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Colorado Buffaloes basketball: 2017 and beyond

After a record-breaking class, what’s next?

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

The 2017-2018 Colorado Buffaloes are signed, sealed and delivered. For the first time, the full roster for Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes is intact and in place, and there is A LOT of change. Of the 13 scholarship players, eight of them will be playing their first minutes for the Buffs next fall, and seven of them will be freshmen.

What does that mean? Well, this is a young team, and every game this year, win or loss, will have an impact past 2017. Potential is bursting from the seams for the Basketbuffs, and this is possibly the most talented squad in CU history (experience is another matter).

So, what does this mean?

Who is going to play?

Jack: This roster is constructed in an interesting way. There is only one junior on the roster currently, with three seniors. This means that 9 (!) scholarship players will be sophomores or younger. Take a look:

Colorado Basketball 2017 Roster

Name Position Year
Name Position Year
Deleon Brown Guard Sophomore
Dom Collier Guard Senior
Lazar Nikolic Guard Freshman
McKinley Wright Guard Freshman
Namon Wright Guard Junior (RS)
Tyler Bey Wing/Forward Freshman
George King Wing/Forward Senior (RS)
D'Shawn Schwartz Wing Freshman
Evan Battey Forward/Center Freshman
Lucas Siewert Forward Sophomore
Alexander Strating Forward Freshman (RS)
Tory Miller Center Senior
Dallas Walton Center

A few things stick out to me. There’s a lot of bodies at guard, not a lot at center and youth everywhere. Given how often CU will use two or three guard lineups, there should be enough minutes to go around for all, especially when you consider that Tad Boyle likes to break in his freshmen slowly.

CU is afforded no such luxury this year. This class is too talented and there are too many open minutes to fill for the freshmen not to play a lot. McKinley Wright steps into a very favorable situation, with arguably no true point guard on the roster. It’s hard to get more true of a point guard than McKinley, and he will handle the rock immediately for the Buffs. Lazar Nikolic also stands to handle the ball some, though his 6’6 frame as PG can lead to some pretty interesting roster combos. My guy Tyler Bey has the hardest route to minutes, though his motor and athleticism beg for some trial. Evan Battey’s bodacious game and soft offensive touch will earn him time as a scoring option, and both Dallas Walton and Alexander Strating provide needed length and size off the bench.

My boi Lucas Siewert will also surprise some people this year. His size, tenacity, and shooting will earn him a lot of minutes and he’s figuring the game out.

Sam: Jack covered basically everything on this topic, but what about the starting lineup? Dom Collier, Tory Miller, George King and Namon Wright are virtual locks to start for the Buffs, but Tad Boyle can get creative with that last spot. If Tad wants a physical, do-it-all weapon, he has top prospect D’Shawn Schwartz on the wing. If he wants a larger body who can space the floor, ciao to Lucas Siewert. If he wants a playmaker to ease Dom Collier’s offensive role, there’s the crafty McKinley Wright. If he wants a skilled big with swagger and shit-talking to spare, the lovable Evan Battey is ready to (pick and) roll. But no matter who Tad decides to start — and it’s a marvel there are so many starter-caliber players to choose from — all those players and the other promising freshmen Jack discussed — Tyler Bey, Dallas Walton and Lazar Nikolic — will be playing roughly equal time and developing together.

How will the Buffs do in 2017?

Sam: Having low expectations should be key going into the 2017-18. I don’t mean that as a cynic, but this season will be more enjoyable if you aren’t expecting an NCAA Tournament appearance. This team will incredibly fun and should play promising basketball, but Colorado is losing Derrick White and Xavier Johnson and will be effectively replacing them with a youth movement bound to go through growing pains.

The Buffs have something of a favorable non-conference schedule — Colorado State, Iowa and Xavier should be tough, but the rest is relatively soft — so they should* pick up some solid, confidence building wins early on. The Pac-12 has an overall talent decline coming, but it’s still the Pac-12, you know? Conference play is going to be tough, and now that not even Oregon State will be an automatic win, every game will be a battle. You shouldn’t expect more than six conference wins (mayyybe they can get to eight), so please divert your energy from the #FireTad movement towards building optimism for this young team.

*”Should” is always a precarious word with the Buffs in non-con, but these aren’t the same Buffs we’re talking about, I hope.

Jack: I absolutely love how the schedule sets up for the Buffs this year. First, Tad Boyle gets to coach the U19 Olympic Basketball team, getting the Buffs some extra press and in front of the most important viewers, the recruits. Boyle is coaching with Kentucky’s John Calipari and Wake Forest’s Danny Manning, so this experience should help him as a coach. Then, the team gets to travel to Europe to gel early and get some extra experience together. This lets the coaches get an early feel for chemistry and the freshmen, and also makes the team closer. With so many unknown quantities, the roster needs to become cohesive quickly, and this trip allows a chance to do just that.

Then the actual season starts. Boyle did a great job of scheduling games that provide challenge without overwhelming the young players. @Xavier, @CSU, and Iowa on a “neutral” court in South Dakota provide hostile environments and tough teams, but not soul-crushingly tough. These measuring sticks will show the fans what CU has in this enigmatic squad. Finally, there’s some regional intrigue, with Northern Colorado, Denver and New Mexico all showing up on the schedule. Any heightened emotion in the non-con is a good thing.

The Pac-12 has to replace a ton of talent this year, so the opportunity is there for this team to take almost any game they want, if they can mature and learn quickly. I’m with Sam. Enjoy watching the team grow and hope they do sooner rather than later.

What is “beyond” for the Buffs?

Jack: Now this is the really fun part. In the next two classes, CU only loses FOUR players naturally (Namon Wright, Collier, Miller, King). What does this tell you, Sam? It says that the potential-laden freshmen, that comprise the highest rated recruiting class in program history, and the sophomores, immediate contributors Deleon Brown and Lucas Siewert, get to grow together. Find each other’s tendencies and preferences, learn who plays best with who, and who fits in each role.

As the Buffs continue to improve on the recruiting trail, it’s this group of young players that will set the foundation as they grow into old players. Right now, they have a chance to impact the team for four years. Boyle has done a great job finding guys that are natural leaders and team guys. Not all of them are vocal leaders like Spencer Dinwiddie (some are) and not all are constantly locked in and focused like Scott (but who is?). However, they have a fantastic mix of playing styles and personalities that will make this team fun to watch for a while.

Sam: We know the kids are gonna be stars, so let this be the season we finally see the true potential of Tad Boyle. The Buffs have so many versatile players of all shapes, sizes and skills that Tad can play practically any lineup he wants depending on what type of basketball he wants. If Tad wants to go with ultra-big lineups — something like Collier-Schwartz-King-Battey-Miller* — he has the depth to make it practical and the shooting ability to make it work. If he wants to go with an extreme small-ball lineup — something like McKinley-Collier-Namon-King-Siewert — he most definitely has the players to space the floor and ruin the opposing defense. None of these lineups should be particularly effective right away — defense is always going to be an adventure — but if Tad accepts that this season is more about development than winning, he can grow these lineups to be lethal in a season or two.

*This lineup seems to be fairly normal, but Miller and Battey play significantly larger than their size, as do Schwartz and King, who are both big men trapped in wings’ bodies.