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Colorado college basketball preview: It's officially Askia Booker's team

Askia Booker grew up in 2013-14 following a season-ending injury to backcourt mate Spencer Dinwiddie, but it's officially his team to lead now that Dinwiddie is in the NBA.

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Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie were Tad Boyle's two most important recruits since the Colorado Buffaloes joined the Pac-12, and the two Los Angeles area guards were joined at the hip the moment they stepped onto campus. So when Dinwiddie, the team's main ball handler, was lost last season because of a torn ACL, it gave Booker a good amount of time to learn and lead.

Dinwiddie is now a Detroit Piston, and Booker is now seasoned in being the team's clear-cut first option. The senior will take a dangerous Buffs team into 2014-15, but he also has an experienced supporting cast around him.

Booker will likely be joined in the starting backcourt by Xavier Talton, who he found some chemistry with toward the end of last season. Add junior Eli Stalzer and sophomore Jaron Hopkins, who returns a year wiser with defensive potential at the 2 and 3, and Boyle has a versatile group of perimeter players at his fingertips.

The frontcourt is equally imposing. Center Josh Scott led the team by averaging 14.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last season, while Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon give Colorado an athletic and beefy forward duo who can stretch the floor.

But it all comes back to Booker. Booker found the right mix of making plays for his teammates while still utilizing the scoring aggression that made him so great alongside Dinwiddie, before he got hurt. The Buffaloes have shown signs of being a dangerous team over the past few years, and with some continuity without Dinwiddie, they won't be faced with any surprises to start the season. For that, they just might be the main challenger to the Pac-12's clear favorite, Arizona.

Projected starting lineup:

PG: Xavier Talton, junior

SG: Askia Booker, senior

SF: Xavier Johnson, junior

PF: Wesley Gordon, sophomore

C: Josh Scott, junior

Key bench players: Jaron Hopkins, Eli Stalzer, Dustin Thomas, Tre'Shaun Fletcher, George King

SB Nation communityThe Ralphie Report

How the Buffs can go deep in the tournament: Developing scoring off the bench

The familiarity in the starting lineup should make the Buffaloes competitive against almost any team in the country, but depth could give Colorado a better chance to do something with a likely tournament berth. After all, it was on Booker, Scott and Johnson to carry the offensive load last season.

When the Buffs were shuffling around following Dinwiddie's injury last year, the backcourt briefly went with Booker as a true point guard and Hopkins as the starter at shooting guard. Hopkins' growth in his second season, not to mention that of Fletcher and Thomas, could be key.

Add in four-star freshman point guard Dominique Collier and freshman power forward Tory Miller, and the potential for additional contributors could be the boost Colorado sorely needs.

How the Buffs can lose early: Not relying on their defense

The Buffaloes shot 43.7 percent as a team last season, and though they have several capable double-digit scorers, it remains to be seen if there is one player who can single-handedly take over a game; Booker is an undersized gunner, and Scott relies on his teammates to get him the ball in the post. Another question mark: can the available combo guards be able to lead an efficient offense?

On the other side of the court, Colorado has the size, length and experience to lean on its defense. It also has a bit of versatility with players like Johnson and Hopkins able to play at multiple positions.

Last season ended with CU getting blown out by Pittsburgh, 77-48, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That showed what happens when the Buffs aren't locked in and willing to grind a game out.