Photo: Denver Pioneers Basketball
After a last-place finish in the Summit League a year ago, the Pioneers were picked by conference coaches to finish in the cellar once again this season. Not exactly what DU hoops fans want to hear. This season will be a reboot with new assistant coaches, four freshmen, three junior college transfers and just two upperclassmen.
Fan patience is wearing thin. But if the season goes as planned, these players will be the foundation of a squad that will hopefully, compete for a conference title in the following two years. It will not be pretty or easy to watch at times, but intensity, attitude, and energy don’t require skill or experience and Pioneer fans will demand all three in a rebuilding season.
DU’s hockey team used a theme last season with a young new head coach David Carle and a number of new faces with their ‘Prove Them Wrong’ slogan. That chip on their shoulder carried them to their third Frozen Four in four years. While it’d be a fool’s errand to expect an elite performance from DU basketball this season, expect them to play hard and improve on last season’s performance and effort (8-22, 3-13 Summit League) when they struggled all season and missed the conference tournament in Sioux Falls.
Ugh…yeah I get it. But still ugh. https://t.co/R61XMAFp49
— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) October 7, 2019
With a brutal nonconference schedule, do not look for this team to come out of the gate strong. They should be able to pull out two to four wins against nonconference foes. During conference play, it would be reasonable to project 5-6 wins. This team will likely finish with 7-10 wins for the season, very similar to last season’s record.
— Denver Men's Hoops (@DU_MHoops) August 30, 2019
But expect to see improvements on the defensive end with the addition of DU Assistant Coach Bicari Alexander who successfully taught defense to the University of Michigan Wolverines who advanced to NCAA Tournament play five times in the six years Alexander was there. But, with 11 of 13 DU players being freshmen or sophomores, there will be a lot of teaching to do this season.
Billups is open about the disappointment of last season when he frankly states, “I don’t have to coach effort (this season).” And, Billups looks to the upcoming season as an opportunity for personal redemption, “There were a lot of decisions that were made last year in our locker room and decisions I made. That is now gone. Our guys will use the 8-22 (record) as motivation. I am excited to wash this taste out of my mouth.”
He is looking for his only senior Ade Murkey to step up his consistency and sophomore Jase Townsend to lead the team beyond the arc with skills that translate to all three levels on the floor. And, Billups sees opportunities to improve on a porous defense, “We’ve got to guard the 3-point line. We were ninth in the Summit League in 3-point defense (last season).”
The team took a Navy Seal training course and enjoyed dinners at Rodney Billups to build on the team chemistry that was missing last season.
— Denver Men's Hoops (@DU_MHoops) August 22, 2019
Keys to improvement:
Defense, Defense, Defense
Move to 159 or better in these five NCAA statistical categories:
|Critical Performance Indicators (KPI’s)||2018-2019 – Rank (DU vs NCAA)|
|Field Goal % Defense||328/351|
|Three Point Field Goal Defense||351/351|
|Assists to turnovers||305/351|
The Five Sophomores must step-up
David Nzekwesi, Jase Townsend, Taelyr Gatlin, Alperen Kurnaz, and Joseph Lanzi must all step up in their production and consistency in their second season under Billups to fill the void of upperclassmen on the roster.
Billups stated that David Nzekwesi has the tools to be “the best player in the Summit League”. Now, it is up to the Denver Staff and Nzekwesi to realize that potential with a solid 2019-2020 campaign.
— Denver Men's Hoops (@DU_MHoops) October 2, 2019
Diamond in the rough
Can Denver develop some surprise size, scoring and defense with the addition of front-line newcomers 6’9″ Tristan Green (JC Transfer), freshman 6’6″ Jovonni Bickham and 6’10” freshman Robert Jones who are new to the roster, especially during the second half of the season?
The coaching staff must develop a consistent rotation, instead of playing deep into their bench, and develop a solid core of cohesive starters and role bench players. This may disappoint some players who remain on the bench but floor time must be earned this season. If DU is going to break the grip of a losing cycle, they must develop a solid core of starting DI players with adequate playing time to grow and develop.
Energy & Effort
If the season goes as predicted, there will be bumps along the way. Can the coaching staff and players provide energy and effort when things are not going their way on the scoreboard? Fans will reward energy and effort and give this team time to grow. But a repeat of last season’s lackluster floor performance will not be well received.
This season is a reset year with a squad short on experience. With only two upperclassmen on this year’s squad, we see 7-10 wins for the 2019-2020 squad. But, their success will, ultimately, be measured by their improvement on the defensive end which will allow them to keep games close.
Short term, expect to see greater effort and intensity on the defensive end and improved offensive chemistry as the season progresses. Longer-term, this roster must be comprised of players who ultimately have the capability to win a conference title during their time at DU. In the interim, progress must be made against the five Critical Performance Indicators as the season progresses. These five statistics will be much more important than wins and losses this season.
The Pioneer men’s season begins November 5th at Colorado State with a return home against Utah State November 9th. A free exhibition will be held on November 1st against Johnson & Wales in Hamilton Gym.
Basketball season tickets will be ready for pick up this Friday, October 25th from 5:30pm to 8pm, at the Ritchie Center on the west concourse. Tickets that are not picked up in person will be mailed on Monday, October 28th (unless marked will call during the renewal process).The evening events will include:
- Opportunity to meet the Men’s and Women’s basketball teams from 5:30pm-7pm. A Coffee/Hot Chocolate bar and Cookies will be provided while you get to know the teams.
- Free tickets to DU Volleyball vs. Purdue Fort Wayne at 7 pm.