The University of Denver Pioneers (8-22) basketball team scratched, clawed, and gave everything they had to try and keep their terrible season alive, but it was just not enough, as the second-place University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks rode balanced, double-digit scoring from four veteran players to defeat the Pioneers, 86-76 at Magness Arena on Sunday.
As Denver Pioneer fans, we’re lucky that we can pop our attention from one successful DU sports program to another. All three fall DU sports (men’s and women’s soccer plus women’s volleyball) earned appearances in their respective NCAA Tournaments this fall. And DU hockey is now ranked seventh in the nation on this bye week, more successful than almost anyone thought they’d be at this point in the season with a young team. Which brings me to the next DU team worthy of more of our attention, the DU women’s basketball team, who have shot out to a 6-1 start to the season and a current national top 40 RPI (#39) ranking, including a current four-game winning streak, as of Sunday, Dec. 2. (Note: Early season RPI rankings are subject to volatile swings, as game data comparisons are still somewhat paltry.)
I would venture a guess that perhaps only 10 percent of our readership here at LetsGoDU have ever been to a live DU women’s basketball game before, and it’s hard to blame them. There is a lot to do in Denver, and the DU women’s basketball teams have been pretty terrible in recent memory, known more for single-digit win/last-place seasons, a fired coach and crowds comprised mostly of friends and family members. Apart from a surprise 2001 NCAA appearance in the early years of the Ritchie Center and a period of decent mediocrity (72-52) under former coach Erik Johnson from 2008-2012, there hasn’t been a lot to cheer about with DU women’s hoops in the last 20 years.
But this year’s DU women’s team is starting to change some of that…
The Pioneers are starting to get noticed in just the second year of the Jim Turgeon coaching era, with home wins over then-#16 RPI Lamar and the latest win, a 29-point win over Loyola Marymount, a top 100 team who had already beaten UCLA and Arizona this year.Moreover, the Pioneers are a very high-scoring bunch, averaging a stunning 90 points per game to date this season, and sport a victory margin of 16 points per game.
And Turgeon, who came to DU from CSU-Pueblo in NCAA Division II two years ago, is doing all this with many of former DU coach Kerry Cremeans’ recruits, who knew only college basketball failure before Turgeon’s arrival. Moreover, he’s done it with a wholly different philosophy of team speed, running the floor at altitude and sharing the ball, instead of Cremeans’ over-reliance on feeding key players, a coaching practice that reportedly lost the locker room and brought an end to her losing tenure at DU. This year, DU has five players averaging double-digit scoring per game, a depth which makes it harder for opponents to key on any one player, and also makes for a much happier DU locker room.
DU’s high scoring attack has been led by Lauren Loven, a junior holdover recruit from Cremeans, who is now flourishing in the ball-sharing Turgeon era, leading the entire nation in made three-pointers (30 in six games through Nov. 30), and is averaging 21 points per game overall to lead the Pioneers in scoring. Additionally, fellow Junior Madison Nelson has exploded recently, with a 20-rebound performance against Lamar and pumping in 28 points in the win over Loyola Marymount. But it’s not just upperclassmen.
Hard-working associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Kayla Ard and the rest of Turgeon’s Denver staff have also brought in some freshmen who are stepping up right away, including Sydney Mech, a local swing player out of Cherry Creek High School who can play either forward or guard, and who is shooting a scorching 50% from the field, averaging 10 points per game. Additionally, talented freshman guard Tsimba Malonga from the Chicago area, who has averaged over 20 minutes per game in the last two games, is being rewarded with more playing time as her contributions increase.
While the 6-1 early record is outstanding, it has been created with a lot of home games, and we’ll soon see what the Pioneers are really made of in the coming weeks. DU is preparing to go on the road for seven of its next eight games, including visits to Wyoming, the University of Nebraska and Colorado State, before heading into the teeth of Summit League play, where top level programs South Dakota and South Dakota State are projected to lead the Summit League.
Sports scheduling for the Denver Pioneers, in all sports, is often an elusive and frustrating exercise.
Being located in Denver is the largest problem, as playing here requires plane rides and hotel stays for all but a handful of DU’s D-I opponents, which is tough for non-revenue sports. We don’t have the exact figures, but it’s probably a safe bet that about 85% of DU’s opponents must fly here to play us, and likewise, DU needs to fly its own mostly non-revenue sports teams to 85% of its opponents — a dynamic that puts a lot of pressure on athletic budgets and eliminates many opponents for cost reasons.
Then there is the mile-high altitude here, a factor that still scares a number of opposing coaches from flatter places. For example, in 2004, the University of Virginia men’s lacrosse team, ranked #1 nationally at the time, came out here to play both DU and Air Force, and lost both games. The Cavaliers’ coach publicly blamed the altitude for their stumbles, and the Cavaliers have not appeared on the DU home schedule since then. Who knows how many other opposing coaches privately loathe our altitude? Continue reading Puck Swami: DU and the Elusive Art of Sports Scheduling in Denver→
The hiring of University of Maine Athletic Director Karlton Creech as DU’s new Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation looks to be a ‘safe’ hire for the University of Denver, likely to build incrementally on the legacy of the retiring Peg Bradley-Doppes, who spent the last 13 years in the position. Creech begins at DU on May 1, 2018.
(Photo Credits: University of Denver (Grahame, Peck), Swarthmore College (Akotaobi), Tulane University (Macneill), St. Cloud St. University (Weems), Blacktop Colorado (Willis)
We’ve now had a few days to process the major change in athletic leadership coming our way as DU fans: DU Vice Chancellor for Athletics and Recreation Peg Bradley-Doppes announced her retirement at the end of the 2017/18 school year. While longtime DU Deputy Athletic Director Ron Grahame is taking over the athletic director’s day-to-day responsibilities immediately, DU also announced that a nationwide search would take place this year to ultimately fill the vice-chancellor’s position that Peg has filled so well for the last nearly 15 years. Continue reading Puck Swami: DU Athletic leadership change offers new Vice Chancellor possibilities→
Photo courtesy of omaha.com. Omaha’s Tre-Deon Hollins missed the potential game-winning shot.
They came within a single last minute shot of defeating South Dakota State University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Omaha native Tre-Deon Hollins hoisted a 3-point shot that was off the mark and the Omaha Mavericks fell 79-77. The Summit League auto-bid went to South Dakota State University – again. Continue reading Omaha’s near miss validates Denver’s course→
Illustration:We used this same illustration last year and it still applies.
The DU men’s basketball team (16-13, 8-8 Summit) are facing an uphill battle in Sioux Falls, South Dakota when they face the South Dakota State University Jackrabbits (16-18, 8-8 Summit) on March 5th at 5:00 pm MT. While Team Rankings is giving DU an 11.13% statistical chance of winning three games and the championship, most prognosticators would say that is optimistic for Denver’s youthful squad. Few expect them to make it out of the first round.
So far, the Pioneers are 0-for-59 when it comes to Division I league championships.
Omaha used their quickness and speed to create turnovers (20 to 11) and steals (14 to 7) to defeat the Denver Pioneers at Magness Arena, 84-83, Wednesday night. Omaha’s Mitch Han scored with .7/10’s of a second left in the contest. Denver was fortunate to take the lead on a C.J. Bobbitt layup with .12 seconds remaining but the Mavericks responded by working the ball inside to Han as the clock ran down. With Daniel Amigo out of the game with five fouls, Denver could not stop the 6’8″ Han from delivering the knockout blow.
IUPUI was 10 of 19 from downtown while Denver was 5-15 from beyond the arc to spell the difference between victory and defeat as the visiting IUPUI Jaguars defeated Denver.
In a rare Sunday afternoon matinee, both the crowd and the team were flat against an energized IUPUI squad that placed a premium on ball pressure. The Jags parlayed a 4 point half-time deficit (35-31) into a 52 to 37 point second half romp en route to an easy victory over the Pioneers. Denver also gave up 18 points in the paint during the second half as the Jags hammered the Pioneers from the inside out. Continue reading Jaguars Bombs Flatten Denver, 83-72→