Now that Denver is set to join the Summit League next season, Saturday’s contest with UNO is more than just the final nonconference game in a 10-game road trip.
It’s a preview for next season.
“Now we’ve got to actually pay attention to the scouting report and to what happens,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Derrin Hansen said, laughing. “We can’t throw away the file folder when the game is over.”
Scouting Denver, of course, calls for unique measures.
The Pioneers, under coach Joe Scott, run the Princeton offense — a quick-passing, back-cutting, 3-point shooting nightmare.
“Everything we’ve tried to teach defensively the last 10 weeks has been thrown out the window this week,” Hansen said. “All your man-to-man principles go away. That offense is designed to take advantage of what teams typically do defensively. And once you take away their cuts and their backdoors, they step back and hit a perimeter jumper.
“It’s hard to guard.”
It was especially hard to guard last season, when the Pioneers went 22-9, beat three NCAA tournament teams (St. Mary’s, Southern Mississippi and Western Kentucky) and lost four games by one or two points — including two of their three overtime losses.
Denver returned four of the top five scorers from a team that ranked eighth nationally in field goal percentage (.488) and third in adjusted field goal percentage (.573), which measures points per field goal attempt — the Pioneers made 255 3-pointers.
However, Denver hasn’t shot well this season, at 40.6 percent overall and 30.4 percent from beyond the arc in a 2-5 start. Slightly less than half of its total field goal attempts have come from long range.
The Pioneers, who have lost to Iona, California, Colorado State, Southern Miss and Stanford, did shoot 54.7 percent overall while making 7 of 18 3s in their last game, a Dec. 5 win against Mercer.
The undersized Mavericks have a rare inside height advantage against Denver, though the Pioneers start four players who are either 6-foot-5 or 6-6, including thick athletes Royce O’Neale and Chase Hallam.
Chris Udofia, a 6-6 forward, is the Pioneers’ most decorated player: he was first-team All-Sun Belt and made the conference’s all-defense team last season and is a preseason All-Western Athletic Conference pick.
The Pioneers are picked to finish third in the WAC in their only season in that league. The school recently decided to move to the more stable Summit beginning next year.
“It definitely gives you a glimpse of the future,” Hansen said. “It was totally by accident, but it’s nice that we have a chance to get a close-up view of the newest team in the league.”
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