2012-2013 Overall Rank: #142
Conference Rank: #3 WAC
Denver Team Page
While most are discussing the teams that the Western Athletic Conference are losing, for basketball they are gaining a solid program in Denver. And it, quite refreshingly, actually makes geographic sense. The Pioneers have been meddling in mediocrity under Coach Joe Scott, but that changed last year when Denver finished with a 22-9 record. They were left out of the postseason, but the talent is there for the Pioneers to make a big splash during their first year in the WAC.
2011-12 Record: 22-9, 11-5
2011-12 Postseason: None
Coach: Joe Scott
Coach Record: 80-74 at Denver, 168-180 overall
Brian Stafford is the big loss for Denver. The guard knocked down nearly two and a half three-pointers per game and shooting consistently is always important in Coach Scott’s version of the Princeton offense. The Pioneers can replace his scoring, but they will be down one shooter this season. Rob Lewis started 29 games during his senior campaign, averaging 7.4 points and 3.2 rebounds. Justin Coughlin and Travis Hallam played important roles off of the bench and it is on the bench where Denver needs to reload. Alex Pickert and Tyler Thalken are also gone, leaving this Denver squad relatively inexperienced after their big four returning players.
The Pioneers will have to get some production from the newcomers if they want to compete for a conference title. Depth is needed across the board and Coach Scott hopes to get it from his six newcomers. Nate Engesser leads a talented group of guards that also include Jalen Love and Dom Samac. Engesser is regarded as the most talented of the guards at this point in his career and if he can provide a spark off of the bench and knock down some shots, Denver should be in good shape. However, he may need to step into the starting lineup at some point too when Denver wants to play small like they did during most of the 2011-2012 campaign. The frontcourt adds some size with 6-8 Croat Dom Samac and redshirt freshmen Marcus Byrd and Jake Logan. At the least, one of those players will have to play some quality minutes off of the bench. Samac and Logan have the size to make an impact under the basket and the athletic ability to play within the Princeton offense.
Who to Watch:
Denver returns four stars who helped lead the way to a 22 win season. Forward Chris Udofia is a superb shot blocker and developed into an extremely consistent scorer under the basket, averaging 14.5 points per game. The offense should run through Udofia and the defense will always end with him. Sophomore Royce O’Neale is coming off a great freshman season. He only started a handful of games last season, but after averaging 9.9 points and a team high 5.8 rebounds, few doubt that he is ready to step into a starting role. The problem is Udofia is just 6-6 and 194 pounds and O’Neale is a 6-5 wing. That is where Lewis will be greatly missed. At 6-5 Chase Hallam has nice size for a wing and ideally would pair up with O’Neale on the wing. Wherever those three end up playing, 6-5 sophomore Brett Olson will be running the show. Another underclassman full of potential, Olson averaged 7.6 points, 2.0 assists and knocked down 46.2 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. And all of that was with a bum shoulder. Fully healthy, big things are expected from Olson. Because of the size on the perimeter, Coach Scott has some interesting options. It would be nice to find a true five that fits in the offense, which could be one of the newcomers or junior Blake Foeman who averaged 8.5 minutes per game last year. But Udofia can play the five with O’Neale sliding to the four, Hallam to the three and a player like Engesser starting at the shooting guard spot.
Whoever the fifth starter ends up being, Denver has the tools to reach the postseason after being left out last season. The WAC may provide some tougher competition day in and day out, which is also a pretty good situation for the Pioneers. While they do have plenty of players that need to learn the system, their opposition will have a much tougher time preparing for the Princeton offense. Coach Scott will have some WAC teams running in circles trying to defend them and that will be a big advantage for Denver for a little while. But by the end of the year the opposition will be on to the Pioneer’s offense and that will be the same time Denver starts running out of gas if the newcomers are not ready to provide quality depth off of the bench.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT
Projected Starting Five:
Brett Olson, Sophomore, Guard, 7.6 points per game
Chase Hallam, Senior, Guard, 7.5 points per game
Royce O’Neale, Sophomore, Forward, 9.9 points per game
Chris Udofia, Junior, Forward, 14.5 points per game
Blake Foeman, Junior, Forward, 1.5 points per game