Game #25: Denver (17-7, 7-4 SBC) vs. Florida Atlantic (9-14, 5-5 SBC)
Thursday, February 9, 2012 • 5 p.m. MT
FAU Arena (5,000) • Boca Raton, Fla.
TV: None • Radio: AM 1510 & FM 93.7 • Web: www.DenverPioneers.com
About Denver: DU is 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the Sun Belt Conference, third in the SBC West Division and just 1.5 games behind division-leading Arkansas-Little Rock. Denver is third in the nation in free throw percentage (.782), 17th in three-point field goal percentage (.397), 18th in field goal percentage (.483), 24th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.28) and 29th in assists (15.7 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 Florida Atlantic: The Owls are 9-14 and 5-5 in the Sun Belt, second in the SBC East Division. FAU lost its last two games, including a 76-56 setback against Florida International at home on Feb. 4. FAU is averaging 63.2 points per game and shooting .412 from the field, while holding opponents to 66.3 points per game and a .431 field goal percentage. The Owls are second in the SBC with a 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, trailing only Denver's 1.3 ratio. Greg Gantt is leading the Owls with 14.6 points per game, the third best mark in the SBC. Point guard Raymond Taylor and Alex Tucker are second and fifth in the conference with 5.0 and 3.8 assists per game, respectively. FAU was picked to win the SBC East Division in the preseason coaches' poll. Raymond Taylor and Gregg Gantt both were voted Preseason All-SBC First Team.
The Match-up: Denver leads 4-2 in the all-time series, but the home team has won every meeting. FAU won 70-68 in overtime on Jan. 24, 2008, in a game that was played on the campus of Lynn University, and 67-61 at FAU Arena on Feb. 12, 2009. DU has taken the last two meetings.
Frequent Flyers: In the first 46 days of 2012, Denver will have played just three home games, while traveling to nine on the road. During that stretch, the Pioneers will have traveled 12,032 miles by plane and bus.
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.
Player of the Week: Sophomore forward Chris Udofia was voted Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week after scoring a career-high 27 points to go along with nine rebounds and four blocked shots against Middle Tennessee on Feb. 4. Udofia also earned the honor on Dec. 6. The 6-foot-6 forward is 34th in the nation and second in the SBC with 2.3 blocks per game. Udofia has 54 blocked shots this season, sixth on DU's single-season list, and his 93 career blocks are also the sixth highest total in DU history. This season, Udofia is also ranked second in the SBC in scoring (14.7 points per game); fifth in field goal percentage (.527); 11th in assists (2.8 per game) and free throw percentage (.765); and 18th in rebounding (5.3 per game).
Chief of Stafford: Senior guard and team co-captain Brian Stafford is fourth on DU's all-time scoring list with 1,473 career points. Stafford is also fourth in DU history and eighth on the Sun Belt Conference all-time three-pointers made list with 245 in his career. This season, Stafford is leads the SBC in three-point percentage (.471), which would rank fifth in the nation but he is just shy of the minimum. Stafford also is first in the SBC in three-pointers made (2.3 per game), second in free throw percentage (.851) and minutes played (33.2 per game), sixth in scoring (14.0 per game) and eighth in field goal percentage (.498). Stafford is eighth on DU's all-time list with 302 free throws made, and he will move into third with his 118th career game - all starts - on Thursday, just two shy of DU's record for games played. A model of consistency, Stafford has averaged 14.0 points in 13 home games and 13.9 points in 11 road games.
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.
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. The freshman is ranked 33rd in the NCAA and first in the SBC in free throw percentage (.867). During conference play, O'Neale is first in the SBC in free throw percentage (.923), second in three-point percentage (.481), fourth in field goal percentage (.549), fifth in steals (1.6 per game), eighth in defensive rebounds (4.6 per game), and 11th in scoring (12.6 per game), 14th in rebounding (5.9 per game),
Bring on the Best: Senior forward Rob Lewis has had his highest scoring outputs against three teams ranked in the RPI Top 50. Lewis tied his season high with 17 points against Middle Tennessee (RPI No. 44) on Feb. 4, tying his total against St. Mary's (RPI No. 24) on Nov. 23 and two more than he had against Southern Miss (RPI No. 8) on Nov. 17. Lewis became the 31st player in Denver's 1,000-point club and is one point away from moving into DU's top 25 points leaders with 1,051 in his career. Lewis, who missed last season with an injury, also has a 52.5 career field goal percentage, 10th best in DU history.
Playing the Percentages: The Pioneers are 18th in the nation with a .483 field goal percentage. According to ESPN.com, DU is tied for second in the nation in adjusted field goal percentage (56.8 percent), which gives added weight to three-pointers to determine overall offensive effectiveness. Likewise, KenPom.com has Denver ranked third in the nation in effective field goal percentage at 56.7 percent and 10th in two-point field goals at 54.6 percent.
The Long Rangers: Despite going just 14-for-49 (28.6 percent) from three-point range in the past three games, Denver is ranked No. 17 in the nation in three-point shooting at 39.7 percent (194-of-489), which is also the best mark in the Sun Belt. DU is averaging 8.1 three-pointers made per game, second most in the SBC and 36th 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 173-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 376 assists on 555 field goals (67.7 percent) this season, 2.0 percent higher than Creighton, which has the second-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 17-1 when holding opponents to 65 or fewer points and 0-6 when the opponent scored more than 65 points.
Toeing the Line: Denver is third in the nation from the free throw line at 78.2 percent this season, including a 22-for-25 (88.0 percent) performance against Middle Tennessee on Feb. 4. DU has shot at least 73.3 percent from the line in 22 of 24 games this season, and the Pioneers are 11-3 when making at least 12 free throws.
Magness Magic: The Pioneers are 11-2 at home this season, improving DU's record to 58-13 (.817) 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.
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.
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.