Believe it or not, but we’re only three weeks away from the college basketball season starting. The Colorado Buffaloes will debut on Nov. 25 in the Little Apple Classic, although South Dakota State dropped out and they will have to find a replacement game. So, yeah, the season starts quite soon even if we don’t know who’s on the schedule.
The Buffaloes are coming off a strange, up-and-down season. They were ranked as high as #16 in the AP Poll in 2019-20, looked like Pac-12 front-runners and a potential 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament, then lost their final five games of the season to finish 21-11. They still would have made the tournament if it had taken place, but it was a real damper on what should have been a momentous season.
The Buffs finished last season ranked 35th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings after spending most of the season within the top 25. They had four Tier-A wins, the best of which was a neutral site over Dayton (who would have been a 1-seed in the NCAAT). Their calling card was an elite defense that finished 32nd in efficiency, but part of their collapse was a breakdown in communication and intensity, which manifested particularly on the defensive end.
In the first KenPom rankings of the 2020-21 season, the Buffs debut at #62. That’s a bit of shocker considering how much production they return and how much talent they have coming in. McKinley Wright is still here, better than ever and now the undisputed go-to scorer. D’Shawn Schwartz enters his senior with no choice but to become a more assertive scorer. Evan Battey should be a bully with interior scoring and box-outs. The real question might be Jeriah Horne, the Tulsa transfer who projects as a scorer but is unproven on defense.
The Buffs’ only real loss was Tyler Bey. A possible first round, Bey has grown to become a polarizing NBA prospect, mostly because he’s a defense-first player who may be a bit overrated on that end. The elite athleticism is clearly there, as are the numerous blocks and steals, but his Defensive Player of the Year campaign looked past the many times he disappeared from the game, or just lacked the focus to make a difference. Not that Bey wasn’t a great player — and CU will certainly miss his finishing and defensive rebounding — but this isn’t an Andre Roberson-sized absence from the team.
Aside from Bey, Tad Boyle has to replace the productive minutes of Lucas Siewert and Shane Gatling. That shouldn’t be quite as difficult. Siewert’s offensive value has been written about many times on the blog, so it’s important that the Buffs got the perimeter-oriented Horne. Even if he’s not as pure of a shooter, Horne is a better all-around offensive player. The depth is more of a question, depending on if Schwartz or Maddox Daniels play more at the 4 position to make way for the talent on the wings. If they can survive defensively — and Siewert wasn’t exactly an enforcer — the Buffs should replicate his floor-spacing value.
Unlike Siewert, Gatling doesn’t have a one-for-one stylistic replacement. Gatling was supposed to be a three-point gunner, but lacked consistency and ultimately effectiveness. We’re guessing that Boyle will insert Eli Parquet into the starting lineup, who is more of a defensive menace and rebounder than he is a traditional 2-guard. His shot is coming around, although he won’t have the same gravity as Gatling.
Then there are the real talents, Keeshawn Barthelemy and Nique Clifford, the blue chip freshmen guards who will bring scoring punch and playmaking to the bench. Barthelemy is an electric athlete who should be able to get into the paint at will, while Clifford is a big guard who excels at getting to his pull-up jumper in traffic. If those two are game-ready — plus the consideration that they’re taking the negative minutes of Daylen Kountz, who transferred to Northern Colorado — the Buffs’ bench should be more than fine. That goes double if both are productive on defense.
If everything works out, the Buffs should be starting Wright, Parquet, Schwartz, Horne and Battey. The bench will look something like Barthelemy, Clifford, Daniels, Dallas Walton and Alex Strating, plus Jabari Walker and Luke O’Brien if they prove ready. There’s a few major questions, namely team defense and how effectively those young guards will be, but that’s a versatile, deep team with a good mixture of experience and emerging talent. This team is a whole lot better than just #62 in the country.