I don't usually write about the Buffs basketball team, given that Ralphie Report already retains a wonderful staff of basketball writers and reporters, but I feel compelled to right now. I can't really start working on the football preview until a certain grad transfer quarterback makes up his mind (again). And after pulling all my hair out at that situation, I thought it would be much healthier to shift focus to a much more hopeful topic, CU basketball. And the more I think about it, the bigger my smile grows.
Depending on your viewpoint of last year, the team either overperformed or underperformed greatly. The first perspective looks at the preseason expectations (NIT and struggling to get 20 wins) and says, "we beat those pretty damn easily." The Buffs outplayed teams that have twice as much "natural talent" and got a signature win at home by beating Arizona (on a down year). George King stepped up and Josh Scott was everything you wanted and more. And that's where the second perspective comes in. Some fans see the close road losses at USC and Utah and think, "how did we lose that game?" They see a near loss to WSU at home (thank you, based George) and a disappointing first-round exit against a flaming-hot UConn team. This perspective looks at all the blown leads and just shakes their head, while the first celebrates the building of the lead itself. Now, being the eternal optimist I am, I loved what I saw out of last year's team. Anytime you tie the school record for regular season wins, it's a good year. However, it could've been a lot better. and I believe next year will be. For three big reasons.
Platoon Help at Guard
You watch five minutes of last year's CU team and you can see that the obvious strength of was the twin towers inside. Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott were two of the best bigs in the country, period. And Scott was STILL criminally underrated nationally. No doubt that the Buffs will miss J40's offensive contribution, but as Tad Boyle himself said, replacing his production won't be the problem, it's replacing his leadership that may prove to be a challenge. One big reason that 18 points a game won't be too hard to find next year? Derrick White.
Under-the-radar transfer: Colorado's Derrick White. 6-5 wing averaged 26.0 PPG two years ago at Division II CU-Colorado Springs. Sleeper.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) April 20, 2016
The best part is, White's not the only new guard in town. Xavier Talton was a solid contributor all year last year, but with little X being the only loss, the guards stand to be a lot better. Dom will be an upperclassman, and hopefully he takes the leap associated with the extra year, and Thomas Akyazili should only build on an active 2015. But that's not the point of this paragraph. This is meant to talk about the newcomers (other than Derrick) at guard, Bryce Peters and Deleon Brown. Peters is the flashier of the two, and also looks to get a little bit more time this upcoming year. He has a college-ready game, and averaged about 25 points a game in a very strong California league last year. This shows off a lot of his ability, with the lion's share of that video coming against Chino Hills, the number one team in the country last year (they're in white). Bryce steps in and immediately is the most athletic guard on the roster.
Peters is more than just hops, he can dribble drive and play some lockdown defense. I wouldn't expect too many minutes for him, at least not right away, but he may play his way into a big role sooner rather than later. Given his plus size for the PG position (6'4), I am intrigued by the two guard lineups that he could sneak into. Akyazili and Peters on the same court would be dangerous in transition and on D, while Collier and Peters should provide great size and two nice passers for the half-court offense. Peters, as a third or fourth lead guard option, gives the staff a lot to play around with.
Deleon Brown is an interesting case. Originally, Brown was a 2015 signee and recruit, but he agreed to go to prep school for a year as he was young for his graduating class and now he comes into CU as a grizzled vet of a freshman. Playing at Brewster Academy allowed Brown to step up the competition level (every prep school in his league has at least 1 D1 recruit on the team) while also giving him a pseudo-redshirt year. He could develop further while also staying off the Buff's scholarships. Now, he's ready to arrive in Boulder. Brown may not get many immediate minutes, as it is a bit logjammed on the wings, but where he may show value next year, and where Tad will want to get him on the floor, is defense. Brown has the body and, more importantly, the attitude, to be a defensive stopper. Length, quickness, and good hands, he's got it all. Brown should come in this summer with that role in mind. "Put me on the floor, and I'll stop their best." He has the tools to do it, and should defense lead to offense, he is dangerous in transition.
Tad's Deepest Team Since...?
There's a reason for the question mark. I don't know if Tad has ever had a team as deep as the one being fielded next year. The Pac-12 champs in 2012 may come close, but that was a team maximizing each of their roles. This team doesn't really even need roles. There is soooo much talent that Tad can be flexible. Let's just do a position-by-position breakdown:
PG: Collier, Akyazili, Peters, White (if needed)
SG: White, Fortune, Peters, Brown
SF: King, XJ, Fortune, White
PF: XJ, Tory Miller, Siewert
C: Gordon, Miller, Walton
Obviously, I doubled up on some players, but that just shows the versatility of this team. There should be high-level starters at every single position, and good backups that could play multiple positions. The real story is how balanced the roster is as well. If we just look at the first name at each position, that lineup checks all the boxes. Gordon brings elite defense and rebounding, XJ brings an aggressive mentality on the offensive glass and fantastic inside-out scoring ability, as well defensive versatility. King gives you an elite scorer as a THIRD option in this lineup, which means he can function as a spot-up shooter and a cutter when the play breaks down, a perfect fit for his talents. Then you have White, who could play off of XJ in the post, will cut and shoot at will, as well as make the next pass. Collier is the engine that makes it all tick, and the offense should have more space for drive and kick opportunities, which fits Collier's game very well. And that's just one lineup. The late addition of Siewert was crucial, as it adds another skilled big and a good post passer to throw the ball to. Ideally, Walton would redshirt and add some muscle to his frame and continue to rehab his knee. Siewert gives more of a chance for that to happen while also adding some size. Tad Boyle has a lot of tools in his toolbelt this year, and there's not many others I trust more to handle them.
Tad is Terrific
Let me just step up on my soapbox for a bit. There's been quite a bit of consternation about Coach Boyle and his job last year, and people were upset with the final results of the year. Some have even called for Boyle to find a new home and coach somewhere that's not Boulder.
I, for one, think that's ludicrous. Boyle has taken this program to new heights, and I think it really shortchanges the job he's done here to suggest that someone else is better positioned to lead this program. Boyle has been nothing short of a godsend for CU Basketball, and he's still building this program to have "sustained success" (his words). If, but most likely when, he reaches that level, this program will explode. Tad obviously isn't perfect, which coach is? But he's recruited well, his players obviously can play at a high level, and Boyle is committed to staying in Boulder for the long term.
In the context of this year, Boyle has everything in front of him. He has FOUR fifth-year seniors. That's virtually unheard of in the current state of college basketball. He has talent, he has experience, he has depth, and he has himself. Boyle has proven, time and time again, that he belongs in the upper echelon of CBB coaches, and 2016 should prove no different. This year, he's not requiring that all the players stay in the summer in Boulder, which shows that he trusts the players more this year.
Not to mention, Boyle added another experienced, terrific coach to his staff. Rodney Billups was a valuable asset to the program and really connected with the players, and Buff Nation should be excited that he got a head coaching opportunity, especially at his alma mater. The bigger the Boyle coaching tree is, the better. And now he has added a wonderful compliment to his staff. Bill Grier, formerly of Oklahoma State, San Diego, and Gonzaga, has joined the staff, and he brings a wealth of experience. His specialty in position coaching has been guards, specifically scoring guards, which means he should be of great help to Collier and the young talent like Bryce Peters. Grier also handled the defensive scheme for Gonzaga under Mark Few, and he could help Boyle in this area (not that he needs it). Boyle made a terrific hire, one fit for a terrific coach.
The future is bright for Buff basketball. 2016 has the best collection of talent in Boulder since Tad Boyle got here (in my opinion), and the combination of experience and balance should take this team far. It should be really interesting when top 5 team Xavier visits Boulder, that will prove to be a very nice litmus test for the team going forward. However, the true test is powerhouse Wofford.