Looking ahead to the upcoming season, CUIndependent.com is previewing the players at every position on the Colorado men’s basketball team. If you missed Tommy Wood’s guards preview on Monday, check it out here.
After his first two impressive seasons with the Buffaloes, junior forward/center Josh Scott enters his third season looking better than ever. During his underclassman years with Buffs hoops, Scott was a force to be reckoned with inside the paint and proved to be the most consistent player on the team.
In his freshman season alone, Scott averaged 10.2 points per game while grabbing an average of 5.7 rebounds a night. Last year, after putting on some muscle weight in the offseason, his numbers ballooned to 14.1 ppg, and he shot 51.1 percent from the field and 8.4 rpg. He led the team in all three categories.
This season, Scott is poised to improve those numbers even more. Last year, he struggled with his shots from the three-point range, making zero of his two attempts. It’s no secret that he’s a much better player inside the arc. But despite this glaring weakness in his game, Scott believes that the chink in his armor creates a better opportunity for the rest of his team.
“[By] helping the guys get easier, more wide-open shots,” Scott explained, “I think I draw a lot of attention, and I’ve admitted that my passing was suspect at times last year. That’s why I came into this season thinking, ‘I really need to get other people involved.’ I think that’s a big way that I can help that shooting percentage.”
Drawing in defenders opens up the mid-range and three-point range for the players who can actually make the shots. But don’t count Scott out of the mid-range just yet; that, along with his passing skills, is something that the 6 foot, 10 inch big man has been working on in the offseason.
“Passing was big for me, and just continuing to shoot the mid-range jumper so I feel more comfortable shooting it,” he said. “It’s important for our spacing, and it’s just important for me in general for that part of my game.”
In the offseason, Boyle tweaked his offense to emphasize more efficient three-point shooting, setting up more in the low post, and much better ball movement. In essence, he hopes to erase the pitiful assist-to-turnover ratio that plagued the Buffs last year: 0.9 to 1.1.
On Boyle’s new offensive strategy, Scott noted, “[Our execution is] worlds better. We’re moving more, and it’s going to make it tough for teams to double-team, and it makes it easier to make plays for other people. I’m a big fan of what we’re doing right now.”
Look for junior guard/forward Xavier Johnson to make another big jump in his game this year. We saw the improvement between his freshman and sophomore seasons, when he boosted 8.9 ppg and 4.8 rpg his first year to 12.0 ppg and 5.9 rpg his second year. Additionally, with junior transfer Josh Fortune on the bench all year, Johnson is poised to be Colorado’s best three-point shooter. Last season alone, he made 25 of his 57 attempts (43.9%), which was much improved from his previous season of 37-of-102 (36.3%).
In the final weeks of the offseason, Johnson visited China with the Pac-12 conference team as they took on the Chinese University All-Stars and two Chinese Basketball Association teams. Johnson believes that the experience helped him grow as a player.
“[It helped me] probably mostly confidence-wise,” Johnson said. “Seeing that that’s the best they got, and then me going out there doing what I do, it gives me more confidence to go out on the court and try new things, and help my teammates to win.”
Not only that, but after sitting in on several practices and observing Johnson and the rest of the team, his three-point shot is a lot more consistent, and he’s by far the best conditioned player on the team.
He also had a thing or two to say about his role in the new offensive strategy that Boyle is employing this season.
“Our principle is inside-out. Every game, we’re going to start getting lay-ups, we’re going to start getting in the post,” Johnson said. “On this offense, [the outside shooting] is going to come from the wings and the corners. It’ll be me, Josh if he can shoot it and anybody who can shoot the ball. Everybody’s been working on their game, and we’re all trying to win.”
Out of the projected starting five for this year, sophomore forward Wesley Gordon is the biggest concern. While his presence as another big man is much needed on defense, it’s his offensive skills that are troubling. In his inaugural season with the Buffs, Gordon shot 67 of 141 from the field (47.5%), which isn’t too terrible, but he only averaged 5.9 ppg. His rebounding was a little bit better. In the 31 games he played, he grabbed six boards a game.
Where he lacked in shooting and rebounds he more than made up for in his defense. For the year, Gordon averaged 1.3 blocks per game while leading the entire squad with 41 for the season. And, unlike Josh Scott, he succeeded a bit more with his three-point shot, going 4-for-11 for the season (36.4%).
That, Gordon explained, is one of his goals for the upcoming year.
“I’m going to try to shoot more consistently [from the three-point range], just so it takes the pressure off of Josh,” he said. “I’m going to try to shoot more this year.”
Last year was rough for sophomore guard/forward Tre’Shaun Fletcher. After suffering a knee injury at Washington back in January, Fletcher missed 13 games of his freshman season and, in turn, valuable playing time. Because of this setback, he only managed to score 2.9 ppg and 1.6 rpg.
Despite this, Fletcher still believes it helped him prepare for the upcoming season.
“We [the sophomores] have a year under our belt, so we know what to expect,” he said. “We know how fast the game is, we know how hard we have to play and how high of a level we have to play at this year.”
Over the summer, Fletcher traveled to Lithuania to play against various professional European teams with the Athletes in Action and to get back some of the experience that he lost with his knee injury last year.
“I was proud of it, because I wanted to give my knee a run and see how it felt playing full contact and full speed again,” he said. “It felt good. It was a good trial run and I think I’m ready for the season now.”
Unlike Fletcher, sophomore guard/forward Dustin Thomas saw playing time in all 35 games. But his stats were slightly better than those of Fletcher, as he averaged 3.6 ppg and 2.5 rpg.
For the upcoming season, Thomas’s strengths are focused around his offensive skills, more specifically in his low-post play and his perimeter shooting. Coach Boyle will be relying on him to step up his perimeter shot throughout the year to help fill the void that plagued the Buffs last year.
On the other side of that, Thomas’s biggest weakness right now is his defensive skills. As of right now, his status for the game on Friday is questionable as he hurt his shoulder in practice earlier this week.
According to the scouting report published in the Colorado basketball media guide, Tory Miller’s “Good hands [and] long arms make him a capable shot blocker. What makes him special is his big body, his ability to use to his advantage on defense and his ability to lower his center of gravity, making him difficult to move.”
Right away, his impact should be obvious. Miller should be another force to be reckoned with in the paint, and his immense physical strength will keep opponents at bay when he defends them. He’s an excellent shot blocker, rebounder, and passer. Miller’s advanced defensive skills stem from New Hampton Preparatory Academy, where he learned to play at the college level as a high school student.
Despite this clear height and strength advantage, Miller believes he still needs to work on some aspects of his game.
“[I need to work on] everything: shooting, defense, help side, thinking the game.”
In the few months that Miller’s been with the Colorado program, head coach Tad Boyle has already seen a significant improvement in his game.
“Again, Tory’s gives us some great depth and hopefully he’ll give us some good minutes. The thing I love about Tory is he’s so conscientious. He wants to be a great teammate. When he makes a mistake, it pains him. You see the pain on his face, you see the disappointment in his body language.”
Contact CU Independent staff writer Alissa Noe at Alissa.firstname.lastname@example.org.