The Denver Pioneers have a very young team. Their roster faces a genuinely tall task on Tuesday night, when the Pioneers visit the No. 17-ranked Utah State Aggies in Logan, Utah.
The words "tall task" aren't used casually. Utah State is the second-tallest team in Division I college basketball. The average height of an Aggie player is just over 6-foot-7, second only to Washington's 6-8.
"I haven't ever been a part of anything like this, with the size that we have," said USU's Sam Merrill, a 6-5 guard. "Just with the size that we have, it is much different than what we're going to play against on most nights."
An inexperienced opponent will try to take on Utah State's size.
Denver coach Rodney Billups has one of the youngest teams in the country. Of the 15 players on the 2019-20 roster for DU, only two are upperclassmen: guard Ade Murkey, a senior, and guard Ray Kowalski, a junior. The other 13 players are freshmen or sophomores. The Pioneers have seven first-year players.
Denver (1-1) lost at Colorado State and then defeated Utah Valley in its first two games, but the journey is just beginning for these Pioneers.
Sophomore guard Jase Townsend received meaningful playing time last season. He spoke about the learning curve Denver faces this year.
"It can get rough at times," Townsend says. "I learned a lot last year as a freshman, and now I can carry that over to my second year. I feel like I'm ready to do that and take on a leadership role and hold my teammates accountable."
Utah State (2-0) struggled on defense in its first game of the season against Montana State, an 81-73 victory. The Aggies' defense then shook off opening-game rust on Friday against Weber State.
USU held Weber State to just 34 points, winning 89-34. The Aggies held Weber to 21.7 percent shooting and created 19 turnovers.
"Our defense led to so many easy buckets," Utah State guard Abel Porter said. "This team plays really well with momentum. Our home crowd is so good at just keeping the energy. Once we got the ball rolling, it really didn't stop."
That home crowd in Logan is something Denver will have to deal with, in addition to a Utah State team which shared the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship last season and won the Mountain West tournament.
Billups, who is guiding a team picked to finish ninth in the Summit League, isn't trying to make excuses for the Pioneers.
"We have to continue to talk about and be accountable for our unacceptables," Billups said. "We are going to be honest with each other, and we are not going to lie to each other. We are going to play hard no matter what the situation is."
Denver is led by Murkey with 13.5 points per game through two games.
Utah State is led by Merrill, who is averaging 20.9 points per game.
--Field Level Media