As the Pioneers cycle through the Summit League for a second time, one can begin to gauge overall improvement against prior results. South Dakota got the best of Denver in their return showdown against the Pioneers in Vermilion, S.D. Now, Denver faces two conference foes a second time – Oral Roberts on the road and Fort Wayne at home.
Denver sits in the middle of a crowded pack of teams in the Summit League standings. Playing a struggling team (ORU) and the league favorite (Fort Wayne) should provide some answers.
So far, the Pioneers have exceeded almost everyone’s expectations. After losing 2/3rd’s of their leading scorers from last season (Marcus Byrd, Nate Engesser), they have one of the most efficient offenses in the country. The big question mark for Denver is on the defensive end – despite the progress they have made in fixing their rebounding woes from 2015-2016.
The issue is simple – Denver is giving up too many points.
Tonight, Denver plays last place Oral Roberts (7-16, 3-6 Summit League) @ 6:00 pm MT in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Can DU’s defense keep them close to ORU on the road and close-out the game in the final minutes to complete a sweep of the Golden Eagles for the Pioneers first regular season sweep of the season?
Let’s look at at DU’s three road losses in the Summit league.
- Against Ft. Wayne, DU had the ball with 5 seconds to go and trailed by two points. Thomas Neff had a good look to tie the game and a potential Daniel Amigo follow-up tip-in fell short in the loss.
- The red-hot shooting UNO Mavs ran DU out of the gym with steals and potent offense when they posted a convincing 97-88 win over the Pioneers in Omaha.
- At South Dakota, Denver led by 3 points with under 5 minutes to go with the ball but Pioneer shooting ran cold and fell 88-83.
In each of the three losses, the Pioneers shot over 50% from the field but gave up a whopping 63.6% shooting from the field to UNO, 51.6% to Fort Wayne, and 47.5% to South Dakota. Denver must hold ORU under 45% shooting from the field. Also, in the three road losses, DU has turned the ball over on average 15 times per game – another problem that must be corrected. While Denver has more than held their own on the boards, their opponents have shot 27.3 free throws to Denver’s 18.6 per each road loss. Denver has to move their feet on defense, avoid silly fouls, and most importantly, stay out of foul trouble. Denver will have to contain ORU big man Albert Owens on the offensive end and keep senior guard Jalen Bradley in check.
Then, the Pioneers return home for a showdown with pre-season league favorite Fort Wayne (16-7, 5-4 Summit League) @4:00 pm MT on Saturday.
As for the Fort Wayne Mastodons, it will be a war Saturday. After a slow league start, Fort Wayne is picking up steam with two straight wins and they have the entire week to prepare for Denver. They will be trying to exert their dominance on the Summit League the second half of the conference schedule to earn a high tournament seed. The Pioneers will be defending their home court and fighting for a top tier finish as well. DU will need to shut down high scoring Moe Evans and sharpshooter Jon Konchar. Stout defense will be even more of a premium on Saturday at Magness arena. Allowing the Mastodons +50% shooting from the field will spell doom for the Pioneers. But the Pioneers played them close last time so this game looks to go down to the wire at Magness.
For college basketball fans, the Saturday showdown against the Fort Wayne Mastodons is the best remaining league game at Magness Arena. This will be a critical game for Denver and could have a huge impact on league standings but, more importantly, a ‘confidence builder’ as the Pioneers inch closer to the Summit League Tournament in Sioux Falls, S.D..