Josh Scott was one of the greatest Buffs of all time. His consistency, level-headedness and big-game play made him the perfect leader for the Buffs. His basketball IQ, polished skill and defensive ability made everyone around him better. In every sense of the word, Scott was and is irreplaceable.
Tad Boyle knows Scott’s role cannot be recreated atom for atom. As such, the Buffs will no longer start multiple big men, as they had with Scott and returning fifth-year senior Wesley Gordon. The new Boyle Ball will involve two guards, two forwards and a lone big man. It will heavily emphasize shooting, frenetic defense and fast breaks.
Here, we look at the presumed starting lineup.
Point Guard - Dominique Collier
Dominique Collier has been arguably the most divisive player in the Tad Boyle era, and only Askia Booker can make any claim to that. Coming in as a top recruit, Collier had sky-high expectations that he hasn’t yet lived up to. I’ve leave it at that and move on.
Collier is the unquestioned floor general of this team and will look to find consistency in his passing, ball handling and shooting. If he’s able to find consistency and avoid disastrous showings, he would take this offense to the next level.
As far as his defense goes, no one’s worried about anything more than his occasional foul trouble. Collier may succeed Gary Payton II as the premier perimeter defender in the Pac-12. His defense should set the tone for the rest of the team as they aim to among the best in the nation at point prevention.
Shooting Guard - Derrick White or Josh Fortune
Derrick White might be the first guard off the bench to open this season but he could start day one and should quickly become a star for Buffaloes. White is a fifth-year senior who spent his first three seasons playing Division II basketball at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs before transferring to CU-Boulder before the start of last season (he sat out, per NCAA rules).
White starts his Buffs career as a highly skilled and polished do-it-all combo guard who will contribute heavily from the get-go. White has the skill set to play point guard or act as a secondary ball handler; he can spell either Collier or Fortune depending on the situation. Moreover, White is 6’5 with some bulk, so he can also play up a from his natural position (shooting guard) and log minutes at small forward in ultra-small-ball lineups.
White’s versatility will immediately be a huge asset for the Buffs and he could be one of the best guards in the conference by the end of the season.
Josh Fortune is one of four fifth-year seniors on this team (!) and he wants to end his career on a high note. Fortune is as smooth as a quantum stabilized atom mirror, can shoot the lights out any day and offers secondary ball handling and playmaking from the 2-guard position. Fortune also comes with turnover issues — which can be deadly — and mediocre defense. Fortunately for the Buffs (DO YOU GET IT?), the former Friar spent the entire offseason working to cut down on his turnovers and the his teammates should be able to cover for him defensively. Fortune should realize his potential as an ultra-valuable Swiss army man.
If White starts from day one Fortune will likely be a key sixth man who should record a ton of minutes.
Small Forward - George King
Last season, George King came out of nowhere to become one of the deadliest scorers in the Pac-12 Conference. King wasn’t Colorado most consistent scorer — no, no, no — but once he caught fire, the Buffs looked like they could beat anybody in the country. And this season-saving shot certainly helped his reputation.
King is just another Buff looking to improve his consistency, but should he find it, he could emerge as the most dangerous shooter in the country.
Power Forward - Xavier Johnson
He’s baaaaaaaaaack. Xavier Johnson tore his Achilles last summer and spent last season rehabilitating from perhaps the most devastating injury in basketball. Johnson last played on the train wreck of a team that was the 2013-14 Buffs, so it’s easy to forget how valuable he is.
As a small-ball power forward, XJ will use his offensive skill to open up the rest of the Buffs’ offense. He’s a lethal shooter — maybe better than Fortune and King — and attracts defensive pressure out towards the three-point line. Once that pressure is on him, he can drive past anyone and finish in traffic with his funky left-handed moves.
Surrounded by intelligent cutters and gifted shooters, every time Johnson drives he should be able to find a teammate open for a shot. If the opposing center cuts off Johnson’s path to the rim, Wesley Gordon will be waiting for the dump-off pass. If the defense rotates to take away Gordon, George King will be wide open on the three-point arc. And so on.
Johnson’s offensive versatility is key for the Buffs’ small-ball offense to take off, but his defense can’t be overlooked. Johnson has played small forward his entire career and hasn’t proven himself as a capable interior defender. He has Wesley Gordon protecting him, but XJ will need to find his own on that end of the court, something he has the physicality and determination to do.
Sidebar: Don’t freak out when you see him, but XJ is now wearing No. 11 instead of his old No. 2.
Center - Wesley Gordon
Gordon’s role should be fairly similar to his last year — defensive backbone, offensive glass eater — but with more offensive responsibility. Think back to the two games Colorado hosted Washington and Washington State this past year. With Scott unavailable, Gordon assumed an offensive role larger than ever. In those two games, Gordon had 32 points and 29 rebounds (with 8 blocks!) while posting an offensive rating over 150 (100 is average, 110 is excellent) in each. Those two games were by far the best of his career and CU was able to sweep that home set because of his grandeur.
Gordon won’t play as well as he did against the Huskies and Cougars because no one plays like that for extended stretch (except Hasheem Thabeet!), but he offered a glimpse of what he can do with a substantial offensive workload. Considering he’ll benefit from plenty of dump-off passes from the driving game, he stands to have his best ever offensive season.
On defense, Gordon is invaluable. The defense should be good overall — I don’t think it’s possible for Boyle to have anything worse than average — but by going small-ball and losing Scott’s defense, the pressure will fall squarely on Gordon to maintain the defensive backbone. If Gordon has any kind of a defensive let down, the rest of the defense will have to step up to make for anything lost, which would strain the team as a whole.
If Gordon doesn’t slip up and the rest of the defense still steps up, this could be an elite defensive team, even without two traditional big men. And if they play that kind of defense with their presumably efficient small-ball offense, they could be a truly special team.