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Spencer Dinwiddie's injury derails Colorado's surprising season

Spencer Dinwiddie injured his ACL in the first half against Washington. (Elaine Thompson/AP)

Spencer Dinwiddie

There is often a difference between a team’s best player and its most important one. In the instances where they are one and the same, the loss of that player can be devastating. How devastating? Colorado is about to find out.

An MRI exam on Monday revealed that junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a torn ACL in his left knee while dribbling late in the first half of No. 21 Colorado’s 71-54 loss at Washington on Sunday. He will have surgery after the swelling in his knee abates and miss the rest of the season.

“It’s a big blow for him ... he’s worked so hard to put himself in the position he has and help lead this team to where we are today,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “To have that all taken away from you in one basketball play is ... it’s tough.”

Dinwiddie led Colorado in scoring (14.7 ppg), assists (3.8 apg) and minutes played (31.1 mpg). He was also Colorado’s best perimeter defender and ball handler. The preseason All-Pac-12 selection was the driving force behind Colorado’s 14-3 start, which included wins over Harvard, No. 15 Kansas and Oregon.

Dinwiddie was also a projected first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft; DraftExpress ranks him No. 1 among juniors and has him going at pick No. 30 to the Phoenix Suns in its latest 2014 mock draft.

The immediate repercussions for Dinwiddie are obvious. He will miss the rest of the season, rehabilitate his knee, try and get back on the court as soon as possible and, if he decides to declare for the upcoming draft, hopefully convince NBA personnel that he is as effective as he was before the injury. But what kind of impact will this have on Colorado? The short answer: a big one.

The way No. 1 Arizona is playing right now, it doesn’t appear Colorado would have been able to challenge the Wildcats for the Pac-12 title even if Dinwiddie were available. But the Buffs were on track to earn a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. SI’s latest bracket watch, which was published before the extent of Dinwiddie’s injury became public, projected Colorado to earn a four-seed.

Without Dinwiddie, the Buffs are highly unlikely to earn a top-four seed. Unless Colorado can conjure up some sort of Ewing theory-type energy to fuel an unlikely run into Pac-12 contention, the Buffs are going to lose more games without Dinwiddie over the next two months than they might have otherwise.

Colorado will likely use some combination of freshmen Jaron Hopkins and Tre’Shaun Fletcher and sophomores Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer to fill the backcourt void left by Dinwiddie. Hopkins is the only one of those players that has averaged more than 15 minutes or five points per game this season.

He, or whoever else fills the minutes Dinwiddie left behind, will join Askia Booker (who you may remember for this) in the backcourt. Booker, an off-guard, averages 13.1 points per game, but he’s not nearly as efficient a scorer as Dinwiddie. The former is producing 1.03 points per possession and commands a whopping 30.6 percent of his team’s shots when he’s on the floor, while Dinwiddie was putting up 1.31 PPP on 18.4 percent.

Rather than allow Booker to take more shots, the Buffaloes would do well to play to their new, Dinwiddie-less strengths by running more offense through their cadre of talented frontcourt players. Forwards Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon and wing Xavier Johnson will need to step up in Dinwiddie’s absence. Scott (13.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg) in particular has performed well all season and should excel if given more touches and scoring chances.

Whether or not Colorado rejiggers its offensive attack, it will need to prove to the selection committee that it is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team without Dinwiddie. The committee takes player injuries into consideration when selecting and seeding teams. So if Colorado completely collapses now that Dinwiddie is lost for the season, it could risk missing the tournament altogether – despite having notched three solid wins and an RPIprojected to be around 27 come March.

That seems like a worst-case scenario. Colorado will probably make the NCAA Tournament. How much its seeding suffers will depend on how the Buffaloes adapt to playing without their best scorer, playmaker and perimeter defender.