Pioneers, Bears split their openers
The 2011-12 college basketball season got off to a mixed start for Colorado’s two mid-major teams, as Denver won 69-61 over Portland State (KenPom #240) on Friday, but then Northern Colorado lost 89-75 to New Mexico State (KenPom #113) on Saturday.
(I missed both games because of BlogCon on Friday and a co-worker’s wedding on Saturday.)
Senior Brian Stafford led the way for Denver with a career-high 32 points, thanks in large part to 6-of-10 shooting from #superhoop land. (Box score here.) “His role is to shoot and score. That’s what he is — he’s a shooter. He showed it,” Coach Joe Scott said after the game. He added jokingly: “Every now and then, I know what I’m doing. I know the guy can shoot, so I told him to shoot this year. That’s good coaching.”
For the Pioneers, Friday’s victory was their first season-opening win since Joe Scott’s first year, 2007, when DU beat Division II East Central, 76-75 in OT, in Norman, Oklahoma. Denver also won its home opener in 2007, 76-65 over Wyoming. But DU has struggled in openers over the last three seasons. In 2008, Denver lost its opener at Northern Iowa and its home opener to Northern Colorado; in 2009, the Pioneers’ overall opener and home opener was a loss to Northern Iowa; and in 2010, three neutral-site losses and a home loss to Colorado State started the year.
Denver will look to improve to 2-0 tonight in a road game at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (KenPom #330), a team picked by the coaches and SIDs to finish last in the Southland Conference. After that, the big home tests will begin: Conference USA’s Southern Miss (KenPom #134) on Thursday in a Red Line Upset opportunity, followed by mid-major power St. Mary’s (KenPom #26) of the WCC next Tuesday.
Here is Joe Scott after Friday’s game:
Meanwhile, defending Big Sky champion Northern Colorado struggled defensively in a BracketBusters return game, giving up more points than in any home game since November 2008 (though that was largely a function of the game’s fast pace) and sending the Red Aggies to the foul line 41 times. UNC also committed 20 turnovers en route to the 89-75 loss. (Box score here. The game was tied 41-41 at halftime.)
“We turned it over a bunch, and it led to easy baskets for [New Mexico State] that we couldn’t defend,” Coach B.J Hill said after the game. “We cannot turn the ball over 20 times in a game and expect to win, especially against a team as talented as New Mexico State. And a lot of those turnovers were doing things that we don’t want done, doing things outside our offense, and hopefully they learned from that. [UNC’s players] are talented kids with really bright futures ahead of them. We just have to grow up a lot on the floor in a hurry.”
Hill added: “I’m not worried about offense. I mean…we shot 48 percent from the field; we shot 40 percent from three. I’m not worried about offense with this team. We need guys to separate themselves defensively. We can’t give up 89 points and let teams get to the free-throw line 41 times. That was the difference and what made us successful in the past, is that those teams understood the importance of guarding people and having a sense of urgency every possession defensively. This young team doesn’t have that.”
Here is Big Sky Basketball’s analysis of the game, having attended it in person. His conclusion?
Overall, Northern Colorado is definitely a talented team, and they are stocked with shooters. I like their backcourt, and I think their frontcourt will get there. However, after watching them Saturday night, I still like my original preseason analysis - they are a talented team, and they will beat some good teams in the Big Sky this year. But, I do think they are a year away from being true contenders in the Conference, and I see them settling in anywhere from 4th-6th in the Big Sky.
Northern Colorado travels to Wyoming (KenPom #271) tomorrow night.