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Colorado opens season with demolition of Sacramento State

The Buffs roll with a 90-53 win.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

They say bees are disappearing globally at an alarming rate. They never said anything about Hornets. But after tonight, the Hornets may join them on the endangered species list.

The Buffs opened their season with a dominant win over Sacramento State. Even more impressive than their 90-53 win, the Buffs did this without playing any of their starters heavy minutes and allowing their copious freshmen and transfers to soak in the Coors Events Center.

The CEC, by the way, was packed with rowdy students who chose to attend a basketball game instead of drinking on the Hill. The Buffs could use a consistent C-Unit considering how many vital games the CEC will host.

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As a team, the Buffs’ offense looks like it can be lethal. For nearly the entirety of the game, Tad Boyle ran out a lineup with at least four capable shooters, and that’s not including the brilliant Tory Miller. (Miller banked in a three in what may be the play of the year in all of college basketball.) In these four-out lineups, the Buffs force the defense to guard the perimeter tightly, and from there, the Buffs can drive to the rim effortlessly and create more shots from there. Such is offensive brilliance.

If the Buffs play exclusively with small-ball lineups, the defense will win or lose games. The major pitfall of small-ball teams is that they sacrifice size on defense and on the glass. Against Sacramento State, the defense had the occasional slip up or miscommunication, but as a whole they looked terrific. It doesn’t matter who you play, if you allow 53 points on sub-30% shooting, you’re doing something right on defense.

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The lynchpin of the small-ball lineup is Xavier Johnson. In his first game back from injury, XJ struggled from the floor — he shot 3-7 with 6 points — and looked stiff defensively. Fortunately, he looked promising on the boards, a good sign of things to come. He had great timing and excellent positioning on his 7 rebounds. If CU wants to play small-ball with XJ at PF, he’s going to need to rebound that like every time out.

Speaking of boards, Wesley Gordon, the fifth-year senior in his third year starting, had a gazillion rebounds (12 to be exact), but he uncharacteristically struggled against a poor Hornets frontcourt. He seemed a step slow on defense, sloppy on offense, and allowed a surprisingly high amount of opposing offensive rebounds (Sacramento State had 17 offensive rebounds in total). Maybe he’s rusty, maybe he’s feeling the effects of an ankle injury that he suffered a month ago, or maybe it was just one of those games. He’s shown enough in his career to suggest he should be fine.

Not to be forgotten, Derrick White’s Colorado debut was nothing short of a success. He showcased just about everything everyone has been raving about all summer, as He had 9 points on an efficient 3-5 shooting. Starting at point guard, His playmaking, rebounding and shot-creating ability was on full display.

Speaking of point guards, Dominique Collier was curiously left out of the starting lineup tonight. There were rumors Collier had a foot injury hampering his mobility, but when he was on the court off the bench, he looked great. He scored 12 points on 4-6 three-point shooting. It’s possible Derrick White and Josh Fortune are the starting guards moving forward, but maybe not if Collier can play like that. We’ll find out for sure in the coming weeks.

We may as well do a quick roll call.

Josh Fortune looked solid tonight. He shot 4-5 with 11 points and he only had 2 turnovers. I’m not sure if he should start — his defense is suspect — but he looked quite good beside White.

George King was mediocre on offense (he runs hot and cold) but showed rebounding tenacity as the Buffs' presumptive small forward. And at halftime, George King’s mother, Master Sergeant King, was promoted in rank by Josh Fortune’s mother, Colonel Fortune.

Tory Miller played a masterful Tory Miller game, which means he rebounded and defended well with some terrible passing and shot selection mixed in. He had 9 points 5 rebounds and 2 blocks and inspired a couple of good jokes from the Twitter machine.

Deleon Brown, the freshman from Grand Rapids, Michigan (via New Hampshire), was incredible in his debut. His first shot was a made three, and with a lefty release so clean and balanced, we could see him develop into an ace shooter in no time. His defense and overall playmaking was remarkable as well. Towards the end of the game, he hit an acrobatic layup through a forest of arms. Somewhat unrelated, Deleon rides a hoverboard to class every day, because how dare he conform to gravity.

Lucas Siewert may be the best shooter on the team. The Brazilian freshman shot 3-3 from deep and found nothing but nylon on each. If Deleon Brown has a promising shot, Siewert’s has already found the promised land. He still needs to improve his defense and rebounding, as freshmen do, but he could highly valuable as a floor-stretching big man off the bench.

Thomas Akyazili had a wonderful summer of player development and it showed tonight. He played his typical gritty defense, blocked a shot or two (he’s actually great at shot blocking) and made things happen on offense (8 points and 6 assists). Consistent performances from him could do wonders to stabilize the Buffs bench, which looks like it can be special.

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From start to finish, the Buffs were exceptional in their home opener. It was just Sacramento State and it was just one game, but they did nothing to decrease the optimism surrounding the team.