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The Pacific-12 conference is going to be, well, "Pac'd" this year (good, we got this pun out of the way early). Of course, the Arizona Wildcats are the consensus favorite, and for good reason. But after them, there is a large crowd vying for second, including Oregon, UCLA, California, Arizona State, and Stanford.
If I had to pick a team to finish second in the conference, though, I'm taking the Colorado Buffaloes.
This team brings back every key contributor from last season with the exception of André Roberson, the 26th overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. I'm not worried about the Buffaloes replacing Roberson's 10.9 PPG, despite the fact that he was the third-leading scorer on a team that ranked just 154th in scoring (68.2 PPG).
Spencer Dinwiddie is a Conference Player of the Year candidate and should only improve on his team-high 15.4 PPG. I'm also interested to see what Xavier Johnson does in an expanded role. He averaged 8.9 PPG last year, but on only 6.2 FGA, shooting 51.5% from the field. With more shots going his way this season, he could become a huge factor (on the other hand, Askia Booker and his 36.3% FG could use some better shot selection).
The Buffs don't have much firepower off the bench, but their starting lineup is solid top to bottom.
Actually, what I'm more interested in finding out is who makes up for Roberson's 11.2 RPG. His 27.1% defensive rebounding rate was eighth in the country last season according to KenPom.com (subscription needed). Johnson should be able to pick up some of the slack, as well as redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon, but I'll be looking to see how big man Josh Scott performs.
The 6'10" forward grabbed 5.7 RPG last season; not terrible, but not impressive for someone his size. According to College Basketball Talk's Rob Dauster, Scott added 20 pounds of muscle this offseason, bringing him up to 242 lbs. That will definitely help his already strong post game, but it should also allow him to get position inside and bring in more rebounds.
The Buffs don't have much firepower coming off the bench (Sabatino Chen, he of the controversial game-winner against Arizona that didn't count, graduated), but their starting lineup of Booker, Dinwiddie, Johnson, Gordon, and Scott is solid top to bottom. This group will be tested from the get-go with an opening game in Dallas against Baylor. That and a matchup with Harvard will be interesting games against close competition that could help define this team's season.
Kansas and Oklahoma State will be their toughest match-ups, but if they show fight in those games, it could be a sign that they're ready to compete with Arizona for the conference title.
The Buff's end to the regular season could be their most important stretch, when they will play three consecutive road games against Utah, Stanford, and Cal. A strong finish in those games could propel them to do well in the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament, where the Buffaloes will look to go further than their rounds of 64 and 32 finishes the past two seasons under head coach Tad Boyle.
Experience should be a factor in the 2013-14 edition of this team doing better than last season's squad. Last year, Chen was Colorado's only senior. According to KenPom, the team ranked just 312th in the nation in experience (subscription needed), which measures the years of eligibility left on team while weighting more heavily the experience of those who play more minutes.
In 2012-13, the Buffaloes were 9-9 in away or neutral games. Having last year under their belts, especially for sophomores Scott and Johnson, and redshirt freshman Gordon, will be valuable. Now they need to combine their talent with this experience and produce better on the court.