Xavier Johnson

Colorado v Washington State

Colorado small forward hoping to benefit from redshirting in 2014-15

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To say that Colorado’s 2014-15 season was a disappointing one would be accurate. Picked to finish third in the Pac-12 preseason poll, the Buffaloes struggled throughout the season and finished with a record of 16-18. With Askia Booker moving on Tad Boyle’s team needs to account for the loss of its leading scorer, and the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by Xavier Johnson doesn’t help matters as Colorado looks to rebound from last season.

One of the players who will look to step forward alongside senior big man Josh Scott is redshirt sophomore George King, who was incapable of doing anything to help Colorado on the court in 2014-15. Boyle made the decision to redshirt King in hopes that the season spent working on his game without losing a year of eligibility would benefit both player and program in the long run.

And in a story by Brian Howell of the Boulder Daily Camera, King discussed how he looked to use the redshirt season to his benefit.

“The biggest thing for me was embracing it and not taking it as, ‘I’m not that good,’ ” King said. “I took it and used it as an opportunity.

“It looked like I was just sitting on the bench in the games but I was learning a lot. Obviously, practices were my games, and I worked out twice as much as the guys did, because game day was their day off (from workouts), and I was in the gym, lifting and on the court shooting.”

With Booker out of eligibility and Jaron Hopkins transferring, there’s clearly room for other perimeter options to step forward. Xavier Talton returns for his senior season, with Dominique Collier being a player many expect to be improved as a sophomore and former Providence guard Josh Fortune among the other possibilities. And with the incumbent at the three (Johnson) due to miss the entire season, Colorado will need production from Tre’Shaun Fletcher and King if they’re to rebound from a disappointing 2014-15.

Redshirt seasons have benefitted a number of players throughout college basketball, with one of the most recent examples being Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer. While King isn’t the same player as Wiltjer, the hope in Boulder is that his hard work away from game action will pay off in 2015-16.

Colorado to be without two starters Thursday night at No. 10 Arizona

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After suffering their worst loss of the season last Tuesday, Colorado enters its two-game road swing through Arizona with a 9-6 overall record (2-1 Pac-12) in need of some positive momentum. Unfortunately for head coach Tad Boyle his team isn’t at full strength ahead of their game at No. 10 Arizona, with juniors Josh Scott (back spasms) and Xavier Johnson (right high ankle sprain) both dealing with health issues.

And according to a report from Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, neither will play Thursday night against the Wildcats.

Scott (13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg) missed Colorado’s conference-opening games against UCLA and USC as a result of the back spasms and was a shell of himself in the Buffaloes’ 74-49 loss at No. 9 Utah last Tuesday, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds in 28 minutes of action.

Johnson (12.8, 5.4), who is third on the team in both scoring and rebounding, suffered his ankle injury on a shot attempt in the first half of that loss to Utah.

Without Scott and Johnson the Buffaloes won’t have much in the way of front court depth against the Wildcats, with second-leading rebounder Wesley Gordon remaining in his starting role and reserves such as Dustin Thomas and Tory Miller now needed to step forward.

Colorado’s third-leading scorer dealing with high ankle sprain

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Wednesday’s game against No. 9 Utah didn’t come at the best of times for the Colorado Buffaloes, who were looking to move to 3-0 in conference play after taking care of UCLA and USC last weekend. With junior forward Josh Scott missing those two games with back spasms and still at less than full strength, the Buffaloes arrived in Salt Lake City with one important health issue to address.

And early in their 74-49 loss to the Utes, Tad Boyle’s team lost a key piece as junior forward Xavier Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain. Johnson was attempting a layup, and the awkward plant resulted in the Mater Dei HS product injuring his right ankle. Johnson, who’s averaging 12.8 points and 5.4 rebounds on the season, left the game and did not return.

Ice was applied to Johnson’s ankle upon his return to the bench in the first half, and in his postgame comments Boyle noted that high ankle sprains tend to take longer to heal than sprains that occur within the joint itself.

“He twisted his ankle pretty good, and it’s higher, it’s not in the joint it’s higher up,” Boyle said after the game. “High ankle sprains are pretty nasty and we’ll get a better feel for that as it progresses. They’re very painful and they take a little longer than just the normal ankle sprain.

“We have enough guys on this team to overcome but we would certainly like to get him back as soon as possible.”

If there’s a positive to be found in this situation it’s the schedule, with the Buffaloes not having another game until they visit No. 8 Arizona January 15. Will that be enough time for Johnson to heal and remain in the starting lineup? That remains to be seen, and after being outclassed by the Utes next Thursday’s game represents an important opportunity for a team that can use a quality win on its resume.

Prior to the start of conference play Colorado went through a stretch in which they lost four of six games, with the two wins coming at the expense of Northern Colorado and DePaul (which currently sits atop the Big East standings).

Colorado’s second half run a product of its focus on getting the ball inside

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After hanging close to Colorado for the entire first half, Auburn was able to trim its deficit to four points (49-45) with 13:13 remaining in the game. Despite not having the services of guard Antoine Mason, who was held out due to an ankle injury suffered in the Tigers’ win over Milwaukee Friday night, Bruce Pearl’s squad was able to hang around thanks in large part to the play of guard K.T. Harrell (20 points) and power forward Cinmeon Bowers.

Unfortunately for Auburn the 13:13 mark was also when Tad Boyle’s Buffaloes began to improve their execution on both ends of the floor, with Colorado going on a 26-1 run that put the game well out of reach. Colorado would go on to win by the final score of 90-59, with their focus on getting the ball inside being the reason why.

Starters Josh Scott (17 points, nine rebounds), Xavier Johnson (17 points, five rebounds) and Wesley Gordon (16 points, 12 rebounds) led the way offensively for the Buffaloes, and after struggling to do so in the first half Colorado took advantage of its edges in both front court size and depth in the second half. Colorado finished the game with 42 points in the paint, with 24 of those coming in the game’s final 20 minutes.

What hurt Colorado in the first half was their “refusal” to consistently work the ball inside, and while they did manage to score 18 points in the paint and shoot 10-for-16 from two the eleven three-point attempts (making four) were too many considering the fact that Auburn didn’t have much bulk in the post outside of the undersized but tough Bowers (11 points, 13 rebounds).

In the second half Colorado attempted just three three-pointers (making one), and they shot 16-for-23 from inside of the arc. And points-wise, 41 of Colorado’s 52 second-half points were scored either in the paint (24) or from the foul line (17; 17-for-20 FT). The Buffaloes have both depth and skill in their front court, and when they work the ball inside consistently this is a tough team to defend.

Because not only can guys like Scott and Johnson convert those opportunities, with Gordon being very good as an offensive rebounder, but it also opens things up on the perimeter. Askia Booker scored all nine of his points in the second half (seven during the decisive run), and reserve guard Jaron Hopkins contributed on both ends of the floor against the Tigers. The addition of Dominique Collier, who sat out the first two games for disciplinary reasons, will help Colorado at the point guard position moving forward.

But regardless of who’s on the perimeter, Colorado will be at its best when there’s a concerted effort to get the ball inside. That occurred in the second half Tuesday morning, resulting in the Buffaloes pulling away from an undermanned (and ultimately overmatched) opponent.

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.

2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 19 Colorado Buffaloes

Pac 12 Basketball Tournament - First Round
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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 21-12, 10-8 (5th Pac-12); Lost in the Round of 64 to Illinois

Head Coach: Tad Boyle (4th season at Colorado: 69-37 overall, 29-23 Big 12/Pac-12)

Key Losses: Andre Roberson, Sabatino Chen, Jeremy Adams

Newcomers: Jaron Hopkins, Tre’shaun Fletcher, Wesley Gordon, Chris Jenkins, Dustin Thomas, George King

Projected Lineup

G: Spencer Dinwiddie, Jr.
G: Askia Booker, Jr.
F: Xavier Johnson, So.
F: Wesley Gordon, Fr.
C: Josh Scott, So.
Bench: Jaron Hopkins, Fr.; Chris Jenkins, Fr.; Xavier Talton, So.; Eli Stalzer, So.; Dustin Thomas, Fr.

They’ll be good because …: If all goes according to plan, Tad Boyle will have one of the best inside-outside combinations in the country. Spencer Dinwiddie is no longer a secret. The 6-foot-6 point guard is one of the most versatile players in the country, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. If he avoids his bouts of inconsistency, he’s got a shot at being a first round pick in June. Josh Scott put on 20 pounds of muscle, which should allow him to a) better get position in the paint and b) be more durable when it comes to lasting through the entire season. Throw in Xavier Johnson, who should thrive with Andre Roberson off to the NBA, and the Buffs could end up with three all-Pac-12 performers on the roster.

Colorado will also have a roster that will be able to give a number of different looks this season. If they need to go big, they can play Johnson at the three and put one of their big guards at the two. If Boyle wants to use a smaller lineup, Johnson can slide over and play the four, allowing Dinwiddie to share the perimeter with two of Colorado’s smaller guards. Tad Boyle will be able to create mismatches next season.

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But they might disappoint because …: There is quite a bit of youth on this roster. The two veterans are Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, who are both juniors. Scott and Johnson are the elder statesmen because they are sophomores. Experience can be overrated in a sport dominated by one-and-done players, but Colorado’s freshmen aren’t exactly Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle. There is a learning curve here, and it may take a season or two for some of these guys to become capable of contributing at this level.

Along those same lines, Colorado’s lack of front court depth could be a problem if there is an injury or foul trouble. We know about Scott and Johnson, and 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon should slide in quite effectively as the four-man. But outside of those three, there isn’t much on this roster that is proven up front. Ben Mills has scored 40 points in three seasons. Dustin Thomas is a freshman that’s known more for his perimeter stroke than his physicality around the rim.

Outlook: There are two things that signify a quality basketball program: the ability to identify and develop talent that others don’t recognize, and being able to continue to grow as a team despite losing that talent earlier that expected. Twice in the last three years, Colorado has lost a player to early entry (Alec Burks and Roberson) that was a three-star recruit coming out of high school. And while Boyle didn’t recruit either of them, he was the one that put together this entire roster, one that has been built on under-the-radar talent and will head into this season as a top 25 team.

Can the Buffaloes win the Pac-12? Well, that’s a tough task considering that a) Arizona has a chance to be awesome this season and b) the conference will be as deep as it has been since Kevin Love and James Harden had normal facial hair. This is going to be one of those years where sixth place in the Pac-12 is two games behind first place, but anything short of at least one win in the NCAA tournament should be thought of as a disappointing year for these Buffaloes.