DU's basketball coaches aren’t accepting youth as a reason for failure this year. But one glance at the roster reveals that this team is young and inexperienced. They might even be the youngest team in D1 basketball. Looking at player development, playing style, coaching, and intangibles for this season we will take a guess at what to expect from the 2015-16 hardwood Pioneers.
The most important overall issue this year is going to be the development and growth of the freshmen class. It won’t be a surprise if we see four freshmen starters. Adapting to Dl speed and pressure will prove to be a major challenge for these freshmen. Working together as a team and running the Princeton offense won’t be easy, either. Third, developing an identity with key players emerging to fill roles - rebounding, point guard, scoring, lock-down defenders, sixth man, etc.. Finally, identifying team leaders to control games and tempo during critical stretches is going to prove to be one of the most important challenges this young team will have to face.
This year's recruiting class quality must be high because this class will make up most of the roster for the next few years. Any recruiting errors will potentially block better players from entering the program. If DU is ever going to push for a league championship, 1-2 players from this year's freshman class must become first team all-conference player(s) by the end of their career(s). Finally, assuming they develop as needed, they need to stay at DU for four years. The ultimate wheelhouse for this year’s freshman class is likely 2017-2018.
DU's veteran big-men, Marcus Byrd, Christian Mackey and Daniel Amigo will have to control the paint and add veteran leadership up-front. Last season, DU was out-rebounded by more than 5 boards per game. Freshman “wild card" player, Abiola Akintola, a 6'6" player from Australia blew out his knee earlier this summer so his role remains unclear though it might be unlikely to see him at all this year.
Nate Engesser (11 ppg) is a veteran scoring threat at the guard position and the much of the scoring responsibility will be on the shoulders of returning players like Pemberton, Douglas, and Dunn to pick up some additional minutes on the perimeter. If they don’t deliver, the new recruits will steal their minutes.
The Pioneers run Joe Scott's Princeton Offense which has been modified over the course of his coaching career. The most important aspect of this offense is identifying a point guard to trigger the offense. Then the team must address the question of whether the team will run when opportunities present themselves and/or shorten the time in their offensive end if good shots are available. Many fans may have forgotten that the Pioneers actually played fast break basketball in the Sun Belt Conference but have played a more deliberate style of basketball in the Summit League. Last year, the Pios only averaged 62 PPG - the program’s lowest scoring average in the last 5 years. The team has focused on conditioning heading into this season so this team can run when opportunities present themselves.
Playing solid D1 level defense is always the biggest challenge for incoming freshmen. Can they harness their youth and energy to play smart, swarming team defense? This team will have to fight for rebounds, especially with DU's height disadvantage.
While there are many different opinions about the coaching staff among Pioneer Nation, DU basketball sports 85-69 record over the past five years. Coach Scott is intense and is very hard on his player players – but so is Bill Tierney. It’s too easy to claim that this is the one factor that has driven the program’s declining performance. Recruiting has been a problem and players have left the program and ultimately that’s the head coach’s responsibility.
While the Princeton Offense may be one of the best options with DU's talent, many fans want to see this team run when opportunities present themselves, shoot when shots are available (regardless of shot clock) and force turnovers. Young teams tend to think too much and play tight - so the coaches will need to allow them to make mistakes in order to maximize their success this season. All of this can be done in the Princeton system.
There has been a clear decline in attendance over the past three years. In 2011/12, the Pioneers averaged 5,460 fans per game. That figure has dropped to a low last year of 2,366 fans per game. That’s more than a 50% drop. Some of the decline was league-wide while the marquee value of visiting teams, especially non-conference foes, was relatively low combined with declining team performance.
Other fans see home-game scheduling as a key issue as early games, usually non-conference match-ups, are scheduled during DU’s winter break and road games scheduled during the quarter. DU’s senior class has seen a steady decline in basketball interest during their 4-years at the school. While the move to the Summit League was unappealing to many, home attendance at DU's other Summit League events such as soccer and volleyball has been relatively strong. Conference affiliation only explains one part of the declining attendance issue.
Another question that this team will need to answer is whether this team will rally around each other. With relatively low expectations, this young team might not play with a needed chip on their shoulder; an important aggressiveness. As the season rolls on, fans will get a sense for how this team will play.
With such a young team, the focus will be on game-to-game progress. During this season, LetsGoDU will measure progress by dividing the season up into quarters:
- Quarter 1 - 3 Cable Car Classic games plus 3 home games
- Quarter 2 - 4 Home & 3 Away games - Wyoming thru UC Riverside
- Quarter 3 - Summit First Half - S. Dakota St. thru S. Dakota - 8 games
- Quarter 4. Summit Second Half - S. Dakota State - North Dakota State - 8 games
We will look at scoring (PPG), defense (PPG), turnovers, starter's points, bench points, and rebounds in addition to the W/L record for each quarter.
It’s difficult to win on the road in D1 basketball. For such a young team, even 3 road wins might be a stretch. It will even be difficult for this team to maintain Scott’s .800 home winning percentage. Anything around .600 at home would be strong for this young team. 8 wins at home would probably be a realistic expectation. Anything better than this projected 11-18 mark would qualify as a good season.
This team’s focus shouldn’t be on its record. It should be on the season-long progression of this underclassman-heavy team. LGDU as always wants the best for our student-athletes so we hope this year's team exceeds our 'expectations'.
Is 11-18 a fair projection? Would that qualify as a successful season to you? Let us know. We want to hear what you think.