Jones: Dinwiddie’s season-ending injury felt across Pac-12
Colorado Buffaloes fall from ranks of elite without talented point guard.
Published: January 14, 2014 11:17PM
Updated: January 14, 2014 11:08PM
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Photo by Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Above, High school sports with Jennifer Gustavson, Maggie Thach and Tony Jones

A few months ago at Pac-12 Media Day in San Francisco, I had a 20-minute conversation with Spencer Dinwiddie, Colorado’s point guard and one of the best players in the Pac-12.

I walked away thinking of him as a smart and eloquent individual, the kind of guy who was perfectly at ease talking at length to a complete stranger. It was clear he would go a long way in life, regardless of whether the basketball thing worked out or not.

So there was a twinge of sadness on Monday after hearing that Dinwiddie was done for the season with a torn ACL.

On the court, he is the key to everything Colorado does. He’s a 6-foot-6 floor general, one of the best shooters in the league. He’s extremely unselfish, often to a fault. He was a fan favorite because of his trademark mustache and he was a mortal lock to be a first-round NBA Draft pick this upcoming June.

I’m sure the Buffaloes will recover. I’m sure they will win games, because they are too talented not to. But you can no longer consider them a Pac-12 favorite or the one team with the horses to play with Arizona, the top team in the country. Losing Dinwiddie simply means too much.

“You never want to see a player go down like that, especially one who means so much to the league,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “I traded text messages with [Colorado coach] Tad Boyle, and you just never want to see something like that. Spencer is a terrific player and a terrific young man.”

His value goes beyond the statistics. Dinwiddie averages 14 points, four assists and three rebounds per game. But he sacrifices a lot of his own offense for the greater good of Colorado basketball. He has a shooting guard in Askia Booker who has never met a shot he didn’t like. He feeds him. He has a big man in Josh Scott who commands touches in the paint. He gets him the ball.

Dinwiddie is one of the few guys in the Pac-12 who is deadly from 3-point range, but also gets to the free-throw line consistently. He’s also one of the better defenders in the league, averaging 1.5 steals per game.

The Buffaloes simply don’t have a player who can replace him. If anybody else went down on that roster, Boyle would have a potential answer. With Dinwiddie, he has no other recourse than to plug the gap and hope it all works out.

With Dinwiddie, Colorado is a top-15 team, easily one of the top three teams in the league and a Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament threat. Without him? That remains to be seen. But challenging for the Pac-12 title is out. The Buffaloes are talented enough to still make the NCAAs, but they can’t be considered elite.

To his credit, Dinwiddie has taken it all well. One of the major reasons for guys leaving school early is the threat of injury. On Sunday, he said via his Twitter account that he had no regrets coming back to Colorado for his junior season. He thanked the CU fans for their support. He tweeted a selfie of him and his mother, who flew into Boulder to be with him through his surgery.

Dinwiddie has shown character through his ordeal. But I already knew he had plenty of that.

tjones@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tjonessltrib

The West

No. 1 Arizona (17-0)

Was impressive in a road win at UCLA

No. 2 San Diego State (14-1)

Looking for a top three NCAA Tournament seed

No. 3 California (12-4)

Surprise! Montgomery has his team rolling through league play

No. 4 New Mexico (12-3)

Struggled on the road at San Jose

No. 5 Colorado (14-3)

Losing Dinwiddie is major. Also lost Fletcher for 6-8 weeks

No. 6 UCLA (13-3)

Smoked Arizona State after loss to Arizona

No. 7 Gonzaga (14-3)

No longer unbeatable in the WCC

No. 8 Washington (11-6)

Has won three of four in Pac-12 play

No. 9 Nevada (9-8)

If you had them at 4-0 in MW play, raise your hand

No. 10 Stanford (10-5)

Big road win over Oregon

No. 11 Oregon (13-3)

How the mighty have fallen

No. 12 Utah (12-4)

Big week with USC and UCLA upcoming