The college basketball season tipped off on Tuesday night and the Colorado Buffaloes start Friday night against Arizona State. To get you ready for the Buffs, the Pac-12 and for the rest of country, here’s a predictions article with information about all three subsets.
Tyler Bey leads the team in scoring
McKinley Wright will be the engine behind everything, but I’m guessing he scores fewer than 13 points per game. The Buffs have so many options that Wright can pick his spots and score only when he needs to. Bey will average around 15 a game (with 10 rebounds) just because Wright and Evan Battey will find him at the rim. Bey also has a dependable mid-range shot and has shown the ability to go get a bucket late in the shot clock.
D’Shawn Schwartz and Evan Battey both break out
A breakout from Schwartz might be the most important development for CU, aside from staying healthy. The Buffs need a third scorer who can spread the floor and get to the basket. Schwartz has improved greatly this offseason and looks much more confident on offense. He knows he can hit every shot and it’s showing in his demeanor. A breakout for him would be something like 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, shooting 35% from three, and more of his intelligent team defense.
A breakout from Battey is likely. He is who he is, more or less, so it’s just a matter of improving the things that make him unique. Battey is more of a playmaker than a shooter, so he’s going to be leading a lot of offense from the high post. His scoring will be off post ups and offensive rebounds; nothing will be more frustrating for opponents than the nights he gets 15+ points. Defensively, he’s not going to block shots or cause any havoc, but he will have good positioning and gobble up rebounds. His breakout is less about points than impact and leadership.
Shane Gatling wins starting spot
The starting shooting guard position is the only spot up for grabs. Gatling will be competing with Daylen Kountz and Eli Parquet for starts. Parquet would make sense as a 10 minutes per game starter who’s there for defense, while Kountz has a lot of potential as an attacking guard. But I’m going with Gatling because he’s the best shooter and the Buffs may need all the spacing they can get. He only shot 32% from three last year, but he’s better than that. Kountz also makes more sense off the bench because he needs the ball more than Gatling.
Lucas Siewert is actually good
I often critique Siewert because he struggles with inconsistency and has only one legitimate skill. That makes him basically unplayable if his shot is off or he’s not confident enough to shoot. However, the Buffs don’t need to play him when he’s off because they have so much frontcourt depth with Bey, Battey, Dallas Walton, Alex Strating and Frank Ryder. Siewert is the best shooting big CU has, so hopefully he’s able to streamline that into a specialist role. If he’s playing, he’s there to shoot and space the floor. That simplification may lead to an increase in focus and confidence. He can win games when he’s hot, so Tad Boyle will be pressed to find a role that maximizes his ability and confidence.
FIBA three-point line helps Colorado
Speaking of spacing, the NCAA is moving back the three-point line 1.5 feet. That will likely result in a slight dip in shooting percentage nationwide, but the move will help Colorado more than expected. For one, CU wants to attack the basket, so pushing back the three-point line gives them more space to work inside. The Buffs aren’t usually good at shooting, so they shouldn’t be too affected by a drop in 3FG%. On defense, Colorado plays conservatively to protect the paint, meaning they tend to allow more threes than most teams. That’s been frustrating in the past as, say, Brady Heslip and Bryce Alford have torched CU, but any drop in shooting percentage will help this defense.
Buffs go 12-2 in non-conference
Colorado has a very difficult non-conference schedule as they head to Shanghai to play Arizona State, Lawrence to play Kansas, Las Vegas to play Wyoming and Clemson/TCU, and Chicago to play Dayton. The Buffs also have a game in Ft. Collins, tough home games against UC-Irvine, Northern Iowa and Iona, all of which they should win but they’re surprisingly sketchy. I’m guessing CU loses to Kansas (80% likely) and Dayton (50%), and maybe drops another home game that they shouldn’t. I’m also guessing CU blows the doors off of Arizona State on Friday, but that game could also go either way.
Buffs finish 12-6 in Pac-12 play
Wins: Oregon, Oregon State, Utah, Washington State, Washington, at UCLA, California, Stanford, USC, UCLA, at California, at Stanford
Losses: at Arizona State, at Arizona, at USC, at Oregon, at Oregon State, at Utah
If Colorado sweeps the home schedule — only Oregon and Washington appear to be 50-50 — then the Buffs only have to steal five or so road games to make a run at the Pac-12 regular season title. I have the Buffs dropping games at USC and Utah, which could very well be wins considering CU owns USC and that Utah is very young. That said, CU usually drops a game at home they shouldn’t, so a conservative projection is safer.
Buffs finish with 25-9 record
This just takes the non-con and conference schedules, adds a win in the Pac-12 Tournament, and has the Buffs lose in the conference semifinals. That would have CU around a 5- or 6-seed.
The realistic best-case scenario would be 28-7. That would be 12-2 in non-conference, 14-4 in Pac-12 play (those 12 wins plus USC and Utah), and two wins in the Pac-12 Tournament. That would have them comfortably ranked in the top 15 entering the NCAA Tournament.
The realistic worst-case scenario is 22-12. That would be 10-3 in non-conference, 10-8 in Pac-12 play, and one win in the Pac-12 Tournament. That’s still an NCAA Tournament team, although probably a 10- or 11-seed.
First Team All-Pac-12
McKinley Wright (Colorado), Payton Pritchard (Oregon), Tres Tinkle (Oregon State), Tyler Bey (Colorado), Isaiah Stewart (Washington)
I’m tempted to have McKinley Wright on the second team because I don’t think he’s going to put up that many points this season. He can run the offense without scoring, so if CU does in fact have more output from Evan Battey and D’Shawn Schwartz, he can focus on facilitating.
Second Team All-Pac-12
Nico Mannion (Arizona), Remy Martin (Arizona State), Timmy Allen (Utah), C.J. Elleby (Washington State), Nick Rakocevic (USC)
Watch for Timmy Allen to break out as Utah’s best player. If they surprise folks and finish top-5 in conference, it’s going to be him destroying people on both ends of the floor.
McKinley Wright (Colorado), Ethan Thompson (Oregon State) Tyler Bey (Colorado), Shakur Juiston (Oregon), Kylor Kelley (Oregon State)
Everyone besides Ethan Thompson is an easy pick here, partly because there aren’t that many standout defenders in the conference. If there’s someone to watch, it’s Oregon’s C.J. Walker, but because the Ducks are so deep, he may not play enough to garner conference honors.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tyler Bey
Bey will beat out Kylor Kelley, but it’s going to be very close. Kelley is a monster of a shot blocker who will be at the center of an excellent Oregon State defense. If the Beavers are going to contend for a top-4 finish, it will be because (a) Tres Tinkle scores 30 points per game, (b) they win a lot of close finishes, and (c) their defense will be the best or second best in the conference. Kelley could benefit greatly from narrative. But I’m still going Bey because Colorado will be the better team, he doesn’t struggle with foul trouble like Kelley, and he’s a significantly better rebounder.
Player of the Year: Tres Tinkle
If Oregon State finishes top-4 or close it, Tinkle will win POY. They have two offensive players and Ethan Thompson can be inconsistent. Tinkle is going to chuck shots, make a ton of them, and pick up a ton of rebounds and assists. He may finish the year averaging 25 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists.
Pac-12 Title: Colorado
Yes, the Buffs win it! This is mostly about Pac-12 schedules, comparing Colorado to Oregon. The Ducks travel to play Washington, Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado, plus very tough environments at Utah and Oregon State. That’s six very tough road games; Colorado has one fewer, as they avoid the Washington trip. That one game difference could be significant. It’s risky to bet on Tad Boyle’s team playing well on the road, but I’m guessing the Buffs learn from non-conference trips to Shanghai, Lawrence, Las Vegas and Chicago. I don’t feel good about this prediction but whatever. (This contradicts my projection of 12 conference wins, but let’s roll with it.)
Pac-12 Tournament Champs: Oregon
Moving into the conference tournament, I’m going to pick the better team straight up. Oregon has the veteran guards, potential breakout players on the wings, and a lot of defensive upside all over. They will give Colorado and everyone else fits.
Pac-12 gets five NCAA Tournament teams
Oregon (4-seed), Colorado (5), Arizona (7), Arizona State (11) and Oregon State (11). I feel least confident in Colorado’s seed and OSU staying healthy. Oregon, Colorado and ASU are best equipped to win in the tournament. I also have Washington missing the tournament because they lack guard play and may have trouble integrating their star freshmen into Mike Hopkins’ defense.
First Team All-America
Cassius Winston (Michigan State), Cole Anthony (North Carolina), Corey Kispert (Gonzaga), Kerry Blackshear (Florida), James Wiseman (Memphis)
Second Team All-America
Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky), Markus Howard (Marquette), Jordan Nwora (Louisville), Jalen Smith (Maryland), Kaleb Wesson (Ohio State)
Player of the Year: Cassius Winston
Winston is a veteran starting point guard who has gotten better in each of his three seasons at Michigan State. Combine his excellence with leading the best team in the country and you have an easy (boring) choice for Player of the Year. If it’s not him, watch for Cole Anthony to put up absurd numbers with North Carolina.
Breakout Team: Colorado
I’m going with Colorado. They’re outside the Top 25 but have all the makings of a breakout team. They’re experienced with room to improve, have two stars who compliment each other, have breakout players ready to step up, and have a schedule built to impress the NCAA Tournament committee.
Bust Team: Villanova
Villanova had a down season in 2018-19 and then lost Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. Five-star recruit Bryan Antoine is injury prone and I don’t trust Collin Gillespie to run the offense. I don’t think they have the requisite guard play to contend like they normally do.
Colorado makes the Sweet Sixteen
Screw it, let’s get our hopes up.
Final Four: Michigan State, Kentucky, Florida and North Carolina.
I see the Michigan State and Florida as veteran teams that can withstand all kinds of adversity, particularly the Spartans as they’re already dealing with injuries. Kentucky is just so fun and I love the backcourt of Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey. North Carolina will be Cole Anthony’s team, and he’s capable of leading his team to the Final Four like Derrick Rose did with Memphis.
Championship: Michigan State over Kentucky
Kentucky just beat Michigan State in the home opener, but the Spartans were missing Joshua Langford, their second best player. I think Cassius Winston will be that star player who finishes his standout career with a championship. And yes, I realize picking Winston to be Player of the Year and having the preseason #1 and #2 playing each other is boring, but these teams are so much fun I want it so badly.