Somehow, someway, Tad Boyle has taken another step with the Colorado Buffaloes basketball program. This is not a program where elite recruits land, but with all 13 scholarships accounted for, the Class of 2021 is ranked 9th in the nation and first in the Pac-12, per 247Sports.com.
This recruiting class started with a local kid, Lawson Lovering from Cheyenne, Wyoming, who committed to the Buffs before his junior season even began. Then a 3-star recruit, Lovering has grown (literally) into a top-50 recruit nationally. The Buffs have never had a 7’1 center who can shoot, block shots and handle the ball, but they will have one soon enough. Maybe this recruiting win is on the luckier side, but it’s still huge to identify the local talent who bloomed into an elite recruit.
The second player in the class was Quincy Allen, then a top-75 recruit whose commitment surprised everyone. The Buffs don’t even recruit the Washington, D.C. area, but they got a kid who had offers from Louisville and Michigan, among other high level programs. Like Lovering, Allen isn’t a type of recruit the Buffs usually land. Tad has almost exclusively targeted developmental wings, those who have the requisite athleticism and defensive potential but need to learn offensive skill. But you don’t necessarily need to develop the next George King when you can land a ready-made shooter.
Next up were the dual commitments from guards Javon Ruffin and Julian Hammond. Both are local — Ruffin’s father Michael is from Denver and played for the Nuggets when Javon was growing up, while Hammond is a two-sport star at Cherry Creek. Both resembled the usual Colorado guard recruits — big combo guards who were rated in the 300s of the national rankings, who will develop into useful role players. However, both have risen up the rankings in the past few months, particularly Ruffin, who has really grown into his 6’5 frame and is playing against elite competition.
The last commit in the Class of 2021 might be the sweetest get. K.J. Simpson, a top-100 combo guard from the L.A. area, was committed to Arizona before Sean Miller was fired, then mutually agreed to part ways with new coach Tommy Floyd. Once available, there was a recruiting battle between Oregon and Colorado, and he ultimately chose the Buffs. Not only is it fun capitalizing on Sean Miller’s demise and beating out Dana Altman, but he’s a damn good guard who is already a polished scorer.
He doesn’t count in the Class of 2021, but the Buffs also did well to land Mason Faulkner, the transfer guard from Western Carolina. He has two years starting experience and is a proven playmaker and defender, so he’s probably the favorite to start at point guard this coming season. Hopefully he offers some veteran leadership for the underclassmen, just as McKinley Wright, Spencer Dinwiddie and Nate Tomlinson did in their days as point guard.
Colorado’s rotation in 2021 is just about impossible to predict right now. The only guaranteed starters are Evan Battey at center, Eli Parquet on the wing, and probably Jabari Walker at power forward. You might be able to pencil in Faulkner at point guard, but it’s too early to see what’s going to happen.
Play time at guard is going to be insanely competitive, so much so that Boyle has to be considering running a three-guard lineup, with Parquet as the nominal small forward. If that happens, Keeshawn Barthelemy, Faulkner, Allen and Simpson will be fighting for two starting positions. Barthelemy looked really confident as a scoring guard and he has a ton of potential, but he’s not polished enough as a playmaker just yet. Simpson is probably in a similar boat, where he’s more advanced as a scorer at this point. Allen offers a ton of shooting that could make everyone’s jobs easier, although his defense needs major work.
After those guys, it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge from the collection of COVID freshmen Nique Clifford and Luke O’Brien, and freshmen Ruffin and Hammond. Fans were disappointed in Nique’s performance this past season, but there are rumors he’s still growing and started pushing the starters in late season practices. O’Brien also looked promising whenever he saw the floor, at least in the eye test.
It’s tough to parse which of the freshmen will be most game-ready. Ruffin seems to have a high feel for the game and might be my guess to play the most of these three freshmen, but his current injury may hamper hid readiness. Hammond is the likeliest to redshirt, since local recruits usually need a year to adjust to college basketball. This time in the 2017 recruiting calendar we barely knew who McKinley Wright was, much less that he would be CU’s best player as a freshman, so it’s all too early to tell.
Looking at the backcourt from a wide lens, there seems to be much more scoring ability than any other skill. We know Parquet is the best one-on-one defender in the Pac-12, but everyone else is unproven on that end, even Faulkner. None of these guys are proven playmakers either, although Faulkner’s downhill style is great in a PNR-heavy offense, and Ruffin looks to be a smart and selfless player. Simpson and Allen offer a bit more off-the-dribble than, say, Maddox Daniels or Josh Fortune, but they need to develop their all-around skillset before playing 30 minutes per game.
The frontcourt is easier to piece together. If the Buffs decide to go small with Evan Battey at center, Jabari Walker is easy to slot at power forward. Depending on how the new guards look, Bari could be this team’s go-to scorer, although he needs to clean up his defense and stay out of foul trouble. After those two, we’re probably looking at Lovering at center and Tristan da Silva at power forward. Lovering should be a problem for opposing benches who can’t deal with his combination of shot blocking and shooting. Da Silva came out of nowhere to have a great freshman season. He’s so smart and so crisp on defense that Tad will be tempted to give him more than 20 minutes per game. That’s not such a bad thing if Walker keeps fouling people.
Overall, the frontcourt fits together quite well. Battey is the best passer, defends positionally and boxes out. Walker is great at creating his own shot, offers floor spacing as a shooter and can really rebound the ball. Lovering will offer the same floor spacing and shot blocking as Dallas Walton, but he’s better at it and is much more dynamic with the ball. Da Silva is all basketball IQ, defensive positioning and hustle, so there’s a strong chance he covers for Walker and Lovering’s shortcomings by doing the little things. Maybe they could use another body, but there’s a chance O’Brien can survive some minutes playing the 4 in an emergency.
I haven’t found a full 2021-22 roster, so here is that, ordered by projected starting lineup and the bench minutes distribution.
G — Mason Faulker, Sr.
G — Keeshawn Barthelemy, So.
G — Eli Parquet, Sr.
F — Jabari Walker, So.
F — Evan Battey, Sr.
Possible bench rotation:
F — Lawson Lovering, Fr.
G — K.J. Simpson, Fr.
G — Quincy Allen, Fr.
F — Tristan da Silva, So.
G — Nique Clifford, So.
G — Javon Ruffin, Fr.
G/F — Luke O’Brien, So.
G — Julian Hammond, Fr.