The 2022-2023 CU basketball season has arguably been the most disappointing of the Tad Boyle era, given the relatively high preseason expectations and the ultimate results, but this season has set up the Buffs with a strong foundation for next season.

They have a trio of established stars set to return for another season, a bevy of gifted role players that have proven they’re ready to break out, and some jaw-dropping incoming talent.

The 2023-2024 season is going to be a great one for Colorado Buffaloes basketball. Don’t believe it? Take a look.

The established stars for CU Basketball

With the Colorado Buffaloes projected to only lose Ivy League graduate transfers Jalen Gabbidon and Ethan Wright this offseason, they’ve set themselves up very well for the 2023-2024 campaign.

They will have to replace Wright and Gabbidon’s combined 35.0 minutes, 9.3 points, 1.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game, but for the most part, CU basketball will be able to rely on the same stars they leaned on throughout the 2022-2023 season.

Tristan Da Silva could maybe enter the draft, but it’s hard to see him being that coveted a prospect. He’ll likely return for his senior season, which would be a huge boon for the Buffs.

Obviously, Da Silva was the team’s leading scorer, but beyond averaging 16.0 points per night, he fueled the Colorado offense. He was arguably the team’s best offensive player off the ball, with his intuitive understanding of spacing and cutting, and his ability to set other teammates up, even if his 1.3 assists per night don’t quite reflect that fact.

You could also make a case for Da Silva as one of the team’s better defenders, giving the CU Buffs a great do-it-all wing that has already proven he can be the best player on a mid-level team in Pac-12, and a first-team All-Pac-12 level player.

What happens when his game’s matured for another year, and he has a superstar wing opposite of him to help carry the load? It should be exciting.

CU basketball should also see K.J. Simpson, a member of the Pac-12’s All-Conference second-team, and one of the biggest breakout stars of this past season in the conference, return for his junior season. Simpson’s breakout was crucial for a Buffs squad desperate for any answers not named Tristan Da Silva, as he doubled his scoring production, and fell just 0.1 points per game shy of leading the team in per-game scoring.

With another year to develop, Simpson could easily take another developmental lead, considering how much we’ve already seen his game progress, during his short time on the hardwood for the Buffaloes.

Last, we have J’Vonne Hadley, who served as the team’s leading rebounder prior to suffering a season-ending finger injury. Hadley is a massive guard for CU that can help do the dirty work inside and provide a physical presence to the team, which is fairly slight without him. He should also progress with another year of playing under Tad Boyle.

The entire big three should be returning for Colorado, and it’s possible that none of them end up being the team’s best player next season. That’s exciting stuff.

Breakout candidates for CU Basketball

Along with their parade of returning stars, the Colorado Buffaloes have the luxury of bringing back nearly all of their role players, many of whom look ready for an expanded role.

Julian Hammond has to be atop that list.

In the last section, we mentioned how the only players Colorado should really have to replace are Ethan Wright and Jalen Gabbidon — two floor-spacing guards that came up big for CU following the injury to Hadley. Hammond will be the obvious target to help replace those figures.

Once K.J. Simpson was sidelined with injury, Boyle turned to Hammond to be the team’s starting point guard and primary ball handler, and Hammond was excellent. He demonstrated very little drop-off between Simpson’s game and his own, as he averaged 16.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per night while turning the ball over just five times total, over the three-game span.

To be fair, that’s a tiny sample size, but it also would have made Hammond the most productive player for the Buffaloes if was extrapolated over the length of a whole season. CU should be able to feel confident in their second unit’s ability to produce points next season with Hammond leading the way as a luxurious sixth man.

That said, his audition was so promising, it’s likely we see his role inflate a good bit heading into next year, making him a clear breakout candidate.

Luke O’Brien and Lawson Lovering are two other Buffs with big roles that should be on breakout watch.

With Hadley done for the year, Boyle turned to O’Brien to replace a lot of that role in the offense, considering O’Brien is also an oversized guard with excellent rebounding skills and defensive ability, but he also added three-point range to the equation, which Hadley never did. O’Brien shot 30.7% from three, which is pretty poor but also demonstrates an upgrade over Hadley, who attempted just one three-point shot all season.

As for Lovering, it’s understandable why he’s been the target for much of Boulder’s basketball ire, but it feels foolish to turn on him now. The seven-foot center still has a ridiculous amount of tools to work with, and showed considerable growth as a defender for CU, although he was still bullied on occasion by stronger bigs.

In spite of his flaws though, Lovering is already in the conversation as Colorado’s best defender and has shown flashes of offensive dominance that could make him live up to his status as a prized recruit.   Against a talent-rich USC team, he erupted for 13 points and 14 rebounds on efficient shooting splits, and since January 23rd, he’s had just one game in which he’s made less than 50% of his shot attempts. There’s growth there, and the projected ceiling is still special enough that patience should be advised, even if it hasn’t lived up to expectations, so far.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, are Quincy Allen, Javon Ruffin, and Joe Hurlbut.

Despite being a lower-ranked player in the same recruiting class, Ruffin has passed by Allen and cared out a decent role for himself, as he played 14.8 minutes and generated 6.0 points per game during his redshirt freshman year. Although he didn’t wow much during his first season, he quickly earned the trust of Coach Boyle, and that makes him a breakout candidate worth monitoring.

Allen was a highly coveted recruit, and as a result, should continue to be on breakout watch, even though it hasn’t gone to plan so far. In his second season with the team, Allen saw the court for just 44 minutes, and most of those came at the end of the season, with the team low on bodies as a result of injury.

Whenever Allen does check in, his elite athleticism is apparent. He looks athletically different, in a positive way, from any other player on the Buffs, with his impressive length, and Gumby-like body control, but it just hasn’t come together yet for him. It’s still a little awkward.

That said, Denver Broncos fans, who just watched the hyper-talented Jerry Jeudy finally piece it all together in Year 3, would likely tell the Buffalo faithful to hold out hope just a little longer.

Joe Hurlbut didn’t even play this past season for Colorado, but he was the most highly recruited member of their 2022 class and has an impressive frame to work with. Plus, Tad Boyle could use a little added insurance behind Lovering, in case he doesn’t make the hoped-for leap, and Hurlbut provides that.

Jaw-dropping recruiting talent

Alright, alright. Yes, we’re burying the lede a little here, but it’s necessary.

Anyone who knows that being ranked No. 1 is a good thing also knows that Cody Williams is going to add a lot of talent to this Buffaloes squad, but if that was all this team had going for it, it wouldn’t be worth the current level of excitement.

Would we be excited to watch the North Texas Mean Green if they added Williams? Probably not, cause it would just be Williams and a whole lotta nothing.

At Colorado, Williams projects to be the missing special ingredient to what is already a pretty damn delectable dish.

You’re adding that No. 1 talent to an experienced squad, with proven scorers, intriguing size, and a very deep backcourt. Now, that’s an exciting recipe!

But, what makes Williams so special?

Williams has NBA genes, with a brother (Jalen Williams) who was recently selected in the lottery by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and a 6-foot-8 build that boasts rare length (seven-foot wingspan) and athletic fluidity. He’s also demonstrated a really nice handle, which allows him to slice through the paint, no matter the traffic, and get to the rack for easy buckets. He’s also ahead of schedule, in terms of his development as a passer and playmaker.

Oddly, the most exciting thing about Williams might be the gaps in his game. He’s not a great shooter, shooting just 20 percent from three. Also, Williams hasn’t fully filled out his frame yet, and as a result, struggles to finish through contact. That’s something that could very easily change with some time in Boulder though, as he’ll have a proper training and dietary staff working with him. The shooting woes are more concerning, but considering his brother experienced a similarly slow start as a shooter, before blossoming into a 39.6% three-point shooter his final season.

Then, factor in that Tad Boyle has taken a bunch of very similar recruits (longer perimeter players like McKinley Wright, Spencer Dinwiddie, Derrick White, and Jabari Walker) and developed them into current NBA players, during his time with CU basketball. None of those players ranked in the top 100 of their respective recruiting classes. Williams is ranked No. 1 (On3), No. 6 (ESPN), or No. 8 (247) depending on the service you rely on.

So, with that in mind, just how high can Boyle take Williams?

The Colorado Buffaloes will also be adding Assane Diop, a 6-foot-10 center prospect from Senegal, by way of Denver, who’s been overshadowed by Williams, but would rank as Boyle’s fifth-highest-rated recruit (0.959) in CU’s last six classes, per 247Sports.

Having Diop in the wings makes CU basketball just that much less reliant on Lovering taking a big leap, and that’s some nice security to have.