For Denver Men’s Hoops, it starts and ends with defense

It is clear by now that the DU coaching staff and players know what the problems is – it is defense. And the stats are there for all to see. Over the past 10 games, Denver (5-13, 0-4 Summit League) has allowed 50.2% shooting from the field, 47.2% from 3-point range and 91 points per game. Denver is 294th/350 in the nation in points allowed and to make matters worse, they are 344th in turnovers.

The coaching staff has tried every floor combination possible with the same result. And, before we point fingers at the coaching staff, we all saw this roster before the season started and believed that they had the potential to be outstanding.

The issue: These Denver players are not comfortable playing fast – they are rushing on offense but, more importantly, this harried approach is bleeding over to their defense. 

The  current on-court performance was nearly impossible to predict but one thing is certain – Denver must overhaul their approach – and it is not too late to show improvement with a dozen games in front of them before the Summit League playoffs. So here are our recommendations for near-term improvement:

  • Slow down on offense. Play a half court game, even bring the ball up s-l-o-w-l-y and use the clock. Giving the ball away 18 times per game is the absolute formula for failure. Denver has decent athletes so let them show their skills in the half-court. Keep turnover prone players off the floor. Billups has a great record when opponents score 70 points or less.
  • Denver shot selection is .435% to their opponents at .474% – Denver must identify their best shooters and assign roles to players. Not everybody is a shooter. Denver has a rebounding advantage and is solid at the free throw line (71.8%) so the Pioneers are better suited to play a half court game. More screens up-top to free up perimeter shooter like Joe Rosga and Jase Townsend and better offensive sets for the interior players Tory Miller-Stewart, Donoven Carlisle, and David Nzekwesi to receive the ball. Rosga’s game has always been best when he squares up to the basket, not shooting on the run.
  • Denver is #349 out of 350 teams at allowing 3-point accuracy. Denver must get their defensive players positioned on the perimeter to play more stout defense. Ball watching and slow switches account for most of the damage. Denver players must understand the concept of making drivers shooters and shooters drivers as well as recognition of the ‘hot’ perimeter players on the other team.
  • Clearly, Denver’s big men are not benefiting from playing downhill. Slowing down on offense will help them on the defensive end, keep them fresh and allow them to get set for rebounding and scoring when opportunities present themselves. Also, Denver tends to dribble on the perimeter to set-up their offensive sets. Get the ball cleanly inside early, even if the intention is to kick it back out to the guards. Other teams are over-playing DU’s perimeter passing game.
  • While it is not the time to give up on the season, the five freshmen were effective as a unit the last game against North Dakota. Play them together more often to see what DU has for the future. They hustle and seem to work well as a unit. Now is the time to develop them and see what DU has on the roster going forward. Most growth and development happens in the first two years of college basketball.

This does not mean that Denver has to play slow, boring games. But, it does mean that players perform at a comfortable pace that plays to their strength and comfort level. Keeping opponents at 70 points or less is the formula for winning.

Denver seemed to be embracing some of these ideas during a recent narrow 71-70 loss to South Dakota. Unfortunately, they returned to their old ways against North Dakota this past weekend. They must be more disciplined going forward and they can improve. How much? Time will tell.