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.