Colorado men's basketball season is finally upon us. It's hard to speak for everyone here at Ralphie Report, but we've always felt more connected to the basketball team than the football team, so this time of year always feels like Christmas to us, especially when it's actually Christmas. In November, instead of receiving copies of NBA 2K16 and Kurt Vonnegut collections, we get to unwrap the gift of insurmountable stress, relentless anxiety and a glimmer of hope for the future.
This time last year, I believed that even without NBA legend Spencer Dinwiddie, the talented bunch of Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and Askia Booker would lead the Buffs to the NCAA Tournament. But alas, ‘twas not to be. Scott was as inconsistent as oobleck, Johnson often disappeared from games and Booker took more bad shots than Michael Bay. Not to mention the myriad other disappointing players. It was naïve of me to get my hopes up, especially having seen Dinwiddie taken from us a season before. Who knows how many players will succumb to Washington's court this year. So in this roster preview, I tried to tone down my impossible expectations ... for the most part.
Breakout Players to Watch:
Dominique Collier: Yes, yes, I know he disappointed last season and posted the second-lowest player efficiency rating of all the regulars. Yes, he often looked lost on the court and showed very little touch on free throws and jump shots, but I am looking past that and see the pure skills of a great point guard. I see a young Coloradan oozing potential, just waiting for the opportunity to make his mark -- he reminds me of myself.
Tre'Shaun Fletcher: In his sophomore season, Fletcher showed that he had a much improved jump shot, increasing his three point shooting from 19% on 27 tries to 45% on 48 tries. If you extrapolate this statistical improvement, Fletcher will become one of the best players in country this year, shooting an impossible 109% from deep on 85 attempts. And if he doesn't go directly to the NBA from there, his senior season will be legendary. I project him to make 400 threes on only 151 attempts and he'll single-handedly score more points per game than the Bzdelikian Buffaloes.
Seriously though, if Fletcher continues to shoot nearly as well as he did last season (airballed floaters aside) and he improves his defense and playmaking modestly, we'll be looking at a quality starter while XJ is out (more on that in a bit).
Newcomers to Watch:
Thomas Akyazili: A 6'2", 180-pound offense-first combo guard who wears No. 0? Yes please, I need more of that. There is no telling how excited we should all be to have a European guard in our midst, especially a Belgian guard. In related news, I heard that the San Antonio Spurs'is from Belgium, so that's probably his best-case scenario. Like fabled Belgian forward Eden Hazard, the scouting reports and YouTube videos show that Akyazili can shoot from anywhere in addition to having irrefutably fantastic vision. Plus, I heard from a friend of a friend whose cousin has a writing class with Akyazili, that based on one casual conversation the two had, Akyazili seems like a pretty nice guy.
Josh Fortune: Like Akyazili, Fortune comes overseas from Providence College in Rhode Island. Fortune was a key player for the 2014 NCAA Tournament-bound Friars, and we're certainly fortunate to have such an accomplished transfer. At 6'5", Fortune has good size for the 2-guard and has the ball handling of a point guard. In his time with the Friars, he showed the ability to get buckets while facilitating the offense. I'm not going to jump the gun comparing him to former Utah transfer and windmill artist Carlon Brown, but I'm not going to say that they're incomparable. Now excuse me while I watch that dunk repeatedly for the rest of the day.
Kenan Guzonjic: Guzonjic's player bio compares him to Linas Kleiza. Linas Kleiza! I haven't even seen the Bosnian sophomore play before, but this is just perfect. If you don't remember Kleiza from his Nuggets days, I'm truly sorry for you because you missed out on some memorable days. (Click on the last link if any at all, only because the music is incredible for a hype video.) (And yes, I only included Guzonjic so I could talk about Linas Kleiza.)
Achilles Tendon to Watch:
Xavier Johnson: I'm torn on whether or not I want XJ to come back this year. After tearing his Achilles tendon in June, Johnson may return as soon as December. This injury usually takes a full year to recover and it's generally presumed to be the most threatening of injuries for a basketball player, so I'm skeptical of an early return. If Johnson sits out the year, he's nearly guaranteed to get a medical redshirt and be eligible for the 2016-17 season. If he comes back too early, he's risking re-injury, which would not only end his college career, but might horribly derail his NBA dreams. If Johnson is physically ready to play sometime in the season, he would be an incredible reinforcement for this team. After all, Johnson has proven to be a fantastic player when he's on and would immediately establish himself as second banana to Josh Scott.
Upperclassmen to Watch:
All of them, except the walk-ons: Much like most every team in the nation, Colorado needs their older guys to step up in order to be competitive in their conference. Even with XJ's season in limbo, it's evident that the majority of the rotation will be made up of juniors and seniors. So here's a positional breakdown:
The Guards: Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer will play heavy minutes, and what the latter lacks in defensive skills, the former also lacks on offense. I mentioned earlier that Collier had a poor PER last season, but he was sandwiched by these two guards; Talton had a 5.1 and Stalzer was at 9.3 (a PER of 15 is average). The best-case scenario in the backcourt is that Fortune ends up Carlon-ing his way to efficient ball dominance, Collier develops as a successful game-manager, Talton continues to improve his shot and becomes a latter day Sabatino Chen, and Stalzer learns the general concept of defense.
The Forwards: Without XJ, CU will look to George King and Tre'Shaun Fletcher to play on the wing. King remains enigmatic after redshirting last year and Fletcher shows promise, but neither is close to being a proven contributor. On the low blocks we'll see the State of Colorado's finest, Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon. With Scott, I hunger for him to have hunger. He's shown flashes of brilliance and can take over games, but he's been too inconsistent. Maybe it was his back's fault and he's ready to dominate this season. Sports Illustrated thinks so. Gordon surprised me a bit last season with his shot-swatting prowess and offensive power, but he's far from perfect. For his redshirt junior season, Gordon needs to improve his post game and rebounding if he wants to take his game to the next level.
If we learned anything from the last few years, it's that nearly every roster is guaranteed to have a future NBA player in their midst. Dom Collier? More like Jeff Teague. Josh Scott? More like Al Horford. Wesley Gordon? More like Tiago Splitter.
Any of these guys can be the next great Buff in the NBA. Maybe all of them are future stars. Let's all get our hopes up just in case. Pfft, like we've ever been disappointed before.
Oh and before I forget to mention him even once in this entire post, here it is: Tad Boyle? More like Mike Budenholzer.