Photo: Can prized freshman Ade Murkey help take DU basketball to new heights?
DU men’s Basketball tips-off at 7:00 Saturday night at Magness Arena vs. Jacksonville. The Pioneers will be absent two of their top three scorers from last season along with a new coach and staff, a new playing style, and the likelihood that they will go another year without a title or a trip to March Madness.
Here are five reasons to care.
Care about DU alum Rodney Billups as he tries to do something that has never been done before
Billups looks like he could be heading up a division in a Fortune 500 company (too young to be a CEO yet) but can he turn around the fortunes of the DU basketball program? While he has been combing the country for new recruits, he will go to war this season with his ’15 guys’, mostly Joe Scott recruits, by seeking to reshape a team that he hopes will eventually capture the imagination of the Denver fans – and go where no DU basketball team has ever gone – March Madness. This season is the first step of a multi-year process. Billups is the full package – dynamic, experienced (yes, and young, too), competitive, realistic and optimistic – just what DU needs at this time.
Care because the DU Athletics Administration & University Administration does
DU has found a niche excelling in ‘secondary sports’. The athletics administration and University Board could have easily ‘mailed it in’ with the firing of Joe Scott and pulled back on their commitment to men’s basketball. While Billups was not a big dollar hire, the hiring of ex-CU head coach Ricardo Patton and Santa Clara’s Steve Snell has put together a leadership nucleus that is the deepest staff in the Summit League. Add the retention of Coach Dan Ficke and you have great leadership team built to deliver a basketball team never seen before on the DU campus. The excitement extends all the way up to Chancellor Chopp who sees the Billups hire as a great bridge to the broader Denver community.
Care because the program is going to play a more entertaining brand of basketball
Even Rodney Billups has advised that this will be a season of “ups and downs”. But, there is no doubt that this season will be full of question marks, surprises, and upsets in a season where the Pioneers are picked anywhere from 6th to 8th in the Summit League. How will the players respond to the new system that relies on more man-to-man pressing defense and up-tempo offense? This team, while largely the same, will be an open laboratory for us to watch the experiment in action. Short term, can a new system and inspired leadership alone lead to a better product and improved results? We’ll see.
Care because new (and old) faces in crimson and gold will be playing big roles
DU lost stalwarts Nate Engesser and Marcus Byrd along with senior leader Bryant Rucker. Nate Engesser will be replaced by undersized sharpshooter, Luke Neff. Marcus Byrd’s points will have to be taken up by super-athletic Ade Murkey, a talented Freshman from Minneapolis and 6’7″ Jake Krafka out of Austin, Texas. Also, look for existing players that were not featured under Scott in the Princeton system to play a much more prominent role – especially Daniel Amigo and Duke Douglas.
Care because this might be the last, best effort by DU to resuscitate basketball
People can fairly argue that the ‘culture’ at DU is better fit to hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and a host of other sports. There is huge competition for the sports dollar in Denver, especially during the winter months. Maybe DU gives it one last try to create a more broad community appeal- and then retreats into the suburban country club sports that are DU’s bread and butter. Will fans respond to a more exciting product on the floor – or are there structural and cultural barriers that will not allow the University of Denver to be competitive in sports without skis and skates? If you love college basketball, the next 3-5 years may be the most critical period in DU basketball history.
We will be publishing our Denver Pioneer 2016-2017 season preview and season predictions Thursday.
To sign-up for a Saturday’s tipoff Gold Club party ($10.00/per head or season ticket holder $5.00/per head) 5:30-7:00, register here.