasons at Colorado, will be counted on once again this season for instant offense in the post. Scott only committed 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes last season, shot 81 percent from the free-throw line and shot 37 percent on two-point jumpers. He excels where most bigs don't. And he is one of the best rebounders in the Pac-12. He posted an offensive rebounding rate of 11.1 percent and a defensive rebounding rate of 20 percent and he was third in the conference averaging 8.4 rebounds per game.

What stands out about Scott is his improvement the past two seasons. His offensive rating jumped from 111.1 to 119.3; his true shooting percentage rose from 53.1 percent to 59.6 percent; his rebounds per game increased from 5.7 to 8.4; and, his free-throw rate nearly doubled. Scott isn't perfect, however, as he only made 57 percent of his shots at the rim and is still impatient when a double-team is constantly thrown at him. Ultimately, if you were to bet on one player improving once again, it would be Scott.

Xavier Johnson is the last of Colorado's three returning playmakers and is the most versatile player on the roster. Johnson didn't improve as much as Scott in his sophomore season, but he did commit less fouls, rebound the ball better and turn it over less. Johnson scored in double-digits in 16 of the 18 games after Dinwiddie's injury. And if he can build on his point and rebound averages for the second straight year and be a consistent contributor all season, the Buffs will have one of the best trios in the conference.

Wesley Gordon was Colorado's best defender after Dinwiddie last season and was the team's best shot blocker as well as he averaged 1.3 blocks per game. And his presence on the offensive glass was incredibly similar to Josh Scott's freshman season. Scott collected 11.8 percent of the offensive rebounds while he was on the floor in his first year and Gordon gathered 11.7 percent. Gordon, like Scott, could improve around the rim. 61 percent of his shots came there, but he only made 54.7 percent of them.

Xavier Talton, who eventually took over for Dinwiddie, broke out in Colorado's 79-75 overtime win over Utah with 14 points and was 4-of-5 from beyond the arc. This performance threw Talton into the starting lineup going forward. The 6-foot-2 guard attempted the third-most threes on the team and shot a team-best 37 percent from there. At times, however, he'll have stretches of turnover-prone basketball. He had a 1.17 assist-to-turnover ratio and the second highest turnover rate on the team. And only 18.9 percent of his shots came at the rim last season, so attacking more could help his game.

Dustin Thomas, Tre`Shaun Fletcher and Jaron Hopkins are the contributors off of the bench and give Tad Boyle more depth than he has had in recent years. Hopkins' shot is still a question mark, but he was the most impressive out of the three last season with his athleticism and ability to get to the rim standing out the most. Fletcher battled injury, but in the little time he played, provided a boost off of the bench. He posted a offensive rating above 100 four times in the eight games he saw more than 10 minutes of action. Thomas had the least encouraging season out of the three and committed 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes and shot 18 percent from three. He did show signs of promise, however, most notably in Colorado's 61-52 win over Arizona St. late last year when he finished with eight points and six rebounds.

Because of the depth, freshmen Tory Miller and Dominique Collier can both be eased into the rotation. Miller has a wide frame and will be able to use his five fouls every game to help spell the bigs. Collier is the point-guard of the future, but unless he is remarkable from the get-go, will have trouble finding consistent minutes.

In order to make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season, the offense will have to improve drastically. The Buffs shot 31.8 percent from beyond the arc last season, which was 289th in the nation. In Pac-12 play, they were 10th in offensive efficiency scoring 100.6 points per 100 possessions. And one out of every five possessions resulted in a turnover, which is obviously not ideal.

The defense, which is usually one of the strengths of Tad Boyle's teams, wasn't particularly great last season. They ranked 6th in efficiency in conference play allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions and teams shot 37.4 percent from three against them. Unlike the past four years, the Buffs don't have a proven lockdown defender this season and four of the five starters aren't much more than average defenders. Tad's teams have never stood out on offense aside from his first year at Boulder, which left the defense as the main reason for success. So without an elite defender, this could end up being Boyle's toughest defensive challenge yet.

There are plenty of questions this year for Colorado. They could finish anywhere in the top seven in the Pac-12, aside from first, and it wouldn't be surprising. The offense will have to be much better than it was in the games without Dinwiddie and the defense will have to swarm more than ever. But there's more depth and experience than last season and the scoring should be more balanced. However, it seems that no matter what, everything will all come back to Askia Booker.