Overall Record: 22-10
Summit League Record (Finish): 16-2 (WAC Co-Champ)
Postseason: Advanced to NIT second round
2013-14 QUICK GLANCE
Head Coach (Season): Joe Scott (7th)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 10/3
Starters Returning/Lost: 3/2
Men's Basketball Page | Schedule | Roster
Web Page: denverpioneers.com
"We're excited for our first year in The Summit League. It's a league with very good teams, very good players and very good coaches. We're excited and looking forward to the challenge. We have a lot of work to do, but we're really looking forward to being in the league, competing in the league, enjoying our time in The Summit League and making sure we develop some rivalries and bring value to the league. What we're stressing is we are going into a league, where we have our work cut out for us, that's for sure. We're going to work hard to get be the best team we can be. Obviously, coming off some really good years, we feel good about it but there is definitely a challenge in front of us in The Summit League." – Head coach Joe Scott
F Chris Udofia (13.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.6 spg); G Brett Olson (11.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.2 spg); G Jalen Love (7.2 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.5 apg; 0.8 spg); G Cam Griffin (6.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.5 spg)
SUMMIT LEAGUE PRESEASON POLL
All-League Selections: Chris Udofia (1st), Brett Olson (2nd)
BLUE RIBBON COLLEGE BASKETBALL YEARBOOK
Analysis Excerpts: The Pioneers are moving into the Summit at a good time in the program, because there is talent and experience on the roster, and there shouldn't be too tough an acclimation period. Denver plays a team game, and if Joe Scott can continue to get his players to participate in that concept, the Pioneers should be able to compete in the Summit.
Denver is well positioned for its move to the Summit. Scott has a deep, experienced versatile roster. Chris Udofia will get most of the attention, but the Pioneers' style of play is star of this show. If they continue to work selflessly, big things lie ahead.
Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, the "bible" of preseason preview publications, is now in its 33rd printing. To see the complete version of this story, as well as 344 other profiles of Division I schools, order the 400-page 2013-14 edition at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or by calling 877-807-4857.
OTHER PRESEASON PROJECTIONS
Athlon Sports: 2nd
Lindy's Sports: 2nd
NBC Sports Talk: 2nd
Sporting News: 2nd
USA Today: 2nd
Coming off consecutive 22-win seasons, the University of Denver men's basketball program heads into the 2013-14 season with the experience and talent needed to compete for a conference title in DU's first year in The Summit League.
The Pioneers went 19-3 in the final 22 games of the regular season, claiming a share of the WAC regular season title. Denver earned a No. 3 seed in the National Invitation Tournament, where the Crimson and Gold beat Ohio in the first round for the team's first-ever win in a national postseason tournament.
"We have a lot of experience back from two-straight 22-win teams," head coach Joe Scott said. "We may have lost a little bit – and that little was important – but what's more important is that we have a guy like Chris Udofia back with Brett Olson and Cam Griffin, who were vital parts of both those 22-win seasons. Jalen Love is back after starting on a 22-win team, going to the NIT and winning a postseason game. When you have that type of winning experience back, especially with two juniors and a senior, I think things bode well."
Denver ranked among the Top 25 in the NCAA last season in assists/turnover ratio (fifth), scoring defense (sixth), turnover margin (eighth), assists per game (ninth), field goal percentage (10th), steals per game (15th) and turnovers per game (25th). No other team in the nation ranked in the Top 25 in field goal percentage, assists and steals.
Leading the way for the Pioneers once again is senior Chris Udofia, who has been voted first team all-conference and all-defensive team each of the last two years. Denver's team captain for the second-straight season, Udofia ranked 34th in the nation and third in the WAC in blocked shots (2.34 per game), and ranked second in the WAC in assist/turnover ratio (1.81), fourth in steals (1.62), fifth in field goal percentage (.516), and ninth in both scoring (13.3) and assists (3.28 per game).
"Chris obviously is a very good college basketball player," Scott said. "His greatest strengths are his versatility and his head. He's a really sharp kid. He's a really focused kid. He's a really disciplined team-oriented kid. That's why you've seen so much improvement over the time that he's been here."
Although it may seem counterintuitive for a player who was ninth in the WAC in scoring last year, the challenge for Udofia will be to maintain his well-rounded game without trying to take on too much from a scoring perspective. Udofia scored at least 20 points five times last season, but DU went just 2-3 in those games.
"When he gets 15 points and throws five assists with one turnover and blocks three shots, we win. Chris can do all of those things and stuff a stat sheet, but he also understands that it's about the team," Scott said. "His scoring average dropped last year (from the previous season), but our team got so much better. His assist-to-turnover ratio was nearly 2:1 with 105 assists, and he's shooting 55 or 60 percent from two-point range. It's rare when you get a kid who can do all of those things but then is able to zero in on the things that are going to make the team be the best it can be. As he's improved so much so has our team and program."
After being selected to the All-WAC Third Team last year, junior Brett Olson returns to the point guard spot. Olson steadily improved as the season progressed last year, raising his field goal percentage nearly 10 percent and three-point percentage by eight percent during conference play. Likewise, he nearly tripled his nonconference assist totals during WAC play while turning the ball over only 21 times during those 18 games.
"When you look at what Brett has done in league play, both as a freshman and sophomore, it's kind of mind-boggling to look at his assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting percentage," Scott said. "When you get a guy like that back as a junior in a lead guard position and couple that with Udofia, you've got what I consider the most important things in college basketball. The key for Brett is whether he's going to be able to start the season at the level he was at all of league play last year. If he can do that, we're going to be in pretty good shape."
The quick maturation of Jalen Love last season cannot be overlooked. The freshman joined the starting lineup seven games into last season, and the Pioneers responded by going 20-4 with Love among the starting five.
Additionally, Cam Griffin flourished in his role as sixth man, sparking the Pioneers with energy off the bench and providing a lockdown defense that resulted in 47 steals by Griffin.
"What Jalen and Cam give us is really good guard play, especially when you combine them with Brett Olson," Scott said. "These are three guys who can all handle the ball and have good athleticism. They're very good basketball players and decision makers. Any time you can say you have good, experienced guard play in addition to a guy like Udofia, you've got the makings of a good basketball team. Now we have to find out who are the best complements to those four guys. That's what the nonconference this year is all about: the building of this team, knowing that we have a pretty strong nucleus."
Like last year, a number of players are battling for the fifth starting position, as well as the first spots off the bench. Last season, Denver struggled through a challenging 1-5 start before freshman Love emerged as the final starter, and DU turned its season around.
"We've got guys who have been here in Marcus Byrd, Nate Engesser, Bryant Rucker, Dom Samac, Griffin McKenzie and Jake Logan. Any of them could step up and contribute to help this team," Scott said. "We need that old blood to step up, but the new blood is vital to make the team successful, as well. If you look at the program we have built to this point, we have always had freshmen come in, step up, start, play, be solid contributors, and over six years, we've seen the benefit of that. It keeps you going. Those young guys are the ones who are sustaining you three years later. Brett, Chris and Jalen played tons of minutes as freshmen. They're all examples of that."
Since Scott arrived, DU has a history of starting freshmen. In fact, during Scott's seven seasons as head coach, there has been at least one freshman in the starting lineup for the majority of the games. The lone exception was 2010-11, when Udofia – the only freshman – started only four times on a senior-filled squad.
The Pioneers welcome three freshmen, who all provide athleticism and a unique set of skills. During the preseason, however, Drick Bernstine began emerging as a candidate for serious playing time.
"Drick's got the physical tools: he's 6-7, can handle the ball and he's a good passer," Scott said. "The challenge in being a freshman comes down to how quickly can he get consistency in his mental and physical approach? Being ready every day for the challenge. If we can keep seeing the progress we've seen, he definitely has a chance to help.
"All three of the freshman can provide a piece that this team needs. They're a little different than a Brett or Jalen. That's what makes a team be a team. Drick can complement those guys. He can play with those guys and help those guys, and most importantly I know those guys can help him. In the end, we're going to be looking for a freshman or any of the new guys to provide the things that make us be really good. It's about understanding your role and being a complementary type player. I think Drick can be that for us this year, and going forward he can be a really big contributor, just like what we're looking for from Jalen this year."
Fellow freshmen Duke Douglas and Dorian Butler bring their own attributes that could also help the Pioneers. Douglas is an athletic guard that Scott compared to a young Cam Griffin, while Butler's solid build could provide DU help in the post.
"All three freshmen are on their own continuum, as far as how quickly they're picking things up and adjusting," Scott said. "Duke Douglas has the athleticism and the right approach. He definitely shows signs that he is going to be a good player for us one day. It's a matter of not forcing things and pressing. We just need to let him come along at his own pace. The same can be said for Dorian Butler. Dorian is a little different. He's 6-6 with a little bit of a wide body. He could give us something that we don't have, but how quickly is it going to be consistent every day, physically and mentally? That's the challenge for a freshman. A lot of it's a maturity thing, which comes from knowing and learning. We like all three, and that bodes well for the future. There's no question that one of them is going to have to step up and say, 'Coach, I can contribute something this year.'"