Colorado Buffaloes basketball is so close that you can feel it in the air. You can hear the three-pointers clanking off the rim, big men yelling as they crash the boards, Tad Boyle screaming when his team misses a defensive rotation. We’re so close.
The season tips off 6 p.m. Friday night against Northern Colorado. The Buffs return only two starters from last season, but they should still have an exciting starting lineup this season.
Point Guard - McKinley Wright IV
McKinley Wright is a three-star freshman who is just 6’0, 170-lbs., but what he lacks in size and prestige, he makes up for with a skill set and attitude that is mature beyond his years. Colorado recruited Wright late, but once they got him, Boyle knew he had someone who could start from day one. At media day, Tad Boyle said, “A guy that’s certainly stood out head and shoulders above the rest is McKinley Wright. Physically, mentally, emotionally, he has really stepped up for a freshman.”
Wright is as true of a point guard as you can find. He’s a pass-first guard whose calling card is his ability to facilitate the offense through the pick-and-roll. He’s a solid shooter and he’s fairly good at scoring inside for someone his size. Defensively, Wright is a high-IQ player and he makes up for a lack of length by working his ass off hounding the ball. Expect big things for Wright as he looks to be the metronome for the Buffaloes.
Projection: 6.2 points per game, 4.4 assists, 1.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 45% effective shooting, 11.4 player efficiency rating
Shooting Guard - Dominique Collier
Dominique Collier came to CU with sky high expectations. We thought he would be a game-changing point guard that would lead the Buffs as Spencer Dinwiddie did, but it turns out that that just isn’t his game. Instead, he’s better suited as a secondary creator whose main value to the offense is his off-the-ball shooting. This season, Collier won’t have to lead the offense, so he can focus on his strengths and excel in a supporting role. With less of an offensive burden, he should also improve his effort and consistency on defense, where he’ll be required to fight with shooting guards as opposed to point guards.
Collier had his struggles last year as he had to adjust to a new role beside Derrick White, all while he dealing with an injured foot. Now that he’s healthy and comfortable, he should be a much more consistent player in his final season in Boulder.
Projection: 8.5 points, 1.9 assists, 2.1 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 49% effective shooting, 13.1 PER
Small Forward - Namon Wright
Namon Wright comes in as a junior transfer from Missouri. He has just as much skill as he does experience, so Colorado will look to have him play a large role on offense. At 6’6, Wright is an excellent shooter both from outside and in the mid-range. He’s also adept at driving and he finishes athletically and creatively at the basket — he often resembles a poor man’s Alec Burks.
In CU’s pick-and-roll heavy offense, Wright will likely be a secondary ball handler and facilitator. With his shooting and driving ability, PNRs should strain the defense as they are forced to go under or over the screen, or double team and leave the screener or off-the-ball shooter open. Wright isn’t as good as a passer as Collier or McKinley Wright, but he’s good enough to be dangerous in that role. He may take some time to adjust to playing with the Buffs, but we have high hopes for him this season.
Projection: 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.6 steals, 54% effective shooting, 17.6 PER
Power Forward - George King
The Buffaloes need George King to be the best player he’s ever been. On offense, King will be leaned on as the primary option. King has all the tools to be an elite offensive weapon: he’s a great shooter, a solid ball handler and he’s quick enough to drive past bigger defenders and strong enough to bully smaller guys. The only thing King needs to put it all together is consistency that’s been lacking the past two seasons. Now that he’s depended on in a crucial role, he can’t disappear for a few games at a time like he has in the past.
Defensively, King will have to step into a pseudo-Andre Roberson role. King will never be the godsend Roberson was — no one will be — but he needs to be Colorado’s best defender. He’s playing at the 4 instead of the 3 this season, but he has the strength, length and rebounding ability to be a key defensive presence in what will be the smallest lineup Boyle has ever had.
If King finds consistency, he has all the tools to be a star this season.
Projection: 18.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.0 blocks, 0.6 steals, 56% effective shooting, 22.1 PER
Center - Tory Miller-Stewart
Tory Miller-Stewart will be the lone true big man in this small-ball lineup and because the Buffs are so thin in the front court, he will be asked to do a lot. Miller-Stewart has always put up impressive numbers per 40 minutes, but this year he will be much more than just an energy guy off the bench. The Buffs need him to a force inside on both ends. In a pick-and-roll-heavy offense, he will be the roll man more often than not, and if he stays within himself and rolls hard every time, he can be a key offensive presence. Defensively, the Buffs are smaller than ever and they will need Miller-Stewart to protect the pain without being too aggressive. Namon Wright and King are great rebounders for their size, but Miller-Stewart will be the main guy to clean up the glass.
The key for Miller-Stewart to have a great final season is that he has to be the best player he can be without trying to do too much.
Projection: 11.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 blocks, 0.6 steals, 57% effective shooting, 15.7 PER