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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 23 2013

Changing leagues normal for Denver basketball team

FARGO – The University of Denver would probably be better off renting a conference these days instead of buying into one. It’s been an interesting three years of finding a home.

The Pioneers are about to enter their first year in the Summit League – the third conference for DU in three years. They previously navigated the southern half of the country in the Sun Belt Conference two years ago and spent one season mainly in the Pacific and Mountain time zones in the Western Athletic Conference.

Will the Summit have curb appeal?

“This is our third league in three years. We’re used to this kind of challenge,” said DU men’s basketball coach Joe Scott. “You can’t worry about where we’re going or who we’re playing. You have to worry about yourself.”

There’s plenty for other teams to worry about the Pioneers, especially the men who were picked second in the Summit preseason poll behind North Dakota State. If there are challenges to making league road trips for the first time, the Pioneers handled it well in the WAC last year – the men shared the conference title.

That included road trips to the likes of Louisiana Tech and Texas-Arlington.

In the Summit, the Pioneers will have the following weekend road trips: NDSU and South Dakota State; Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne and Indiana University-Indianapolis; and Nebraska-Omaha and Western Illinois.

South Dakota will be DU’s travel partner.

“A lot of new faces, a lot of new styles of play,” said DU women’s coach Kerry Cremeans. “But the focus every day has to be on your team and how we want to play regardless of where we travel or where we are.”

At least Denver won’t have the Summit League geographical makeup that NDSU had when it first entered the league in 2007-08. The Bison had to navigate weekend road trips to Oral Roberts and Centenary (La.); and Southern Utah and Missouri-Kansas City.

All four schools have since left the Summit.

“Fargo to Shreveport was nearly geographically impossible,” NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said of the Centenary trip. “Getting to Cedar City (Utah) was difficult. You replace them with Denver and USD and it makes it a little bit easier.”

The Denver men won’t have to experience the Brookings, S.D., and Fargo trip until the last weekend of the regular season. The Bison men travel to USD on Jan. 30 before playing at Denver on Feb. 1.

Logistically, it figures to be not as cumbersome as the Tulsa, Okla., and Shreveport trip.

“I don’t think the average fan has a clue what players go through between layovers at O’Hare (in Chicago) and layovers in Minneapolis,” Phillips said. “And then get up early in the morning and prepare. But it’s no harder for us than anybody else in the league. Certainly, Denver is a direct flight, and that’s a very positive thing for our student-athletes.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia