Fort Wayne Easily Defeats Denver, 82-63

With Denver reeling and the next four conference games on the road, this felt like a game that the Pioneers needed to win. Instead, they came out flat and made numerous mistakes while committing 17 costly turnovers that gave Fort Wayne an easy 19 point victory. It was a frustrating game to watch and is Denver’s fifth consecutive loss against DI opponents (the Pios did beat DII Colorado Mesa on December 28), with the road not getting any easier from here.

The first half began with Denver and Fort Wayne trading buckets, a promising start for what many thought would be a back and forth competitive game. But after Denver took a 6-4 lead, Fort Wayne went on a 9-0 run to grab a 13-6 lead that they would never relinquish. Despite a Jake Pemberton 3 to close the half, Fort Wayne still went into the break with a 45-35 lead. Joe Rosga had a great first half, scoring 13 points, but John Konchar really set the tone, getting halfway to a triple double for the Mastodons in the first half (5 points, 5 rebounds, 5 steals) and controlling things on both ends. I asked Coach Billups how he game planned for such an electric player and here’s what he had to say: “You don’t. You play how we play. We try to outrebound teams, we did that. We try to keep them under 40%, we weren’t successful in that, they shot 49% from the field. And try not to turn the ball over. Good players are going to make plays. He’s probably if not the best, one of the best players in our league.”

Unfortunately, the Pioneers did little to control Konchar or the rest of Fort Wayne in the second half. The half started with a 10 point deficit, but that quickly got to 16 by the 17:10 mark and would hover around that mark for the rest of the half. Denver made a couple of mini runs, but never anything that was a serious threat to Fort Wayne, and the Mastodons were able to coast for the second part of the second half. Once again Denver saw big scoring nights from Rosga (18 points), Daniel Amigo (13 points), and Pemberton (10 points), but struggled to get much else. I asked Coach Billups what he could do to get some more output from the other players and he seemed to think it would come with time, saying he would “Just keep encouraging them. Just keep putting them in the position to be successful. And not shy away from the moment, they have to be confident when it all counts.”

You have to dig deep to find some positives from this game, but there are a couple. Rosga had 18 points and 6 rebounds (though only 3 assists) and Christian Mackey had a nice role performance with 6 points on perfect 3-3 shooting from the field. Overall though, we saw a lot of the same problems we have seen all season with limited answers. It’s concerning as conference play marches on, but when I asked Coach Billups about the remainder of conference play, he wasn’t ready to adjust expectations yet: “[My goal is] to win it. We’re 0-2, my expectation hasn’t changed. It’s a long season, we have 12 more conference games. We’re probably not the only team that’s 0-2 in their league that has a chance to win it.”

Coach Billups is right that two games do not make a season, but we’re seeing a lot of the same issues game in and game out, which is frustrating. At the top of this list is turnovers – Denver had 17 today and coming into today ranked as the 9th most turnover prone team in DI basketball, out of 351 teams. Coach Billups was as frustrated as all of us when I asked him if there was any way to improve the turnover problem. “It’s hard as a coach to help them with turnovers. You know, I’m not making decisions for them, I’m not passing it for them, I’m just trying to put them in position to hit guys when they’re open, and we don’t do a great job of that right now.”

As we go into the third game of the Summit League season, Denver finds itself at a crossroads. Their next game is at North Dakota State, and the Bison appear to be clearly superior to this Pioneers team, so it’s hard to see Denver leaving Fargo with a victory. From there they travel to South Dakota State, Omaha, and Oral Roberts. The game in Brookings looks bleak, so Denver may very well find itself at 0-4 in the conference with the games at Omaha and Oral Roberts suddenly becoming must wins just to avoid the Summit League basement. Four road games in a row looks tough on paper, but after the Pioneers’ early struggles, Coach Billups was actually excited when I asked him how he felt about it. “It makes it better because we limit distractions. We go on the road and it’s just our team, we’ve got to figure it out, we’ve got to have some uncomfortable conversations and it’s easier to do that on the road when there’s less distractions, so I’m excited about getting on the road and being a team and being a part of this group and see what happens.”

The game against North Dakota State is on Thursday, January 11 at 6 PM MST – hopefully some of these uncomfortable conversations that Coach Billups referenced will rejuvenate this Denver team and we’ll see a whole new team in Fargo – I hope to at least see a competitive game with fewer turnovers and unforced errors.

7 thoughts on “Fort Wayne Easily Defeats Denver, 82-63”

  1. I love your sense of hope, Chris, but I think this DU team is doomed.

    Here’s why:
    -The teams ranks 345 out of 347 in turnovers. It’s virtually unwatchable basketball right now
    -They just aren’t improving. Players are either plateauing or regressing. Nobody seems to be better than they were last year
    -They are getting worse instead of better as a team. I am not seeing team development, either. They react instead of impose.
    -They get outworked at home, as they did today. Embarrassing.
    -They don’t have enough of the talent they need to run the system they play, as most of them ere recruited for a different system.
    -Teams are ready for Denver now, when they weren’t last year.
    -They lack fire on the floor. Only Krafka seemed to show any today.

    The product on the floor now is a likely a 10-win team this year. We are used to 18-22 win teams.

    Blech.

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  2. I guarantee these are all nice, smart kids. But as a team, they are terrible. This is not good basketball and I have to agree with Swami, they get worse with every game. How did they beat Wyoming? I’m sure Wyoming is asking themselves the same thing. Not sure what the answer is, but this team is careless with the ball, listless on defense, and seems lost.

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  3. Improving on Joe Scott’s record at DU required improving in-state and national recruiting through the appeal of the Billups name and a more widely appealing up-tempo style of play. However anyone who follows Chauncey Billups on social media can tell that his primary allegiance (and presumably recruiting influence) has remained with strongly with CU rather than moving to DU, putting his brother in a difficult position. Even as freshmen, Scott recruits like current NBA player Royce O’Neale, former D-League player Chris Udofia, Colorado Mr. Basketball Brett Olson, Brian Stafford, Nate Rohnert, Joe Rosga, Hallam brothers, etc. had shown more promise than Billups’ early signees and it seems that DU is still trailing regional rivals Wyoming, CSU and perhaps even Northern Colorado (and of course CU) in the pursuit for top local talent.

    In terms of style of play, DU has increased its pace but the result has just been more points against and turnovers rather than an improved W-L record. The strength of schedule has dropped considerably to the point that even avid college basketball fans would not recognize most of our non-conference opponents. Early evidence also seems to suggest that Scott’s slow-paced style of basketball (with a few signature wins against nationally-competitive opponents like Saint Mary’s with future NBA player Matthew Dellavadova or the Middle Tennessee State win live on ESPN) was far more of a draw at Magness Arena than simply having an alumnus head coach who grew up near campus and has some family name recognition.

    One or two seasons is too early to fairly evaluate the current coaching staff yet it is also hard to see much reason for optimism at the moment. Hopefully the current season can be turned around and men’s basketball will be an area of focus and strength for the new DU AD. In contrast, the DU women’s program is already making steady improvement in Year 1 under new coach Jim Turgeon after inheriting an even emptier roster.

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  4. Maybe 2-3 recruits coming in next year give us immediate juice. Scott left the cupboard pretty bare and he would be struggling mightily now. Most of his recruits who transferred out can’t play division 1 hoops. Teams will have a tough time getting psyched to play us; thus a few surprising wins might happen. Rodney probably could have done a quick fix with Jucos, but that’s not DU ‘S style. A coach’s resume looks terrible if his recruits can’t cut it academically. Lack of available scholarships also slowing the process. That’s as positive as I can get.

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  5. I expected a Summit League drop-off this season but I think the play is actually better than expected. Fort Wayne looked to be in complete control and John Konchar is a treat watch. DU just doesn’t seem to have an identity and turnovers leave them no margin for error. I am baffled by the results so far. I know this is a 3-5 year process but DU has been tough to watch.

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  6. Billups sound delusional. As other posts have said, the team’s getting worse, not better. Whatever he’s doing with this team and the players on the roster isn’t working.

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  7. Fully agree with cddunks that juco transfers are not a good fit at DU and why you don’t see them on any other DU varsity teams (unlike with Eustachy at CSU). If DU could string a few solid seasons together it could become a good grad transfer destination, given solid graduate programs and Denver as an attractive city. However most in-demand grad transfers are looking for a chance to win and contend for NCAA tournament, not just grab playing time on a rebuilding team that has never made Big Dance. Best shot in short term would be a Colorado player who left state and has a year eligibility left to come home, but those are rare (Canyon Berry went to Florida, Drick Bernstine had already left DU under Scott and chose Washington State this year after strong performance at North Dakota). Given how international DU’s other sports rosters are, men’s basketball could try to develop a pipeline of international players similar to Saint Mary’s (Australia), Gonzaga (all over) or CSU Women’s bball (Scandinavia) but that would require a different recruiting approach/staff and some patience. No Summit League team is bringing in 4-star recruits (Konchar and Mike Doan were both lightly recruited out of high school) and DU has what should be an attractive location and academic environment so the team just needs to find some other additional recruiting edge within the conference to move up the ranks.

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