“You are what your record says you are” is a truism in sports, first uttered by Bill Parcells, and repeated countless times by countless other coaches. But on Tuesday night, in a radio interview after a road loss to a not-very-good Wyoming team (4-6, RPI #295) dropped Denver to 2-9, coach Joe Scott offered a different perspective.
Praising his team’s intensity and execution on defense, and downplaying its offensive struggles, Scott said he is “okay with what I’m seeing right now because of the transference from practice to game” in working on specific key areas, like forcing turnovers (Wyoming had 20) and stopping the three-pointer (Wyoming was 1-for-4). The shots will come, Scott seems convinced, once the fundamentals fully click into place.
“It’s going to turn,” he said. “And we can’t concern ourselves with our record, because concerning ourselves with our record isn’t going to turn it for us.”
Frankly, regardless of what Denver concerns itself with, the season probably isn’t going to “turn” with stats like these against a cellar-bound Mountain West team that’s threatening its own record for the number of “Red Line Upsets” surrendered in a season:
Wyoming (4-6) out-rebounded DU 32-13, held a 14-4 advantage on second chance points and converted 24-of-30 free throws. Denver was 6-for-12 from the line and turned the ball over 16 times.
Scott acknowledged that the offense needs to improve from Tuesday’s showing in terms of holding onto the ball and not allowing second-chance points. For those keeping score at home, the second-chance points and free throws combined to give Wyoming a 38 to 16 advantage in just those two areas, more than accounting for its margin of victory in the 61-48 game.
It was an ugly game, especially in the first half; the score at halftime was Wyoming 24, Denver 16. Robert Gagliardi of the Wyoming blog Cowboy Chronicles called it a “grind-it-out affair” and a “tough game to watch.” (He also said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team only get 13 rebounds in a college game.”) Voice of the Pioneers Mitch Hyder was even more explicit, saying in his radio broadcast: “This has been, from a fan’s perspective, a truly miserable game to watch.” He also said the quality of play depressed the atmosphere at Arena-Auditorium, a.k.a. the “Dome of Doom”:
“There’s just no atmosphere here. … It’s just been a grind ‘em kind of game with so many mistakes, it’s tough to get anybody engaged. … This place is dead quiet. And there’s probably, maybe, 1200 people here? It’s a big building, but people are just like, ‘OK, now what?’”
But Hyder insisted there is no questioning the players’ heart or character, and added, “If people are wondering, ‘Are they going to check out?’, the answer’s no.” Coach Scott concurred: “Hell no. No way. Hell no. I know that. And I know that’s going to be that way through the whole season.”
Scott compared Denver to his 2002-03 Air Force team (12-16), which Scott said “went through these games, and over and over, it was the same exact thing: [we were] doing exactly what we want, but then we didn’t make that layup, didn’t make that 3 at the critical juncture.” The very next year, Air Force went 22-7 and qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Scott said this year’s DU team looks “eerily similar” to that AFA squad, but is playing the tougher part of its schedule now, rather than in the conference season, as Air Force did — suggesting that the Pioneers may be able to right the ship sooner.
Another similarity between the teams, according to Scott? The tight bond, togetherness, and lack of quit among the players and coaches. “That was a trademark of that [Air Force] team,” Scott said. “Boy, oh boy, did they stay with it, and stay together. And I think we’ve got the makings of that here.”
If the team “sticks with it” — “it” meaning the fundamentals-based strategy that Scott has been hammering home in practice — then “it’s going to break for us at some point,” he said. Hopefully, he added, that will happen when it’s “really important,” namely in Sun Belt conference play. “It’s going to emerge. And I know the guys in that locker room are 100% in agreement.”
Frankly, I have to wonder whether Scott is viewing the situation through somewhat rose-colored glasses. While it’s true that Denver has been unable to hit layups and make 3s at critical points in various games, the reality is that all but one of their losses have been by double digits. Granted, the St. Mary’s game was the only true blowout, but at the same time, it’s not like they’re losing every game due to buzzer beaters and bad luck.
In comments, DU fan “Puck Swami” writes:
Okay, so it’s 2-9 now. I keep hearing coach Scott talking about the continued improvement, but it seems to me that even while something may improve, two other facets of the game go south for the night. These are not close losses. Hooper with only 3 tonight, and Stafford with only 5. Noonan with 0. The Hallam brothers can only do so much. Players need to step up and produce.
Right now, DU is ranked #340 in rebounding, which is near the bottom of the NCAA. You can’t win at the D-I level without rebounding. They certainly miss Rob Lewis in this regard. I am trying to be optimistic, but I don’t think there are enough legitimate D-I players here right now.
Indeed, of more global concern than missed layups is an issue that Swami alludes to: the team’s personnel situation. 6-foot-7 senior Rob Lewis (10 points per game in his DU career) may be out for the season with a leg injury; 6-foot-9 Air Force transfer Trevor Noonan is still hampered by a mysterious intestinal illness that’s limited his effectiveness all season; and now senior guard Kyle Lewis is out too, with a hip injury suffered in practice yesterday. (It’s unclear when he’ll return.) With both Lewises in street clothes, Denver was without a senior on the floor Tuesday.
In any case, Denver’s next game is Saturday at home against in-state foe Northern Colorado of the Big Sky conference. The Bears are 4-4 with an RPI of 184 and a Mid-Majority “State of College Basketball” ranking of 142. Their last game was a 10-point loss at #17-ranked Illinois, and they beat Wyoming 67-53 back in mid-November in Greeley. The Pioneers figure to be home underdogs once again.
“Saturday’s going to be a big game, and we’re going to be ready to go on Saturday,” Scott said.
And now, a programming note: my article about the Denver-Portland game last Saturday, which had previously been partially written, is now complete.
Anyway… below is the original text of this post, when it was titled “Listening to Denver-Wyoming” and served as, basically, my “live blog” of the evening’s festivities. Rather than creating a new post, I decided to simply append my game write-up to the top of the live post.
Look, it’s DU Bally Cam! Oh, the thrills! The chills! The motionless stuffed basketball with our Christmas tree in the background! LIVE!
I’m not live-tweeting, but here’s the official DU SID liveblog: