Posted on November 27, 2020
2020 Recruiting Class: 5th in Pac-12 (43rd Nationally)
Dominique Clifford, Guard, 4-Star
Jabari Walker, Forward, 3-Star
Luke O’Brien, Guard, 3-Star
Tristan da Silva, Forward, Unranked
Jeriah Horne, Forward (Immediately Eligible)
McKinley Wright IV
Big Picture: Plenty of Talent with Returning Starters, Strong Recruiting ClassEntering 2020-21 on a five-game losing streak, the Buffs must find a way to replace the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year in Tyler Bey. The end of last season was something to forget, as CU was the first 6-seed to lose to an 11-seed in the opening round of the Conference Tournament in the nine-year history of the expanded event.
That double-digit loss to Washington State in Las Vegas capped a late-season slide that saw the Buffs go from being ranked for eight-straight weeks to a projected 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Fortunately, McKinley Wright IV returns for his senior season after testing the NBA Draft waters, and Tad Boyle has a strong recruiting class to support him. The class is led by Dominique Clifford and Jabari Walker, two players that should see consistent playing time from Game One.
And Boyle returns two additional starters from last year’s team, as well. Evan Battey and D’Shawn Schwartz are key pieces to CU’s success and both have plenty of experience under Boyle’s system.
The result should be another strong season for the Buffs, but ideally one without a late-season collapse.
Wright should contend for the Pac-12’s Player of the Year, and the program projects to continue its dominance at the CU Events Center.
Graduate transfer Jeriah Horne likely ends up starting and is the apparent piece to replace Bey. The former Tulsa player is cut from the same mold as the Second Round pick, though equaling Bey’s defensive production will be difficult.
But with four upperclassmen as the projected starters, along with either Clifford or Walker, CU certainly has enough talent to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Reasonable Expectations: Improve 4-6 Conference Road Record
Equaling or exceeding last season’s 13-3 home record is reasonable for this year’s version of the Buffs. There aren’t many teams in the Conference with the upperclassman leadership that Boyle has, and Wright is hands-down a Top 3 guard in the Pac-12.
But the 4-6 mark in conference play away from Boulder must be improved upon. Getting to .500 on the road is usually enough to secure a bye in Las Vegas, especially with dominant performances at home. For CU to burst through to the “next level” and raise its reputation, getting it together on the road is key.
And Colorado wasn’t that far from it last season. Cleaning up the performances in Berkeley and Salt Lake City in 2020-21, while repeating last year’s road victories elsewhere, could be all it takes to secure that pivotal bye.
Achievable Goal: Top- Four Conference Finish
Finishing in the Top 4 of the regular season standings is within reach. To get there, the freshmen may have to exceed expectations. If either Walker or Clifford play well enough to land a spot on the All-Freshmen team, the chances of CU getting a First Round Bye in Las Vegas are substantially higher.
Conference opponents know what Wright, Battey, and Schwartz bring to the table and will have game plans to stop all three. If Wright is shut down, Clifford may need to pick up the slack.
Consistent three-point shooting from Schwartz will push Colorado towards success, and strong play from Horne could wind up being the X-Factor.
But still, Boyle’s squad may be overly reliant on Wright in some games, putting the onus on one or two of the freshmen to step up in a big way.
Best Case: Contend for Pac-12 Title, Make Big Dance Run
Colorado rides the scoring of Wright all the way to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. The senior guard puts together his best season yet, while Battey, Schwartz, Horne, and Walker/Clifford combine for one of the most experienced and consistent starting five on the West Coast.
Though falling short of the Sweet 16, the semi-final appearance in the Pac-12 Tournament and Top 4 finish in the regular season standings cements a strong year. Boyle generates discussion for the Conference’s Coach of the Year and Wright finishes second in the Player of the Year voting.
The result is the best Colorado season since 2013-14.
— Previous 2020-21 Basketball Previews —
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