The Colorado Mid-Major State Championship
Tonight, for the 115th time*, the Denver Pioneers will play the Northern Colorado Bears. The game is on UNC’s home court Greeley, where Denver is 30-27 all-time. As DU and UNC are the only two Division I schools in Colorado below the Red Line, I have dubbed this game the “Colorado Mid-Major State Championship.”
Denver won this game last December at Magness Arena, 71-68 — a critical victory that ended the Pioneers’ early-season 2-9 swoon and started their 9-game winning streak, which they carried into conference play. It also ended up being one of Denver’s two wins over an NCAA Tournament team last season (the other was over eventual Sun Belt champ UALR).
The Pioneers are 2-3 against Northern Colorado under Joe Scott, including 0-2 in Greeley. Denver hasn’t won in Greeley since 2006; the home team has won 7 of the last 8 games in this series.
This season, Denver is 6-2 and ranked #95 in the country by Ken Pomeroy, #30 in the RPI, and #23 in the CollegeInsider Mid-Major Top 25. Denver has earned national attention for its hot start, including home wins over Southern Miss and St. Mary’s and a road stunner against Utah State. (The Blue Aggies, it should be noted, are now 4-5 on the season. But USM and SMC are a combined 13-3!) But the Pioneers are coming off a heartbreaking loss to Iona, a nationally well-regarded team (#5 in the Mid-Major Top 25).
Northern Colorado, which earned its first-ever Big Sky title and NCAA Tournament appearance last season (but lost a ton of talent to graduation), is 3-5 and ranked #164 by KenPom and #129 in the RPI. After an 0-4 start against tough competition, the Bears have won 3 of their last 4, including winning the “Madre” division of the South Padre Island Invitational. But the lone loss in that quartet of games was ugly, a stunner at the hands of NAIA squad Westminster College (Utah) at home.
KenPom’s tempo-free #robots give Denver a 53% of getting a win on the road, predicting a 65-64 final score in favor of the Pioneers. Vegas has installed DU as a 3-point favorite.
The game tips off at 7:00 PM Mountain Time, It will be televised on Altitude and, I believe, streamed for free on Big Sky TV. It will also be broadcast on the radio locally on AM 1510 & FM 93.7 (Denver feed) and AM 1310 (Northern Colorado feed). DU will have an official liveblog, and of course the #BrotherzBallz and I will be there, also liveblogging: