Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Looking ahead: Life after Burks, Higgins, Relphorde and Knutson

A thread on Allbuffs yesterday got me thinking about the impending doom of graduation/ascension of the majority of the reliable nightly production for the Buffs this season.  Such is the nature of the collegiate beast, which sees talent only stay on the field/court for so long.

On paper only 3 impact seniors will be leaving us after the season, but the 800-lb gorilla-in-the-room is the draft-status of super-sophomore guard Alec Burks.  Should Burks leave for the NBA, adding to the loss of seniors Cory Higgins, Marcus Relphorde and Levi Knutson, the hole in production may be irreplaceable for next season.  All told they combine for per game averages of 58.9 points, 16.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists. That's a lot.

If Burks leaves (and I expect that he will), next year may rest on the shoulders on transfer guard Carlon Brown.  A big 6-5 200lb guard with some seriously explosive athleticism, Brown is Coach Tad Boyle's insurance policy.  He knew coming into the season that this mass exodus of production was probable, so at the same time he was signing freshman phenom Andre Roberson, he was accepting Brown's transfer from future Pac 12 rival Utah.  The Ute coaching staff had asked Brown, who was the leading scorer his final season there, to come off the bench.  Brown, who was mulling his own early jump to the NBA, was none to pleased with the idea of a reduction of minutes.  The long and the short of it is that CU ends up with a guy who has the ability to fill up the stat sheet (13/4/3 in his final season in SLC) and a chip on his shoulder against a divisional rival.  Yes CU will only have him for one season, but it's damn good he's here.
The addition of Carlon Brown, even for only one year, will help with life after Burks and Higgins

Besides the B-12 booster shot that will be Carlon Brown's addition to the roster, CU will also be getting the services of Shane Harris-Tunks, who returns from injury, and the 3 incoming freshmen Damien Cain, Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie.  It's foolish to think that any one of those freshmen will contribute in any meaningful capacity right away (never bank on freshmen) but one our two of them could earn some playing time.  Shane's return will be very welcome.  He had been impressive in pre-season workouts, and big things were expected of him this year prior to his injury.  His recovery could be key.
Big Shane will be back, and, with a good recovery, could change things up inside for CU.  From: The BDC

Additionally, I think Nate Tomlinson's scoring ability has been dampened by the necessity of deferring to the great scoring talent of the previously mentioned 4.  How many times has he looked hesitant with open looks or on the dribble-drive, as if he's afraid to put up a shot when "better" teammates are screaming for the ball. He can be a lights out shooter if asked to be, and just needs the confidence that comes with being an anointed scorer.
I've always thought Nate could score more than he shows.  With the current setup he is locked into a distributor-only role.  From: The BDC

Add all of that to presumed increased production from Andre Roberson and Austin Dufault and CU should somewhat be able to cover the losses.  I would predict the starting 5 to look like this:

PG - Sr -Tomlinson
G - Sr - Brown
F - So - Roberson
PF - Sr - Dufault
C - So - Harris-Tunks

One thing should jump out at you right away; that whole "size problem" is gone.  There is a traditional PF/C combo along with a swing forward in Roberson who loves to rebound and play close to the rim.  The post will be well accounted for.  Considering this, we may see a slight change in style (slightly slower, more possession/low-post based) from Coach Boyle. He's mentioned in interviews before that the faster-paced style of the current team is just what he thinks the roster fits best.

I would also like to see how Austin Dufault would be used here.  Currently we aren't getting his full game; I feel he would like to take a few more jumpers.  With H-T holding down the paint, it could free Austin up for a few more shots; which in turn could possibly open up the lane for more dribble-drive from Brown.
Given 3 years of playing time under his belt, the versatile Dufault could blossom next year.

I don't hate this lineup, in fact I kind of like it, and the addition of Brown will soothe some of the hurt from missing nearly 60 points from the current roster.  However, I would expect some drop-off.  Additionally our gloriously high free-throw percentage (5th in the nation) will take a hit.

I guess the big question then is "can this lineup compete in the Pac-12?"  I would have to say yes.  The Pac-12 just isn't the basketball league that the Big XII is, and there will still be some talent running around in Buffs uniforms.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not predicting a race to the inaugural Pac-12 title, but an upper half of the table finish is likely.


To throw a monkey wrench into plans, there is an outside chance that Alec returns next year.  He left the door slightly ajar in this interview with (he wants to be a certified top-10 pick, and he's slightly on the bubble for that), and a lockout of the players union may make the idea of jumping for NBA dough toxic to a stable-minded kid from Missouri even given a heightened draft status.  Should Burks return CU may not even skip a beat, keeping H-T on the bench, and running with a 3-out-2-in faster lineup that looks like this:

PG - Sr - Tomlinson
G - Sr - Brown
G - Jr - Burks
F - So - Roberson
PF - Sr - Dufault

We'd still be able to run opponents to death if the occasion called for it, and watching Burks for one more season would make me giddy.  I would worry, however, about the possession share between Burks and Brown.  Currently Cory Higgins seems content with deferring to Burks when the time calls for it; I'm not sure, given Carlon's desperation to prove himself NBA ready, if Brown would be comfortable doing the same.
Alec could come back next season, but I doubt it.  From: the BDC


All-in-all, even with replacements, you might see CU's scoring output to drop 5 points or more per game next season.  This is why the Buffs coming up short this year (missing the tournament) would hurt so much; it may take a year or two to rebuild after the final wave of Bzdelik-recruited talent runs its course.

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