2013-14 Season Primer: Delaware Blue Hens

Devon Saddler is on the short list of CAA Player of the Year candidates in his senior season.  (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Devon Saddler is on the short list of CAA Player of the Year candidates in his senior season. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Paul Tierney (@Paul_Tierney3) &
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

2013-14 Delaware Season Primer
Coach: Monté Ross, 8th season (90-131, .407)
Last Year: 19-14 (13-5 Colonial Athletic Association); Lost in CAA semifinal (James Madison, 58-57)

A year ago, Delaware basketball emerged from a treacherous non-conference schedule that included the likes of Kansas State, Pittsburgh and Duke and made a run to the CAA semifinal game, where they lost to James Madison by a point after a controversial out-of-bounds call.

In many respects, last season was an historic year for Delaware. The team won 13 CAA matchups, swept the series with Drexel and George Mason for the first time in program history and finished the regular season in second place.

But last year’s squad had the talent to win the conference, and they fell short. Now having graduated two talented starting forwards, head coach Monté Ross is going to have to configure new strategies on both offense and defense to keep the Hens competitive with the CAA’s elite.

Key Losses: PF Jamelle Hagins (11.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg), PF Josh Brinkley (7.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) SF Larry Savage (1.6 ppg, 2.0 rpg)

Hagins is one of the best players in the history of the Delaware basketball program. No matter who the Hens play at power forward this season, they will not be able to replace Hagins’ rebounding, shot blocking, low-post scoring or veteran leadership. He was a stalwart defensively, and provided enough offense to keep defenses honest. Delaware is going to have to rely heavily on their guard play without Hagins this season.

Brinkley, who started opposite Hagins for much of last season, is another big body the Hens will have to replace on the low blocks. Between Brinkley and Hagins, Delaware is losing 17.9 rebounds per game.

Savage didn’t see many minutes of Delaware’s bench, but when called upon, he could play serviceable defense against the opponent’s best shooter. However, he was extremely limited offensively.

New Faces: Barnett Harris (Fr./Fishburne Military School, Va.), Cazmon Hayes (Phillip O’Berry Academy, N.C.), Devonne Pinkard (Fr./J.P. McCaskey, Pa.), Davon Usher (Sr./Mississippi Valley State/Digital Harbor, Md.), Maurice Jeffers (R-Fr./Calvin Coolidge HS, D.C.)

By far, the most important piece the Blue Hens added all offseason was Usher, who brings immediate leadership, experience and talent to Newark. With Mississippi Valley State ineligible for postseason play, he was able to transfer to Delaware with immediate eligibility, providing a huge boost to an already-talented UDel backcourt.

Also joining the backcourt is Hayes, a 6-4 shooting guard with range and versatility. It’ll be difficult for him to break into the guard rotation immediately, with two seniors and two juniors as well as a sophomore ahead of him, but if he can prove to be a knockdown shooter then he could see a few spot minutes.

At a lanky 6-6, with a decent shot and handle, Pinkard has a very intriguing upside, though he’s not quite ready to be a weapon at the CAA level. With a redshirt year to work on his strength and handle, he could be a tough matchup issue for a lot of forwards as well as have the size to get his shot off against smaller guards.

The other two student-athletes who will be suiting up for Delaware for the first time this season are a pair of 6-9 forwards in Harris and Jeffers. There are certainly minutes up for grabs in the UDel frontcourt with the graduations of Hagins and Brinkley; it remains to be seen which of these two has the inner track on seeing playing time in 2013-14.

Starting Frontcourt: PF Carl Baptiste (4.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg), F Marvin King-Davis (2.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg)

Delaware's Carl Baptiste (right) will have to step up in his final collegiate season. (Photo: Anson Marsh)

Delaware’s Carl Baptiste (right) will have to step up in his final collegiate season. (Photo: Anson Marsh)

At this point, the makeup of Delaware’s starting lineup is still very much unknown. There’s a very good chance that Ross could choose to go with a lineup featuring essentially four guards, which we’ll get into in the next section. But if Ross chooses to go with two post players, Baptiste and King-Davis would seem the early frontrunners for the starting slots.

With Brinkley banged up for the last year’s CAA tournament, Ross plugged Baptiste into the starting lineup and watched him pull down 21 rebounds over two games. Baptiste, like Brinkley, is limited offensively, but could see his offensive production sky-rocket this season with the talent that returns in the Hens backcourt. A few other big games last year showed flashes of promise that Baptiste could break out in 2013-14, though he still is yet to have a double-digit scoring game in college.

King-Davis played sparingly as a freshman last season. At 6-foot-7, he would be an undersized starting power forward, but he doesn’t possess the speed, quickness or scoring abilty to play consistently at small forward. However, if King-Davis can develop his outside jumpshot and improve his ability to get to the rim, he could become an integral aspect of Delaware’s starting five.

Starting Backcourt: PG Jarvis Threatt (13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.2 apg), SG Devon Saddler (19.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.8 apg), Usher (18.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.6 spg at MVSU)

If Delaware is going to make a run at a conference title this season, the trio of Devon Saddler, Jarvis Threatt and Davon Usher are going to be the reason behind it all.

Last season, Saddler made the All-CAA second team. His innate ability to get to the rim was the driving force behind Delaware’s offensive success a year ago. Additionally, Saddler shot 82 percent from the free-throw line and averaged 37.8 minutes per game. If he can improve his three-point shooting this season, Saddler could emerge as a legitimate contender to win CAA Player of the Year.

Jarvis Threatt (left) should see plenty of mismatches as a talented third scoring option. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Jarvis Threatt (left) should see plenty of mismatches as a talented third scoring option. (Photo: Mark Jordan)

Threatt has been nothing but solid in his first two seasons at Delaware, as he enters his junior range well within striking distance of the 1,000-point mark (724), but he does need to get more shots to fall. After shooting 39.5 percent from the floor his freshman year, that number dropped to 36.0 percent last year as he made just 26.4 percent (14-of-53) of his 3-pointers. Look for him to do more slashing and dishing this year now that there are better shooters around him.

The x-factor of the trio is Usher, who only has one year of Division I basketball experience–but what a year it was. He shot 41.7 percent overall and 39.6 percent from 3-point range, dropping 35 against Northwestern and 19 each against Mississippi and Virginia Tech, proving he’s capable of getting his shot off against better competition than he saw in the SWAC. And at 6-foot-6, he’s got size that none of the other Blue Hen guards have.

Bench: G Kyle Anderson (9.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg), G Terrell Rogers (3.6 ppg, 1.2 apg), PF Maurice Jeffers (Redshirt in 2012-13)

This is where the potential lineup flexibility could have some impact. Anderson is a junior shooting guard who’s averaged 31.9 minutes per game over his first two seasons, contributing right around nine points per game in both years. The 6-2 jump-shooter has a .340 career 3-point average and does a great job of creating space around the arc. Even if Ross goes with two starting forwards, look for Anderson to come into games early and play starters’ minutes.

If Ross does go with a four-guard lineup a majority of the team and plays a more uptempo style, expect to see Rogers benefit immensely from the new system. A lightning bolt at 5-foot-8, he’s at his best in the open court where he can use his top-notch speed to his advantage. Though he only shot 26.7 percent from the floor last year, expect that number to rise as he becomes more comfortable in the offense and benefits from the talent around him.

Jeffers, as is the case with the rest of Delaware’s young forwards, is still very much a work in progress and a large unknown as to his potential production. He’s long and athletic, more likely to contribute on the defensive end than on offense at this stage in his development. Just like King-Davis and Harris, he’ll have a chance to prove his worth in the coming weeks.

Three Games to Watch: @ Notre Dame (Dec. 7), @ Drexel (Jan. 22), vs. Towson (Jan. 25),

The Blue Hens have a number of high-major opponents on the roster, but the game against Notre Dame takes on a little extra-special meaning. Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey was the head coach at Delaware from 1995-2000, compiling a record of 99-52 (.656) at the school and bringing home CAA regular-season and tournament titles in both 1997-98 and 1998-99.

The next big game is obvious–the annual rivalry game at Drexel. Last year, Saddler scored a game-high 31 points in a thrilling 73-71 double-OT win at the Daskalakis Athletic Center. You can bet Bruiser Flint and the Dragons will be anxious to remind Ross and company whose home court it is at 34th and Market. If anybody can challenge the Saddler/Usher/Threatt group for best backcourt in the CAA, it’s Frantz Massenat, Damion Lee and Chris Fouch.

Three days after that trip up to Philadelphia, Delaware hosts the likely CAA favorite, Towson, to the Bob Carpenter Center. Last year, the Blue Hens lost both matchup to the Tigers, blowing a late six-point lead in a 69-66 loss at Towson before getting blown out 85-65 at home. Containing Towson’s talented forward Jerrelle Benimon (17.1 ppg, 11.2 rpg) is going to be the biggest challenge.

Three Keys to Success
1. Help for Baptiste. If Delaware is going to have any type of successful season, they’re going to need a solid year from Baptiste, that much is certain. As by far the oldest and most experienced of anybody in the Blue Hens’ frontcourt rotation, he’ll be expected to play big minutes and hold down the paint against a number of talented forwards in the CAA and beyond. What

2. Guards must dominate. Even in the best-case scenario, Delaware’s frontcourt is basically servicable and not much more. Baptiste is what he is at this point, and while some of the young big men have some promise, none are ready to step in and immediately be impact players in the CAA. So it’ll be on that ultra-talented backcourt to not only consistently produce game in and game out, but to take the pressure off the big men in other facets of the game so as to maximize their talents.

3. Rebounding without Hagins. This is somewhat related to point number one, though the guards can certainly have their say in this as well. Last year, Hagins brought in 24.3 percent of all available defensive rebounds, the 39th-best mark in the country (Baptiste’s 16.7 percent was good enough for 456th). Usher averaged over six rebounds per game last year, and his ability to hit the glass off the wing is something he absolutely needs to bring with him to Newark.

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2 Responses to 2013-14 Season Primer: Delaware Blue Hens

  1. HoopFan says:

    Nice writeup…pretty sure RS frosh Jeffers has passed King-Davis in the rotation and will be a breakout player in the CAA this year…length and will provide the shotblocking that Hagins brought…maybe not at his level yet but will be a presence.

    Baptiste was shaking off rust from his transfer year plus playing behind Hagins/Brinkley…he will be a 9 and 7 guy for Delaware this year.

    • jmverlin says:

      We put King-Davis in there just because he’s got the experience; obviously with six weeks left until the games begin there’s certainly room for things to swap around. Baptiste needs to have that kind of year if Delaware is going to be able to stop anybody down low, for sure.

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