After roller-coaster Sun Belt start, Denver visits CSU with state pride (and RLU status) at stake
After going 10-2 against its tough non-conference schedule and earning itself an unlikely place on the bubble, Denver has been on soemthing of a roller-coaster ride over the last two weeks as it opened Sun Belt play.
On December 29, the Pioneers beat Troy in a perfectly serviceable 79-62 win that was pretty much exactly what you’d want to see against a lowly opponent.
But then, two days later, whether because of a New Year’s Eve funk or whatever else, Denver was stunned at home by Arkansas-Little Rock, 66-59. It was, quite simply, a horrible loss to a team that came into the game 4-10 and ranked #249 in the nation by Ken Pomeroy.
The rare Magness Arena pratfall dropped Denver to 1-1 in conference play. It also caused their Pomeroy rating to plummet from #78 to #97, and their RPI to take a dive, too (knocking them out of SI’s Bubble Watch). And it raised fears of a greater letdown to come, what with 9 of the next 12 games being on the road.
Those worries became borderline #PANIC as Denver visited Pomeroy’s #225 team, Arkansas State, on January 5, and struggled again. The Pios trailed for almost the entire first half, and fought the Red Wolves nip-and-tuck throughout the second half. At the under-4 timeout, Denver was down, 46-45, and with two minutes left, the Pioneers trailed 48-47. But they pulled out the 53-50 win, a huge relief. (The win was unimpressive enough that Pomeroy’s tempo-free robots penalized Denver, dropping them further to #101. Even so, pulling it out on the road had to be a big confidence boost — and it averted disaster, if nothing else.)
Finally, on January 7, the Pioneers dominated South Alabama 67-50 to sweep their first Sun Belt road weekend of the season. Suddenly Denver is 3-1 in league play, and the awful loss to UALR feels like it’s in the rearview mirror. Said head coach Joe Scott: “After Thursday’s win, I was really happy for our guys. Today, I was really impressed by them.”
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Now comes a brief interruption to the Sun Belt schedule, in the form the season’s final regular-season non-conference game — and Denver’s last regular-season chance for a Red Line Upset — with a visit to Colorado State at 7:00 PM tonight.
Denver and CSU appear to be the best two teams in Colorado: they’re ranked #82 and #94, respectively, by Pomeroy. (The rest are #100 Colorado, #166 Air Force and #187 Northern Colorado.) Moreover, between them, the Pios and Rams own an unbroken chain of distributive-property victories over the state’s other teams (CSU beat Colorado, which beat Air Force; both CSU and Denver beat Northern Colorado). So this is a “state championship” of sorts: winner gets Centennial State bragging rights until further notice.
“Denver’s an outstanding team,” said CSU coach Tim Miles. “It’s Joe Scott’s best team since he’s been at Denver, and it’s probably Denver’s best team since they went Division I. I view that game as like a top three or four Mountain West team coming into Moby Arena. They’re that good.”
If Denver wins, it will be the Pioneers’ fourth Red Line Upset in five tries, which would put the Pioneers in rarefied air. Only Missouri Valley Conference powers Creighton (6 RLUs) and Northern Iowa (5) have pulled more Red Line Upsets this season. Denver would be tied with Harvard, St. Joe’s, Saint Louis, Dayton, Fresno State and Wichita State with 4 RLUs apiece.
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Last but not least (okay, maybe least), if you missed the 2nd annual Bally Drop on New Year’s Eve at midnight, well, here you go:
The latter video is Part 2 of my livestream; here’s Part 1.