KNOW THY ENEMY: Colorado Buffaloes (revisited)

Colorado

After an impressive showing, albeit in a pair of losses, in the Maui Invitational, some thought that Colorado was on the verge of breaking out of the Big 12 cellar and making some strides.

But as one geriatric sports personality likes to say: Not so fast, my friend.

For a modified breakdown of the Buffs, hit the jump. For more information, assuming you can find some Colorado fans who haven't committed seppuku since learning Dan Hawkins would return for a fifth season, visit The Ralphie Report.

The Story So Far

Colorado is 7-4, with scintillating wins over teams such as UAPB, Coppin State, Texas Southern, Chaminade, San Francisco, Colorado Christian and Cal State Northridge. In other words, a bunch of crap teams.

Yes, they had a nice showing against Arizona and Gonzaga, but an "L" still is an "L." So, too, were the ugly losses against a bad Oregon State team and an even worse Colorado State team. Yes, Colorado accounts for 50 percent of the Big 12's losses to the Pac-10. That should tell you everything you need to know.

Factor in the massive improvement in the Big 12 this year, and signs of optimism for the beleaguered -- and at this point, largely apathetic -- Colorado fan base are few and far between.

Current Colorado RPI: 212

 

The Coach

JeffBzdelik

Jeff Bzdelik
Third Season

28-46 (3-28) at Colorado
103-93 (26-38) overall

Bio

 

The Departures

 

Starter

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

Bio

26.7 minutes per game | 6.6 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game

CoryHiggins

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

Bio

32.4 minutes per game | 19.2 points per game | 3.4 rebounds per game

DwightThorneII

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

Bio

21 minutes per game | 8.6 points per game | 2.2 rebounds per game

JavonConey

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

Bio

2 minutes per game | 0 points per game | 0.5 rebound per game

LeviKnutson

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

Bio

10.4 minutes per game | 4.2 points per game | 1.8 rebounds per game

AustinDufault

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

Bio

24.5 minutes per game | 8.2 points per game | 4.3 rebounds per game

CaseyCrawford

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

Bio

11.4 minutes per game | 3.1 points per game | 2 rebounds per game

TreyEckloff

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

Bio

4.6 minutes per game | 1.2 points per game | 1.6 rebounds per game

 

The Redshirt

TrentBeckley

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

Bio

2 minutes per game | 1 point per game | 0 rebounds per game

 

The Newcomers

ShannonSharpe

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

Bio

0* minutes per game | 0* points per game | 0* rebounds per game

*Sharpe is redshirting due to a knee injury suffered prior to the season.

MarcusRelphorde

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

Bio

25.1 minutes per game | 9.7 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game

AlecBurks

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

Bio

28.6 minutes per game | 15.9 points per game | 4.5 rebounds per game

ShaneHarris-Tunks

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

Bio

11.6 minutes per game | 2.8 points per game | 2.4 rebounds per game

KeeganHornbuckle

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

Bio

14.9 minutes per game | 3.5 points per game | 2.2 rebounds per game

My thanks to the Colorado sports information department for the photos.

 

The Analysis

Here's what I wrote back in October, in italics, followed by what we've learned in the two months since:

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.

Higgins is Colorado's leading scorer. +1 for me.

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.

Tomlinson and Thorne have been fighting over one starting spot, with Thorne having the upper hand most of the season, due to the unexpected emergence of freshman Alec Burks. Tomlinson started two games and Thorne nine.

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.

Dufault has started every game and is Colorado's second-leading rebounder. Another +1 for me.

But Dufault will need 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.

Called that one. Relphorde has started every game and is the Buffs' third-leading scorer.

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.

He hasn't really done too much to this point, although he has played in all 11 games.

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.

Coney and Knutson are bench warmers, but Crawford has been a pleasant surprise, playing in all 11 games and serving as a "glue guy."

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.

Well, maybe he should have been. Other than Higgins, no single player has been more important to Colorado this season than Burks. By Buffalo standards, he's simply been sensational. And Hornbuckle has played in all seven games and given them quality minutes.

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.

Rick appears to have left the team. Oh, well.

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.

Yeah, neither of these guys are doing anything. Whiff.

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.

All in all, not too bad. Colorado has some depth -- any time you can demote a starter to a bench player, you upgraded in the offseason -- but still is a very young team. The larger problem is that most everyone else added more talent. Even climbing to 11th place would represent progress for this roster.

 

Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup

DwightThorneII AlecBurks CoryHiggins MarcusRelphorde AustinDufault
Dwight Thorne II Alec Burks Cory Higgins Marcus Relphorde Austin Dufault
1 2 3 4 5

 

Projected Top Big 12 Reserves

NateTomlinson LeviKnutson KeeganHornbuckle CaseyCrawford ShaneHarris-Tunks
Nate Tomlinson Levi Knutson Keegan Hornbuckle Casey Crawford Shane Harris-Tunks
1 2 3 4 5

 

The Final Verdict

I'll stand by what I said two months ago, with one major exception:

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.

See where I was wrong? Yeah, Nebraska gelled a lot faster than anyone thought possible. I'm glad I never got around to writing said breakdown -- I might have looked really dumb if I had.

Oh, yeah, and Colorado finishing better than 12th? Probably not gonna happen.

Big 12 preseason prediction: 12th

My predicted finish: 12th (was 11th)

Best-case scenario: 10th (was 9th)

Against K-State?: Loss in Manhattan, loss in Boulder

 

Previously on KNOW THY ENEMY...

  1. ???
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  4. Texas A&M
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  6. ???
  7. ???
  8. ???
  9. ???
  10. Missouri (T-9th with Iowa State)
  11. ???
  12. ???

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