There is a great deal of excitement surrounding Colorado this year, but the Buffaloes non-conference schedule will be a challenging test. Depending on how Colorado fares in the non-conference slate will determine if the hype is warranted or if expectations should be tempered. Here's a quick look at Colorado's note-worthy non-conference games:
November 8th, vs. Baylor, at Dallas (neutral, sort of)
Colorado gets the 2013-2014 season started by facing a talented Baylor team in Dallas. Colorado defeated Baylor last year 60-58 in the Charleston Classic, so Baylor will look to even the score this year. Baylor returns three starters, but lost its most important player to graduation in point guard Pierre Jackson. Junior college transfer Kenny Cherry will take over the point, and his task will be to feed contrasting big men Isaiah Austin (perimeter-oriented, made 30 3-pointers last year) and Cory Jefferson (highly athletic low post threat) and shooter Brady Heslip. Jefferson torched Colorado last year, scoring 17 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots. He did all that while not missing a shot (7-7 from the field, 3-3 from the free throw line).
The keys to a victory will be how Colorado's bigs fare against Baylor's vaunted front-court and if Booker/Dinwiddie can neutralize Heslip, like they did last year. It will be Cherry's first game starting for Baylor, so Colorado needs to take advantage of his inexperience. Also, Booker and Dinwiddie combined to score 30 of Colorado's 60 points in last year's victory. There will need to be more balance this time around.
November 24th, vs. Harvard, home game
This could possibly be the best team Harvard puts out on the court. Ever. Harvard is coming off an NCAA Tournament birth and victory over #3 seed New Mexico. Harvard did all that without senior starters Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry, who were withdrew from the school for the year because of a campus-wide scandal. In their void, sophomore point guard Siyani Chambers (12.4 ppg, 5.7 apg), senior shooter Laurent Rivard (school record 80 3-pointers) and junior wing Wesley Saunders (led team with 16.2 ppg) stepped up considerably. But Casey and Curry are back now, adding more depth and versatility to an already deep Harvard team. Junior Kenyatta Smith returns as Harvard's anchor down low, and he'll be backed up by highly touted freshmen big man Zena Edosomwan.
This will be Harvard's fifth game of the season, so the key to a victory for Colorado will be to capitalize on Casey and Curry integrating themselves into the rotation. Limiting Saunders on the wing and Rivant from beyond the arc is also pivotal. Look for Harvard to get a heavy dose of Josh Scott, early and often. A potential Xavier Johnson/Wesley Saunders matchup could be very exciting, especially when you take into account that they're both from Los Angeles.
December 3rd, vs. Colorado State, at Fort Collins
Dinwiddie backed up his trash talk when the two teams met last year in Boulder, to the tune of a career-high 29 points en route to a 70-61 victory. Nothing like a little trash talk to stir up a rivalry. Colorado State has the advantage of being at home this year, but lose all five of their starter's from last year's 26-win, NCAA Tournament team. Junior guard Daniel Bejarano (6.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg), last year's Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year, will look to take on a much bigger role this year and lead CSU. Navy junior transfer J.J. Avila (15.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.8 spg in 2011-2012) has the tall task of replacing second round NBA draft pick Colton Iverson. Also keep an eye on freshmen guard David Cohn. With Jesse Carr's career-ending knee injury, Cohn could be thrust into a big role early on.
Colorado State shouldn't pose much of a threat to Colorado, especially when they're replacing five starters and Colorado returns four starters. The key to a victory for Colorado will be limiting Bejarano. Expect Dinwiddie to be matched up with Bejarano. Scott getting plenty of touches down low will also be important, considering CSU's revamped front-court.
December 7th, vs. Kansas, home game
Kansas dismantled Colorado in Lawrence last year, easily winning 90-54. Dinwiddie was limited with an in-game injury and only scored four points in 21 minutes of play. Programs like Kansas don't rebuild, they simply reload. So despite losing all five starter's from last year's Sweet 16 team, Kansas is still a top-ten ranked team with national championship expectations. Scout's 2013 #1 overall recruit Andrew Wiggins will look to lead the Jayhawks this year, but he'll have a strong supporting cast. Junior Nadiir Tharpe will handle the point, McDonald's All-American freshmen Wayne Selden is the shooting guard, and sophomore Perry Ellis and Memphis transfer Tarik Black will man the post. Two other freshmen, Joel Embiid and Conner Frankamp, figure to get solid playing time as reserves.
The key for a Colorado victory will be attacking Tharpe relentlessly, especially on defense. Although Tharpe is junior, this will be his first year starting for Kansas, at the most important position on the court. Wiggins also needs to be accounted for, and it will be interesting to see who Head Coach Tad Boyle assigns to guard Wiggins. Ellis figures to be the top option on the interior for Kansas, so Colorado's bigs will need to defend him well. Scott was the lone bright spot last year for Colorado against Kansas, scoring 19 points against a defensive ace in Jeff Withey. Scott will once again need to set the tone in the front-court, but Kansas will be better prepared for the sophomore. Expect Dinwiddie to really be aggressive, as he was hurt last year against Kansas.
December 13th, vs. Elon, home game
On the surface, this looks like a pushover game sandwiched between Kansas and Oklahoma State. But don't be fooled. Elon returns eight players who averaged at least ten minutes a game, including all five starter's from a 21-win, North Division title in the Southern conference. Leading senior scorer's Ryley Beaumont (11.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), Jack Isenbarger (13.2 ppg) and Lucas Troutman (15.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg) are all back. Elon is projected to win the Southern Conference this year, and could be a somewhat unexpected NCAA Tournament-bound team Colorado faces this year (this game will look really good on Colorado's resume come March).
The key for a Colorado victory will be to clamp down on Beaumont and Troutman down low. Elon's offense runs through the senior tandem. If they struggle Elon's guards and wings will need to step up offensively as first options, something they're not accustomed too. The Scott/Troutman battle, and the winner of the battle, will go a long way in deciding the fate of the game.
December 21st, vs. Oklahoma State, at Las Vegas (neutral) Spencer Dinwiddie vs. Marcus Smart. The Mayor vs. Smartacus. This game matches up two of the elite, two-way point guards in the country. Oklahoma State experienced great success last year, thanks to their do-everything point guard. The Cowboys won 24 games and were an NCAA Tournament team, although they lost in the second round to Oregon (a team Colorado beat twice last year). In addition to Smart, Oklahoma State returns three other starters: senior guard Markel Brown (15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg), junior forward Le'Bryan Nash (14.0 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and junior big man Michael Cobbins (6.9 ppg, team-leading 6.1 rpg and 1.5 bpg). Junior guard Brian Williams figures to be the fifth starter. Williams endured an injury-plagued 2012-2013 season, but started the last 20 games of 2011-2012 when he averaged 9.6 ppg. Sophomore guard Phil Forte returns as a viable threat from three.
Colorado should take note of Oregon's victory over Oklahoma State in last year's NCAA Tournament. Oregon put a heavy emphasis on Brown and Smart, and it payed off. Although Brown and Smart combined for 30 points, they were very inefficient. Both shot a combined 38% from the field and needed 29 field goal attempts to get 30 points. They also combined for eight turnovers, compared to their seven combined assists. Booker and Dinwiddie will need a similar defensive effort to defeat Oklahoma State. Oregon also out-rebounded Oklahoma State 14-4 on the offensive glass (44-30 overall) which led to second-chance points opportunities. Scott, Colorado's second-leading offensive rebounder last year, will need to be very effective on the offensive boards.