Game #24: Denver (16-7, 6-4 SBC) vs. Middle Tennessee (21-3, 10-0 SBC)
Saturday, February 4, 2012 • 2 p.m. MT
Magness Arena (7,200) • Denver, Colo.
TV: ESPN2 • Radio: AM 1510 & FM 93.7 • Web: www.ESPN3.com, www.DenverPioneers.com
About Denver: DU is 16-7 overall and 6-4 in the Sun Belt Conference, tied with North Texas for third in the SBC West Division. Denver is fifth in the nation in free throw percentage (.775), 12th in three-point field goal percentage (.403), 21st in both field goal percentage (.483) and three-pointers per game (8.3), 25th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.27) and 27th in assists (15.8 per game). The Pioneers were picked to finish fourth in the SBC West Division in the preseason coaches' poll. Junior Chase Hallam was named Preseason All-SBC Second Team, and senior Brian Stafford landed on the third team.
About Middle Tennessee: The Blue Raiders are 21-3 and 10-0 in the Sun Belt, leading the SBC East Division, and are No. 6 in the Mid-Major Top 25 and receiving votes in the Coaches' Poll. MTSU has won 13 of its last 14 games, including a 68-66 victory at North Texas on Thursday. The Blue Raiders are leading the SBC in scoring offense (72.3 points per game), scoring defense (60.5 per game), scoring margin (+11.8), field goal percentage (.495), field goal percentage defense (.384) and three-point field goal percentage defense (.306), and they are second in blocked shots (4.9 per game), assists (15.0 per game) and steals (7.5 per game). MTSU is led by LaRon Dendy's 13.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots, all of which rank in the top 10 in the SBC. Marcos Knight is adding 11.9 points and 5.4 rebounds, and JT Sulton has an average of 11.2 points and 5.8 rebounds. Bruce Massey is sixth in the SBC with 3.7 assists per game. MTSU was picked to finish second in the SBC East Division in the preseason coaches' poll, and Jason Jones was voted Preseason All-SBC Second Team.
The Match-up: Middle Tennessee holds an 9-6 advantage over DU in the all-time series, including 3-2 mark in Denver. The teams have split the last four meetings. MTSU won 59-49 in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in the lone meeting last season.
Worldwide Leader: Denver's game against Middle Tennessee at Magness Arena on Feb. 4 will be televised on ESPN2, as the ESPN/Sun Belt Wildcard game. It marks the first time ESPN2 will ever broadcast a basketball game from Magness Arena. The only other time DU appeared on ESPN or ESPN2 was during the 2005 Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship game. Dave Flemming will call the play-by-play, and Sean Farnham will provide color analysis.
Game Time Changed: The Feb. 4 game against Middle Tennessee will begin at 2 p.m. MT. The game had originally been scheduled for 4 p.m.
Magness Magic: The Pioneers are 10-2 at home this season, improving DU's record to 57-13 (.814) at Magness Arena under head coach Joe Scott. The Pioneers were 11-4 at Magness Arena in 2010-11, including a nine-game home winning streak.
Academic All-District: Senior Brian Stafford and junior Chase Hallam were among the five student-athletes named CoSIDA Academic All-District 7. Stafford is a finance major with a 3.7 cumulative grade-point average, while Hallam has a 3.9 GPA in accounting. Both will now be on the ballot for Academic All-American. As a team, the Pioneers compiled a 3.4 combined GPA in 2010-11.
Frequent Flyers: In the first 46 days of 2012, the Pioneers will have played just three home games, while playing nine on the road.
Chief of Stafford: Senior guard and team co-captain Brian Stafford went 0-for-3 from the field at Louisiana-Lafayette, marking just the third time in his career and first time since Feb. 20, 2010, that he was held without a field goal. Stafford is fourth on DU's all-time scoring list with 1,466 career points. Stafford is also fourth in DU history and ninth on the Sun Belt Conference all-time three-pointers made list with 244 in his career. This season, Stafford is leads the SBC in three-point percentage (.478), which would rank fourth in the nation but he is 2.5 makes shy of the minimum. Stafford also leads the SBC in free throw percentage (.868), three-pointers made (2.4 per game) and minutes played (33.4 per game). Stafford is also second in scoring (14.3 per game) and eighth in field goal percentage (.504). Stafford is eighth on DU's all-time list with 298 free throws made, and he will move into fifth with his 117th career game on Saturday, just three shy of DU's record for games played.
Royce Rolls: Freshman forward Royce O'Neale recorded his first career double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds, both career highs, at Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 2. The 13 rebounds were the highest by a Pioneer since Nate Rohnert pulled down 13 boards at New Orleans on Feb. 20, 2010. O'Neale also had 21 points at North Texas on Jan. 21, when he also had five steals, the most by a DU player since Chase Hallam had five steals at Wyoming on Dec. 14, 2010. O'Neale is third in the SBC in both three-point percentage (.463) and free throw percentage (.855), sixth in field goal percentage (.519), seventh in defensive rebounds (4.2 per game), 12th in steals (1.3 per game), 20th in rebounding (5.2 per game), and 27th in scoring (9.7 per game).
U-Tube: Sophomore forward Chris Udofia is 37th in the nation and third in the SBC with 2.2 blocks per game. Udofia has 50 blocked shots this season, eighth on DU's single-season list. His 89 career blocks are the ninth highest total in DU history. This season, Udofia is also ranked fourth in the SBC in scoring (14.1 points per game); seventh in field goal percentage (.515); 11th in assists (2.8 per game); 13th in free throw percentage (.753); and 20th in rebounding (5.2 per game).
Board Games: Denver pulled down 39 rebounds at Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 2, the most by DU since pulling down 39 at Louisiana-Monroe on Feb. 22, 2007.
Straight Shooters: DU has three players among the top 12 in kenpom.com's true field goal percentage, which combines free throws, two-pointers and three-pointers and converts them to determine an estimate of what a player's two-point percentage would be. Brett Olson ranks seventh (68.5), Royce O'Neale is 11th (68.2) and Brian Stafford is 12th (68.2).
Playing the Percentages: The Pioneers are 21st in the nation with a .483 field goal percentage. According to ESPN.com, DU is second in the nation in adjusted field goal percentage (57.0 percent), which gives added weight to three-pointers to determine overall offensive effectiveness. Likewise, KenPom.com has Denver ranked second in the nation in effective field goal percentage at 56.9 percent and 12th in two-point field goals at 54.2 percent.
The Long Rangers: Denver is ranked No. 12 in the nation in three-point shooting at 40.3 percent (191-of-474), which is also the best mark in the Sun Belt. Denver is averaging 8.3 three-pointers made per game, second most in the SBC and 21st in the NCAA. The Pioneers are 8-1 this season when hitting 10 or more three-pointers with the only loss coming after hitting 11 three-pointers at North Texas on Jan. 21. DU ranked sixth in the nation and first in the SBC from three-point range last season, hitting 40.1 percent (232-of-578). The Pioneers have at least one three-pointer in 172-straight games, dating back to Feb. 2, 2006. Behind the arc, Denver has improved from 23rd in the NCAA in 2009-10 (39.5 percent), 39th (37.7 percent) in 2008-09 and 174th (34.8 percent) in 2007-08.
A Little Help from Their Friends: DU has 364 assists on 530 field goals (68.7 percent) this season, the highest percentage in the NCAA, according to KenPom.com. DU has seven players averaging 1.7 assists per game or better, including Chris Udofia who is 11th in the SBC with 2.8 assists per game. The Pioneers recorded an assist on 66.1 percent of their field goals last season (371 assists on 601 field goals made), ranking sixth highest in the nation.
Can't Drive 65: The Pioneers are 16-1 when holding opponents to 65 or fewer points and 0-6 when the opponent scored more than 65 points.
Toeing the Line: Denver shot a season-low 60.9 percent (14-of-23) from the free throw line at Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 2, dropping the Pioneers from second to fifth in the nation at 77.5 percent this season. It marked just the second time in 23 games this season that DU shot less than 73.3 percent from the charity stripe. DU is now 10-3 when making at least 12 free throws.
Buzzer Beater Blues: Denver lost on a free throw with 0.4 seconds remaining in overtime at ULL, the third time this season that DU has lost on a shot with less than a second left in overtime. The Pioneers also fell on buzzer beaters in overtime against Iona on Dec. 7 and at North Texas on Jan. 21. DU is 4-19 in overtime games since returning to NCAA Division I in 1998-99.
Road Show: The Pioneers are 6-5 on the road this season, including a 3-3 start in the SBC. In the previous five years, Denver had a combined six road victories. The six road victories also match the highest total for a season since DU returned to NCAA Division I in 1998-99, equaling the 2004-05 squad that went on to win the Sun Belt Conference regular season title.
Scott Signs Four Student-Athletes: Denver signed Nate Engesser (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Jalen Love (Wichita, Kan.), Bryant Rucker (Frisco, Texas) and Dom Samac (Zagreb, Croatia) to National Letters of Intent to join the Pioneers in 2012-13. Engesser, a 6-foot-3 guard, was the Colorado Class-3A Player of the Year and All-State selection last season at Colorado Springs Christian School. Love is a 6-foot-2 guard from Wichita (Kan.) East High School. Rucker is a 6-foot point guard from Frisco Centennial High School. Originally from Zagreb, Croatia, Samac is a 6-8 forward/center, who plays for North Broward Prep in Florida.
Six Returning Starters?: Denver returns five players who started at least 15 games last season: Brian Stafford (30), Chase Hallam (30), Travis Hallam (29), Tyler Thalken (18) and Justin Coughlin (15). Additionally Rob Lewis, who has started 48 games in his career, returns to DU's lineup after missing last season due to injury. Stafford and Chase Hallam have both started every game since arriving at Denver.
For Starters: Denver's primary starting lineup this season includes players from five different classes: freshman Brett Olson, sophomore Chris Udofia, junior Chase Hallam, senior Brian Stafford and graduate student Rob Lewis. Additionally, all five started games during their freshmen seasons, including Hallam and Stafford who have started every game during their careers.
Welcome to the WAC: On Nov. 11, 2010, the University of Denver accepted an invitation to join the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), effective for the 2012-13 athletic season. The Pioneers will move from the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) to the WAC for 10 of their NCAA Division I sports programs. The Pioneers will join the WAC for men's and women's basketball, women's soccer, gymnastics, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis, volleyball, and women's swimming & diving. The Pioneers returned to NCAA Division I in all 17 sports in 1999-2000, when they joined the SBC. Denver has claimed 33 SBC championships since 1999. Denver has enjoyed its 12-year partnership with the SBC. The WAC also added Texas-San Antonio, Texas-Arlington, Seattle and Texas State to its league for 2012, which also includes Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech. Boise State will join the WAC in all sports other than football in the 2013-14 season. The WAC is nearly 50 years old and is the sixth-oldest conference in the country. In men's basketball, the WAC has sent at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament in 24 of the last 28 seasons.