No doubt, it’s been an up-and-down season for DU men’s hoops (15-16, 6-12). The team started 8-1 in nonconference play but fell to 6-12 in the Summit League. Still, a solid four-game improvement by Coach Jeff Wulbrun with at least one more game to play. With that in mind, what does the team need to do to get a win in their first-round tilt against North Dakota at the Summit League Tournament tonight (5 pm MT)? Then, if Denver wins, how can the Pioneers be reasonably competitive against Oral Roberts which is undefeated in conference play?
We took a look at the statistics from DU’s twelve conference losses and eliminated the ORU loss stats (aberration) to calculate averages to reveal the factors that contributed to DU’s 12 conference losses this season.
The simplest area for improvement is on the defensive end. In 8 of their 12 losses, DU gave up 81 or more points. In three of the losses, DU gave up 70-80 points with only one loss below 70 to St Thomas. They must balance defending the perimeter while not allowing close-in high-percentage buckets.
In conference losses, Denver had 5.1 more turnovers and 4.7 fewer three-point makes than their opponents. Turnovers turn into points and three-point makes force additional possessions and pressure. Denver must cut down on their average of 15.5 turnovers to 10 or fewer during the tournament to increase their chances of victory.
Interestingly, DU trailed in their 12 losses by an average of 2 points at halftime yet fell by 14.9 points at the end of the games. Again, field goal shooting (%) and 3-point shots by opponents may have contributed partially to the deficit but DU’s bench play, the result of several key injuries, created a season-long deficit of 3.3 points per game, 18 points to 14.7 points. Recently, DU’s bench is showing signs of improvement. However, Denver must take and make three-point shots, especially in the second half, to win a game or two in Sioux Falls.
Denver’s rebounding remains one of their strong suits. While Denver’s overall field goal shooting has been excellent this season, it has fallen to 44.9% in the 12 conference losses. That is well below their season-long average of 48.7% overall. Shot selection and keeping an offensive rhythm will be critical. If Denver can move that figure up closer to their season average (47-50%), their odds of winning games will dramatically increase.
While looking at conference losses clearly exaggerates statistics, statistics provide a solid guide to areas for improvement. If the Pioneers can play inside-out defense, reduce turnovers, score available three-point shots, and take good shots within their offensive structure, they can win against nearly every team in the Summit League (Oral Roberts is in a league of their own this season). If not, Denver could lose to any team in the Summit League.
The ‘winner’ of tonight’s Denver – North Dakota tilt, broadcast on ESPN+, gets #1 seed, Oral Roberts.