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Colorado Basketball 2016-2017: Group Autopsy

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We discuss the season in retrospect and the road ahead.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Well, the 7th season of Tad Boyle, first of his name, King of the Buffs, came to a close. The record stood at 19-15, the second time that he has failed to reach 20 wins as CU’s head coach, which is ridiculous to think about. It was an unceremonious ending, bowing out of the first round of the NIT after Goliath, UCF’s 7’6 Tacko Fall, beat David, Derrick White. Boyle immediately looked forward, talking about the need for a strong offseason across the board from everyone on the team. He mentioned that CU will take a European trip this summer, and everyone is expected to replace.

We here at Ralphie Report weren’t ready to move on that quickly. We’re gonna look back at the season first, and then move forward.

Sam: Looking back at the season, the main thing that stands out to me is that Colorado was seven points from the NCAA Tournament. The Buffs started Pac-12 play 0-7, but it could’ve easily been 4-3. Against Arizona State, CU was clearly the better team and had horrible luck in a one-point loss. Against USC, the teams were about even, but because of ghastly free throw shooting and tons of turnover, CU lost by three. And as hard as I try to forget about it, CU collapsed in overtime losses to Washington and Washington. Assuming the rest of the season stayed static (which is a dangerous assumption), CU would’ve been 22-14 (12-8 in the Pac-12) with a first round bye going into the Pac-12 Tournament and a near for the NCAA Tournament. As flawed as they were, CU was that close to dancing.

Jack: There’s no denying the importance of that seven game stretch on the rest of the season. CU was a different team after those seven games for the better, but if they could’ve figured it out a little bit earlier, they would’ve danced easily and gotten closer to the team that many expected them to be. Before the year, I, like many others, was extremely bullish on the team’s chances. Buffish, you could say. Experience, talent, depth, versatility, they were supposed to have it all. And as they showed at times, this team did have it all. The problem was, the team was built like a pendulum rather than a pillar. They would disappear for games at a team, and then come roaring back to show the fans what they could be. Along the way, players stepped up from unlikely places (my boy Lucas Siewert), in part due to necessity borne out of others losing focus (the suspensions to XJ, Wesley Gordon, and Bryce Peters). The long and short of it is, as you said Sam, this team came up just short. Not once, but consistently just short.

This wasn’t a terrible season to watch, though. There were certainly some bright spots.

Sam: Those highs would make up for all the lows, if only those highs weren’t so addicting. Because of Xavier, I wanted this team to always share the ball like they had. Because of Oregon, I wanted this team to play balls-to-the-wall defense every time out. It’s difficult to enjoy success without thirsting for more, if that makes sense.

Jack: There were plenty of games where CU played winning, beautiful basketball. If I understand what you’re saying, those times just made the times where the BasketBuffs were bogged down on offense or soft on defense more frustrating. There were some constants, however, starting with the fantastic play of Derrick White. All season, he was the best player on the floor in black and gold, and his season was historic.

Sam: I had absolutely no idea Derrick White would be this good. I thought he would be a solid contributor and maybe blow up a couple times. Instead, we got one of the most dominant single seasons in CU history. Towards the end of the season, everyone knew this team was entirely dependent on White. If he didn’t go all out and put up his usual 20-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist statline, Colorado had zero chance.

I think one of the most telling stats of the season is that the Buffs were 1-6 when Derrick White scored 25 points or more. Watching those games, CU was always struggling and Derrick White decided to carry the team on his own. He could always make the game close no matter how good the opposition, but he needed some help to turn those losses into wins.

Jack: As I said after the Pac-12 Championship, Derrick White sitting a year will go down as one of the great “what-ifs” of Colorado Basketball. If he didn’t have to sit out a year going from D2 to D1, he would have played with Josh Scott. That toruney team in 2016 suddenly turns into a Sweet 16 team. Derrick White and Josh Scott on the pick and roll? On defense? Man, it almost hurts to imagine. He’s just that good. Not that he was alone this year, though he was singular in achievement. XJ had a very solid year, and his energy was necessary to beat Oregon and Xavier. George King improved his rebounding tremendously, Wesley Gordon was the second-best passer on the team at times, and Josh Fortune stepped into a lot of minutes with his defense and effort. Collier grew as a shooter and into a feisty defender at times. Miller cleaned the boards and developed a mid-range game (!!). Finally, the freshmen, Peters, Brown and Siewert, all put in good, hard minutes. They all hustled and made plays on their own. The team all showed well, just not all the time and not enough to get to the tourney.

Of the returning players, who was your favorite last year and who are you most excited to get back?

Sam: I have an undying love for Dom Collier and Tory Miller for various reasons, and I’m very excited for Missouri transfer Namon Wright. Away from them, I’m excited to see what George King can do leading a team. King has shown flashes of being a matchup nightmare and his shooting is always lethal. While he had somewhat of a down season this year — his defense and shooting were very inconsistent — his improvement on the boards was one of the most encouraging developments of the season. King will likely never be a consistent player in the way White or Scott were, but if he consistently plays with effort, he can lead this team with his defense and rebounding, and on the nights his shot is on, he can be a star.

How about you?

Jack: That’s spot on with King, and he is very cognizant of the fact that it’s his team team, along with Tory and Dom. I think Tory and George are two vocal leaders that definitely have the work ethic to lead by example, so I’m excited for the direction that they will take the team. Me personally, if we count Namon Wright as cheating, I’m most excited for Tory Miller. I love bigs, and I love bigs who play like they’re bigs. Tory Miller is both. This is the first time in his career he’ll have a consistent starting role, and I expect him to be just as effective in extended minutes. Miller will carve out the paint, and his aggressive finishing around the rim will be welcome. Plus, his emotional leadership will be valuable.

Next year will be an interesting year for the Buffs. CU will have at least five new rotation players, and this summer they will travel to Europe to gain some chemistry. Boyle is also coaching the NABC College All-Star game and is on staff for the USA U-19 team with John Calipari and Danny Manning. Both will develop Boyle as a coach and give him valuable experience and exposure. It will be an interesting offseason. What do you want to see from Boyle and the Buffs this spring and summer?

Sam: Considering the roster shakeup going on, I want there to be an emphasis on team chemistry to get everyone everyone on the same page. I want King and Miller to be ready to lead the team with focus and vigor, something Tad will assuredly help them with. I want incoming recruits D’Shawn Schwartz, Tyler Bey and Evan Battey — Tad’s greatest ever recruiting class — to be ready to hit the ground running. And on top of that, development of players like Deleon Brown, Lucas Siewert and Dallas Walton would be welcomed.

Jack: You hit on all the main points. Chemistry will be a big deal for the next iteration of the Buffaloes. There will be 5 new rotation players, and all accounts say that Schwartz, Bey and Battey will be able to contribute early. Add in Namon Wright and there’s going to be a lot of new minutes. The Europe trip should help immensely with getting everyone on the same page. It did wonders for UCLA last year. As Boyle said, every player will need to step up this offseason. My guy Lucas Siewert will definitely step into an increased role this year, and this offseason will be crucial to his development. All three recruits should be on the team for the European trip, which gives the Buffs a step ahead in adding the freshmen to the fold.

Interestingly, I’m most excited for Boyle’s development. His time with Calipari and coaching the all-star team should help him develop as a coach. It gives him new ideas, lets him bounce concepts off one of the best in the business, and gives him exposure to some of the best players in the country. Boyle should grow immensely as a coach, and the time in Europe should let him find the pulse of this team earlier.

Sam: I never thought about Tad growing as well, but I don’t see why it can’t happen. Maybe Calipari will give him some offensive sets and teach him how to get the most out of talented freshmen from the get-go. If Tad improves on offense and the younglings contribute, we could be entering another great period of Colorado basketball.