It has only been a little more than two weeks since the Colorado Buffaloes made a swift and unceremonious exit from the NCAA Tournament, and already it has been a productive offseason for head coach Tad Boyle.
The Buffs named Bill Grier to the coaching staff, adding a voice to the bench who has head coaching experience and generally is considered a premier recruiter.
CU ramped up its nonconference schedule, setting up a home-and-home series with national power Xavier that begins in Boulder next season while also committing to the Legends Classic in Brooklyn before Thanksgiving, where the Buffs are likely to face two teams from a pool that includes Northwestern, Texas and Notre Dame.
And the Buffs bid adieu to Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Kenan Guzonjic, both of whom opted to transfer out of the program. While no one was uttering phrases like “addition by subtraction” the two open scholarships left behind nonetheless felt more like an unforeseen opportunity for improvement than a glaring setback.
With that impressive start to the 2016-17 campaign, here are the three most prominent hurdles Boyle and the Buffs must address in order to return to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in six seasons … and perhaps end a run of three consecutive first-round defeats.
Land that Big Man
It won’t be the end of the world if Boyle lets one of the two available scholarships ride for another year. However, it will be problematic if another serviceable forward isn’t added to the mix.
As it stands, the Buffs’ roster features just two true post players in Wesley Gordon and Tory Miller. CU has a verbal commitment from Arvada West 7-footer Dallas Walton, but he probably would be best served with a redshirt season next year. That flexibility will be hampered if another forward isn’t added to the mix.
Boyle doesn’t need to hit a home run necessarily, but he does need to find a competent role player who can provide minutes off the bench. Expect that role to be filled by a graduate transfer or a junior college player. The Buffs reportedly have offered a scholarship to 6-foot-10 Kavell Bigby-Williams from Gillette (Wyo.) College. According to JucoRecruiting.com, Bigby-Williams is scheduled to visit Oregon next weekend.
Solve the Collier conundrum
Did sophomore point guard Dom Collier make strides after his freshman season? Absolutely. Was it enough to instill confidence he can be the unquestioned floor general for a Pac-12 Conference contender? Definitely not.
Typically, the Buffs were at their best when Collier was playing well. Yet for every encouraging performance like the one he turned in during a home win against Cal on Jan. 31 (4-for-6 FG, 5-for-7 FT, 14 points, three assists, three steals and no turnovers) there was an equally frustrating performance like Collier suffered in a stunning late loss at USC on Feb. 17 (0-for-3 FG, no points, no assists, and six turnovers).
Collier generally shot the ball well and averaged 7.5 points per game, but after the aforementioned Cal game he produced just one double-digit scoring effort over the final 12 games while averaging 5.5 points during that span. And he was a non-factor in the league tournament and NCAA Tournament, getting into early foul trouble in all three games.
Boyle has expressed confidence that Collier will improve. Fellow guard Thomas Akyazili is a safe bet to improve off his freshman season, yet with incoming guards Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters billed more as all-around guards than true point guards, Collier needs to iron out the kinks in his game for the Buffs to perform at a high level more consistently.
Who shall lead them?
Boyle described the leadership void star senior Josh Scott is leaving behind as his biggest concern this offseason.
While Boyle pointed out that Scott boasts a quiet demeanor and had to grow into his leadership role, Scott also had a commanding presence that forced his teammates to listen when he spoke up.
The two most obvious senior leaders next year, Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon, have more affable personalities than Scott, yet both players certainly have the respect of their teammates. And Johnson’s year on the sideline due to a torn Achilles has Boyle hopeful the fresh perspective will foster Johnson’s leadership skills.
“Wes and XJ have both been here five years now,” Boyle said. “They know what’s expected, and what works and what doesn’t work.”