The Denver Pioneers were a missed free throw away from playing North Dakota State in the Summit League Championship, and Joe Scott was also maybe that close to not being let go by the Pioneers.
The Joe Scott firing was a little shocking, but it kind of makes sense. With Denver Lacrosse, Hockey, and Soccer all being very extremely competitive programs; it makes sense that the expectations for the private university would be higher on the men’s basketball team. It’s sort of like how I had incredibly low expectations for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because it was directed by the guy who made 300 and written by the guy that wrote all three Blade films…I guess it’s the same… I know a few people that have migrated to Denver, and I’ve asked them if they ever go to Pioneer basketball games and usually the reason they don’t go is because the Pioneers were pretty boring to watch.
Rodney Billups, who you will always refer to as “Chauncey Billups’ brother” is offering a more up-tempo style of basketball in comparison to the Princeton offense that Joe Scott ran. One has to wonder how long it will take for this to turn out to be successful for the Pioneers.
Billups has a great young core of players who appear like they could work out well for an up-tempo style of play. By the way, it will be okay for Mav fans to accuse the Pioneers for being trendy in picking an up-tempo style. It’s fine. Freshman guard Joe Rosga finished the season averaging 12.7 points per game; freshman forward CJ Bobbitt finished with 8.4 points per game; and freshman guard Thomas Neff finished 6.0 points per game. All three freshmen shot above 43% from the field.
The Princeton offense is all about taking the best shot available, so their players usually shoot high percentages. The best shot isn’t always the most important thing in an up-tempo style of play, so soon the Pioneers as a whole may actually not lead the conference in field goal percentage for once.
The Pioneers are going to have a couple roster changes for Billups to move forward with this new brand of basketball. They are losing two guys, Nate Engesser and Marcus Byrd, who averaged double digit scoring, but we’ve routinely seen this to not be a problem for Denver. Both players were efficient scorers, and seemed to find themselves open quite a bit while playing in the Baxter Arena… I thought Byrd was one of the more underrated players in the Summit in 2016, he averaged 16.7 points over the last 8 games of the season. He was probably the biggest reason the Pioneers did not finish 8th in the conference.
Denver will also lose their point guard, Bryant Rucker. It is weird to call someone a point guard when they average 1.5 assists per game, but the Princeton offense is not an offense for point guards to rack up assists. No one seems to know what is going on with the sophomore center Daniel Amigo who only played in 13 games this season for Denver, but he showed some promise in his freshman season. It’s okay, the Pioneers have 6’6″ sophomore center Christian Mackey to haunt our dreams. I swear that kid was allowed 15 fouls in the first round of the Summit League tournament.
The Pioneers have two high school seniors that have signed letters of intent: a 6’0″ and 145lb point guard from Arvada, Colorado…and a 6’6″ wing player from the state of Texas. These players could change their minds and go elsewhere with Denver going a new route in coaching, but as of right now the Pioneers only have room for one more player to sign for next season.
Their roster is filled with wing players, so one would think they would love a junior college post player or point guard; or a 5th year transfer at either position. Denver is not really known for landing transfers, but maybe the new style will call for it.
Drake’s Kale Abrahamson is leaving the Bulldogs and will be eligible immediately. Abrahamson is originally from Des Moines, so it is not like he would be transferring back home. He started his college career at Northwestern, so he clearly likes academics…Denver just seems like the perfect place for the 6’8″ player that could help Chauncey’s brother jump start his culture change in year one. He shot a pretty low percentage from the field (39.1) in his one year at Drake, but Drake basketball seems like a cluster of poor choices right now. I say this like it’s a mean thing, but I am all about the Summit League going all in on trying to steal Drake away from the Missouri Valley. Just think about it…
It is hard for most coaches to see a high level of success in year one, especially when changing everything; but the Pioneers have the pieces to move forward. They are most likely not going to end up winning the regular season, but by could have things figured out as a team by the time they start the conference tournament, again. They will probably finish the regular season standings in 2016-2017 somewhere between 4th and 8th in the Summit League. Now if only they would actually play someone in their non-conference schedule.