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Colorado Basketball: State of the Program

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Ralphie Report takes a page from the President and tells its readers what happened this year, and more importantly, what's going to happen in the years ahead.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Woof. What a weird year for the basketball team. The year that Tad Boyle magic was supposed to make this athletic team of wings come together to make a tourney run fell apart. I think Tad forgot to wash out his cauldron before he made this year's potion, and boy oh boy did it show. With all these athletes, and only two freshmen, it seemed like a natural year to take a step forward. Instead, it all fell apart. For much of the season, the lone senior, Askia Booker, had to shoulder the entire offensive load. For 30 seconds on the shot clock, it seems like the offense revolved around Josh Scott-Askia Booker handoffs, with the last 5 seconds filled with ball-watching as Booker tried to make something happen. But I'm not here to review this past season. There are other writers on this site who are doing a fantastic job of that. I'm here to look at the State of the Program going forward. It's like the State of the Union in that you are mandated to look at it and it's informative, but it's unlike the State of the Union in that it's not boring and there's no rebuttal (unless someone wants to step up to the plate). Here we go.

Also, given that this piece focuses on the future rather than the past, there will be no talk of Booker or Thomas except for in relation to the other players. I know, they will be missed, and Thomas seemed to have a bright future here, but they're gone :(. So from here on out, it's all recruits, CBI players, and transfers.

Incoming Players

Well, the 2015 basketball recruiting class has certainly taken its sweet time to show up, but it showed up in a hurry this week. After 0 commits for most of the recruiting season and plenty of misses, Tad Boyle went for an international flavor in the 2015 class, grabbing Thomas Akyazili and Kenan Guzonjic, out of Belgium and Bosnia, respectively. Akyazili plays both guard spots (though he seems like a PG) and Guzonjic is a big man, playing both center and power forward, though his relatively short height of 6'8 suggests PF at Colorado. Let's take a look at what they bring to the table.

Kenan Guzonjic-The Bosnian Banger- 6'8,225 PF

The first commit of the 2015 class is also the most under-the-radar, which is actually an accomplishment in this class. After living in Bosnia most of his life, he came in to the states late in his high school career (presumably to up his recruiting chances) and ended up at Midland Junior College in Texas, where he spent one year putting up some unimpressive stats. If you dig deeper, the 6'8 power forward was hurt by a lack of playing time early in the year, but really poured it on in the last 8 games, averaging 14.125 points and 9.125 rebounds. Guzonjic is not known for his athleticism, to put it nicely, but on a team full of underperforming athletes, he might be just the elixir. Kenan brings a physical and mental maturity just not on the team right now. He has already filled out his body, has a smooth shot (even from 3-pt range), and is patient and crafty on the block, much like everyone's favorite Josh Scott. On defense, he is a big body who has long arms and plays physically. He may not have the lateral agility that Gordon or Scott possess, but like Tory Miller, he can bang down low. Guzonjic slipped past Rivals, ESPN, and Scout's recruiting services, and 247 basically rated him an 89 (three-star) as a placeholder after he committed here. As much as I would like to say I know how he fits into this program, he is just so unknown that we'll have to wait until next year to find out what he brings. Like most European prospects, the worst case scenario is a hard competitor in games and practice and great fundamentals, and both were sorely lacking this year.

Best Case Scenario: Immediately steps in and provides good minutes off the bench and stretches the D, as well as expands the culinary tastes of the locker room.

Worst Case Scenario: A big body for Wesley and Tory to bang against who can show them the crafty ways inside. Makes everyone eat Bosnian food and gives the in-game announcer nightmares during garbage time.

Thomas Akyazili- The Belgian Ballhandler-6'2, 190, PG/SG

Thomas is a little easier to analyze than Guzonjic, and given that he's coming in at a position of serious need, getting excited about him is easy. Thomas also has the more impressive suitor list of the two, with St. Johns, Utah, and Creighton all supposedly trying to grab him (let's not talk about Kenan's). Akyazili may never start here, as his athleticism limits his celing, but sometimes someone who knows their role is more valuable than a high-ceiling prospect. Originally from Turkey, though now he lives and plays with Belgium, Thomas has a classic European feel to his game. As a guard, he will limit turnovers, drive with a purpose and mind, and have a smooth jump shot (though his release point is a bit wonky). On offense, he has a variety of moves to get into the lane, and his midrange is decent enough that he can pick and choose where he goes with the ball once he's there. His hesitation move is deadly, and he's always in control with the ball in hands. As mentioned previously, he has a really smooth set shot, though it takes a bit to get up and the release point is low enough to get blocked. He can go right or left in the lane, and his long wingspan allows him to take contact, protect the ball with his body, and still finish before he's done jumping. As @TheGhostofMarv said on Twitter, he also brings a certain amount of suave to the team. He'll do a finger roll then pull a rose out of his shorts to give to the crowd. Rather than pump his chest and yell after an and-one, he'll take a bow and thank the crowd. Given that Akyazili counts as a high school recruit, CU gets four years of the smooth player. He'll most likely spell Collier for most of his career.

Best Case Scenario: Becomes what Talton was two years ago: a steady hand, some made threes, and a presence on D. Makes all opposing cheerleaders swoon.

Worst Case Scenario: Is what Talton was this year: a turnover machine who passed up more shots than he made, and an open door on defense. Eats all Belgian Waffles at team breakfasts (egregious).

Redshirts No More!

Josh Fortune-The Scorer- 6'6, 210, SG

The official hashtag of the 2015 season will be so: #FortuneFavorsTheGold (H/t to Tyler Ziskin and Mat Smith). Known for his defense (sound familiar for a Tad recruit) and shooting (wait, what?), Fortune brings a lot of excitement with him next year. A redshirt junior, Fortune last played with the Providence Friars in the Big East for two years, arguably a better team and a better league than Colorado and the PAC-12 the past two years. Fortune came to CU because Boyle has a reputation of getting guards to the NBA. However he got here, it was a blessing. The Buffs need a scorer next year, particularly from behind the arc, and look at their good Fortune (ha). Based on the tape of his game that I've seen, he holds no remorse on offense. He gets his shot up quickly and cleanly, and can hit from anywhere on the floor. The best part of those highlights is how he got his shots. Almost all were off of screens, and almost all were within the flow of the offense. He can fill it up quickly, but he also plays within the system. Fortune also has fantastic size for his position. At 6'5 or 6'6, he can match up with just about any wing in the PAC, and his quickness lets him keep up with them, too. Put him and Fletcher on the wings and watch them work. He will be fun to watch next year.

Best Case Scenario: Scores double digits within the offense and makes the All-Pac Defensive team.

Worst Case Scenario: #FortuneFavorsTheGold never catches fire, and neither does he. Takes ill-advised shots and loses confidence.

George King- The Hands- 6'6, 210, Wing

You know what they say about big hands... Big rebounding numbers. Look. Look at those things. Those hands have to be at least 11 inches. Ridiculous. Out of all of his physical gifts, King's hands are probably his best. But that's not where they stop. Blessed with hops, super long arms, and the rare quick second jump, King has the tools to be a Roberson-like offensive rebounder and a Roberson-like defender, though there will never be another Andre. King was a late recruit who was a bit under the radar in Brennan, Texas, and he played like it his freshman year. Boyle asked him to redshirt this year to give some more time to develop, and hopefully that's what happened. With all of his physical gifts and his hustle, he needs to make an impact going forward. With King, Fletcher, and Fortune on the perimeter, there is the potential for a lockdown on the wings. Let's hope it happens.

Best Case Scenario: Roberson Lite: Help side defense, impossible rebounds and putbacks. A stopper on the perimeter.

Worst Case Scenario: King stays on the bench and never gets consistent minutes on the crowded wing. He gets frustrated and fouls away the rest of his time.

Returning Players

Josh Scott- The Star- 6'10, 240 C

Where would CU be without J40? Actually, even though that was a rhetorical question, there was a glimpse of that future in the middle of conference play this season when Josh sat out with an ailing back. While there are extenuating circumstances, and there was no time to prepare for his absence, life without the big man was rough to say the least. Now, closing out the season, he seems to be 100%, and he is clowning some fools. Another huge summer for Josh could mean a dominating senior year, though we said the same about this year, too. As Booker leaves, this is Scott's chance to take unquestioned leadership of this team. He has the reins if he wants them, and you have to think he'll drive the carriage back on track.

Best Case Scenario: Legitimate Naismith candidate. Gets a double double easily and is in the upper teens in scoring. Remains the lockdown post defender he always has been

Worst Case Scenario: This year, really. Production in spurts, but his back holds him back (ha) and he never capitalizes on his potential.

Xavier Johnson- The X-Factor- 6'7, 230 Forward

What can I say about XJ that hasn't already been said? Well, it doesn't matter, I'm saying what I want anyway. Johnson has all the gifts in the world, and the passion that he plays with can really make you like him. Then he makes his bajillionth turnover and makes a boneheaded play, and checks out of the game for ten minutes, even if Tad doesn't check him out. XJ has infuriated Buff fans for three years now, and at this point, it's hard to imagine that changing for his senior year, barring his transfer or a huge step up in maturity. While he's never been in shape, I believe that he hasn't pushed his conditioning to the max either, and the hope is that his first summer in Boulder lifts (ha) his strength and agility to another level. At this point, it's hard to project anything more than he is now: great for ten minutes, maddening for the other 15. His shot still varies wildly, though he is getting more consistent on setting his feet, and he has yet to realize exactly how deadly he is around the basket. If Tad can get him to play a stretch 4 permanently, his production should increase a ridiculous amount. However, it's yet to be seen how Johnson reacts to Tad's Summer Camp. My guess is he stays just as aloof as ever.

Best Case Scenario: Becomes the dynamic scorer he was meant to be. His offense feeds his defense and he locks down the opposing forwards while keeping his head in the game. He keeps the dreads but not the frosted tips.

Worst Case Scenario: Dyes his whole head blonde and thinks of himself as bigger than he is. A black hole on offense and a liability on defense. Think recent Carmelo Anthony.

Xavier Talton- The Reclamation- 6'2, 185, PG

Well he fell off the face of the map, didn't he? Talton showed promise after Dinwiddie's injury, then subsequently stepped on that promise, threw it into the stands, and watched it drive by him for a layup. Even though the entire team regressed, Talton's step back was by far the most prominent. Picked as a starting guard going into next year, someone who was supposed to provide a steady hand, Talton fell short of those expectations, and then flat on his face. His shooting suffered, his defense refused to exist, and his passing was far from pinpoint. Now here's the good news: we know he can be better. He can hit shots, and he can defend, he has the mentality. But it's just not happening this year. Given the limited minutes that go around, Stalzer and Talton look to be the odd man out, though Talton can get it together and reclaim his spot as backup point guard. However, if it becomes apparent that they lost the Buffs' game of musical chairs, he might explore pastures elsewhere.

Best Case Scenario: He regains his form and becomes a fourth option on offense who can knock down the open trey. He steps up on defense and takes back his confidence. A calm ball-handler.

Worst Case Scenario: Discouraged by his evaporating minutes, Talton explores his options and lands at a mid-major where he can star his senior year.

Eli Stalzer- The Ben Mills- 6'3, 195, Guard

Stalzer has reached Ben Mills status. His minutes are now celebrated with a cheer from the C-Unit and he can do no wrong, as he has no expectations. There's not much to say about this one; he can hit the open three, and he can move the ball on offense. But he has mid-major athleticism and can't create his own shot. Given this information and the fact that he's also a music major, many fans are speculating that he'll leave the program next year, especially given the fact that he'll have to be in Boulder over the summer. Keep an eye on him in the coming months.

Best Case Scenario: Stalzer stays the reserve guard, and becomes a sign of victory for the Buffs. Stalzer's in? Must be a blowout. Keep working those keys, Eli.

Worst Case Scenario: The ebonies and ivories are kinder to him than the hardwood, and he chooses music over basketball.

Jaron Hopkins- The Hops- 6'6, 200, Guard

Did you catch my pun in the nickname? It's part of his last name, and describes his game. Hopkins is bouncy. Jaron's 6'6 frame is packed to the rafters athleticism, so much so that apparently some fundamentals got left out. More so than the rest of the incoming juniors, Hopkins is Tad's pet project, his Frankenstein. Boyle saw his length, size, and jumps, and thought, "If..." So far, those "ifs" have not materialized. His shot is still shaky, his handles are inconsistent, and his defense is disappointing given the potential for a stopper. Much like XJ, Hopkins has never spent his summer in Boulder with the program, and as such, I believe that it could help him and Johnson the most. If he can put time in the gym and just shoot for about 16 hours a day, he's gonna look a lot better come next November. Realistically, Hopkins is going to be the same player he was this year, just more aggressive. If you look at his stat lines between the Utah and Washington State, that's a realistic outlook for next year. Around 10 points a game, 4 assists a game, 4 rebounds a game, and countless missed lobs. SERIOUSLY, CU, JUST PRACTICE THROWING THE BALL A LITTLE LEFT OR RIGHT OF THE RIM. HOPKINS WILL DUNK IT JUST LOB IT NICE AND EASY.

Best Case Scenario: Hopkins spends the entire summer in the gym and gets a workable shot and consistent handles. Tad's experiment pays off and Hopkins flirts with double digits while making good plays and trying on defense.

Worst Case Scenario: Hopkin's growth stagnates and he remains the same player he was the last two years. A jumper and a game shooter. Wastes his potential.

Tre'Shaun Fletcher- The Condor- 6'7, 210, Guard/Forward

Fair Warning: Fletcher is far and away my favorite player on the team. There are plenty of biased and unbiased reasons for this. An unbiased reason is his passionate defense and unselfishness (to a fault) on offense, and he never gives up on the play. A biased reason is he applauded a pass I made in the rec center. Also that beard is a thing of beauty. But back to the projections. Fletcher stepped it up this season. Near the middle of conference play, pretty much after the Arizona game, Tre'shaun figured out how to drive without drawing a charge and his game changed from that point. He has been CU's resident sniper this year, but because it is Tad Boyle's Buffs, there weren't many threes attempted. Of the 44 he put up, 21 made their way down the net, accounting for 47.7% clip. While it's a bit of a small sample size, he consistently hit one or two a game near the end of the year, and I expect that to continue for the rest of his career. I haven't even talked about his namesake yet: his wingspan. I'd have to guess it's around 7 feet long, and he uses it to full effectiveness, especially on rebounding. Given that he's usually defending on the wing, when the shot goes up, he crashes the boards and with those arms he can pull down those rebounds over some taller players. One thing I would like to see next year when CU goes small is Fletcher at PF. He can defend 2-4, and on offense, he could be lethal at the high post spot, given his ability to drive, dish and shoot. But I digress. I expect Fletcher to keep the same upward progression for the rest of his career. Of the sophomores, he has expressed the most desire to be a leader, so maybe this is his year to step up.

Best Case Scenario: Fletcher, after becoming good friends with me, realizes aggressiveness on offense can help and he goes off, becoming a third or fourth scoring option. His defense is as frenetic and suffocating as ever and his rebounding numbers uptick. Fletcher also takes a leadership role on the team (at least on D) and holds players accountable.

Worst Case Scenario: Fletcher never gets into the groove with the ball in his hands and becomes a spotty spot-up shooter (ha, got it again). This lack of confidence on offense hurts his d, and Tre'Shaun rides the bench.

Wesley Gordon- The ?- 6'9, 240, PF/C

For me, Wesley Gordon is the hardest player to write about. There are three people on this team who are on another level athletically. XJ has had struggles with mental consistency and toughness and that's one of the reasons he's underperformed. Jaron Hopkins is lacking fundamentals and as such, he has not lived up to his athletic gifts. Gordon? At times, it just looks like he doesn't care. Apathy is his sin. Gordon, like Hopkins and XJ, has all the tools in his toolbox. But rather than kicking over the toolbox or not knowing how to use his hammer, he just forgets it at home sometimes. When Gordon is on, he's fun to watch. After Scott's back failed him, Gordon stepped up and played how we all want him to all the time. From Arizona State to Arizona (sample size:10 games), Gordon averaged 8.5 points and 8.8 rebounds, about what he should have averaged over the whole year. However, when Scott re-entered the lineup, Gordon retreated, and played a willing second fiddle. This summer will mark the beginning of his fourth year within the program, and Gordon has the blessing of having two more seasons to change his legacy. If CU wants to take the next step, Gordon will need to be more assertive. He's capable of a double-double and beyond, and could easily play in the NBA. He just has to hustle.

Best Case Scenario: Only Option Gordon comes back and gets high single digits/double digits in points and rebounds. More importantly, he cuts down on turnovers. Maybe, just maybe, we'll see a smile on the court, too.

Worst Case Scenario: Passive Gordon makes a comeback, and he allows himself to watch the play rather than make one. He cleans up the scraps like always, but he's no more than a utility player.

Tory Miller- The Bruiser- 6'9, 255 (no way he's that little), PF/C

My second favorite player on the team. Just as likely to tear the rim down as he is to make the jumper, Miller brings an attitude that has not been on this team in years. Other people play passionately on the team, but no one plays quite as angrily as Tory does. Number 14 makes his presence felt almost immediately when he enters the game, either positively or negatively. Right now, he is raw. The nuances of post defense seem to be above him right now, and any sort of offensive play other than post play is a crapshoot at best. What he does have is a great foundation. He's big, with the potential to get bigger (and stronger), and the touch he has around the rim is promising. Miller willingly runs the floor, hustles, and gets rebounds with the best of them. If Tory is a bull (or, more appropriately, a buffalo), then he is learning to walk in the china shop right now. I'm sure Tad rubs his hands together and smiles at the prospect of an upperclassman Miller harnessing his angry athleticism. The biggest offensive weapon he can develop is a mid-range jumper. If and when the more skilled bigs (like Gordon and Josh Scott) take the high post against the zone, Miller will FEAST on the baseline if he can hit that shot. When they get scared of that, take on power dribble and attack the rim. Stop me before I get too excited.

Best Case Scenario: Miller develops a midrange shot and destroys zones and rims. On defense, he finally defends the post without fouling and carves out his space in the point. Get you some, Tory.

Worst Case Scenario: Miller keeps his raw form and doesn't improve the skill parts of his game going forward. All he contributes next year is a few rebounds and five fouls.

Dominique Collier- The Future- 6'2, 170, Guard

Dominique was Tad's prodigy recruit in 2014. We all heard the amount of praise he heaped on Collier during the summer months and fall practice, but some, including myself, discounted it as coddling the freshman. Then this season happened, and fans realized that as of this moment, he is the best PG on the roster. Whether that is sad or a good sign of the future, no one quite knows yet. Near the end of conference play and into the tournament in Vegas, Collier started being aggressive and good things happened. Imagine that. His steady hand will guide the offense for three more years, and the sneak peek granted to me near the end of this season (continuing in the CBI) has me excited. While this team isn't great at offense, or defense really, I mean I guess they're decent at rebounding, but anyways, while offense has been stagnant this year, Collier moves the ball and it's no coincidence that the uptick in PPG has correlated with Dominique's increase in minutes. Particularly against the zone, Collier finds the soft spot and attacks it. There's also a reason I'm this far into my projection and I haven't talked about his defense. Until he gains pounds or grows 6 inches, he's going to be a liability on that side. He can have all the quickness he wants, but with the way that CU switches their big men onto guards, that leaves a guard in a post up position with a PF or C for at least a few seconds, and Collier will get eaten alive. This summer will be critical for Dom's progression on that side of the ball heading forward.

Best Case Scenario: Dom puts on weight while keeping his quickness and opposing PG's get shut down. His vision and craftiness on offense lead to more opportunities for all players, not just himself, and Collier makes it his team. Given that he can now be off campus, the addition of a car helps him get to shootaround on time.

Worst Case Scenario: His skinny body takes a beating from the long season, and he battles through the injuries to provide middling guard play and poor defense. But come on, that won't happen. It's Dom.

Well, we got through all the players, so I'm not going to make you, dear readers, suffer through my analysis of the coaching staff. However, given Tad's recent and public dissatisfaction with the way this year went, he might look to add or change some of his coaches. I believe the loss of Abetemarco hurt them big time this recruiting cycle, and potentially going forward. Long story short, the sky is not falling for this program, and every team has down years. In Tad We Trust. This summer, or as I'm calling it, Tad's Summer Camp, Boyle will put the hammer down on these young men. The gamers and the fakers will be revealed and appropriately praised or kicked out of the program. Next year is the year Tad gets serious. I don't know about you guys, but that Iowa State game to start the year is going to tell me a lot of where this ship is going. Also, it'll be fun as hell to watch. Go Buffs!