KNOW THY ENEMY: Colorado Buffaloes

Colorado

Okey dokey, Cats, get ready for a swift blitz of info leading into the long-anticipated start of basketball season. Each week during the month of November, you'll get two KNOW THY ENEMY previews for the price of one. And this week, there even will be a super-duper extra-special bonus preview before the Cats' exhibition opener on Sunday.

So, hit the jump for everything you need to know about the enemy Buffaloes, as I catch up on a preview that should have ran last week, and if you need to know more for some reason, you always can head to The Ralphie Report.

The Coach

JeffBzdelik

Jeff Bzdelik
Third Season

21-42 (3-28) at Colorado
96-89 (26-38) overall

Although his second year at the helm was not a successful one based on victories, Bzdelik and his staff continued onward and upward in numerous and positive steps toward a successful season, despite a 9-22 campaign. With one senior and one junior, and a core of underclassmen, the Buffaloes' youth of freshmen and sophomores attributed for 72.3 percent of the team's scoring, marking the highest of any Buffs team since the Big 12 began play in 1996-97.

CU's competitive spirit on a nightly basis saw the Buffs fall short in conference play eight times by single digits (an average of 5.3 ppg) and in 11 games overall (an average of 4.6 ppg). Four of those single-digit setbacks came against 2008-09 NCAA Tournament opponents: Texas (in overtime), at Kansas, at Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

 

The Departures

 

Starter

  • Jermyl Jackson-Wilson (20.5 minutes per game, 5.4 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game)

Reserves

  • Matt Favaro (2 minutes per game, 2 points per game, 0 rebounds per game)
  • Ryan Kelley (5.5 minutes per game, 2.6 points per game, 0.5 rebound per game)
  • Toby Veal (6.9 minutes per game, 1.8 points per game, 1.6 rebounds per game)
  • Andrew Zehnder (5.1 minutes per game, 0.8 point per game, 0.2 rebound per game)

 

The Veterans

NateTomlinson

#1 Nate Tomlinson
Sophomore Guard
6-3 | 185
Sydney, Australia

Tomlinson started all 28 games in which he participated. He missed three games due to injuries; averaged 7.4 points, 3 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 33.6 minutes per game; finished in 16th place on CU's freshman points list with 206; became the first freshman since Chauncey Billups to lead the team in assists and finished seventh on the school's all-time freshman assists list; shared scoring honors with 18 points at Stanford on 8-of-12 shooting; and led CU in assists 14 times.

Tomlinson had five games with five or more assists and 18 games with at least three; a season-best seven assists against Texas A&M; six rebounds vs. Iowa State; four steals at Texas Tech; an assist in 27 of 28 games; and nine games with 10+ points. He finished seventh overall in the Big 12 in minutes played; played 35+ minutes 13 times; grabbed four or more rebounds nine times; made two free throws with 6.6 seconds remaining, clinching CU's 65-62 win over Louisiana-Monroe; and was the first freshman point guard since 2002-03 to start a season opener.

RickHiggins

#3 Rick Higgins
Senior Guard
6-1 | 175
Danville, Calif.

Higgins transferred to Colorado from Cal Poly to play with his brother, Cory. He sat out of the 2008-09 season due to transfer rules and lost a year of eligibility because he already had redshirted at Cal Poly, where he played in 43 games, with two starts in two years, and averaged 1.2 points per game.

CoryHiggins

#11 Cory Higgins
Junior Guard
6-5 | 190
Danville, Calif.

Third Team All-Big 12 (2009)
Big 12 Player of the Week (12/08/09)

Higgins was one of 13 nationally ranked players who were first or second on their team in the five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks) and the only sophomore nationally on that list. He was first statistically on the team in points, rebounds, steals, defensive and total rebounds, free throws and attempts, free-throw percentage, field goals made and attempted, and minutes played; second in assists and blocks; third in 3-point field goals made; and among CU players with a minimum of 200 shots taken was second on the team in shooting percentage

Higgins tallied three nationally ranked categories: 64th in steals, 77th in free-throw percentage and 93rd in points per game. He scored 538 points, finishing 13th all-time at CU for most points scored in a single season. Those 538 points rank third all-time among CU sophomores and seventh all-time among CU guards for a season.

Higgins led the team in scoring 18 times, steals 16 times, rebounding 15 times, assists 10 times and blocks 8 times; scored double digits in 28 of 31 games, 20+ points 12 times and 30+ twice; owned the team's top two scoring games with 34 points vs. Texas and 33 points vs. Colorado State; made 11 field goals in a single game twice, also a team best; achieved a perfect 12 of 12 at the free-throw line twice; had two double-doubles; was second both in CU seasonal minutes and conference minutes played; was named to the Rainbow Classic All-Tourney team, leading the Buffs in scoring every game; scored a CU 13-year conference high with a personal-best 34 points against Texas; also performed the same feat against Texas A&M with 27 points; was the first player at CU to lead the team in rebounding and assists the first two games of any season since the 1973-74 season; played 35+ minutes 24 times; had six games over 40 minutes; posted six or more rebounds 15 times; grabbed three or more steals 13 times; dished out four or more assists eight times; had 13 games with at least six or more made field goals; and tallied five CU Athlete of the Week awards.

DwightThorneII

#12 Dwight Thorne II
Senior Guard
6-3 | 185
Arlington, Texas

Thorne was selected as one of 10 NCAA Division I student-athletes to participate on an Athletes In Action team for a one-week, competitive international tour against teams in Poland and Berlin, Germany. He is a three-year captain who started every game; was the team leader with 45 made 3-pointers; was second in team scoring, steals, made field goals and made free throws; was third in assists with 52, minutes played and fourth in rebounds; finished the season ranked in three Big 12-only categories; played 1,035 minutes and made 128 field goals, surpassing his previous two-year total of 53; made a 3-pointer in 23 of 31 games and had 12 games with at least two treys; scored in double digits 22 times, netted 20+ three times and scored a career-best 30 points vs. Kansas State on 8-of-12 shooting, with a personal-best five 3-pointers, nine free throws made and 11 attempts; scored a trio of 20+ point efforts; led the team in scoring eight times; recorded five or more rebounds nine times; made three or more 3-pointers five times; logged 35+ minutes 16 times; and played 30+ minutes 24 times.

Thorne is a cousin of Acie Law IV, the former Texas A&M star who plays for the Atlanta Hawks.

JavonConey

#14 Javon Coney
Junior Guard
6-3 | 210
Chicago, Ill.

Coney played in 23 games, with one start; averaged 8.8 minutes, one point and 1.3 rebounds per game; started his first career game against Oklahoma State; had a career-best six rebounds, one blocked shot and 27 minutes played against the Cowboys; played a career-best 27 minutes against Kansas State, with four points and four rebounds; grabbed five defensive rebounds at Nebraska; tallied a season-best five points with five rebounds against Missouri; recorded 20+ minutes four times and multiple rebounds eight times; and is a non-scholarship student-athlete.

LeviKnutson

#24 Levi Knutson
Junior Guard
6-4 | 200
Littleton, Colo.

Knutson played 30 games, with one start, and averaged 3.8 points, 1.7 rebounds and one assist per game. His lone start came at Baylor, with seven points, three rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes. He led the team in scoring with a career-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and a team-high four assists and two steals, against Oklahoma State; grabbed a career-best six rebounds at home against Nebraska; shared team-high honors with six rebounds against Nebraska and Texas in Oklahoma City; went 3 of 3 from the field in a home win against Iowa State; had a career-best two steals at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State; played nine games of 20+ minutes and netted three games in scoring double digits; and has played 62 career games, with two starts.

AustinDufault

#33 Austin Dufault
Sophomore Forward
6-9 | 230
Killdeer, N.D.

Dufault was named one of three CU Sports Performer of the Year finalists in the Male Freshman Athlete of the Year Award category; started all 31 games, averaging 30.7 minutes, 8.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and one assist per game; scored 254 points, ranking 11th among CU freshmen, and his 115 rebounds ranked 12th among all CU freshmen; was third in team scoring, rebounding and defensive rebounding, and fourth overall in minutes; He was one of three on the team to have started all 31 games; was fifth among all conference freshmen in scoring and rebounding; led CU in scoring twice, with a season-best 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting vs. Louisiana-Monroe. His 15 points and five rebounds against Missouri led CU in both categories for the first time.

Dufault had a season-best seven rebounds at Iowa State and at SMU, as well as a Big 12-best 13 points at Oklahoma; played a season-high 42 minutes against Texas; recorded 12 games in double digits and 12 games shooting 50 percent or better from the field; led the team in rebounding six times, had five or more rebounds 13 times and played 35+ minutes seven times; logged 30+ minutes 20 times; adds size and versatility to the roster; and brings a high basketball IQ with a great shooting touch from long range.

CaseyCrawford

#34 Casey Crawford
Junior Forward
6-9 | 245
Overland Park, Kan.

Crawford played in 25 games, with four starts; averaged 5.5 points, 1.7 rebounds and 14.2 minutes per game; was fourth on the team in 3-pointers made, and fifth in steals and points per game. During the last five games of the season, the transfer from Wake Forest averaged 8.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, and led CU with eight 3-pointers. He had a career-best 18 points with four treys in a win over Harvard. The 18 points were the most points off the bench to lead the team in scoring since Javon Coney scored 15 points in a reserve role at Nebraska.

Crawford scored a Big 12 season-high 16 points on 5-of-11 shooting against Texas A&M, and also played a season-high 30 minutes; and came off the bench to score 14 points, tying a career-best four 3-pointers against Oklahoma State. Eight times he had three or more rebounds in a game, and had five games with five or more field goals made. He netted 14 points in his CU debut, tying Jermyl Jackson-Wilson’s debut of 14 back in 2006-07. The 14 points is a CU high by a transfer or freshman in a debut over the last four years.

Crawford scored in double digits six times, led the team in scoring twice and played 20+ minutes six times.

TreyEckloff

#55 Trey Eckloff
Sophomore Forward
6-10 | 235
Englewood, Colo.

Eckloff played in 26 games, averaging 10.1 minutes, 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game; logged a season-high 25 minutes with six rebounds against Kansas; also had 23 minutes and four rebounds at Stanford; had a season-best two steals against the Cardinal; scored a season-best seven points on 3-of-4 shooting at Oklahoma; grabbed five rebounds at Missouri; played 15+ minutes in six games; scored four or more points seven times; recorded multiple rebounds 13 times; and was the second-youngest scholarship player in the Big 12 (teammate Ryan Kelley was the youngest).

 

The Redshirt

TrentBeckley

#44 Trent Beckley
Junior Forward
6-10 | 250
Vail, Colo.

Beckley missed the entire 2008-09 season with a stress fracture in his lumbar spine, but will have two more years of eligibility remaining after redshirting.

The non-scholarship student-athlete played in 10 games in the 2007-08 season, spanning 44 minutes. He logged a career-high 10 minutes at Mizzou, with three defensive rebounds; went 2 for 2 from the field, scoring four points with two rebounds and one steal at Kansas State; scored two points with one defensive rebound in four minutes at home against Missouri; and blocked one shot against Grambling State.

 

The Newcomers

ShannonSharpe

#2 Shannon Sharpe
Freshman Guard
6-1 | 200
Corona, Calif.

Sharpe will miss the 2009-10 season after having season-ending knee surgery, Bzdelik announced Oct. 28.

As a senior at Corona Centennial High School, Sharpe averaged 17.9 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 3.2 steals per game; helped the Huskies to a 27-5 record during his senior season; tallied four top-five Mountain View League finishes in points, assists, steals and rebounds; recorded five triple-doubles during his senior season; and was named Mountain View League and Triple Crown Tournament most valuable player, and also named to the Inland Empire and Corona all-tournament team.

Sharpe was on the Division 2 All-California Interscholastic Federation and All-Riverside County first team his senior year, and was a member of 2007 All-California Interscholastic Federation championship team. He helped Corona to the 2007 and 2008 Mountain View League Championships. In 2008, his AAU team was ranked No. 3 nationally.

MarcusRelphorde

#5 Marcus Relphorde
Junior Forward
6-7 | 220
Chicago, Ill.

Relphorde averaged 10.6 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Indian Hills Community College, helping the Warriors finish with a 30-3 record. He was an All-Region honorable mention; shot .487 from the floor and .722 from the free-throw line; averaged 14 points per game; and scored in double figures in 12 of the team's last 13 games.

Relphorde originally signed with Saint Louis under then-head coach Brad Soderberg. As a freshman with the Billikens and under head coach Rick Majerus, he averaged 4.3 minutes in 21 games; scored 22 points with 10 rebounds; and made 5 of 7 shots against Houston Baptist en route to 14 points and a team-high seven boards.

AlecBurks

#10 Alec Burks
Freshman Guard
6-6 | 185
Grandview, Mo.

Burks was the 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Missouri. During his senior year at Grandview High School, he averaged 23 points per game, in addition to 6.8 rebounds, 3 assists and 1.6 steals per game. He also was named The Kansas City Star and Metro Sports Player of the Year during his senior year.

Burks helped his team to a 29-2 record during his senior season; scored a season-high 38 points; and received first-team all-Suburban Mix Six League honors as a junior after averaging 19.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Rivals.com listed Burks the No. 31 point guard in the Class of 2009. He was the career leader, in points scored, in school history and participated on the Mo-Kan All-Star game.

ShaneHarris-Tunks

#13 Shane Harris-Tunks
Freshman Forward
6-11 | 225
Liverpool, Australia

Harris-Tunks was a member of Team Australia, which placed fourth at the 2009 FIBA U19 World Championship; played in eight games, averaging 2.5 ppg; represented Australian U/19 at the Albert-Schweitzer Tournament in Germany and a third-place finish, and also was named captain; and was an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship recipient.

KeeganHornbuckle

#35 Keegan Hornbuckle
Freshman Forward
6-7 | 205
Westlake Village, Calif.

As a senior at Campbell Hall High School, Hornbuckle averaged 12.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game, helping his team to 19-9 record. He was a three-time first-team All-Olympic League selection and a three-time All-California Interscholastic Federation second-team selection.

Hornbuckle was rated as the No. 34 small forward/shooting guard by Scout.com; helped Campbell Hall to a 31-5 record as a junior and a No. 39 national ranking by Rivals.com in 2007-08; was a member of a pair of state championship-winning teams in his sophomore and junior years; had a four-year prep record of 101-29; and was a member of the Valley All-Star and academic all-American All-Star team.

My thanks to the Colorado sports information department for the photos and most of the information for the bios.

 

The Analysis

There's no sugar-coating the fact that Colorado sucked ass last season. I mean, seriously, they went 1-15 in Big 12 play.

But as crazy as it sounds, there are a few reasons for optimism in 2009-10 for a program mired in mediocrity and dragged down by an athletic department that at times seems strangely uncommitted to developing athletic programs.

Foremost among those reasons is the return of super-stud Cory Higgins. The do-everything junior is one of the better returning players in the North and is skillful enough to help propel Colorado to a few more conference wins this season.

Colorado also returns its two other guards, Nate Tomlinson and Dwight Thorne II. K-State fans might remember Thorne from the game last year when he set his career high in points against us. Tomlinson played well for a true freshman, and should continue to mature into one of the better point guards in the league.

The fourth and final returning starter is Austin Dufault. Like Tomlinson, Dufault started every game last season as a true freshman. Colorado took its lumps, but all that experience should start to pay off this season as teams such as Missouri and Nebraska enter critical rebuilding phases.

But Dufault will need to help. Colorado was notoriously weak and undersized in the post last year, and coach Jeff Bzdelik set out to address some of those crucial needs in offseason recruiting.

Enter Marcus Relphorde and Shane Harris-Tunks. Relphorde is a juco transfer who began his college career at St. Louis under Rick Majerus. I look for him to have an impact similar to Marquis Gilstrap at Iowa State.

At 6-11, Harris-Tunks is the tallest player on the Buffs' roster. Like Tomlinson, he is a native Australian, and we've all seen how good they can be in college, even as true freshmen (Patrick Mills, Aaron Bruce and Andrew Bogut all are names that come to mind). At a minimum, he should provide solid depth in the paint.

Javon Coney and Levi Knutson should provide quality depth for the guard spots. Each started a game last season and played in several. Casey Crawford, an Overland Park native who transferred to Boulder from Wake Forest by way of a juco, is another nice player who should figure into the eight-man rotation.

After that, the pickings are slimmer and the new recruiting class is harder to figure out. Alec Burks was a pretty highly touted recruit out of Missouri, but not as highly touted as some of the guys the power programs in the Big 12 are adding to their rosters. Shannon Sharpe might have made an impact, but it was announced last week that he will have to redshirt after having microfracture surgery on his knee. Keegan Hornbuckle probably will get a few minutes out of necessity, but I don't think he will contribute much more than that.

Rick Higgins transferred from Cal Poly to play with his little brother, and like Jeffrey Fitzgerald, he burned a year of eligibility to do it because he already had redshirted at his previous school. I admire his C.J. Henry-ish desire to play with bro, but nothing in Rick's background suggests he will be anything more than a bench-warmer, even at Colorado.

Trey Eckloff played a lot last year, but didn't do much statistically when he was in. Still, you can't coach 6-10, so he probably will see increased minutes. The other 6-10 guy is Trent Beckley, who is likely to be rusty after sitting out last year due to major back problems.

That's pretty much it. There's some talent and some potential on this roster, but it's still frighteningly thin on talent and size for a team that has to play Kansas, Kansas State and Craig Brackins two times each.

 

Projected Starting Lineup

NateTomlinson DwightThorneII CoryHiggins MarcusRelphorde AustinDufault
Nate Tomlinson Dwight Thorne II Cory Higgins Marcus Relphorde Austin Dufault
1 2 3 4 5

 

Projected Top Reserves

JavonConey LeviKnutson AlecBurks CaseyCrawford ShaneHarris-Tunks
Javon Coney Levi Knutson Alec Burks Casey Crawford Shane Harris-Tunks
1 2 3 4 5

 

The Final Verdict

I think Colorado will be improved because Bzdelik is a hell of a coach, but it probably won't be reflected in the record. There's just too damn many other good teams in the North and in the Big 12 as a whole for them to move up very much.

That said, even a two- or three-win season in conference play would represent massive improvement over last year's post-Richard Roby 1-15 debacle, wouldn't it?

The best news for Colorado is this: The Buffs get to play Nebraska twice. Wait'll you see my breakdown on that train wreck.

No matter how bad Colorado is, I think they finally might get out of the basement.

Predicted finish: 11th

Best-case scenario: 9th

 

Previously on KNOW THY ENEMY...

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  6. Texas A&M
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  9. Iowa State
  10. Texas Tech
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  12. ???
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