Michael Kelley (@hmmm_mikekelley)
Having graduated three starters and five players overall, Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon is in a desperate need of leadership for this upcoming season, which is why a healthy Tony Johnson is ever important. The point guard and captain recently suffered an ankle injury in practice, but confirmed that he should not miss any time, much to the relief of O’Hanlon. Johnson is one of the four upperclassmen that lead a very young and largely untested Lafayette squad.
Coach: Fran O’Hanlon, 18th season (238-261, .477)
Last Year: 13-18 (7-7 Patriot League), Patriot League Semi-Finals (Bucknell, 79-52)
Key Losses: Ryan Willen (14.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Jim Mower (12.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Rob Delaney (9.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Willen, Mower, and Delaney were part of the five-member group of seniors nicknamed “The Solid,” the unquestioned leaders of the team. But it is not just their leadership that will be missed. Delaney ran the show when Johnson sat out with a back injury in the first part of the season, constantly finding Mower for a wide open three-pointer or Willen on a backdoor cut for an easy dunk. Time and again, these three players would thrive in big moments, and none bigger than in last year’s Patriot League quarterfinal game when they combined for 55 points to lead Lafayette past Holy Cross.
New Faces: Zach Rufer (Bloomingburg, NY/Burke Catholic), Bryce Scott (El Dorado Hills, Calif/Oak Ridge), Ben Freeland (Santa Rosa, Calif/Montgomery), Billy Murphy (Greenwich, Conn/Brunswick School), Nathaniel Musters (Padstow, Australia/Sydney Tech)
With Delaney lost to graduation and Johnson recovering, Rufer and Scott have been getting reps at point guard and may find their way onto the floor sooner than expected. Suffering from a lack of size down low, O’Hanlon will turn to the 6-foot-10 forwards Freeland and Musters to bolster the depth of the front court. Playing freshmen is not always the primary option for coaches, but it may be the only one for O’Hanlon. “Whether they’re ready of not, we don’t have enough depth to not play them.”
Projected Backcourt: Tony Johnson (8.0 ppg, 4.25 apg), Joey Ptasinski (5.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Johnson is the key to this team and everybody knows it. A back injury forced the captain to miss the first two months of last season and the team suffered. But his return brought much more consistency and fluidity to the offense and allowed Delaney to return to his natural two-guard spot. At times, Johnson seemed hesitant to shoot and more willing to pass and the statistics back it up as he averaged 8.0 points and 4.3 assists in 12 games last season. But with the graduation of the team’s three leading scorers, look for the quick and nimble guard to drive into the lane and score more often.
Ptasinski will be the primary shooter in O’Hanlon’s offense and for good reason after shooting 44.2 percent from beyond the arc last season as a freshman. His minutes were steadily increasing until an injury forced him to miss the latter part of the season. O’Hanlon ranked him behind Johnson as the best defender on the team.
Projected Frontcourt: Seth Hinrichs (8.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg), Levi Giese (3.1 ppg, 1.8 rpg), Dan Trist (5.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Hinrichs excelled as a freshman, averaging 8.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game to earn a spot on the Patriot League All-Rookie Team. The small forward tied a Lafayette record with six Patriot League men’s basketball rookie of the week awards. Hinrichs shoots the 3-pointer very well and led the team at 46.4 percent last season.
Giese comes off a season that was riddled with injuries. The captain played just 22 games after sustaining an ankle injury in the season opener against LaSalle. Staying healthy will be key, as his leadership and 6-9, 215 pound frame will be needed in the rebounding efforts.
Trist is O’Hanlon’s starting center and has an array of skills. Averaging 5.7 points per game as a freshman, the Sydney, Australia native joined Hinrichs on the league all-rookie team. Trist likes to play with his back to the basket but can also step out and shoot the mid-range jumper well.
Key Reserves: Les Smith (2.0 ppg, 1.1 rpg), Zach Rufer, Bryce Scott, Ben Freeland, Nathaniel Musters
Smith is an athletic combo-guard who has averaged just 8.1 minutes per game in his career, which is why his 1.8 points and .41 assists per game do not speak to his full potential. But as a junior, Smith is well versed in O’Hanlon’s system and will be counted on to contribute as a reserve.
Rufer is a 6-3, 180 pound combo guard who is highly touted for his passing ability. The Bloomingburg, NY native will be rotated in to help facilitate the offense and find open shooters. According to O’Hanlon, Rufer can score when called upon.
Described by O’Hanlon as a gym-rat, Scott has a good mid-range and three-point shot and will fit in nicely with the shooting prowess that has defined Lafayette teams in recent years.
Freeland adds much needed size in the frontcourt that lacks depth. The 6-10 center can step away from the basket and has a jump shot out to 15 feet. At just 215 pounds though, Freeland will need to add weight moving forward in his Lafayette career.
When asked about Musters, O’Hanlon replied, “Have you seen that kid? He is a load.” At 6-10, 230 pounds, the Padstow, Australia native will join Trist to potentially form an Australian frontcourt for years to come. Musters’ size will be called upon for rebounding, an area Lafayette has struggled in past seasons.
Three Games to Watch: @ Kentucky (11/16), @ Bucknell (1/19), vs. Lehigh (2/24)
Some may think O’Hanlon is crazy for scheduling his team to play the defending national champions at its infamous Rupp Arena, but he insists the intentions are completely rational. While it’ll take some small miracle to win, O’Hanlon wants his young players to gain the invaluable experience of playing the best the nation has to offer in a harsh road environment, experience that could pay off down the road in Patriot League play and beyond. Perhaps there are other intentions though… “I’m tired of losing the recruiting battle to Kentucky, so I decided to schedule them and beat them on the court,” O’Hanlon jokingly said to the Express Times.
The Sojka Pavilion, home of the Bucknell basketball team, has not been kind to the Lafayette men’s basketball team. Two straight seasons have ended there, ending championship hopes and an NCAA berth. In both games, Lafayette looked out of place, timid, and rattled. Can this year’s team overcome the rowdy and boisterous atmosphere to defeat Bucknell?
Part of being a Lafayette Leopard is the unwavering desire to beat the archrival Lehigh Mountain Hawks. But with star point guard C.J. McCollum back for another year, this task might prove too much. Lafayette has lost five of the six matchups against the McCollum led Mountain Hawks. Can Lafayette finally limit his impact to defeat Lehigh? Or will it be another clean sweep?
Three Keys to Success
Strong Shooting: A Fran O’Hanlon coached team can always shoot the long ball and this year should be no different. But with a lack of size and strong inside presence, the Leopards might have to rely on the three-ball more than ever. Ptasinski will take Mower’s role as the go-to shooter. Giese is a career 34.6% from long range and will be called upon early and often. Hinrichs will step out for the occasional three-pointer to keep opponents honest.
Rebounding Edge: Last season, opponents outrebounded Lafayette by an average of 5.8 rebounds per game. The second chances lead to extra scoring opportunities, an aspect Lafayette has to limit this year to stay competitive, especially in league play.
Immediate Contributions from Freshmen: Injuries to Johnson and Giese were predicted to doom Lafayette last season, but Ptasinski, Hinrichs, and Trist stepped in to make immediate contributions. If this year’s newest members can quickly adapt to O’Hanlon’s system and do the same, Lafayette’s chances for success will be much greater.
CoBL Division I 2012-13 Season Primers: | Drexel Dragons | Delaware Blue Hens | La Salle Explorers | Lafayette Leopards | Lehigh Mountain Hawks | Penn State Nittany Lions | Penn Quakers | St. Joseph’s Hawks | Temple Owls | Villanova Wildcats |