Colorado had another successful year by previous standards, but now fans expect a little more. Success creates the mentality among fans of expectations. Many fans expected Colorado to have a better season because of the returning core, but with the injury of Dinwiddie things changed.
Dinwiddie was the focal point of the offense and created a lot of opportunities for Josh Scott, Askia Booker, and Xavier Johnson. The injury created a huge void on offense. Colorado had to remake their offense as a result in the middle of the season. This did not prove to be successful because they had a record of 8-8 in their last 16 games including the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. All of these were without Dinwiddie.
With a recent report from ESPN claiming that Dinwiddie is leaning towards the NBA Draft, Colorado will have more time to fill his replacement in the off season. Colorado is returning all of its starters from this years Tournament team, while also returning much of its bench. The team is losing fan favorite seven-footer Ben Mills to graduation, but he rarely saw the floor.
The loss of Dinwiddie especially hurt fellow guard Askia Booker. Booker has a well known history to play hero ball in the past, but with Dinwiddie hurt and likely to move on, he had/will lead the offense. Booker can not handle being the focal point of a defense like Dinwiddie was able to. Nor is he able to penetrate the defense as effectively. This can be seen here vs. Baylor:
Booker plays more effectively off the ball, so when Dinwiddie got hurt Booker’s efficiency dwindled. Dinwiddie was able to get in the teeth of the defense (above) and kick out to shooters for open shots. This made Colorado exponentially more dangerous on offense.
One of the Buffs largest problems last year was spacing the floor on offense. Colorado rarely had efficient offensive possessions this year. They would have a difficult time getting easy baskets because of the void Dinwiddie left.
It was quite evident throughout the Pitt game. Every time the ball would be inserted into the post, either Scott or Wesley Gordon would be doubled. Pitt was able to do this because of the lack of a consistent 3-point shooter. Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson can both knock down the three, but never consistently enough. This allowed Pitt to double off Booker, Johnson, and Talton because of their inconsistency from behind the line. Scott was not able to pass out of the double team well enough that it led to a few turnovers and layups.
Scoot needs to learn how to pass out of the post because of the lack of a pure shooter on the team. On top of that, the guards will need to improve their movement off the ball to relieve the pressure from Scott. Scott was able to expand his game to 18 feet this past summer, and this next he will need to improve his passing. If he is able to improve his passing to a level where teams are wary of doubling him, he will be a force next season.
Throughout the Pitt game, Colorado was stagnant offensively. It is one thing to be patient offense, but another thing when the ball does not move. As Colorado got down early in the first half, Booker began to force the issue. He took a lot of long two’s that were unnecessary. Booker will need to improve his patience and leadership in the half court. When Colorado just needed a basket against Pitt, Booker should have run through the offense to create some rhythm.
Jaron Hopkins is one player that could replace Dinwiddie, and even his production. Hopkins is a 6’5″ guard, similar to Dinwiddie, who has a quick first step and a strong ability to get to the rim. He has the similar body to Dinwiddie. Hopkins showed flashes of being able to start for this team, but was largely inconsistent.
Dustin Thomas and Hopkins were two impact freshmen for the Buffs this year. Thomas and Hopkins were not able to make the impact of an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, but both were great role players. Their roles will increase next year because Boyle will be able to depend on them. Hopkins will need to improve his jump shot as he showed lots of inconsistency this year. Thomas struggled with confidence on offense. Thomas was hesitant much of the time on offense, but with a year under his belt it will not be as big of a problem.
Colorado will be a top-3 team in the Pac-12 next year. Arizona is losing freshman Aaron Gordon and potentially Pac-12 player of the year Nick Johnson to the NBA. They have a top 5 recruiting class coming in as well, which will help replace Gordon. UCLA is losing Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine, and potentially Jordan Adams to the NBA. But they also have a top-25 class recruiting class.
The one thing Colorado has on its side is continuity. Colorado will be ahead of each of these teams in terms of chemistry, which is an overlooked quality for a team. Look at Florida with their continuity, they have four seniors who have been to 3 straight Elite Eights. Boyle and Colorado have given its players many opportunities to play on a big stage with 3 straight Tournament appearances and numerous live televised games. This has been huge for the players because they learn how to play in the big moments and games.
Colorado as a program is on an upward trend with the continual above average recruiting classes and the development of players. This could be one of the best years, as I’ve said before, for Colorado basketball in its history.