The Pioneers (9-7, 1-2) face-off against Western Illinois (6-9, 3-1) and league leading scorer Garret Covington (25.8 ppg./Summit league games) tonight at 7:00 pm. Then, Denver has a Saturday matinee against league-leading North Dakota State (11-5, 3-0) at 4:00 pm.
The Pioneers are in a precarious state.
Last week, Denver dropped two, potentially, winnable games. Denver allowed South Dakota to come into Denver and swipe a contest at Magness Arena. While the game was close throughout, the Pioneers could never put together a run to finish the Coyotes. Then, Denver had a heroic effort against league favorite Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne, Indiana with two good shots in the final five seconds to tie or win the contest. Unfortunately, the shots did not fall.
Overall, Summit League home teams have won 51 of 64 home games. With the Summit League teams bunched so closely together, holding home court is going to separate the top half of the league from the bottom half. Overall, Denver sits 4-3 at Magness Arena this season. Denver has to do better if they hope to finish in the top half of the conference.
The next two games offer DU a chance to re-establish a home-court advantage. Here’s how they can do it:
- Defense – While fans can feel good about Denver’s improved scoring (73.1 ppg.) this season, DU is still 9th overall in league scoring. So, Denver coaches are pushing the Pioneers to improve their defense and put a lid on opponents scoring. DU is 9-1 when they hold opponents under 70 points. They need defensive stops to win games.
- Turnovers – The Pioneers have turned the ball over 14.6 times per game, 9th overall. They must bring this number down closer to 10 to improve their odds of winning..
- 3-Point Shooting – Denver is last in 3-point attempts per game (19.4) and 3-point shots made (7.6) per game. Since Denver plays small, the Pioneers need to create more offensive 3-point shots using screens and crisp passing to score and open up the interior. Three point shots help opens up the interior, create separation and fires-up home crowds.
- vs. Western Illinois – Denver must play strong perimeter defense. Leatherneck guard Garret Covington is going to get his points but the Pioneers need to hold him closer to his season average of 20.9 ppg.. Also, the Leathernecks have hoisted up an astounding 31.5 3-pointers per game in Summit League play – making 14 of those shots per game. The Pioneers must protect the perimeter against a 3-point barrage.
- vs. North Dakota State – DU needs to stay out of foul trouble – avoid reach-ins and lazy fouls. The Bison bread and butter game is driving to the hoop and creating fouls (#1 /FT in the Summit League). They are hitting 47.1% of their field goal attempts – Denver needs to protect the interior and hold them around the 40% shots-made mark to win the game – a stated goal by coach Rodney Billups.
If Denver can sweep these two home games, they can begin to move up the conference standings and start to develop a critical home-court advantage.