Tag: Denver Pioneers

Scott Sutton (AP Photo)

2014-2015 Season Preview: NDSU, SDSU take step back in Summit League hierarchy

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Scott Sutton (AP Photo)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we will be previewing the Summit League.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

Turnover is the name of the game for the Summit League as we head into the 2014-2015 season. There will be five new head coaches in the nine-team league and that doesn’t include Scott Sutton, the head coach at Oral Roberts, who will return to the conference after a two-year stint in the Southland. Just one first-team all-conference player is back this season, and among those who have left were the league’s best player (Taylor Braun) and biggest personality (former North Dakota State head coach Saul Phillips).

That said, the Summit League should end up being one of the tightest conference races in the country this year, as the separation between the top teams in the conference is quite small.

Our pick to win the regular season title is Oral Roberts. The Golden Eagles had enjoyed a terrific run near the top of the Summit League for a decade-and-a-half before the school got swept up in the realignment chaos and wound up in the Southland. After a two year hiatus, Sutton is back with one of his better teams. Senior Obi Emegano is healthy after tearing his ACL last season and junior guard Korey Billbury had a terrific sophomore campaign in Emegano’s absence. Losing Shawn Glover will hurt, but the key for ORU will be whether Brandon Conley takes a step forward this season.

ORU’s biggest challenger will be Joe Scott’s Denver Pioneers. While he loses Chris Udofia to graduation, Scott does return Brett Olson, a first-team all-conference guard last year and our Preseason Player of the Year. He’s a sharp-shooter who hit more than 50 percent from three in league play, but he’s also going to have to learn to be “the guy”. In total, the Pioneers bring back four starters from last year. Denver joined the Summit prior to the 2013-2014 season.

New IPFW head coach Jon Coffman will enter this season without three of the Mastodons’ top six players from a year ago, but he does get back sophomore point guard Mo Evans, who is expected to be one of the league’s breakout stars, as well as big man Steve Forbes. Forbes is a dominating presence in the paint, but he only averaged 21.3 minutes as a junior due to fitness and foul trouble.

South Dakota State loses a number of key pieces, but former Florida big man Cody Larson will be one of the league’s most athletic players. The Jackrabbits will also get a boost when former Wisconsin point guard George Marshall gets eligible in December. North Dakota State will be without Taylor Braun, Marshall Bjorklund and former head coach Saul Phillips, but the Bison have built a strong enough program to withstand the turnover. Expect big seasons from Lawrence Alexander and Kory Brown.

Brett Olson (AP Photo)


In: Oral Roberts
Out: None


Olson is the only player from last season’s all-Summit first-team to be returning to school this season after averaging 14.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 boards. He shot 51.5% from beyond the arc in league play, but with Chris Udofia graduating, Joe Scott is going to need Olson to take on a more commanding role this season if the Pioneers are going to play their way out of a tough, balanced conference.


  • Cody Larson, South Dakota State, Sr.: Larson, who began his career at Florida, might be the bst athlete in the conference.
  • Obi Emegano, Oral Roberts, Jr.: Emegano was on pace to have a huge season in 2013-2014 but tore his ACL in the fourth game of the year.
  • Lawrence Alexander, North Dakota State, Sr.: A four-year starter at the point, Alexander will be the catalyst for the Bison, will have plenty of scoring to replace.
  • Steve Forbes, IPFW, Sr.: The big fella needs to get in shape and stay out of foul trouble, but he’s a monster when he does.



1. Oral Roberts
2. Denver
4. South Dakota State
5. North Dakota State
6. South Dakota
7. Western Illinois
8. Nebraska-Omaha

Late Night Snacks: Manhattan, Delaware, and Wofford garner bids

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Game of the night: Delaware 75, William & Mary 74

The Blue Hens were the top seed in the CAA tournament, and despite a furious scoring explosion from William & Mary, replete with a flurry of makes from Marcus Thornton and Omar Prewitt (aka, the Tribe’s offensive core next season), UDee is dancing for the first time in fifteen years. W&M had a chance to earn their inaugural NCAA tournament bid in program history, but a double cut and made two by UD big Carl Baptiste in the final minute provided Monté Ross’ squad with the win.

Important outcomes

1) Manhattan 71, Iona 68

The Jaspers ended Iona’s hegemony on the MAAC, showcasing a stout man defense that chased the Gaels’ shooters from the three-point line and prevented open looks for AJ English, Sean Armand, and Isaiah Williams. An interesting aspect of title game, though, is whether Tim Cluess’ squad will earn an at-large bid; the team’s best win at the moment is a non-conference victory over Wofford.

2) Wofford 56, Western Carolina 53

For the third time in five seasons, Mike Young and his staff are piloting Wofford to the NCAA tournament. Other than the Terriers’ stout defense (more on that later in Late Night Snacks), the title game’s highlight was the play of Karl Cochran. The junior is one of the Southern Conference’s best perimeter shooters, but he somehow found himself open consistently against the Catamounts, making five of his ten three-point attempts.

3) BYU 79, San Francisco 77 (OT)

The Dons were the hottest team in the WCC entering the game, and despite a double-double from senior forward Cole Dickerson, the Cougars were able to outlast San Francisco.

1) Taylor Braun (North Dakota State)

Recently named Summit League player of the year, Braun manhandled Denver’s defense in a game that was lopsided soon after the opening tip. The senior wing scored 28 points through a combination of efficient shooting (two of four from within the arc, four of five from three) and aggressiveness: his twelve free throw attempts led both teams.

2) Carl Baptiste (Delaware)

Easily the CAA’s most improved player, Baptiste was a defensive mismatch for W&M. There wasn’t a member of the Tribe who could handle Baptiste’s heft, and the forward scored 24 points, including the game-winning shot, and grabbed eight rebounds.

3) David Stockton (Gonzaga)

The senior guard posted his most complete game this season, scoring 21 points, hauling in six rebounds, dishing out four assists, and somehow not recording a turnover in a 70-54 WCC semifinal win over Saint Mary’s.


1) Denver’s defense

North Dakota State’s final margin of victory was nearly forty points, and the Bison posted a whopping offensive efficiency rating of 1.55 points per possession. Not only did NDSU make more than 60 percent of their twos, they also converted over 60 percent of their threes.

2) Trey Sumler (Western Carolina)

The senior is one of DI’s all-time feel good stories: a former walk-on who transforms into an all-first team candidate. Wofford was able to silence the prolific scorer, hamstringing Sumler to just nine points — he didn’t make his first field goal until eleven minutes or so remained in the second half.

3) Saint Mary’s offense

Gonzaga’s defense is stout this season, but their stinginess doesn’t entirely explain how Saint Mary’s was able to score just .81 PPP. Other than Brad Waldow, no other Gael made more than three field goals.

Conference tournaments

CAA: Another Phil Martelli assistant is dancing

Ross was a part of the 2003-04 St. Joe’s coaching staff, and like Matt Brady a year ago, his team earned the CAA’s auto bid following a 75-74 win over William & Mary. UDee has the pieces to spring an opening round upset — while their defense can be shaky, their guards are among the most complete and offensively proficient in DI.

MAC: Status quo continues

All the top seeds advanced, a group that includes Ohio (vs. Ball State, 76-64), Miami of Ohio (vs. Kent State, 71-64), Eastern Michigan (vs. Central Michigan, 72-60), and Northern Illinois (vs. Bowling Green, 54-51).

MAAC: After a ten year hiatus, the Jaspers return to the NCAAs

When Manhattan last cracked the tourney field, Bobby Gonzalez was still a head coach, and Luis Flores was spearheading an upset of Florida. This year’s squad is a bit different: a number of players form a cohesive offensive unit that prides itself on defensively manipulating opponents, as evidenced by Manhattan’s 71-68 victory against bitter rival Iona.

MEAC: Can North Carolina Central make the Dance?

LeVelle Moton’s squad doesn’t play until Wednesday, but the opening rounds of the MEAC began Monday night: Norfolk State beat UMES, 78-74, and Savannah State did what they do best — defensively frustrate opponents (vs. South Carolina State, 61-47). Should North Carolina A&T defeat Howard, there will be a rematch of the 2013 MEAC tournament, one in which the Aggies defeated the Eagles.

Southern: Wofford continues to dominate the Southern conference tournament

Despite a wild finish and plenty of missed free throws, Wofford was able to secure a coveted bid, defeating Western Carolina 56-53.

Summit: Path cleared for Taylor Braun and rest of NDSU

North Dakota State seems destined to secure the Summit’s NCAA bid. The team posted what is likely their most efficient offensive rating in a thumping of Denver, and Braun’s personal offensive rating was completely ridiculous: 203. It is unclear how IPFW, which defeated South Dakota State on Monday night (64-60), will be able to defend what appears to be a scoring juggernaut.

WCC: Does BYU need to beat Gonzaga to make the NCAAs?
For the first time since joining the WCC in 2011-12, BYU has made the tournament final, and will be matched up against Gonzaga. The Cougars have a stronger non-conference resume than the Zags, including wins Texas and Stanford, and Dave Rose’s squad has split the two meetings with Gonzaga this year. At the moment, it would seem BYU will crack the field of 68 even if they lose to the Bulldogs, so it will be interesting to see which BYU team emerges on Tuesday: the one that allowed San Francisco to take the lead at half? Or the BYU team that stymied the Dons late in the second half and overtime?

What to make of the Denver Pioneers? (VIDEO)

Chris Udofia
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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.