It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Denver finds a home in the Summit.
If you've been keeping up with You Gotta See This or are particularly attuned to the business of college sports in general, you already know the story of the Western Athletic Conference -- a long-standing, proud mid-major league decimated by recent conference realignment. We spent most of our time these past two years chronicling the quixotic travails of high-major programs (and leagues) trying to keep their heads above the football-cash-clogged water. But no one got it worse than the WAC.
You can imagine the anxiety this caused in Denver. After all, it was just three years ago that the Pioneers eagerly accepted, and joyfully celebrated, their new Western Athletic Conference membership. Denver had wriggled free from its geographically senseless Sun Belt membership, and it was thrilled, trumpeting the storied old mid-major conference and its legacy of success in the Rockies.
Two years later, DU athletic director Peg Bradley-Doppes was telling local reporters, "it became an issue where we were fortunate the Summit wanted DU." What changed? Losing seven members and football will do that to a league.
Is the Summit a better fit for Denver? Maybe. Insofar as the Summit makes sense on a map -- it comprises two teams from Indiana, one from Illinois, one from Nebraska and three from the Dakotas -- it makes sense for Denver. From a long-term basketball perspective, where recruiting is so key, well, who knows? The only thing that seems clear right now is this: Denver is the immediate favorite to win the Summit in 2013-14, and that's a baseline expectation.
Because while the Pioneers' brass was frantically dealing with a disintegrating new conference, the players and coaches, led by top man Joe Scott, have been quietly building one of the best mid-majors in all of college hoops. Star wingman Chris Udofia & Co. finished ranked No. 44 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings last season; only two teams, Creighton and Belmont, shot the ball more accurately.
There are precisely two losses to deal with: Senior guard Chase Hallam graduated, while sophomore Royce O'Neale transferred to Baylor. But everyone else, including Udofia, is back. With Oral Roberts now gone, no team in the current Summit League configuration comes close to matching that kind of talent.
What does the future hold for Denver? More realignment could change things at any time. If the basketball program's success continues, it could receive any number of membership offers in the years to come. But whether 2013-14 is the start of a long, productive relationship with the Summit League or a mere layover before something else, the Pioneers on the court right now should more than command your attention.