Big12Hoops.com Pre-Season Preview: Colorado Buffs

Junior college transfer Marcus Relphorde, who played at St. Louis as a freshman, has a modest goal for his first season at Colorado -- to be the Newcomer of the Year in the Big 12.

COLORADO 2009-2010 PROSPECTUS

Written by Paul Lee
Paul.Lee@big12hoops.com

IMPACT LOSSES
F-Jermyl Jackson-Wilson
F-Toby Veal
G-Ryan Kelley

IMPACT NEWCOMERS
PG-Shannon Sharpe
SG-Alec Burks                                                                    
SG-Keegan Hornbuckle                                                               
PF-Shane Harris-Tunks
PF-Marcus Relphorde

PROJECTED STARTERS
PG-Dwight Thorne
SG-Cory Higgins
SF-Austin Dufault
PF-Casey Crawford
PF/C-Marcus Relphorde

THE NEWCOMERS
There's much to be excited about with CU's incoming freshmen. 

Although there doesn't seem to be a national, blue-chip recruit that can revitalize a program, ala Chauncey Billups, the incoming players are a well-rounded group with a few potential stars. 

The two shooting guards, Alec Burks and Keegan Hornbuckle show much promise. Burks is a dynamic scorer that is versatile enough to play at the one through three positions, and he has the swagger to match his huge upside. 

Hornbuckle, who spurned Arizona amongst other schools from the power conferences, also has a great shot that can extend a defense.  Along with Shannon Sharpe, who attended a prep institute for a year after high school, and Marcus Relphorde, an energetic post presence from the JUCO ranks, these two should see consistent minutes in their first year as Buffaloes. 

Harris-Tunks is an Australian big-man that needs much time in the weight room before he's ready to bang around the post in the Big 12.

Aside from the Maui Invitational, the non-conference schedule is not intimidating, allowing the young squad to potentially generate momentum going into conference play. Overall, the Buffs are a promising team that could surprise many and fight their way to an NIT bid.


OUTLOOK
Last year was a struggle as the Buffs only won nine games overall with only one win in the Big 12. However, expectations were low last year, as many of their players were incoming freshmen.

This year, expectations are a little higher. Most of the Buffs' hopes rest on the steady shoulders of Cory Higgins, an All-Big 12 performer that seems to do everything for the team.  He led the team in points (17.4 ppg), rebounds (5.4 rpg), and steals.  Helping with the scoring load will be Austin Dufault, an emerging sophomore that showed promise last season.  With a year under his belt and better conditioning, Dufault could emerge as a solid second scoring option.

The question marks with this team are at the point guard and in the post.  Dwight Thorne and Nate Tomlinson shared the point duties last season, but neither really took control of the position. Tomlinson was just a freshman though, and like Dufault, has promise. Both players will be pushed hard by Sharpe, who is the most athletic of the three.

In the post, the Buffs will struggle. Last year, Trey Eckloff showed decent effort, but he clearly did not have the tools necessary to man the post as a freshman.  He will be counted on though, as will Trent Beckley and Casey Crawford. Crawford was a disappointment last year, as there was hype about his ability to stretch a defense from the power spot.  He struggled with his shot however, and he did not have the muscle or swagger for playing inside.  The energetic Jackson-Wilson will be missed, but Relphorde should be an adequate replacement.

Overall, the Buffs are a promising team that could surprise many and fight their way to an NIT bid.  They didn't lose too many players (only one that contributed significant minutes), and bring in some talented freshmen. Even though the record doesn't show it, Coach Bzdelik is a solid coach, who even garnered some NBA interest over the summer.  There is a glaring lack of a true post presence, and although that might draw some concerns for a team playing in the physical Big 12, Coach Bzdelik's system does not rely on a true post presence. 

Not having a physical force inside will hurt, but the Buffs should be competitive with heady play from the wings. 
Higgins, Dufault, Burks and Hornbuckle all can shoot and pass, and if the incoming freshman grasp Bzdelik's basketball philosophy quickly, the Buffs may surprise some teams.  Aside from the Maui Invitational, the non-conference schedule is not intimidating, allowing the young squad to potentially generate momentum going into conference play.



BIG 12 CONFERENCE
Projected 2009-2010 Standings
1. X
2. X
3. X
4. X
5. X
6. X
7. X
8. X
9. X
10. X
11. Colorado
12. Texas Tech


REGULAR SEASON PROJECTION
12-19 Overall. 3-13 Conference. (11th place, Big 12)

POST-SEASON PROJECTION
NCAA Tournament: 1% The only way the Buffs will receive a bid will be from winning the Big 12 Tournament.

NIT chances: 10% The Big 12 is strong and could send as many as 11 or even 12, in the age of FOUR post-season conference tournaments. However, CU has the odds set against them more than any other team, including Tech, who we have ranked a spot below the Buffs this season at No. 12.

Other: 25% CU could get an offer to the CBI, assuming the invitational is still around come post-season, although 3 Big 12 wins won't do it.

COACH JEFF BZDELIK
• 1978: Davidson, Assistant Coach
• 1980: Northwestern, Assistant Coach
• 1986: UMBC, Head Coach
• 1988: Washington Bullets, Assistant Coach
• 1994: New York Knicks, Assistant Coach
• 1995: Miami Heat, Assistant Coach
• 2001: Denver Nuggets, Scout
• 2002: Denver Nuggets, Head Coach
• 2005: Air Force, Head Coach
• 2007: Colorado, Head Coach

09-10 SCHEDULE/PROJECTED RESULTS
W-Nov 13-ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF           
W-Nov 16-COPPIN STATE           
W-Nov 18-TEXAS SOUTH- ERN
               
L-Nov 23-Gonzaga (@Maui)              
L-Nov 24-Arizona/Wisconsin (@Maui)               
L-Nov 25-TBA (@Maui)           
W-Dec 01-SAN FRANCISCO               
L-Dec 04-@Oregon State           
W-Dec 07-COLORADO CH- RISTIAN                
W-Dec 10-@Colorado State         
W-Dec 22-CAL STATE NORTH- RIDGE           
W-Dec 29-YALE    
      
L-Jan 02-@Tulsa             
W-Jan 05-MIAMI (OHIO)                
L-Jan 09-@Texas              
L-Jan 12-BAYLOR           
L-Jan 16-KANSAS STATE               
L-Jan 20-@OklaHoma State              
L-Jan 23-@Texas A&M              
W-Jan 27-NEBRASKA   
        
L-Jan 30-@Iowa State        
L-Feb 03-KANSAS               
L-Feb 06-MISSOURI          
L-Feb 13-@Kansas State              
L-Feb 17-OKLAHOMA              
L-Feb 20-@Kansas               
L-Feb 24-@Missouri               
W-Feb 27-IOWA STATE                
L-Mar 02-@Nebraska    
W-Mar 06-TEXAS TECH       
L--Big 12 Tournament (Game 1)

(Win-Loss projections by Mark Peterson, Editor Big12Hoops)

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