The award goes to ...
Beat writer Brian Howell hands out some postseason awards for the Colorado men's basketball team:
Top newcomer: Wesley Gordon, Fr. — He redshirted last year, but we'll count him as a newcomer. Gordon gave fans plenty of "Wow!" moments and was a fixture in the starting lineup when healthy.
Most improved player: Xavier Talton, So. — Several players could make a claim for this award, but Talton's emergence this year, especially after Spencer Dinwiddie got hurt, played a key role in CU winning so many games down the stretch.
Sixth man of the year: Jaron Hopkins, Fr. — He didn't handle starting very well when he got the opportunity, but he gave CU a major lift off the bench at times, especially down the stretch.
Model of consistency: Josh Scott, So. — He had some late-season struggles, but most of the season, the Buffs knew they could expect at least 13 points and seven boards a night from Scott — and they often got more than that.
Team MVP: Askia Booker, Jr. — Struggled early, but he hit the biggest shot of the year (the buzzer-beating 3 to beat Kansas) and put the team on his back in several games down the stretch. He played the best basketball of his career during the second half of the season and the Buffs don't go to the NCAA Tournament without him stepping up.
It's been a little more than a week since the Colorado men's basketball team saw its season come to a close.
Without question, the ending was a major disappointment for the Buffaloes. Nobody expected their 77-48 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, and it was a bad enough loss that some have questioned whether the CU program actually took a step back.
That's a drastic reaction to one game, as bad as it was, but it's certainly a loss that will stick in the minds of the Buffs and their fans throughout the summer.
Despite that loss, coach Tad Boyle's Buffs had a nice season. They finished 23-12 — racking up the third-most wins in the history of the program. They got nine of those after losing star point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending injury on Jan. 12. And, they wound up in the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row — a program first.
So, with the season in the books, let's hand out some postseason grades.
The Buffs' two most experienced players — juniors Dinwiddie and Askia Booker — anchored the backcourt to start the year. Although criticized for not having better statistics, Dinwiddie played very well during the 16 full games he played. He was efficient on offense, got his teammates involved and played exceptional defense. Booker overcame an early season slump and was pretty good (and great at times) in the second half. After Dinwiddie's injury, Booker really stepped up and led the Buffs in a lot of ways. Sophomore Xavier Talton was solid all year — as a reserve in the first half and as a starter, in Dinwiddie's place, during the last 13 games. Freshman Jaron Hopkins showed flashes of brilliance, but struggled mightily at times, too. Sophomore Eli Stalzer and freshman George King both played limited roles, but had good moments. In the end, the inconsistency of the backcourt hurt the Buffs. They didn't get enough offensive production from the perimeter, and that led to teams doubling the post and cutting that off, as well. There is some good potential with this group, but there's no question they have a lot of work to do. Grade: B-minus
Sophomore Josh Scott was CU's most consistent player all season and he earned well-deserved All-Pac-12 honors. During the last handful of games, teams doubled him and he struggled, but it was a very good year for him. While Scott was a rock, sophomore Xavier Johnson was wildly inconsistent. XJ had several sensational games, including his 27-point, 10-rebound performance against Washington. But, he was also prone to disappearing, like he did against Arizona late in the season, or against Colorado State early on. Redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon battled through a couple of injuries, but when he was on the court, he typically played very well on defense. His offensive game needs a lot of work, though. Freshman Dustin Thomas gave the Buffs a lift at times, but never showed the exceptional shooting he displayed as a prep player. Senior Ben Mills didn't play a lot, but he gave the Buffs some very good minutes when he gave Scott a break. Freshman Tre'Shaun Fletcher got off to a good start before missing two months with a knee injury. Overall, this group is loaded with talent, and with Scott's all-around game and the occasional big games from XJ and Gordon, this was a fun group to watch. Grade: B-plus
Early in the season, the Buffs did all right in this department. Dinwiddie gave them the calming presence on the floor, and he took charge most of the time. When he got hurt, the Buffs were lost at first, but ultimately, saw Booker and Scott emerge as good leaders. Still, the Buffs showed their youth a lot and lacked strong leadership in difficult times. Grade: C
This was a big year for freshman around the nation in college basketball. While freshmen, such as Duke's Jabari Parker and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins, dominated headlines around the nation, CU's crop — Fletcher, Hopkins, King and Thomas — struggled. It's unfair to compare CU's group to the super star freshmen at other programs. Still, this was a group that struggled a little more than expected. They all showed good things at times, but inconsistency plagued them. Grade: C
Boyle has put together the greatest four-year run in program history. The job he did with this team after Dinwiddie's injury deserves special recognition, because many thought the Buffs would fall off the map and they didn't. Still, Boyle and his staff weren't perfect. CU's habit of disastrous starts in big games (twice vs. Arizona, once vs. Pittsburgh) and it's propensity to come out flat after halftime were big problems this season. The Buffs also struggled at key times coming out of timeouts. Those are all issues that can be partially blamed on the coaching staff. Overall, though, Boyle and his staff had a great year. Grade: A
In the end, the Buffs should be judged on what they truly were this season: A very young, inexperienced team that lost its best and most experienced player. That's not easy to deal with. Given that, it was quite an accomplishment for this team to get to 23 wins, reach the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals and earn a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. No, they didn't advance in the NCAA tourney, but this program didn't take a step back, as some have suggested since the loss to Pitt. They proved they've got talent in the locker room, and it is talent that should develop in the future. As disappointing as the final game was, this was a good season and the program is in great shape. Grade: B-plus.