What a difference a year makes for DU Men’s Hoops

Photo: Courtesy University of Denver Magazine

When DU hired head coach Rodney Billups, he said his basketball team was going to “play fast.” The change would be a good test to see what can be done with, essentially, the same players in a new system under a new coaching style. Would Denver’s new up-tempo offense lose scoring efficiency? How would DU’s shooting hold up? As one of the lowest scoring teams in the country in 2015, Denver relied on half court defense, too. How efficient could DU be on defensive end with a quicker overall game temp?

At this same time last year, 20 games into the season, Denver basketball was 10-10 including 2-5 in Summit League play. This year’s squad is sitting 12-8 and 4-3.

The Pioneers are currently 128th out of 351 DI basketball programs in scoring 74.8 ppg. vs. 2015 when they scored 62.2 ppg. – over a 12+ points per game improvement. Last year’s team shot well from the floor but this year’s squad is even more deadly – 22nd in the country shooting a sizzling 48.3%. When it comes to scoring efficiency, Denver scores 1.060 points per offensive possession – #68th in the nation. Denver has transformed itself into a very good offensive team.

Defensively, Denver his turned from one of the worst rebounding teams in the nation last season (25.2 rpg) and is now hauling down 35.6 caroms per game – 177th in the country. They are holding opponents to an astounding 30.6 rpg – 12th in the nation with a +5 rpg margin.

Opponents are scoring 71.7 ppg. against the Pioneers which ranks them 157 in the country. Denver’s defensive efficiency is an area of concern giving up 1.019 points per opponent possession, #204. Denver is turning over the rock 14.2 times per game, 245th in the nation – way too many times to ensure consistent wins. Denver must improve on the defensive end if the Pioneers wants to make a run come Summit Tournament time.

Many fans were concerned DU’s Princeton system players would respond to “playing fast” – and it appears they have adapted well, especially on offense . However, the increased pace appears to be taking it’s toll on the defensive end where Denver may not have the ideal athletic mix of players to manage the increased tempo. And of course those nasty turnovers.

How long will it take to make the transition from the Princeton system to a more conventional style league title contender?

Denver’s sister school, Northwestern was coached by Bill Carmody who played the Princeton offense. They, too, replaced Carmody with a former player and assistant, Chris Collins from Duke, who changed from the Princeton system to a more conventional style starting 4 years ago. It has taken Collins 4 years to transform the Wildcats (15-4, 4-2) into an NCAA tournament contender this season- they are currently 4th in the Big Ten and that conference is likely to have 4-5 teams in the NCAA March Tournament. The Summit League, DU’s  conference, will only have one representative – their tournament winner. Neither Denver nor Northwestern has ever gone dancing.

This year Holy Cross (10-10, 4-3), under coaches Bill Carmody and Joe Scott,  are running the Princeton system and have similar stats to DU’s team last year. Here are the Holy Cross Crusaders’ stats thru 20 games:

  • Turnovers per game – 10.6 (11th)
  • Points per game – 61.4 (341st)
  • Shooting % – 43.5 (196th) [Denver shot much better last year – 47.5% than HC]
  • Scoring Efficiency – .972 (234th)
  • Rebounding – 24.8 (351/351)
  • Opponents Rebounding – 33.7 (82nd)
  • Opponents Points Per Game – 34.1 (97th)
  • Defensive Efficiency – 1.010 (186th)

The Princeton system can drive fans crazy with stat extremes. However, there is no doubt that Billups new playing style with the same players allows Denver to compete more consistently than their old system under Scott – especially if Denver can improve on the defensive end. If only they can improve on turnovers and get a few more stops on defense, this years squad can make some noise in the Summit League.

*Stats – teamranking.com

2 thoughts on “What a difference a year makes for DU Men’s Hoops”

  1. I’ve been very impressed with Coach Billups and the Pios this season. It really was hard to watch some of those slow paced games last year – the fans will accept that system if it gets wins, but when you’re struggling to get to .500, the tide can turn pretty fast.

    kenpom’s current adjusted efficiency numbers have Denver #114 on offense, #218 on defense, and #257 in tempo. That tempo number sounds low until you consider they were #350 last year!

    Which brings me to a point of praise for Billups – Denver started the season really flying up and down the court, it was his system, but it was clearly hindering the team. They really had no business losing to Jacksonville or Utah Valley at home. But instead of being stubborn and doubling down like many coaches would do, Billups has adapted and the pace has slowed down some, leading to better play and more wins.

    It will be very interesting to see what the team looks like in a couple years, by that point Billups will have the pieces to run his system exactly how he wants to and we could really see some uptempo.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Great point about Billups adjusting to his team’s strengths. The guys on this team are all 2-star recruits, same as the majority of mid-major players throughout D1. Therefore, having a coach who can recognize what an individual player can bring to the table is absolutely essential to year-over-year success. Seems so simple and apparent, but alas, only the good coaches have this profound knack.
      For example, Joe Scott’s strength is using his system to get quality, competitive squads each season. He knew how to best use the 6-5, 6-6 swingman to facilitate his offense. Think Nate Rohnert or Chris Udofia. However, his use of big men at DU left something to be desired, as they often got buried on the bench, see Griffin McKenzie, Drick Bernstine, and Daniel Amigo to name a few. The consequence was a rebounding deficiency that was glaring in its weakness; costing them numerous close games and ultimately, the inability to compete in the more rugged Summit League.
      If nothing else, Coach Billups’s ability to adjust has been a welcome change to the program.

      Liked by 1 person

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