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2014-15 Season Preview: Colorado

Tad Boyle looks to make his fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament

Askia Booker leads the Buffs in his senior year.
Askia Booker leads the Buffs in his senior year.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Last Season: The Buffs looked like a legit contender for a Pac-12 title after their 14-2 start with wins coming over Oregon and Kansas. But the season died shortly after when Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL and never played another game for Colorado. They went 9-9 in their games without Dinwiddie and fared poorly losing five of seven against tournament teams in the Pac-12. Tad Boyle's squad reached the NCAA Tournament but was embarrassed by Pittsburgh 77-48 in the round of 64.

Key Losses: Spencer Dinwiddie has moved on to the NBA and the Detroit Pistons and that leaves Colorado attempting to replace their best player, leading scorer and best defender. The scariest part of his departure is that the Buffs have already experienced life without Dinwiddie and as mentioned above, it was mediocre. But the only good part about all of that experience without their best player is that it has prepared them for this year. And with an offseason under their belt as well, the Buffs have had plenty of time to move on and improve without their star.

Notable Returning Players: Colorado returns their post-Dinwiddie starting lineup which featured Askia Booker, Xavier Talton, Xavier Johnson, Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott.

Booker's an erratic guard that exemplifies the "why did you shoot that?" mindset. And then that shot goes in. You live with his shot selection and decision-making because it works, but he isn't the prototypical point guard to say the least. After Dinwiddie's injury, however, Booker averaged 3.6 assists per game. And in the games prior, Booker averaged 2.2 assists per game. Essentially, the key to success for Colorado this year will be if Booker can improve and continue his role as a facilitator.

Scott was an All-Pac-12 First Team member and is arguably the Buffs' best player. He averaged 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and should be able to command double teams once again in the post. More importantly, Scott excels at free-throw shooting, doesn't foul often and is an average outside shooter, which are three unusual attributes for a big. He only committed 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes, was an 81 percent foul shooter and shot 38 percent on two-point jumpers last season.

Johnson returns as one of Colorado's most unpredictable players. Sometimes he will catch fire from beyond the arc. Sometimes he will drive into the lane for a ferocious dunk. And sometimes he'll be lost on defense and that will carry over to offense. Ultimately, he's a 6-foot-6 versatile wing that averaged 12 points per game and shot 36 percent from three.

Talton and Gordon didn't have as much of an impact as the three above, but were still crucial for the Buffs. Gordon had the best offensive rebounding percentage and block rate on the team while Talton was inserted into the starting lineup after Dinwiddie's injury. He shot a team-best 37 percent from three and had the second best assist rate on the team. Jaron Hopkins, Tre`Shaun Fletcher and Dustin Thomas are a trio of sophomores that will need to improve on their freshmen years and became reliable players off of the bench.

Key Newcomers: Since the Buffs are still one of the youngest teams in the Pac-12, they don't have many incoming players. But Tory Miller and Dom Collier are both freshmen that should help out Tad Boyle. Collier is a Colorado native and an ESPN Top 100 recruit that will eventually take over the point-guard position in Boulder. He needs to add size, but is still a very skilled guard. Miller is a 6-foot-8, 230 lb. post player that will give Colorado some bulk inside, which they have lacked in the Tad Boyle era.

Notable Non-Conference Games: The Buffs can't afford to make too many mistakes in November and December. They play Drexel, Auburn and Colorado St. at home and Georgia and Wyoming on the road. Colorado ends the calendar year with the Diamond Head Classic where they'll take on DePaul and then play either George Washington or Ohio next. There's a chance Colorado could face Wichita St., but that would only take place in the championship or third-place game. Moreover, no team stands out on the schedule and the non-conference slate likely won't hurt or help Colorado come Selection Sunday.

Conference Stretch to Look at: In the last weeks of February, the Buffs host Utah, Cal and Stanford and travel to Oregon and Oregon St. The three home games will be a chance for Colorado to separate themselves with teams that will likely be in the top half of the conference. And if they can win those three home games, they'll have a very winnable road trip the following week. If Colorado can win four out of those five games, they'll have a good chance to rise in the standings late in the season.

Best-Case: Colorado builds on last year's experience without Spencer Dinwiddie and comes out of the gate as an improved team. Askia Booker is one of the most efficient players in the Pac-12 and Josh Scott has another successful season. The Buffs make the NCAA Tournament for the fourth straight year and advance to the Round of 32 before bowing out.

Worst-Case: The Buffs are nothing more than average. Askia Booker tries to do too much, Josh Scott can't excel with constant doubles being thrown his way and Xavier Johnson is inconsistent all season. For the first time in three years, Tad Boyle's team doesn't make the NCAA Tournament and the Buffs wish they still had Spencer Dinwiddie.

Projected Finish: 4th