Photo: How do this year’s Pioneers make best use of their time?
DU has never won an D1 NCAA league championship tournament.
So, what does DU have to do to win the Summit League Conference Tournament, starting tonight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota?
While DU has won three or more consecutive games twice this season, they have not won three conference games in a row. So the approach is not about going to Sioux Falls and winning three games in a row. Instead, DU is going to have to break each game into discreet possessions and defensive stands.
The pace is likely to be slower in the conference tournament playing into DU’s strength. Can DU do more with their 63 or so possessions than their rivals?
DU is going to have to get tougher on the defensive end, especially sealing the interior. Allowing opponents 45.8% shooting is not good enough. DU needs to hold opponents offense to more difficult shots and put them between 40-45% from the floor. This means sealing the paint and stopping second chance opportunities. Of the four teams in DU’s side of the bracket, all have a higher scoring efficiency (points per possession) than Denver so holding down shooting percentages and winning the turnover battle becomes critical.
DU’s season average rebound differential (-5.8) cannot happen in a conference tournament, either. DU must keep the rebound differential at 3-4 boards or less. In the case of UNO in game one, because the Mavs create steals and turnovers, DU must either breakeven or win the rebound battle. Opponents will plan on crashing the boards, especially on offense, and DU must man-up on the glass and hold their own.
DU needs to get to the line. Seventeen times at the free throw line per game, DU’s season average, is not enough. An excellent free throw shooting team, DU needs to stress the interior of opponents defenses to open up shooting from both the interior and exterior and put opposing players in foul trouble. Rosga, Bobbitt, Mackey, and Rucker are all players that can create fouls and present trouble for other teams. Otherwise, DU’s offense is peaking right now with 47.7% field goal shooting. They need to shoot around 45-50% to win.
A solid shooting average, limiting turnovers, creating turnovers and neutralizing the rebounding differential has been DU’s winning formula all year and it is no different in Sioux Falls. Adding more pressure, especially on offense, could put DU in a position to win against any Summit League foe.
Most tournament fans will see DU as a minor speed bump for their squads. The Pioneers are unlikely to generate much crowd passion and may be able to progress under the radar, especially if some of the local teams get knocked out early. In fact, some fans may jump on the bandwagon if DU is facing another hated regional squad.
While unlikely, this young squad, playing in the deep shadows of a red-hot hockey team, the best lacrosse team in the nation, and even trailing a star studded gymnastics program have a chance to emerge in March as one of DU’s biggest stories.
It starts tonight by winning each possession and creating stops.