There is a general perception that the Colorado men's basketball roster is filled with talented and experienced players.
There's no question the roster is loaded with talent. Experience, on the other hand, is not so abundant. It is the inexperienced players that will likely determine whether CU meets its expectations this season.
"The key I think is to get the freshmen and the guys who haven't played, the redshirt freshmen, on track fast," said junior guard Askia Booker, who started all 33 games a year ago. "If we can do that, I think we can be as good as anybody in the country. They're so talented and they're going to be able to contribute to this team, so once they get on track, we'll be just fine."
On the surface,
That's why CU will be among the Top 25 teams in many preseason rankings, and it's why most expect the Buffaloes to in the NCAA Tournament field once again this season.
But beyond that foursome of returners -- guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Booker and forwards Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson -- the Buffs have six players who have never suited up for a college game and four others (seniors Ben Mills and Beau Gamble and sophomores Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer) who played a combined 497 minutes last year.
"It's almost like coaching two teams at this point," head coach Tad Boyle on Wednesday during CU's annual media day.
CU lost one exceptional starter, as forward Andre Roberson left early for the NBA. But it could be the absence of last year's role players -- Sabatino Chen, Jeremy Adams and Shane Harris-Tunks -- that they feel the most. Especially early in the season.
"We brought in a lot of experience off of the bench last year and this year we are going to be playing a lot of guys who don't know what Division I basketball is all about," Boyle said. "But they're going to find out quick; we are going to throw them into the fire."
There certainly isn't a lack of talent among the group of freshmen.
Redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon is a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward who could play a significant role in filling Roberson's shoes. Gordon is a talented rebounder and defender who also blocks shots.
True freshman Jaron Hopkins is a 6-foot-5 point guard who has already impressed his coaches and teammates with his athleticism and play-making ability.
The other three true freshmen -- Tre'Shaun Fletcher, George King and Dustin Thomas -- and redshirt freshman Chris Jenkins are all versatile players who can help CU in a variety of ways this season.
The real question is: When will they be ready to make significant contributions?
The Buffs hit the ground running on Nov. 8 in Dallas against a Baylor team that is as highly regarded nationally as CU, if not more so.
That's just the start of an intense non-conference schedule.
CU also faces national power and Big 12 favorite Kansas; Oklahoma State, which should challenge KU and Baylor in the Big 12 and will be on many Top 10 lists at the start of the year; Georgia, which has NCAA Tournament hopes; Wyoming, which is 2-0 against Boyle's Buffs; Jackson State, which is expected to compete for the SWAC title; UC Santa Barbara, which should contend for the Big West title; Ivy League favorite Harvard; Southern Conference favorite Elon; and in-state rivals Air Force and Colorado State.
That's not an easy schedule for a veteran team, let alone one with so many freshmen.
"I may have over-scheduled; time will tell and we will find out," Boyle said. "This team, as young as we are, there might be some bumps along the road. It's how do we handle that, how do we bounce back from that, how resilient are we? That's going to be the test this year."
It's a test the Buffs are eager to take, because they can't wait to see if their freshmen are as good as advertised.
"I think the overall talent level is very high so that impresses me," Dinwiddie said. "As long as their learning curve is up to speed by the time Nov. 8 hits, then they all have a shot at playing. They are just very talented."