Chris Udofia

What to make of the Denver Pioneers? (VIDEO)

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Expectations were high heading into the 2013-14 season for the University of Denver. The Pioneers returned their top player in Chris Udofia, and were coming off a season where they finished 22-10, but 16-2 in the WAC — they have since transitioned to the Summit League after the dust settled from conference realignment.

In their final year in the WAC, they seemed destined to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, but were upset by Texas State in the conference tournament, a Bobcat team who they defeated twice during the regular season by double-digits.

In the preseason, I was high on Denver. So high, in fact, that the Pioneers were ranked as the fifth best team in the 2013-14 Mid-Major Power Rankings. Did I swing and a miss with that lofty projection? After the first seven games, it looked like that was the case as Denver sat at 2-5 with their lone wins against Alaska Anchorage and Southern University. They dropped from a ranking of 63rd in Ken Pomeroy’s preseason rankings all the way to 187th following the Southern game. They weren’t just losing games, but they weren’t playing well even in the losses.

Granted, Denver’s first three losses came against California, Stanford, and Harvard — the latter two games of which they were competitive — but it appeared they weren’t living up to the hype.

Not so fast. The Pios — after sleepwalking, to an extent — through their first half of the non-conference portion of their schedule, are back on track. Wins over Colorado State and Wyoming were good signs, but throttling Belmont by 28 points earlier this week garnered the attention of the nation — at least those who had circled Denver vs. Belmont on their college basketball viewing calendars.

An even-keeled Joe Scott never panicked. He said after the big win over Belmont:

We’ve been playing really well over the last six games. We’re 5-1 in our last six and a whisker of a rebound away from 6-0. If you just look at the improvement of our team over the last month, it’s really unbelievable. It’s just a credit to all our guys, a credit to the team. It’s a credit to the leadership of Chris [Udofia] and Brett [Olson] and Cam [Griffin], and guys have just stayed with it. We knew we have a chance to become a pretty good team. It was just a matter of putting the pieces in and finding the right rotation.

Olson and Udofia have both jump-started Denver and been the keys to the improvement. After the first four games of the season — all losses — Udofia had scored in double-figures just once and Olson twice. Since the loss to Pepperdine at the Great Alaskan Shootout, each has notched double-figure scoring totals in every game.

A trademark of Scott’s strategy is to slow the game down to a snail’s crawl. Denver plays at the ninth slowest pace in the country. They are extremely methodical on offense and make defenses work, but when the Pioneers don’t score it doesn’t much matter the pace they play. Fortunately, Udofia and Olson have been much better on the offensive end during the streak.

Scott said about the early season games, “At some level, you’ve got to credit our schedule for making us grow up real quick.”

Will the strong play continue and will Denver win the Summit in their first season in the league? That remains to be seen. One hot streak doesn’t make a season. With three of their next five games coming against UC Irvine, UTEP, and St. Joseph’s, Denver has an opportunity to continue to prove that the 0-4 start was an anomaly.

CBT PODCAST: Indiana, UCLA, Ben Simmons and Thanksgiving sides

Ben Simmons
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New podcast!

In today’s episode, we talk quite a bit about Ben Simmons. How good of a prospect is he? Why do people insist on calling him overrated? Does LSU actually have a shot at missing the NCAA tournament?

[MORE: Why scouts are down on Simmons]

[MORE: Will Simmons be relevant in March?]

We also talk about Indiana’s disappointing showing in Maui, just how good Vanderbilt and Kansas have looked, Marquette’s ability to bounce back and whether or not we should be concerned about North Carolina and Maryland.

Oh, and Thanksgiving sides.

Do people really call stuffing ‘dressing’?

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes right here.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Kansas-Vandy in Maui, rivalries renewed in Bahamas

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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 19 Vanderbilt vs. No. 5 Kansas, 10:00 p.m.

The title game of the Maui Invitational pits the two best teams in the tournament, as it should. Outside of the final 10 minutes of their loss to Michigan State, the Jayhawks have looked terrific this season. And while Selden was not at his best against the Spartans, he looked awesome in two games in Maui. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, is a tough team for them to matchup with, especially without time to prepare. They are loaded with shooters who surround Damian Jones, one of the best big men in the country. Combine all that with Kevin Stallings’ play-calling, and the ‘Dores are tough.

This should be appointment television.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 18 UConn vs. Michigan, 9:30 p.m.

The best matchup in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis pits two teams with terrific guard play that have question marks along their front court. The best individual matchup of the day may end up being Caris LeVert squaring off with Daniel Hamilton.


1. No. 10 Gonzaga vs. Washington, 12:00 p.m.: The Zags and their loaded front line get their first real test of the season against a Washington team that has been surprisingly good this year. This rivalry should be played every year. I wonder if it’s a coincidence they got matched up in the first round?

2. No. 13 Indiana vs. UNLV 5:00 p.m.: The Hoosiers have been a major disappointment out in Maui, while UNLV will look to bounce back after a loss to UCLA in their opener. Will Stephen Zimmerman be healthy enough to play?

3. Texas vs. No. 25 Texas A&M, 7:00 p.m.: All kinds of rivalries are being renewed out in the Bahamas. Another coincidence, I’m sure.

4. No. 2 Maryland at Rhode Island, 8:30 p.m.: The Terps have struggled their last two games against the likes of Illinois State and Rider. They can’t mess around against a quality team like URI.

5. Yale at No. 6 Duke, 7:00 p.m.: Yale nearly upset SMU at SMU. Duke is a different beast, but keep an eye on the Elis.


  • Lehigh at No. 12 Virginia, 7:00 p.m.
  • Arkansas State at No. 21 Oregon, 7:00 p.m.


  • Syracuse vs. Charlotte, 2:30 p.m.
  • Wake Forest vs. UCLA, 7:30 p.m.