The Denver University Men’s basketball teams 2020-21 journey started with a detour. A covid pause caused the team to put practice on hold and cancel their first game, add in another postponement against Air Force and I am sure it is not the start Coach Rodney Billups envisioned for the team. As the team looked to get back on track in games against UC Riverside and Wyoming. After those two games it feels like the original detour has the team struggling to find their way.
It was reasonable to think that there would be some early season growing pains for the Pioneers given the loss of all Summit guard Ade Murkey, and those growing pains have been clear. To start in both games the Pioneers have been badly outplayed in the first half. Against Riverside they trailed 48-29 at the break and against Wyoming 45-25. They played poorly defensively in both first halves, shot poorly and turned the ball over. Both games were essentially over at half. So let’s go into some of what has doomed Denver.
First half shooting: The Pioneers shot 35% in the first half against Riverside and 30% against Wyoming. Along with allowing Riverside to shoot 60% in the first half and Wyoming 51%. Both second halves were competitive but when you trail by 20 at halftime competitive doesn’t matter. Another area of concern were the 27 turnovers against Wyoming after they did a good job taking care of the ball against Riverside.
Who after Townsend: I envisioned a 1-2 punch of Jase Townsend and Robert Jones leading the way for Denver. Jones played 10 minutes against Wyoming before fouling out, which meant he averaged a foul every two minutes. Against Riverside he only played 16 minutes. One only had to see the first 2 minutes of the Wyoming game to see the impact Jones can have, but he has to find a way to stay on the floor. After Jones there is no clear next man. When the game mattered in both games no one stepped up. Frank Ryder has had decent second halves but again will that translate when it matters. Townsend has had a poor start to the season shooting the ball. Townsend is shooting below 33% from the field in the Wyoming and Riverside games. All Summit and Pioneer fans know there is better in both Townsend and Jones but there is ever shortening amount of opportunities to get on track before Summit League play.
It’s extremely early in the season and the covid pause put the Pioneers behind the 8 ball. It’s not time to write their eulogy, but these first two division 1 ventures are concerning. The hope is players like Ryder, freshmen Sam Hines Jr and Drake Muller will start stepping up. All have shown flashes as did junior guard Koby Lam against Wyoming. The unfortunate part is some of the vets from last year asked to take on expanded roles have struggled. It’s clear Coach Billups is searching for someone to step up as at least 12 players played in both games. If some of the above mentioned players can step up, we know what Townsend and Jones gave the pioneers last year. Others stepping up could mean a move forward for Denver, if not they might be stuck in nuetral.