Photo: Denver’s new floor reflects rising expectations for men’s basketball
Tipoff for DU’s men’s basketball team is just around the corner with lots of changes at University and Evans. So what will we see on the floor and how many wins can this year’s Pioneer basketball squad earn?
While many know that this version of the Pioneers will play fast, if you will, cast your gaze on the defensive end first. This year’s squad will trigger their offense through man-to-man defense to disrupt opponents’ offensive sets. They should be able to pressure the ball better than prior DU teams. Look for the Pioneers to think defense first and put a new emphasis on their moribund rebounding margin – one of the worst in the nation the last several years.
It would be reasonable to expect the offense to struggle early with new offensive sets, new line-ups, and players in new spots. And it will take the entire non-conference schedule to begin to generate a cohesive, consistent offense, especially with the loss of two-thirds of their scorers (graduating seniors Nate Engesser & Marcus Byrd) from last year.
Despite all the new change, the Pios are excited about the new playing style and the advantages of being in condition for the new pace of play:
Look for Denver to play a three guard rotation with 6’7″ sophomore C.J. Bobbit and 6’11” junior Daniel Amigo at the forward spots. 6’7″ freshman Jake Krafka and 6’6″ junior Christian Mackey will spell them at forward. 6″3″ Joe Rosga will lead the offense at the point with 6’5″ freshman Ade Murkey and either 6’3″ Duke Douglas or 6’3″ Bradley George on the other wing. This trio will be backed by Thomas Neff (6’5″) and Jake Pemberton (6’4″) who are coming off leg/foot injuries. Freshman guard Luke Neff (6’0″) will be sprinkled into the perimeter to snipe from the wings and give Rosga a breather at the point. Undersized Neff will add energy and instant offense – playing much the same role Nate Engesser played last off the bench.
Billups has set a goal for DU to protect their home-court with no losses. That is extremely optimistic, especially with all the changes. Scoring and rebounding will be lingering issues during the season for the Pioneers so results will be inconsistent as well (See 2015 team stats below). However, the squad will likely pick up some road wins, especially over the second half of the season in conference play once they get in-sync with their new offensive and defensive schemes. Basically, progress should be divided into two seasons: the non-conference schedule and the Summit League regular season.
2015-2016 Pioneer Team Statistics vs. NCAA Field (351 Teams)
- Points Per Game – 65.2ppg 326/351
- Rebounds Per Game – 25.2 rpg 351/351
- Field Goal % – .476 29/351
- 3-Point Field Goals – 7.6 per game 31/351
During their non-conference schedule, expect several early wins and then, a hand-full of late December victories. However, a brutal 5-game road trip will likely feature losses against strong programs such as Wyoming, Weber State, and Texas A&M. Expect the Pioneers to exit non-conference with a respectable 5 wins and 7 losses.
The underrated Summit League will be challenging this year and the Pioneers will struggle on the road while holding their own at home. Expect them to just miss .500 and finish 7-9 in the Summit League for the season – finishing 6th out of nine league teams.
All the changes around this year’s Denver squad are just too much to overcome against more experienced foes in the Summit League.
The Pioneers will take their 12-16 record into Sioux Falls for the Summit League tournament. While Billups calls this tournament the “three games in March that can lead us to the tournament” – it is probably not to be for this season’s squad. But the pieces will begin to fall into place for a legitimate run in the not too distance future .
Denver will extend their membership in the Never Made The (NCAA) Tournament Club to 57 years. DU will not be alone. Another John Evans founded school, Northwestern, will also miss the tournament this season, too – their 77th season of March Madness futility – even longer than the Pioneers’.
We will be doing quarterly report cards on this year’s squad like we did last year to measure progress and highlight key stats for DU’s 2016-2017 hoops program.
The Pioneers tip-off Saturday night at 7:00 against Jacksonville. To sign-up for a Saturday’s tip-off Gold Club pre-game party ($10 per person or $5 per season ticket holder) 5:30-7:00, register here.