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Dominique Collier returns, answers questions for Colorado

Collier’s return will not only solidify the starting rotation, but it will fortify the bench.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at California Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

In Monday’s night game against the Air Force Falcons, Dominique Collier made his return for the Buffs. Collier injured his foot at the start of the season and missed the last eight games. In that absence, Colorado’s flaws were exposed, flaws that can be mended with Collier at point guard.

Dom Collier, the junior from Denver East, is invaluable in how he manages the offense, spreads the floor with his shot, plays solid defense and, in a simpler sense, is always there to rely on. He’s the type of point guard no one notices until he’s gone.

You wouldn’t think Collier is a premier outside shooter, but he makes nearly half his three-pointers (40-90 last year, 7-12 this year) and forces the defense to play past the perimeter, which creates more spacing for the offense to work. He may appear to be tentative at times, but he may be the Buffs’ best playmaker, even including Derrick White.

Now that Collier is back, his outside shooting returns to alleviate Colorado’s shooting woes. His playmaking will combine with White’s to create the open shots that have been missing from the offense. His defense will shore up Colorado’s perimeter defense, which has fluctuated between lackadaisical and horrifying. Most of all, Collier’s return will mean the Buffs will have their best rotation intact and ready to play their best basketball of the season.

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Without Collier, Colorado had to shift White to point guard, Josh Fortune into a starting role and play bench guards more minutes than they should warrant. Now that Collier is back, the Buffs will be able to go back to having their best fit at each position and limit the roles of those unready or unsuited for big-time minutes come Pac-12 play.

Even if your expectations for Collier’s return are tampered, you can get excited for Derrick White playing shooting guard. White is fully capable of playing point guard at a high level, but he’s lethal off the ball. White, savvvy with an extra v, is a magician when it comes to cutting, using screens and facilitating the offense without the ball. We haven’t seen it yet this season — White has started every game at point guard — but in due time we will see the true potential of Him.

White moving to shooting guard means Fortune will head to the bench. Fortune was fine last year, but it seems that Nerdlucks came to Earth and stole his talent. His shot is out of whack right now and his defense has gone from suspect to Keyser Söze. And in the larger role he’s had to take on during Collier’s absence, his turnover problems have hamstrung the offense. Fortune playing off the bench will simultaneously mitigate his struggles and shore up the lackluster bench. The bench unit has been largely devoid of shooting, so Fortune could be key, assuming he breaks out of his shooting slump.

Speaking of that bench, we’ve seen freshman inexperience, sophomore slumps, and junior injuries. Leading the bench was supposed to be Thomas Akyazili, but if Fortune’s offense has fallen off a cliff, Akyazili’s has hit the ground so hard it broke through the lithosphere and into the asthenosphere. I’m not sure how much Fortune will help him on the bench unit, but it should lessen Akyazili’s role for the time being.

With Fortune moving to the bench, either Akyazili or one of the freshman guards will lose the majority of their minutes. Bryce Peters has been electrifying on the court, but that’s when he’s on the court. He was suspended for the first two games of the season and missed the Air Force game due to a lack of effort, apparently. He’s in Tad Boyle’s doghouse, but can play himself out by going full throttle off the bench. Even in a limited role, he can be an energizer for the bench unit with his athletic play.

Deleon Brown, meanwhile, has been a revelation. He’s deserves his own article to celebrate his breakout. With his shooting, defense and intelligent play, Brown has won not just my favor, but also Tad’s. If it comes down to him, Peters and Akyazili fighting for minutes, Brown will probably win out on the strength of his basketball IQ.

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All the people in-fighting over Collier’s supposed value or lack thereof over the years are now in agreement that he’s a vital player for the Buffs, possibly irreplaceable. And just as the Pac-12 is set to commence, Collier couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Buffs.