The Denver Pioneers are only 5-12 ATS this season, but that might make this special team from the Summit League an even stronger NCAAB pick going forward.
Strange things happen to the human body at higher elevations. As atmospheric pressure drops and oxygen gets scarce, the heart and lungs have to work faster to compensate. Other bodily functions such as digestion have to slow down to make this happen. You can really feel the effects once you reach around 5,000 feet. At 26,000 feet, they call it the Death Zone. The summit of Mount Everest is 29,029 feet in elevation.
Fortunately for students at the University of Denver, Magness Arena is “only” 5,354 feet high. The human body can adapt at these elevations, but it can take up to a few weeks – which gives the Pioneers a major home-court advantage in college basketball. According to some of the advanced stats on the interwebs, the Pioneers have the biggest advantage in all of Division I, at somewhere around 7-11 points compared to the standard 3-4 points. Surely this makes Denver an easy choice for our mid-week NCAAB picks.
If only life was that easy. The Pioneers have been struggling in their second year under Head Coach Rodney Billups, younger brother of former NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups. Denver was projected to finish fifth this year in the appropriately named Summit League; instead, they’re seventh out of eight teams with a 2-4 SU conference record (8-12 SU overall, 5-12 ATS).
Take a closer look at Denver’s results, though, and one thing stands out: They’ve been on the road a lot this season. Only seven of their games have been at Magness Arena; the Pioneers are 5-2 SU in those games, albeit at 1-4 ATS. But they’ll finally be back in Denver on Thursday when they host the Western Illinois Leathernecks (10-8 SU, 7-6 ATS). The Leathernecks have played only six road games (1-5 SU, 3-3 ATS). Their campus is in Macomb, Illinois, at an elevation of 666 feet. Are you ready for some mountain sickness?!
This is all I can think of when I try to tell my 4yr old who the Denver Pioneers are. pic.twitter.com/OtERx9DIHA— Andrew (@ajfrizz) January 21, 2018
Home-court advantage isn’t necessarily enough for the Pioneers to beat the NCAAB odds, but conveniently enough, we have an extra reason to fade Western Illinois on Thursday: They rank No. 42 overall in Luck Factor (plus-0.079) on Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency charts, well ahead of Denver at No. 158 (plus-0.012). The Pioneers won last year’s matchup at Magness Arena, 84-70 as 7.5-point favorites. We’ll buy that for a dollar if Thursday’s college basketball lines come out roughly the same. Just remember: Put your own oxygen mask on first, and may the sphere be with you.