We are now nearing the end of the college basketball postseason, and once again your Colorado Buffaloes are watching the NCAA Tournament at home. The turbulent season for Tad Boyle and his boys ended, well, turbulently. The 2017-18 season for Colorado Basketball was an almost picturesque representation of what a young team looks like. They took their lumps, especially early, but showed enough promise and talent to have fans salivating for the next three years.
It was the second season in a row that Boyle did not make the NCAA tournament, and the third in four years. Now that he has completed two full recruiting cycles, the patterns have become a little clearer. I look at 2013-14 and 2015-16 as planned “crescendo” years for the team, where the recruited talent matures, grows, and blows up as upperclassmen. The 2013 team played that part perfectly at the beginning, with veteran PG Spencer Dinwiddie leading the team to the top 25 with exciting young talent around him and a dynamo down low in Josh Scott. Keep in mind, Roberson was supposed to be on this team as well. Then Dinwiddie tore his ACL and everything fell apart. The Mayorless team, lacking a true leader, whimpered to a loss against Pitt in the tournament, and the struggles continued in 2014. This whole time, the talent was growing up together. The Josh Scott-led class, which included two other top-150 talents and uber-athletic big man Wesley Gordon, was growing up. They had some athletic players around them that could turn into something as well (I still love you, Tre’shaun Fletcher). Everything was shaping up for a great team in 2015, when Scott & Co. were seniors and the young talent had matured into fantastic role players. Well, the locker room fell apart, players transferred, and the 2012 class had some problems that reared their ugly head. And still Scott drug that team to the tournament.
All of this to say that the 2016-17 was supposed to be a reload year, to grab some talented recruits that see nothing but open minutes for them, play through the problems, and challenge for the top of the conference. But then Xavier Johnson got hurt, George King emerged out of nowhere the previous year, and Wesley Gordon still had eligibility. Suddenly, there weren’t a lot of minutes to entice young players, but there were a lot of talented veterans. After a rough few years in the recruiting cycle, CU had questionable depth at every position and had to find a band-aid. Enter Derrick White. White, who should’ve been allowed to play with Josh Scott during his transfer year (that team would’ve made the Sweet 16 at least), steadied the unstable foundation that the Buffs had and pushed them to the NIT. Not March Madness, but a great finish for a team that had a dearth of young talent, a lack of leadership, and no real plan from Boyle.
Now, we finally reach the present. Boyle finally starts his third recruiting cycle, and the plan begins anew. An unprecedented amount of turnover has let him start with an almost completely clean slate, and the results speak for themselves. The Buffs under Boyle have never played as many freshmen minutes as they did this year, and only had three upperclassmen play minutes after Tory Miller-Stewart went down with an injury. Almost every contributor is back, every coach returns (barring a HC opportunity), and Evan Battey, one of the ballyhooed recruits who is an even better person, is going to find out soon if he can return to basketball after suffering a scary medical incident.
Point Guard — McKinley Wright (So.)
This right here is your man, Buff fans. If you choose to ignore everything else I say in this rambling rant full of optimism, read this: McKinley Wright is a star. He is already a top-3 PG in conference (I only put Daejon Davis from Stanford solidly on his level next year), an all-conference candidate for the rest of his career, and a legit threat to be an All-American at some point. We here at Ralphie Report were so taken by him that we made a quick little cutup of some of our favorite plays of his this year. As long as McKinley is on the team, I have faith that they will go far. And here’s the best part: In between freshman and sophomore years is typically where the biggest improvements occur. McKinley has a few deficiencies in his game that would put him over the top. A more consistent outside shot and a quicker release would make him impossible to guard with his quickness, and learning how to finish through or around contact at the rim will help protect him from some of his nasty falls and blocked shots. But this is all nitpicky. Wright has already arrived as a player.
Shooting Guard — Namon Wright (Sr.)
Rounding out the Wright brothers backcourt, Namon transitions into being the only vet on an extremely young team. As the only scheduled senior, he will be expected to bring consistency and effort every minute he’s on the court, something he’s struggled with coming off the bench. Namon has had a laundry list of injuries since his time in Boulder, but when he’s healthy, he is arguably CU’s most dynamic scoring option. Wright can quickly heat up from deep, is a fantastic cutter towards the hoop, and drives aggressively towards the basket with athletic finishing. His angles and looping shots are always a thing of beauty, and his unorthodox release timing on layups and pull-ups helps draw a lot of fouls. As a guard, he is also a plus rebounder, something that endeared him to Tad immediately. With more minutes next season, his expectations rise. He should average double-digit points, grab his share of boards, and always attack on offense. If he can stay aggressive, he will cause problems.
Small Forward — D’Shawn Schwartz (So.)
George King leaves the Buffs after a successful, criminally underrated career. He turned himself into a great spot up shooter who can bang on the boards and play great defense. Enter D’Shawn Schwartz, who is a great spot up shooter that has a knack for boards and plays solid defense (at least in zone). Schwartz doesn’t have the wingspan or the leap of King, but he is already more polished on offense and plays great team ball. I love how smooth his game is on offense, and he is never rushed by the defense. He will thrive in the right corner, as his lefty drives off the pump fake let him glide to the bucket for an easy layup or dump off. Schwartz still needs to adjust to college ball after dominating 3A high school ball, but his progress during conference play indicates a bright future. D’Shawn has the potential to be the primary scoring option on this team, and his three-level polished game just needs more confidence to go with it.
Power Forward — Tyler Bey (So.)
It’s almost fatiguing going down this line of players and saying how full of potential they are, but it’s true. In his current form, Bey personifies the word. 6’8 with giant conduits of pure bounce called arms and legs, and a somehow automatic mid-range jumper, Bey is an amalgam of Tad Boyle staples. He rebounds fiercely, plays physical defense and runs the rim hard. But that only describes the extent of his game right now. Once he gets a little stronger, those near misses around the rim will turn into makes, those dribble-drives won’t end up with a desperate pass back to the guard, and he will play more disciplined defense. His foundational skill-set already make him a plus Pac-12 player and he’s only improving. He will join McKinley on the all defensive conference team soon enough. AND WE GET THREE MORE YEARS TO WATCH HIM.
Center — Dallas Walton (So.)
Walton is the most surprising development of this team. Before the year started, he was the distant fourth big in the rotation behind Battey, TMS, and Lucas Siewert. Well, Battey and TMS immediately couldn’t play and Siewert didn’t have the bulk to bang inside for 30 minutes. So Boyle threw Walton in the deep end and he started swimming furiously. Walton is still very slight for his frame and his two years away from basketball showed with some of his rust, but Boyle has never had a big quite like him. Dallas has a smooth outside shooting stroke, some nice post moves around the rim, and actually took a few bigs off the dribble near the end of the year. It seemed his confidence increased with every game, especially against top competition. For those who watched Josh Scott suffer through double teams because passing wasn’t natural to him, fear not, because Walton is a great passer out of the post. His offensive game is polished as it is and his defensive game, while raw, is promising. Walton is a real 7 feet, his arms are even longer, and he is quite agile for his size. Where he really needs to work is rebounding. His skinny frame got pushed out of the way as the season went on for boards, which is fine when you have King and Bey to help clean up, but not as fine now. If he bulks up, his layups become easier to finish through contact and those rebounds become a little easier to get. Give him another year or so, and he will a top-shelf center in the Pac-12.
Point Guard (?) — Deleon Brown (Jr.)
Brown was playing well before he went down during conference play with a broken hand. Since he arrived in Boulder, he has given the team consistent, hard defense and solid spacing on offense. While I love Dom Collier and his contributions this year, the difference between him and Deleon at the top of the zone defense was impossible not to notice. Brown, at this point, is what he is on offense — a streaky shooter who moves well off the ball, can be a secondary ball handler, and has trouble finishing in traffic. He will always get minutes because of how solid he is defensively, and as long as too much stress isn’t placed on his offensive game, he will be a plus contributor.
Shooting Guard — Daylen Kountz (Fr.)
Kountz will be an unknown next year. As an incoming true freshman with a few players in front of him, how much he plays will likely fluctuate. Kountz will be one of the most offensively gifted players on the team the minute he steps on campus, and his left-handed, off-pace drives have a quirky way of creating space. He is pretty slight of frame, so he may have to bulk up before he plays, but his skill on offense and his length at the SG spot could be valuable.
Shooting Guard — Elijah Parquet (Fr.)
Parquet may end up being quite the steal. After choosing CU over Virginia Tech and a few other mid-major offers, he blew up his senior year. Parquet was District MVP in 6A Texas basketball, no small feat, and was his team’s main scoring option all season. Parquet will enter Boulder as more of a combo guard with huge defensive potential at 6’4. He loves the ball in his hands on offense and is more than comfortable creating off the bounce. He is even more unknown than Kountz at this point, but his ability to handle the ball will be needed to give McKinley Wright some rest.
Small Forward — Lazar Nikolic (So.)
Nikolic is the most interesting bench piece to me. As the season went on, he evolved into a great defender capable of switching 1-5. He also was a great secondary ball-handler and point forward who can be a valuable zone-buster creating in the high post. His stats weren’t flashy (his shot needs work), but his minutes increased because of how much he plugged different holes in the team. He was fourth on the team in defensive plus minus at 2.8 points, meaning he was 3 defensive points better than average. Lazar is a fantastic player off the bench because he fits into so many lineups because of his defensive versatility and unique offensive game. Going into next year, Nikolic really needs a consistent shot and a more confident drive. The few times that he did dribble to the basket, good things happened. It makes sense that he was apprehensive, he only got to Boulder in August of last year. More than anyone in this freshman class, he will get more comfortable playing college ball and settle into his role.
Power Forward — Lucas Siewert (Jr.)
I am so happy that Siewert turned on the jets at the end of last season. I have been all in on him since the Oregon game in 2016, and after making me worried for a bit there in the middle, he became an elite offensive weapon at the end of the season. His efficiency is ridiculous, and then you add in the fact that 6’10 and can rebound pretty well, and you are salivating for his potential. He shot a SCORCHING 47% from three during conference play, and that is on a healthy 38 attempts (Collier shooting 48% on 60 attempts is also ridiculous). But the three ball was always there for him. His game opened up when he figured out he could score inside the arc as well. As long as he is not a defensive liability for the team in 2018-19, he will earn 20+ minutes a night. He is just too good on offense.
Center (?) — Evan Battey (Fr.)
There’s not much to say about Battey, who is still awaiting test results that determine if he can play basketball again after suffering a health scare in December. While it will be good news for the team if and when he’s cleared, it would be even better news for a great kid who can’t wait to get back out there and play. If Battey can jump in and play as a redshirt freshman, he will be huge boost to this team. Evan is a unique offensive weapon who can shoot, pass, drive, and post up competently. His big frame also lends him his fair share of rebounds. While he is an unknown at the college level, the reports coming out of practice say that if Battey is allowed to play ball, he will earn a lot of minutes.
This spot is reserved for whoever Tad Boyle gives the last open scholarship to. Conventional wisdom suggests that an instant impact player is needed here, and I tend to think that another point guard is a bigger need than another big man. It’s impossible to replace McKinley when he takes a rare break, but another offensive initiator is needed so Tad can try to avoid those scoreless runs that can get a bit too long. There are plenty of talented transfers out there, but my bet is that Tad goes international or the high school route.