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Projecting the Colorado Buffaloes Basketball Rotation

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Who will start for the Buffs?

NCAA Basketball: Washington State at Colorado
love this pic lol
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In 2018-19, the Colorado Buffaloes battled inconsistency as a result of growing pains, but overall it was a very successful season. Many had hopes of reaching the NCAA Tournament, but the Buffs achieved their more realistic expectations of making the NIT, during which they won two games before losing to eventual winner Texas.

Between Texas and scoring 100 points in their opener against Drake, the Buffs had their highs and lows. They lost to San Diego, Indiana State and Hawaii, all away from Boulder, but the hope is that they learned that they can’t take anything for granted, especially on the road. In conference play, they inexplicably lost at home to Oregon State, then bounced back and blew the doors off of Oregon, who would make the Sweet Sixteen. My personal favorite was seeing the team sweep USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, because they were emotional road wins over talented teams.

This coming season, the Buffs are expected to make the NCAA Tournament. At Pac-12 Media Day, they were picked second in the conference, and they were tied with Oregon for the most first-place votes. Tad Boyle isn’t messing around with the non-conference scheduling either, as he’s scheduled toss-up games in Shanghai (Arizona State), Las Vegas (Wyoming and TCU/Clemson), Lawrence (Kansas) and Chicago (Dayton). All those games should prepare the Buffs for an NCAA Tournament run.

The future is now for Colorado. What was once a promising team with upside is now one of most experienced teams in the Pac-12. In McKinley Wright and Tyler Bey, the Buffs might have the best player and defender, respectively, in the conference. Beyond them, everyone fits exceptionally well, and there are numerous players who can step into a featured role just as easily as they settle into a supporting role. We’re here to break down what the rotation will be and how everyone fits.

Starters

McKinley Wright, G

Everything starts with McKinley Wright. The offense runs through him to the point where CU struggles to do anything without him at 100%. That was a struggle last season because he had issues with focus early on, then he tore his labrum early in Pac-12 play. Now he’s healthy and knows that he has to do everything without doing too much.

Wright is the classic Boyle guard in that his ability to create off the bounce is crucial in getting open shots for the entire offense. From his first day on campus, we knew he had the special ability to knife through the defense with his exceptional quickness and understanding of space. He’s a strong finisher, a smart passer off his drives, and his jump shot is improving. That pull-up jumper is crucial for him to take the next step in his development. Defenses have to give him space because of his quickness, but if he proves dangerous with that pull-up, defenders have to play him closer, which makes the rest of his game even better.

Shane Gatling, G

Next to Wright is Shane Gatling, presumably. Gatling is the best 32% three-point shooter I’ve seen at CU. He has a quick release, a ton of range and has a gunner mentality. The issue, though, is that his shots don’t fall as often as you would expect, and I really have no idea why. I’m guessing he bounces back and hits closer to 40%, which would be a boon for the offense. Even though everyone on the CU roster can shoot a bit — everyone besides Alex Strating — they don’t have an elite shooter that bends the defense towards them. If Gatling can be an off-ball threat as the fourth scoring option, that would make Wright, Tyler Bey and D’Shawn Schwartz much more dangerous.

Gatling isn’t just a shooter either. He’s really athletic and can thrive in transition if CU quickens their pace. He’s a solid secondary ball handler if he doesn’t have to do too much. His defense is pretty bad, though, which is why he might be the most likely starter to lose his spot if he struggles shooting. But defense is half focus and effort, so there’s a chance he bounces back and is at least average. Kin is a great defender, Schwartz is getting there, and Daylen Kountz and Elijah Parquet have all the tools. This defense could have elite perimeter defense every minute of the game, insofar as Gatling improves somewhat.

D’Shawn Schwartz, F

This will be the year D’Schwartz takes the leap. He was the highest rated recruit in CU’s vaunted 2017 recruiting class, but he’s been inconsistent at best in his first two seasons. For the Buffs to go from good to great, they need a proven scorer after Wright, preferably on the wing.

Schwartz has always shown flashes of his offensive potential. He’s a 6’7 lefty with smooth athleticism, all of which make him tricky to guard, especially when his jumper is falling. The issue has been that he had lacked the confidence to just go get buckets. Seeing him in preseason workouts, it looks like he’s much more confident, like he knows what he’s capable of. It also looks like his jumper is quicker, and it wouldn’t surprise if he ends up being the most dangerous off-ball threat on the team.

Schwartz is also a fantastic defender, that much we know. His defense really came along last season, game in and game out. Even if he doesn’t take a leap on offense, he will start because of that defense. With his height and length, he causes problems with his smart rotations and help defense. He doesn’t get steals or blocks, or even rebounds really, but he’s always in the right spot bothering opponents.

Tyler Bey, F

This is likely our last season with Tyler Bey. He’s too good to stick around in Boulder, especially with his NBA-friendly skill set. It starts with his natural ability: Bey is 6’7 with a wingspan near 7-feet, he has superb leaping ability on rebounds and dunks, and he’s quick enough to stick with guards on the perimeter. Those tools were evident when he first committed to Colorado and they’re why we lazily referred to him as Andre Roberson in training. Unlike Roberson, however, Bey has developed a well-rounded offensive game. His mid-range and free throw shooting is near automatic, and though he has a slight hitch in his release, his range should extend to the three-point line. He’s also mean as hell and that translates to him bullying people on drives and finishing strong at the rim.

Bey’s scoring ability is subject to slumps, but he doesn’t let it affect his defense. He is consistently a nightmare, mostly because of his natural abilities, but also because of his attitude and defensive IQ. He works hard, fights for positioning, and snarls when he blocks a shot out of bounds. His rebounding ability is really something else, too. Jack Barsch holds the theory that it takes three years of Tad Boyle yelling for a player to rebound at the level he wants. Bey was a great rebounder already, but with Boyle on his ass, he may now be the best rebounder in the Pac-12.

Dallas Walton, C

This starting spot is up in the air between Dallas Walton and Evan Battey. I would guess it will depend on the matchup. No one in the Pac-12 is particularly big, so the Buffs could get away with a Bey-Battey pairing in the frontcourt, especially against zone-heavy teams. If interior defense is the focus, though, Walton is valuable as a starter because of his ability at the rim. Even if he plays less than Battey, there’s value in starting a defensive-minded role player. Starting Walton puts out a better defense against the opponent’s starters, and it also staggers Battey’s minutes so he can play more with the CU bench, where his shot-creating and passing ability is more valuable.

Focusing now on Walton, his health has always been a question mark — he missed 2018-19 with his third ACL tear — but if he’s healthy and bouncy, he’s a difference maker on defense. As a redshirt freshman in 2017-18, the Arvada product impressed with his defensive ability and all-around potential. He’s a 7-footer with fluid quickness and soft touch, which is quite difficult to find at any level of basketball. He’s bulked up to 235-lbs., so he’s no longer the skinny kid who gets pushed under the basket. There’s a chance too that he extends his range to the three-point line, which would would open up the floor for Wright and Bey to attack the rim.

Bench

Evan Battey, F

If Evan Battey doesn’t start, he will be one of the best sixth men in college basketball. After not playing competitive basketball for two years — due to eligibilty and health issues — it was no surprise that he had some growing pains last season. By the end of the season, though, Battey had caught up to the speed of the game and showed exactly why he is so beloved at CU.

He’s a unique player because of his size and game, as well as his A+ intangibles. He was huge before he even came to CU, but he’s gone from doughy to jacked, and with it his conditioning and quickness have improved. His post game is fantastic, especially his spin move that’s unstoppable simply because he’s so girthy. He’s even better from the high post, where the offense can flow through him because of his passing ability. Obviously he’s a great screen-setter — you would be too with an ass that big — and his passing ability is dangerous when he’s rolling to the basket.

Defensively, he’s very smart and knows that he can be valuable by just standing in the right position. No one is going to attack his space because it’s like running into a brick wall. Instead of blocking shots, he gets into position to take charges, which he does enthusiastically. (Unlike those scrappy white guards who undercut dunkers, Battey taking charges is fun because he’s so big and passionate and also because he’s likeable.)

A huge big man with intelligence and passing is the best thing in basketball. Those players can play alongside any type of player because their skill set is so malleable. Battey could start and find the best way to compliment Wright’s dribble-drive game and Bey slashing. As a sixth man, he could carry the Buffs via high post passes and transition buckets. My personal favorite part of Battey’s game is his outlet passing. He uses his ass to box out, has a good feel for rebounding, then throws terrific passes to leaking wings.

I would prefer Battey as sixth man — with heavy minutes with the starters — because that bench lineup would be so weird and fun. Without a traditional point guard, the bench offense would run through Battey. Alongside him, he would have dangerous shooters in Lucas Siewert and Aaron Maddox, who would then space the floor for Daylen Kountz and Elijah Parquet to run around screens and cut to the basket. Then on defense, Kountz and Parquet could be aggressive for steals and transition points, because Battey is there behind them and can throw those outlet passes. This bench lineup wouldn’t be good at scoring, but they would be weird and effectively chaotic against teams who don’t know what’s coming.

Daylen Kountz, G

I think that after McKinley Wright graduates, Kountz will be the next star guard in the Burks-Dinwiddie-White-Wright lineage. He doesn’t have nearly the offensive potential as the other guys, but there’s a lot to be untapped. It starts with his athleticism and feel for the game. At 6’4 with a long wingspan, he’s quick and explosive. On both sides of the floor, he reads the game and knows where to attack, and he does so with vigor. His signature play so far is jumping a pass and throwing down a fast-break dunk, which should continue to be a thing. He has quick hands, too, so maybe expect him to disrupt more ball handlers, especially if he’s defending point guards when Wright is sitting.

Offensively, he has a longer way to go, but his jumper is clear, he’s crafty off the dribble and he’s a bouncy finisher. In a secondary role, he could be fantastic as someone who hits open shots, attacks close-outs and leaks out for transition buckets. He’s going to be a fun player this year, but in the future he needs to refine his overall game, stop shooting off-the-bounce jumpers and develop as a passer.

Lucas Siewert, F

Siewert is the oldest and most experienced player on the team, which means he’s wonderfully overqualified as a fourth big man. We know Siewert as a streaky shooter who can literally win CU games when he’s on, but he can be unplayable when his confidence is shaken. His streakiness was frustrating last year, but now that Walton is back and Battey is better, it means that when he’s on, we get the good, but when he’s off, he doesn’t have to play. Hopefully this will mean Siewert is more aggressive when he sees the floor, because he will be explicitly out there to hit shots and space the floor. He’s also great insurance for if Walton, Bey or Battey miss any time, since Siewert does have 31 career starts.

Maddox Daniels, G

Maddox Daniels is a junior wing who transferred from Florida SouthWest State College (JUCO). We don’t know much about him other than his size (6’6, 200-lbs.) and reputation as a shooter. There have also been murmurs that he’s a bad defender, but it’s not like other shoot-first wings Levi Knutson and Tre’Shawn Fletcher were great defenders. It’s not clear exactly what Daniels’ skill set is, or even how good those skills are, but as a bench wing with upside, he could be a really good find for Tad Boyle.

Elijah Parquet, G

I’m guessing Daniels plays more than Parquet, but only because the Buffs may need shooting more than perimeter defense. That said, Parquet has terrific upside on defense and he could be too good to keep on the bench. We saw in glimpses that he’s capable of being lockdown on the perimeter with his quickness, strength and reach. His offensive game is still very raw — if he has a working jumper, that would be a boon — but there’s a solid chance that Boyle decides to play Kountz and him together and just try to strangle the opposing team’s bench. Your bench can’t blow a lead if they don’t allow any points.

Alexander Strating, F

If Siewert is the most overqualified fourth big man in the Pac-12, then Strating is the most trusted 11th man in the nation. Strating doesn’t have an offensive game besides setting screens and finishing open dump-offs, but that doesn’t matter. He’s out to work hard, communicate on defense, and generally set the tone for his teammates. Strating works his ass off and makes plays in big moments. He’s a great “break in case of emergency” forward.

Jakub Dombek, F

Jakub Dombek redshirted in 2018-19 and spent the year bulking up and refining his tools. He’s still skinny and raw, so we shouldn’t expect anything for another year or two. Those skills, though, are quite tantalizing. The Czech forward is a skinny 6’11, has a really clean jumper, has a strange violent athleticism, and generally just looks like he was made to play basketball. If the coaches have clay to mold into players, Dombek is some damn fine clay.

Keeshawn Barthelemy, G

Keeshawn Barthelemy has only been on campus for a month, but plenty of words have been spilled on him already. Barthelemy is a Canadian guard who reclassified from the 2020 recruiting class to 2019, during which he agreed to redshirt in his first year at CU. Basically, that means the Buffs have a top-100 recruit who is spending his senior year of high school at CU studying under Tad Boyle and McKinley Wright. There’s a lot of work to do with Barthelemy, particularly concerning his weight and strength, but he is in a position to succeed.