When Colorado cruised past Georgetown 96-73 last March in the first round of the NCAA tournament, McKinley Wright IV conjured up images of Ja Morant with an all-court performance that drew comparisons to Morant’s superlative effort two years earlier in Murray State’s upset win over Marquette.
Wright, a three-time All-Pac-12 First Team selection, notched 13 assists without a turnover as the Buffaloes won an NCAA tournament game for the first time in nine years. But now Colorado must forge on without Wright, a heady point guard who is currently playing for the Iowa Wolves of the NBA G League. Wright ended his collegiate run as the only player in Pac-12 history to score 1,600 points, hand out 600 assists, and pull down 600 rebounds over a four-year career.
Colorado opened the season with 20/1 odds at DraftKings to win the Pac-12, a top-heavy conference with two AP top-15 teams in UCLA (the conference favorites at +105) and Oregon. UCLA, which made a surprising run to the Final Four in 2021, is ranked second in the nation with the return of preseason All-American guard Johnny Juzang. Oregon, which has odds of +305 to win the conference, added two prominent transfers in former Oklahoma guard De’Vion Harmon and former Syracuse forward Quincy Guerrier.
Along with the departure of Wright, Colorado also lost forward Jeriah Horne and guard D’Shawn Schwartz, the team’s second and fourth-leading scorers last year, respectively. In Tuesday’s season opener, the Buffs needed to rally from an 11-point second half deficit to defeat Montana State 94-90 in overtime. Keeshawn Barthelemy scored 19 points and Eli Parquet added 17 in the comeback win.
CU’s Tad Boyle after last night’s matchup with Montana State:
"I'm really proud of our players and the fight they showed … they showed a lot of grit down the stretch defensively. A great, hard-fought win against a really good team."https://t.co/l6VKfzeDQl pic.twitter.com/Sayu7O1QR3
— Neill Woelk (@NeillWoelk) November 10, 2021
Colorado sports betting operators will closely monitor props on the Buffs to make the NCAA tournament throughout the season, as Tad Boyle’s team seeks its sixth trip to the tournament in 11 seasons. Colorado also returns Jabari Walker, the son of former Los Angeles Lakers forward Samaki Walker. In the tournament win over Georgetown, Walker went 5-for-5 from 3-point range in finishing with a career-high 24 points.
Rams staring up at Aztecs, Wolfpack in Mountain West
Meanwhile, there are high hopes in Fort Collins as Colorado State returns several top players from last year’s 20-8 team that reached the NIT semifinals.
Junior guard John Tonje torched Oral Roberts for a career-high 31 points in Tuesday night’s opener, a 109-80 win by Colorado State. Tonje averaged 6.6 points per game last season. After shooting just 38.9% from the field last year, Tonje opened the season with a scorching 10-of-14 night.
The Rams also held Oral Roberts star guard Max Abmas to 20 points on 8-of-22 shooting in the dominating win. Abmas, a potential first-round draft pick, put up 29 points when Oral Roberts shocked second-seeded Ohio State in the 2021 NCAA tournament opening round. Abmas scored at least 25 points in all three of the team’s tournament games last season when the Golden Eagles made a surprising run to the Sweet 16.
ICYMI: On a night where a preseason All-American was facing a pair of all-conference selections, John Tonje outshined them all.
Read more on his breakout performance & how Dischon Thomas made the most of his minutes on Tuesday night. 👇🏻
— DNVR Rams (@DNVR_Rams) November 11, 2021
Besides Tonje, Colorado State also returns guards David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens, the team’s top two scorers from last season. While Colorado State has no trouble scoring with the most prolific offensive teams in the Mountain West, defense will be critical once conference play begins. Colorado State ranked fourth in the MWC last season in team defense, allowing 66.8 points per game. The Rams gave up a season-high 90 points in an NIT semifinals defeat to Memphis, on a night when the Tigers shot 51.9% from beyond-the-arc.
At FanDuel, Colorado State is the third choice to win the MWC with odds of +400. San Diego State, the favorite at +180, added senior guard Matt Bradley, a transfer from Cal. The two-time All-Pac-12 honoree earned spots on the John Wooden Award and Jerry West Award watch lists in the preseason. Nevada, the second choice at +350, is led by guard Desmond Cambridge Jr., who opened the season with 22 points on Tuesday in a 91-76 win over Eastern Washington.
Colorado State is not scheduled to face in-state rival Colorado during the regular season. The Rams will face Air Force at home on Jan. 4, then will travel to Colorado Springs to face the Falcons on Jan. 22.