Every season, I go through the Summit League schedule and “simulate” the games a number of times based on different factors.
By “simulate” I mean I go through the schedule and assign wins and losses based on whatever I’m feeling and then repeat based on whatever I’m feeling the next week. Some weeks, I base it on overall talent, the next week might be experience, and yadda yadda yadda. I end up adding all the wins and losses and come up with standings. It’s not a perfect science, but nothing really is as preseason rankings are generally pretty stupid.
Today, we’re going to look at who came in 9th in those rankings.
Projected Conference Wins: 1 to 4
Projected Regular Season Finish: 7th to 9th
Last year was supposed to be The Year for the the Pioneers. With seniors Joe Rosga, Ronnie Harrell, and Tory Stewart-Miller the Pioneers appeared to have the best senior trio in the league, but nothing ever really came together for the talented Denver squad.
Head Coach Rodney Billups admitted he had been doing some things as a coach that created a bad locker room, and he has changed all of that for the better of the team (it might be possible Billups is in over his head).
Adding Harrell and Stewart-Miller to the roster last season was like adding two solid actors to a sequel to an okay, but not great, movie, but then it just turns into a heaping pile of crap because of bad production and directing. There is probably an example for this, but I try to erase bad movies out of my mind. Like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” instead of erasing past relationships, I erase bad movies. I’m sure if there was a sequel to that movie, they would add talented actors, and it would be terrible. If there is a low budget sequel on Netflix or something, I have not seen it, and I am sorry for wasting your time with this non sequential rant.
Last season was going to be the Pioneers moment, and now their team appears to be worse than that roster (on paper).
Aside from losing their seniors, Denver had the following players transfer…
- Would be junior forward Donoven Carlisle (4.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 50.5 fg%) to Texas-Permin Basin (Division 2)
- Would be junior forward Jake Krafka (only played 3 games in 2018-2019 due to injury) to St. Edwards (Division 2)
- Would be junior guard Elvin Rodriguez (3.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 41.4 fg%) to Texas-Permin Basin (Division 2)
It’s unlikely any of those guys were going to be stars, but that is still a loss of experienced role players. Denver’s roster will have a total of 185 division one games played between the players, which is the least in the Summit League. So they aren’t experienced, and the experience they do have is failure, so it depends on what you consider experience. This was a long stretch of a reference to Thanos and Loki’s conversation in “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Denver does return 45% of their scoring offense from Summit League play last season, that ranks 7th in the conference.
Their Big 3 is likely to be the already mentioned Murkey, Nzekwesi, and Townsend.
Murkey is the only senior on the roster.
Nzekwesi is a 6’9″ 245lbs sophomore, who efficiently scored 10 points per game as a freshman in the conference last season shooting 60% from the field in 17 minutes per game. Denver should be excited about Nzekwesi, he could be an all conference player in the future.
Townsend is a 6’3″ sophomore guard, who averaged 7.3 points per game against the Summit League last season, and coach Rodney Billups has stated that Townsend had a great Summer and will likely be the Pioneers’ first option on offense.
Billups also lost his 3 assistant coaches, and will have an entirely new coaching staff in 2019-2020. Assistant Coach Dwight Thorne had been the Director of Basketball Operations the last 3 seasons for Denver, but will now be in his first year in his role as an Assistant Coach.
Teams made up of mostly newcomers and little experience have seen success before, but it seems unlikely for this team. This team has the least amount of chemistry with their coaching staff and their players.
If I were a Denver fan, I wouldn’t put a lot of confidence in Billups making something out an inexperienced roster.
There is always hope to have some guy like South Dakota’s Standley Umude to go from averaging 1 point per game and going up to 14.4 points per game as a sophomore and landing on the All Conference team, but there really isn’t a likely candidate on the roster for that type of guy. During the Summit League media day, Billups didn’t mention anyone who he expected to step up like that. He only really mentioned Townsend potentially becoming their leading scorer.
One thing that was surprising to hear Billups claim was freshman center Robert Jones has an extremely hard work ethic and has potential to be an elite defender in the league…and he wished David Nzekwesi had that work ethic because it would make Nzekwesi the best player in the league.
This Pioneers have gotten worse and worse under Rodney Billups, and they could be even worse this season.
Denver does get to host Air Force, New Mexico State, and Wyoming at home this year, and that’s pretty cool for them to have a fun home schedule.
Billups at one point claimed his players didn’t really like him after last season, and it’s hard to imagine they’ll be fond of him when they’re losing to New Mexico State and Wyoming at home by 40.
The Pioneers will be one of three Summit League teams to never have three consecutive road conference games, and that can help keep the young team fresh. Unlike the other two teams (South Dakota State and Western Illinois) with that advantage, the Pioneers also never have three consecutive home games.
The Denver’s 3 wins last season were all off of the team having a schedule advantage.
The Pioneers beat North Dakota State by 15 on a Wednesday night, the first week of the Winter semester, and the Bison had to get back on a plane to get back to Fargo to play their instate rival North Dakota that weekend. The Bison shot 40% in that game and 27% on threes.
They followed that up beating Oral Roberts on a Sunday of the same week by 16, who had no Emmanuel Nzekwesi in the game. The Pioneers did not win again until February 28th, playing Western Illinois on a Thursday night. The only weeknight home games during the school year will be against South Dakota and Oral Roberts, two of the best teams in the league.
Denver is going to need a lot of things to go right for them. In 2017-2018, we saw an Omaha team with a number of newcomers, and with a fast paced offense like Denver, one of the problems with the lack of chemistry on the team was players taking selfish shots. Expect something similar with the Pioneers this season.
Expect a bad season for the Pioneers