The college basketball season started this week, but the Colorado Buffaloes don’t begin play until next Tuesday against the Drake Bulldogs. To celebrate the beginning of the season, we have a bunch of predictions for the Buffs and for the rest of college basketball.
1. Colorado’s youth will lead them, but it will often be frustrating
The Buffs have maybe the most talented roster they’ve had since Andre Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie were playing together, but this is a young core bound to make mistakes. McKinley Wright IV is a superstar in the making and is mature beyond his years, but finding consistency is still a work in progress. Tyler Bey and Evan Battey will be dynamic as forwards, but they need more experience on both ends of the floor to realize their potential. Lucas Siewert will have to improve defensively as starting center, or else his offensive contributions may be negated. There’s also the development of D’Shawn Schwartz, who needs more confidence and aggressiveness, Eli Parquet, who needs more polish, and Daylen Kountz, who needs to learn how lead an offense.
This year is ultimately about maintaining development, so don’t be too frustrated if things don’t always go perfectly. Watch out for CU losing a weird away game (like Air Force or Stanford) or playing lethargically at the Diamond Head Classic; Tad Boyle’s teams always struggle in games like those and youth only exacerbates that. Just be careful as a fan and celebrate the success as early rewards on what should become a great team next year.
2. CU’s defense will click no matter how small they go
Besides the usual grumbles, the biggest worry for the Buffs will be the loss of Dallas Walton and the subsequent strain on the roster. Once Walton tore his ACL last month, the Buffs lost their only true big man. Lucas Siewert will assume a starting position and Battey will be the only quality big behind him. Tyler Bey will be playing the 4, but though he’s their best rim protector, he’s not really cut out for major minutes at the 5. The positive to this is that there aren’t really any Deandre Aytons or Reid Travises in the Pac-12 anymore. It’s a guard and wing dominated conference, and besides Bol Bol (who’s more tall than big) and Noah Dickerson, the Buffs shouldn’t worry too much about getting dominated inside.
3. Lucas Siewert will be CU’s most underrated player
4. Tad Boyle realizes offense is good actually
The flip side to the Buffs being forced to stay small is that playing Siewert and Evan Battey at center should unlock their offense. Walton was mobile and could space the floor some, but he wasn’t nearly the shooter or overall offensive player than his replacements are. Siewert’s advanced stats have always treated him better than the eye because even when he’s just standing there, he’s a threat. He’s a terrific shooter and would open up the floor tremendously for McKinley Wright to drive and create. With his effect on the entire offense as a floor spacer, Siewert will be CU’s hidden star. Battey isn’t quite the shooter as Siewert, but he’s such a versatile player that he could be a matchup nightmare at the 5.
5. Tyler Bey will transform into a monster on defense
6. Bey will make Pac-12 All-Defense along with McKinley Wright
Without Walton at the center of the defense, Tyler Bey will be far and away CU’s most valuable defender. Bey is a good athlete with long arms, and he plays with superb confidence and aggression, which combined with his basketball IQ give him outstanding potential on the defensive end. If the Buffs play zone as much as they did last year, watch for him to be flying around making plays. In man defense, he should be glued onto the opposition best non-guard scorer. Also watch for him to snarl at the opposition if he grabs a tough rebound, dunks on someone, or blocks a shot out of bounds. He’s mean in the best way.
With Bey there, Pac-12 All-Defense team will be: Matisse Thybulle (Washington), McKinley Wright, Kenny Wooten (Oregon), Tyler Bey and Bol Bol (Oregon). Thybulle wins DPOY.
7. McKinley Wright will be best point guard in Pac-12
8. Wright will be named to First-Team All-Pac-12
Wright is just now hitting his stride. The spread pick-and-roll offense is perfect for him to use his electric first step to get into the defense and tear it apart from the inside. He’s also a superb defender who’s wingspan and motor make him even more terrifying on that end. His only weakness really is his inconsistent jumper, but if he shows improvement there, he could be the best point guard in the conference.
The full first-team will be: Kris Wilkes (UCLA), Noah Dickerson (Washington), Bol Bol (Oregon), McKinley Wright, Daejon Davis (Stanford), Jaylen Nowell (Washington), Matisse Thybulle (Washington), Bennie Boatwright (USC), Tres Tinkle (Oregon State) and Ethan Thompson (Oregon State). Wilkes will be named Player of the Year.
Second-team will be: Payton Pritchard (Oregon), Shaqquan Aaron (USC), Remy Martin (Arizona State), Jaylen Hands (UCLA) and Kenny Wooten (Oregon).
9. Colorado will have the best bench in the Pac-12
I’m too lazy to look up all the benches in the Pac-12, but CU should have one of the best, if not the best in the conference. The only weaknesses CU has are bottom of the rotation frontcourt depth and bench playmaking. If Boyle is able to get creative in staggering minutes instead of using platoon subs, he should have one of the Wrights on the floor at all times leading the offense. After them, Battey will be key as a do-it-all big, Shane Gatling will be instant offense, Deleon Brown will be a solid 3-and-D vet, and Daylen Kountz will provide just enough off-the-dribble dynamism. This hot take assumes health. If Lucas Siewert, Battey or Bey miss any time, the Buffs’ lack of frontcourt depth may derail their success.
10. Evan Battey will win Pac-12 Sixth Man of the Year
The bench will be great mostly because of the Buffs’ most valuable newcomer. Battey returns after missing the past two years of organized basketball after being ineligible for both because he repeated 9th grade (actually). He’s probably going to need some time to adjust to the game speed, but he’s a special talent at forward. With his shooting, passing, size and overall feel for the game, he should be the jack-of-all-trades who can fill any need.
11. Colorado will finish the regular season 22-9
The non-conference schedule has been detailed here, so I can briefly say CU will go 11-2 there, then 10-8 in the Pac-12 schedule. For non-con, the only losses will be at Air Force (tragic, but I’m going to predict the worst and hope to be wrong) and in the Diamond Head Classic against TCU. For conference play, the wins will be: Washington State, @ Cal, @ Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, @ Wazzu, Utah, UCLA and USC. The losses will be: @ Arizona, @ ASU, Washington, @ Utah, Oregon, @ UCLA, @ USC, and @ Washington. I’m tempted to chalk up another home loss (maybe USC) and maybe a demoralizing away loss (Wazzu), but this team will have learned from their mistakes after losing at Air Force. Overall, 19 wins is probably the floor and 24 wins is the ceiling.
12. CU will finish 5th place in the Pac-12
The full standings will be: Oregon, UCLA, Washington, USC, Colorado, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Stanford, Cal, and Washington State.
13. Colorado will then win one game in the Pac-12 and lose in the second round
CU always wins their first game in Vegas and this would be no different with them facing Cal. This prediction would have CU against USC, whose length and athleticism poses problems for CU.
14. 23 wins won’t get CU to the NCAA Tournament
Blame the weak non-con that Tad Boyle desperately tried to strengthen. The Buffs don’t host any quality teams outside of the Pac-12, so unless they win the Diamond Head Classic — TCU, Saint Mary’s and Rhode Island await — they may need to sweep the conference home slate to get enough quality wins. That would mean beating Washington, Oregon, ASU, Arizona, Utah, UCLA and USC. The Buffs should beat most of those teams in Boulder — including perhaps a super talented Oregon team who they match up with well — but winning all of them is dicey, especially against the teams that always give CU fits like UW, Utah and USC. CU is likely not going to get any quality wins on the road and the usually struggle in neutral site games.
15. CU will be a 1-seed in the NIT and make the Final Four
CU hasn’t played in the NIT since 2011, and even though they absolutely should have made the Tournament, it was a fun run to the Final Four that helped give the team enough experience to win the 2012 Pac-12 Championship. Considering how young this Buffs team is — only Namon Wright should be considered a veteran — it could help them more to make a run in the NIT instead of going one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament. You may argue this against this complacency on Twitter in March or in the comments on this article, but the NIT would be invaluable for this young team’s experience if they’re not quite ready to succeed in the real thing. Besides, it would be fun to see the Buffs host NIT games and cut down the nets again in Boulder.
16. Colorado will be set up to succeed in 2019-2020
After a solid year in 2018-19, the Buffs will take the growth of the season, continue development over the summer, and morph into an excellent team for next season. Another year of improvement for McKinley, Bey, Battey, Schwartz and the rest of the youngins will be amazing to see, plus Walton returns from injury. Assuming everyone stays together, only Namon Wright would graduate. Next year, the Buffs could start McKinley, Brown, Schwartz, Bey and Walton, then have Kountz, Gatling, Parquet, Battey and Siewert on the bench. (You could mix and match too, since everyone can reasonably start.) If everyone develops as they can, that team would have creators at every position, defenders who could cause nightmares, and the depth to never let up. This season should be fun too, but it’s just a warm up for later.
17. First-Team All-America:
Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Caleb Martin (Nevada), R.J. Barrett (Duke), Dedric Lawson (Kansas), and Zion Williamson (Duke).
Markus Howard (Marquette), Cameron Reddish (Duke), De’Andre Hunter (Virginia) Nasir Little (North Carolina) and Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga).
Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), Tyus Battle (Syracuse), Romeo Langford (Indiana), Grant Williams (Tennessee) and Ethan Happ (Wisconsin).
Honorable mentions: Eric Pascall (Villanova), Zach Norvell (Gonzaga), Tremont Waters (LSU), P.J. Washington (Kentucky), Reid Travis (Kentucky), Kris Wilkes (UCLA), Justin Robinson (Virginia Tech), Kyle Guy (Virginia), Luke Maye (North Carolina) and Cassius Winston (Michigan State).
20. National Player of the Year:
Dedric Lawson. The Kansas big man can do it all and he’s going to carry what is likely the second best team in the nation. You could give this award to one of Duke’s superstars, but none will be as a vital to his team’s success as Lawson is to the Jayhawks’.
21. Only four teams will make the NCAA Tournament from the Pac-12:
They will be Oregon (3-seed), Washington (4), UCLA (6) and USC (10). If it is a weak bubble and CU does get in with those 23 wins (likely fewer), they would probably be an 11-seed or so.
22. Oregon will reach the Sweet Sixteen, Washington the Elite Eight
This is an irresponsible prediction considering no Pac-12 team won a tournament game last season, but both teams are too talented and well-rounded to fail like the streaky Arizona Wildcats in 2017. I’m a huge fan of UW — Matisse Thybulle is probably my second favorite non-CU player in the country (Rui Hachimura is first) — and their defense could carry them further. UCLA strikes me as a team that should score enough to succeed in the regular season, but they don’t have any difference makers on defense. USC has a better shot in March than them, in my opinion.
23. The Elite Eight:
Duke (1), Kansas (1), Gonzaga (2), Tennessee (2), Villanova (3), Syracuse (4), Washington (6) and Marquette (8). Kentucky, Virginia, Nevada, Michigan State and North Carolina would be the highest-seeded teams to lose early.
24. The Final Four:
Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga and Syracuse.
25. Your champions:
Duke. Because did you see what R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish did to Kentucky? That was brutal. It doesn’t matter how good Dedric Lawson is, how great Syrcase’s zone is, or how amazing (and handsome) Rui Hachimura is. Duke will curbstomp any and all opponents because life is pain and existence is dread.