Askia Booker

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Colorado senior guard to sit out team’s CBI appearance

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While the NCAA tournament receives the lion’s share of the attention (and rightfully so), there are four postseason tournaments in college basketball. One of those is the CBI, a 16-team event that certainly flies under the radar and home teams have to pay to host games. One of the teams playing in this year’s CBI is Colorado, which will host Gardner-Webb despite having a losing record on the season.

And the Buffaloes will be without two members of their rotation, as sophomore forward Dustin Thomas has elected to transfer and senior guard Askia Booker has decided to not participate. The Buffaloes open CBI play with a home game against Gardner-Webb Wednesday night.

News of Booker’s decision was first reported by Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera Sunday evening.

“That’s his choice,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. “I accept it and we’re going to move forward. It’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and show what they can do and improve themselves and hopefully do it over a period of time.”

Boyle didn’t give a reason for Booker’s decision, but it’s been well documented that the 6-foot-2 guard has been playing with sore hips the past few weeks. Booker also has aspirations of playing professionally, so this may be an opportunity for him to rest up before training for a possible pro career.

Taking into consideration Booker’s recent health issues, the decision makes some sense. And with all due respect to the CBI, it’s very difficult to see this decision being made had the Buffaloes played well enough to land in a more prestigious postseason event.

Booker is the lone scholarship senior on this year’s team, so playing without him will give the guards who are expected to be back next season (most notably freshman Dominique Collier) additional time on the court. Colorado played a little less than half of last season without Spencer Dinwiddie, who tore his ACL in a game at Washington, but that experience did not help this year’s team with injuries and inconsistency among the issues.

Both Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott missed time this season, and they’ll be key pieces for Colorado in 2015-16.

Top 25 Countdown: Others Receiving Votes

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2014-2015 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

Today, we’re kicking off our Top 25 Countdown with the ten teams that just missed getting ranked, listed alphabetically.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | NBCSports Preseason Top 25 | Preview Schedule

Colorado Buffaloes

  • Last Season: 23-12, 10-8 Pac-12 (t-3rd), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Spencer Dinwiddie
  • Key Returnees: Josh Scott (14.1 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Askia Booker (13.7 ppg, 3.3 apg), Xavier Johnson (12.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg), Wesley Gordon (5.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Dominique Collier, Tory Miller
  • Outlook: Colorado had won their first three Pac-12 games and were sitting at 14-2, ranked 15th in the country, when Spencer Dinwiddie tore his ACL last season. They finished the year losing 10 of their final 19 games, losing in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before watching Dinwiddie head off to the NBA. The trio of Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon will give Tad Boyle one of the best front courts out west, but finding a way to fill Dinwiddie’s void will be key. Askia Booker is back and Boyle brings in top 100 recruit Dominique Collier to handle ball handling duties, but the key in the back court may end up being the development of Xavier Talton (who grew three inches this summer), who played well down the stretch last season, and whether Jaron Hopkins or Tre-Shaun Fletcher make the leap as sophomore.

Dayton Flyers

  • Last Season: 26-11, 10-6 Atlantic 10 (t-5th), lost in the Elite 8
  • Key Losses: Devin Oliver, Vee Sanford, Khari Price
  • Key Returnees: Dyshawn Pierre (11.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 40.9% 3PT), Jordan Sibert (12.2 ppg, 42.6% 3PT)
  • Key Newcomers: Ryan Bass (transfer), Darrell Davis, Detwon Rogers
  • Outlook: Dayton was as good as any team in the country in February and March of last season, going 9-1 to close out the Atlantic 10 season before making a run to the Elite 8. Losing Devin Oliver will hurt, putting pressure on Jordan Sibert and Dyshawn Pierre to take on a bigger role offensively. The combination of Oakland transfer Ryan Bass and sophomore Scoochie Smith will be counted on to take over ballhandling duties. Dayton should compete for top four in the A-10.
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Georgia State Panthers

  • Last Season: 25-9, 17-1 Sun Belt (1st), lost in the first round of the NIT
  • Key Losses: Manny Atkins, Devonta White
  • Key Returnees: R.J. Hunter (18.3 ppg, 39.5% 3PT), Ryan Harrow (17.8 ppg, 4.2 apg), Curtis Washington (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.4 bpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Kevin Ware (transfer), Jalen Brown, Jordan Session, Jeff Thomas, Carter Cagle
  • Outlook: Ron Hunter will have himself one of the most talented back courts in the country. Former Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow finally found himself last season and Hunter will hope that he can work the same magic with former Louisville guard Kevin Ware. And here’s the scary part: sharpshooter R.J. Hunter is the best player of the three. The Panthers should roll through the Sun Belt again, and should be a trendy cinderella pick if they reach the NCAA tournament. They lost in the Sun Belt title game last season.

Kansas State Wildcats

  • Last Season: 20-13, 10-8 Big 12 (5th), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Will Spradling, Shane Southwell
  • Key Returnees: Marcus Foster, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson
  • Key Newcomers: Justin Edwards (transfer), Brandon Bolden (transfer), Stephen Hurt, Malek Harris, Tre Harris
  • Outlook: Kansas State has a chance to be really good this season. Sophomore Marcus Foster has a shot to end up as the best shooting guard in the country this season, while Wesley Iwundu will be a trendy breakout candidate this year. Justin Edwards was a very productive player in his two seasons at Maine and will compete with Malek Harris for minutes on the wing. Stephen Hurt and Brandon Bolden will help add height inside to the muscle-bound duo of Thomas Gipson and D.J. Johnson. The biggest question mark is at the point. Can Jevon Thomas or Nigel Johnson embrace the role?

Memphis Tigers

  • Last Season: 24-10, 12-6 American (t-3rd), lost in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford
  • Key Returnees: Austin Nichols (9.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Shaq Goodwin (11.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Nick King (4.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Kedren Johnson (transfer), Calvin Godfrey (transfer), Dominic Magee, Trahson Burrell, Chris Hawkins, Avery Woodson
  • Outlook: Last season, Josh Pastner’s team was built around a talented, veteran perimeter attack. This season, all four of those guards are gone, meaning the strength of the Tigers will be their young, talented front line of Austin Nichols, Shaq Goodwin and Nick King. The perimeter is a massive question mark, however. Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, who sat out the 2013-2014 season, is the only guard on the roster that has played Division I basketball, and it’s still unclear whether he is going to be cleared to play this season. Pookie Powell, Dominic Magee and Markel Crawford, who is coming off of an injury, are expected to see big minutes at the guard spot.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

  • Last Season: 19-13, 11-7 Big Ten (3rd), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Deverell Biggs, Ray Gallegos
  • Key Returnees: Terran Pettway (18.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Shavon Shields (12.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Walter Pitchford (9.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 41.0% 3PT), Tai Webster (3.9 ppg, 2.0 apg)
  • Key Newcomers: Jacob Hammond, Tarin Smith, Moses Abraham (transfer)
  • Outlook: The Huskers were one of the most surprising teams in the country last season, coming out of nowhere to finish fourth in the Big Ten. They return three of their top four scorers — leading scorer Terran Petteway, wing Shavon Shields and stretch four Walter Pitchford — and also get back Tai Webster, a talented guard who played for New Zealand in the FIBA Basketball World Cup. They won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year, but good luck trying to get a win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Ohio State Buckeyes

  • Last Season: 25-10, 10-8 Big Ten (5th), lost in the Round of 64
  • Key Losses: Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, Lenzelle Smith Jr.
  • Key Returnees: Sam Thompson (7.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Shannon Scott (7.5 ppg, 3.4 apg, 2.0 spg), Amir Williams (7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
  • Key Newcomers: Anthony Lee (transfer), D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, David Bell, Kam Williams (redshirt)
  • Outlook: Ohio State is going to be very young as they kick off the post-Aaron Craft era, but there is talent on their roster. Shannon Scott will not replace the intangibles that Craft brought to the floor, but he should be able to replace his ability to be a lock down defender at the point. The addition of Anthony Lee up front will bolster a front line that will include Amir Williams and Marc Loving, who should be in line for a big jump in production, while Sam Thompson will once again provide aerial acrobatics and stalwart perimeter defense. The x-factor is going to be D’Angelo Russell. He’s got a reputation for being a big-time scorer on a team that will be lacking offensive firepower, but it’s not easy being a freshman scorer in a league as good as the Big Ten.

Pittsburgh Panthers

  • Last Season: 26-10, 11-7 ACC (5th), lost in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna
  • Key Returnees: Cameron Wright (10.5 ppg, 2.6 apg), James Robinson (7.6 ppg, 4.1 apg), Durand Johnson (8.8 ppg), Josh Newkirk (4.6 ppg, 1.7 apg)
  • Key Newcomers: Sheldon Jeter, Cameron Johnson, Tyrone Haughton, Ryan Luther
  • Outlook: The Panthers will lose their two best players from last season in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, but if there is anything that we’ve learned about Jamie Dixon’s team, it’s that they are always ready to call the next man up. With Cameron Wright out for ten weeks with a broken foot Durand Johnson (who’s returning from a torn ACL) will have to carry the offensive load, while James Robinson and rising sophomore Josh Newkirk will give Dixon a solid back court attack. The question mark is going to be in the front court. Michael Young had some promising moments as a freshman and Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter will be eligible this season. One of the trio of Joseph Uchebo, Tyrone Haughton, and Ryan Luther should be able to be effective in the ACC.

Syracuse Orange

  • Last Season: 26-5, 14-4 ACC (2nd), lost in the Round of 32
  • Key Losses: C.J. Fair, Tyler Ennis, Jerami Grant
  • Key Returnees: Trevor Cooney (12.1 ppg, 37.5% 3PT), Rakeem Christmas (5.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.9 bpg), Dajuan Coleman (4.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Michael Gbinije (3.4 ppg)
  • Key Newcomers: Chris McCullough, Kaleb Joseph
  • Outlook: For the third straight year, Syracuse will enter the season with just one point guard on the roster, and for the second straight season, that point guard will be a freshman that is getting thrown directly into the fire. Will Kaleb Joseph follow in the footsteps of Michael Carter-Williams and Tyler Ennis? That remains to be seen, but what we do know is that he won’t have nearly the experience around him. Trevor Cooney, an inconsistent three-point marksman, is the only one of Jim Boeheim’s four leading scorers from last season that returns, and Rakeem Christmas and Dajuan Coleman won’t exactly provide a pressure release inside. Chris McCullough is a five-star prospect, but he’s more athlete than basketball player at this point. Syracuse is going to need Michael Gbinije, Ron Patterson, B.J. Johnson and Tyler Roberson to make significant improvements if they are going to contend in the ACC this year.

Utah Utes

  • Last Season: 21-12, 9-9 Pac-12 (8th), lost in the NIT 1st round
  • Key Losses: Princeton Onwas
  • Key Returnees: Delon Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.3 bpg), Jordan Loveridge (14.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Brandon Taylor (10.6 ppg, 3.5 apg, 39.8% 3PT)
  • Key Newcomers: Brekkott Champman, Isaiah Wright, Chris Reyes, Kyle Kuzma
  • Outlook: I’m quite bullish on the Utes this season. In fact, I think there’s an outside chance that they end up being the second best team in the Pac-12 this season. For starters, the Utes lost so many close games last season thanks to dreadful late-game execution, and that can only get better this year as they essentially return everyone from last season, including one of the nation’s most under-appreciated stars in do-it-all guard Delon Wright. Forward Jordan Loveridge and point guard Brandon Taylor are back as well, and Larry Krystkowiak also adds a pair of talented freshman forwards in Brekkott Chapman and Kyle Kuzma, the latter of which redshirted in Salt Lake City last season. Winning is a skill and I don’t think it was a fluke that Utah consistently lost close games, but if they improve the way I think they can this year, they may not be involved in as many close games.

Pac-12 Tournament: Colorado holds off California

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How much work the Colorado Buffaloes needed to do in Las Vegas is up for debate, with some believing that Wednesday’s win over USC locked up a spot in the NCAA tournament. But it never hurts to keep winning, and Tad Boyle’s team did just that by beating California 59-56 in a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal. Askia Booker scored 17 points and Xavier Talton added 13 for the Buffaloes, who will play No. 4 Arizona Friday night.

A 19-6 first half run gave Colorado the early separation it needed against the Golden Bears, who also arrived at the MGM Grand looking to strengthen its case for the selection committee. Rebounding proved to be key, with the Buffaloes finishing the game a plus-9 in rebounds and a plus-6 in second-chance points (10-4).

Friday’s game against the Pac-12 champions will be a significant challenge for the Buffaloes, who haven’t matched up particularly well with Arizona in either meeting. Arizona put on a clinic in the second meeting, limiting Colorado to 32.7% shooting while also making 22 of their 26 field goal attempts in the second half of that 88-61 beating.

Booker, Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson will all be key in the third meeting, but the fact of the matter is that Colorado will need contributions from all members of their rotation if they’re to win.

As for Cal this defeat is their fifth in the last seven games, with the Golden Bears dropping from “virtual lock” to make the NCAA tournament to a team that will be left to do nothing but wait and hope they’re selected. With no more games to play between now and Sunday California can do nothing but scoreboard watch, as they’ve lost the ability to control their own fate.

Colorado continues push towards third consecutive NCAA tournament berth

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As many teams would need to do in the aftermath of a major personnel loss, Colorado had some adjustments to make once junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down in the first half of their loss at Washington on January 12 with a torn ACL. One of the nation’s best perimeter defenders, Dinwiddie ran the show for a team that was expected to contend for the Pac-12 title this season.

Clearly that wasn’t to be the case once he was lost, with the Buffaloes losing three of the four games they played in the immediate aftermath of that injury. But since that stretch, which included being swept on the road by the Arizona schools, Colorado’s won five of its last six games with their most recent result being a 61-52 win over Arizona State on Wednesday night. Tad Boyle’s team may not have shot particularly well from the field, making 37% of their shots, but they defended well and absolutely whipped the Sun Devils on the glass.

Arizona State shot just 31.5% from the field, with the guard tandem of Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall combining to shoot 8-for-28. And in regards to the rebounding Colorado rebounded just over 40% of its misses, converting those 15 offensive rebounds into a 12-0 edge in second-chance points. And leading the charge on the boards was none other than sophomore Josh Scott, who finished the game with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Scott, who’s been one of the Pac-12’s most improved players all season long, and junior guard Askia Booker have been the key pieces for Colorado as they’ve put together this current stretch of quality basketball. And in regards to Booker, who at times struggled mightily with shot selection while Dinwiddie was on the court, even with his 5-for-17 night against Arizona State he’s been a more efficient player. Booker scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, making all eight of his free throw attempts and doing a better job of making plays in the final 20 minutes.

Booker’s posted an offensive rating of 105 or better in five of Colorado’s last six games, with their win at USC being the exception. And even in the one loss, a 92-74 defeat suffered at the hands of a UCLA team that’s playing the best basketball of any team in the conference, Booker dished out 12 assists to just two turnovers. This is still a work in progress given the need for Booker to properly balance his scoring and distribution responsibilities, but he and his teammates have looked more comfortable in their roles over the last six games.

Wednesday was was big because it was a quality win for Colorado without Dinwiddie in the lineup, and it sets up the Buffaloes for what will be a major opportunity on Saturday night when No. 4 Arizona visits Boulder. The Wildcats dominated the first meeting, but that was when they had Brandon Ashley in the fold. Already in good shape to earn their third consecutive NCAA tournament berth, Tad Boyle’s team can make a significant statement in that regard with a win.

Scoring options lacking in No. 21 Colorado’s loss to No. 25 UCLA

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When it was announced on Monday that point guard Spencer Dinwiddie would be lost for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, No. 21 Colorado had to figure out a way to account for the production lost as a result. The Buffaloes’ leader and most talented player, Dinwiddie was averaging 14.7 points and 3.8 assists per game before suffering the injury late in the first half of Colorado’s 71-54 loss at Washington.

In the immediate aftermath Colorado did not look good in Seattle, but the struggles were to be expected given the sudden nature of Dinwiddie’s injury. With three days of practice in preparation for a game at No. 25 UCLA, Colorado’s adjustment to the loss of Dinwiddie would be better judged following their game against the Bruins. And outside of Askia Booker and Josh Scott, the Buffaloes struggled mightily in their 69-56 defeat.

Booker was one of the players Colorado needed to step up with Dinwiddie no longer available, and that was in regards to his shot selection as much as it was his scoring, and against UCLA the junior took quality shots for much of the night. Booker scored 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, with Scott adding 19 on 7-for-12 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. However faced with a team that has as many offensive options as UCLA, Colorado needed a third scorer to step up and that didn’t happen.

Remove Booker and Scott’s numbers and the remaining Buffaloes shot 6-for-27 from the floor, with Xavier Johnson and Jaron Hopkins shooting 1-for-6 respectively. Some credit should be given to an improved UCLA defense, with the Bruins using both zone and man-to-man looks on Thursday night. But even with that being the case players have to step up and make plays, and that simply did not happen for Colorado.

Had it happened Colorado could have picked up its first win over UCLA as a member of the Pac-12, especially when taking into account Kyle Anderson’s struggles. One of the midseason favorites to win Pac-12 Player of the Year, Anderson dealt with first half foul trouble and finished the game with six points, five rebounds and five assists. Not the best night for the 6-foot-9 sophomore, but the good news for head coach Steve Alford is that other players stepped up.

Norman Powell, coming off of an 11-point night in UCLA’s win over Arizona State, scored 19 points against Colorado and accounted for four of the Bruins’ 12 steals. Joining him in double figures were Jordan Adams, who accounted for 14 points and 13 rebounds despite shooting 4-for-15 from the field, and David Wear (11 points, seven rebounds). With their most important player not at his best UCLA found production in other areas, and that would prove to be the difference on Thursday.

That’s what Colorado will need to do if they’re to remain on track for another NCAA tournament bid sans Dinwiddie. Prior to his injury Colorado could afford off nights from a Xavier Johnson of Jaron Hopkins; that isn’t the case now.

Spencer Dinwiddie’s health much bigger concern for No. 15 Colorado than Sunday’s loss

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Just seven days ago No. 15 Colorado put together an offensive performance worthy of a Pac-12 title contender, scoring 101 points in their win over then-No. 10 Oregon. Guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie combined for 50 points and 11 assists, proving to be too much for one of the nation’s better backcourts. With those two leading the way, Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes have the perimeter skill needed to compete not only with the best of the Pac-12 but also make some noise in the NCAA tournament as well.

However things can change due to injuries, and in Colorado’s 71-54 loss at Washington on Sunday afternoon their Pac-12 title hopes may have been dealt a major blow. With just under three minutes remaining in the first half Dinwiddie went down with a non-contact left knee injury, one that sidelined the junior for the remainder of the game and left the Buffaloes without their floor general.

Leading by three at the time and by the same margin at the half, Colorado was a shell of itself without “The Mayor,” and that’s understandable given Dinwiddie’s influence not only from a skill standpoint but also the way in which he leads the team. While it wouldn’t be wise to speculate on the severity of the injury Colorado’s second half performance illustrated the need for other leaders to emerge, most notably Booker.

Booker’s two games in the State of Washington were ones that he’ll want to forget moving forward, as he followed up a 2-for-12 outing at Washington State with an 0-for-9 afternoon on Sunday. Booker was held scoreless for the first time since the 2012 Pac-12 tournament title game, which the Buffaloes won against Arizona.

Colorado was nowhere near as fortunate this time around, with the Dinwiddie injury and Washington’s C.J. Wilcox scoring a career-high 31 points being reasons why. If Dinwiddie is sidelined for an extended amount of time Colorado needs a more consistent Booker, and that includes his not allowing offensive struggles to influence the other areas of his game.

While there is a need to acknowledge that losing your sidekick in such sudden fashion will impact the mindset of a player (and this can be said for the other Buffaloes as well), Colorado’s going to need Booker to be the leader if they’re to move forward without Dinwiddie.

Washington deserves credit for the way in which they played in the second half, with Wilcox and Andrew Andrews taking advantage of the opportunities they were able to create on the offensive end of the floor. However it’s clear that Colorado’s an entirely different team without Spencer Dinwiddie.

The question for Colorado is whether or not they’ll be able to rebound from this major personnel loss if the junior’s out for the long haul. While the Buffaloes have multiple options, it will likely be Askia Booker who determines the path they take moving forward.