DU finished the second quarter of their basketball season, 3-3. All six games were against non-conference opponents. During that stretch, DU averaged 63 points per game while their opponents scored 65.4, a -2.4 margin.
Quarter 2 Evaluation Period: Period: Air Force through University California – Riverside
DU 59 – Air Force 61 L
DU 59 – San Diego 47 L
DU 69 – Weber St. 68 W
DU 81 – Northern Colorado 77 W
DU 58 – Eastern Washington 74 L
DU 53 – UC Riverside 63 L
While Denver was +5 on steals and +19 on turnovers during this stretch, the Pioneers were out-rebounded by 70 (213-143). This equated to an -11.6 rebound differential per game which is nearly impossible to overcome, even with a net +24 advantage in turnovers and steals. The loss of forwards 6’7″ C.J. Bobbitt (mono) and 6’6″ Abiola Akintola (leg), 40% of DU’s front line going into the season, has definitely hurt DU in the paint. Returning players Christian Mackey, Daniel Amigo, and Marcus Byrd had trouble fighting off bigger and more athletic forwards and centers. They will be pushed even harder in the Summit League. DU will need help in this area, especially in Summit League play to close this gap.
As mentioned above, Denver is getting out-rebounded. When looking at rebounds during the past six games, Byrd (16), Mackey (13), and Amigo (7) were out-rebounded by DU guards Joe Rosga (18), Thomas Neff (17), and Jake Pemberton (17). This is partly due to the difference in minutes and DU’s motion offense which moves guards to the low post on offense but DU’s big men need to grab more than just 6 rebounds per game.
On offense, the big three cumulatively are averaging 14.8 points per game during the quarter, led by Byrd with 7.7 points per game. The Pios need more offensive production from the front line, otherwise opposing teams will start to play Denver’s guards tight and challenge DU to beat them on the interior.
The absence of Bobbitt hurts as he was averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds through his first 6 games. He can create a better scoring threat up front and keep defenses honest. Byrd can also play a bigger role on offense (46% FG, 42% 3PT). The Princeton offense should provide more opportunities in the paint rather than lower percentage, 3 point shots. In the first six games, DU was getting more scoring opportunities down low. The Pioneers need to go back to better ball movement, which was a major key to their early success.
DU has begun to allow opponents’ star players to take control of the game. During DU’s last two games, they faced very athletic guards and forwards that they could not contain. Eastern Washington had three players combine for 72 points and UC Riverside had two players combine for 32, more than half their point total.
The two biggest changes from the first quarter of the season came from Bryant Rucker and Jake Pemberton. Rucker played the same amount of minutes as he did in the first seven games, but his scoring dropped from 11.0 per game to 5.5. His field goal shooting, deadly in Q1, dropped to 29% from the field and 15% from 3-point land. Pemberton was the most improved player in the second quarter of the season. He went from 18.2 minutes per game to 35.1. He led the team with assists (27) and steals (16) and averaged 6.3 points per game and shot 52% from the field – the best shooting percentage on the team. He does need to get better about limiting turnovers, though as he led the team with 16 turnovers. However, he was a team-leading net +29 when adding assists and steals and then subtracting turnovers.
Ironman freshman Joe Rosga averaged 34.1 minutes on the floor. His scoring went from 10.0 points per game to 11.6 with a solid 47% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. He continues to be a bright spot on this year’s squad. With the increased workload, it will be interested to see if Rosga can hold up throughout the grueling conference schedule and tournament.
Freshman starter Thomas Neff continued to average 24 minutes per game. While not a big-time scorer (4.8 ppg) yet, he shot 47% from the field and chipped in with 10 assists and 4 steals during the second quarter of the season. At 6’5″, his defense is solid and he continues to grow and contribute.
6’6″ guard Jake Holtzman is playing less than some other freshmen at 10.1 minutes per game, and he averaged 3.6 points-per-game and shot 33% from three point range. The Pioneers are going to need his size, defense, and scoring potential in league play. It will be critical that Holtzman contributes more on the offensive end in the 3rd quarter of the season if the Pioneers are to continue winning.
Nate Engesser continued to be the best scorer for DU with 13.6 points per game and the best field goal percentage (57%) and 3-point percentage (47%). He also played 23.8 minutes per game coming off the bench. Coach Joe Scott should give him more minutes to create more opportunities to take advantage of his superior shooting skill.
DU continued to exceed expectations during the last six games. They gave the young players time on the floor and they played consistent .500 ball (3-3).
There are some open questions heading into the third quarter of the season:
- Can DU narrow the negative rebounding differential?
- Will C.J. Bobbitt be back in the lineup and when? Can he be a difference maker in 3Q after playing only 6 games?
- Can Bryant Rucker return to earlier season form?
- Will DU keep playing 10 players deep or will they shorten the bench? If so, will the freshmen continue to get time to develop?
- How will the Pioneers respond to a brutal 4 game start to the conference schedule? (more on that later)
In the season preview, it was mentioned that freshmen Rosga, Neff, and Holtzman along with Bobbitt & Akintola need playing time. If Denver is ever going to win a conference title, 2-3 of these players must become all-conference players by the time they become upperclassmen, Neff and Holtzman continue to improve but slowly. Sophomore Jake Pemberton showed the most improvement of any Pioneer during 2Q. This season continues to be about developing these players and secondarily about winning. With that in mind, the second quarter of the season has been successful.
It still appears that the Pios might outperform the 11-18 prediction from the season preview as they posted a 3-3 2nd quarter to bring their record to 8-5 at the holiday break.