Summer School: Delaware

Delaware (10-20, 9-9)

When analyzing Delaware’s ’14-’15 season for prognosticative purposes, one notices distinctive splits. There was the injury-ravaged 1-13 start that almost cost Monté Ross his job, followed by the 9-7 finish that saw the youthful Hens come of age.

It’s best to use the 9-7 finish as the prophesy of what’s to come. That team went 4-2 against the CAA’s Top Three, gave CAA champion Northeastern its toughest bout in Baltimore, and looks primed to make moves in ’15-’16.

Ross saved his job coaching the 15th youngest roster in D-I. This came just one season after he’d guided the Hens to their first NCAA Tournament this century. Gone were UD’s all-time leading scorer (Devon Saddler) and stud transfers (Davon Usher, Carl Baptiste).

Ross entered last offseason thinking he’d have a potential CAA Player of the Year candidate in talented Jarvis Threatt, but the oft-knuckleheaded guard was dismissed from the program before his senior season.

Needless to say, Ross faced an unenviable situation.

Delaware strolled into Charleston on January 10th with the aforementioned 1-13 mark, and a coach that looked dead in the water. That day, the Hens played their slowest game of the season, which resulted in a season-low three turnovers and their second win of the season.

The resulting win initiated the rally that helped Ross earn a new contract. Although it came a year late, extending Ross was the right move. He pulls in as much talent as anyone in the CAA, and has had this program on the upswing since Saddler’s advent.

The graduated Kyle Anderson played a huge part in the turnaround. After spending much of his first three seasons third-wheeling in the Saddler-Threatt backcourts, Anderson rebounded from an early-season hand injury to garner Third Team All-CAA honors. His 14.4 points per game are gone, and the Hens will miss his play on both ends of the floor.

But four of five starters return, and have the YoUDees ready to improve upon last year’s performance.

In Kory Holden, Cazmon Hayes, and Marvin King-Davis, Delaware returns three players who averaged double figures in CAA play.

21 people thought Elon’s Elijah Bryant was the CAA’s best rookie, while 16 thought it was Delaware’s Holden. With Bryant transferring to BYU, the dynamic Holden is clearly the best returnee from last year’s crop of freshman.

Holden’s standout freshman season (12.4 points, 5.0 assists per game) was just Two Degrees of Ken Pomeroy away from Devon Saddler’s. Holden will be the most dynamic player on the court in a lot of games this season. ForFFor Holden to guide Delaware to the CAA’s upper echelon, he’ll need to improve upon his 23.1% turnover percentage from last season. Holden will play the most minutes on the team, and possibly more than anyone (Elon’s Luke Eddy comes to mind) in the CAA.

Junior Cazmon Hayes started every game last season, and will move back to the off guard. Hayes in his natural position should be a good thing, as his breakout was somewhat stunted by Anderson’s return. (Hayes averaged 9.4 shots on the season but just 7.4 during conference play.) If his three-point shot continues to develop, he’ll make good on the promise he showed last season.

The starting forwards can hang with any frontcourt in the league. Senior Marvin King-Davis averaged 10.5 points while posting the second-best defensive rebounding rate in conference play, and redshirt junior Mo Jeffers scored in double figures in six of Delaware’s final nine games. As is typical in the dribble-drive attack, they’re at risk for being under-utilized.

The final starting spot seems destined for Chivarsky Corbett, the 6’7” sophomore who shot 39% from downtown as a freshman. The CAA All-Rookie Team selection is a ready-made perimeter mismatch, and could be in for a special career in Newark.

Junior wing Devonne Pinkard hit 12-of-25 treys in league play, and is a good bet to log sixth man minutes. Forward Barnett Harris is Delaware’s sparkplug and number-one defender on inbounds plays. He should chip in around a dozen minutes per game.

The rest of the bench is unproven. Anthony “Champ” Mosley had a standout performance in a late-season home win versus UNCW, and should get plenty of run as Delaware’s backup ballhandler. Skye Johnson and Eric Carter accrued most of their minutes when King-Davis and Anderson were injured, and I’ll be curious to see if one of them can usurp Harris as the first big man off the bench.

The biggest casualty of the Monté Ross Indecision 2015 is obvious. Ross couldn’t get guys to commit to UD because he couldn’t guarantee he’d be there (and because he couldn’t offer much in the way of immediate playing time). Subsequently, UD didn’t bring in anyone from the Class of 2015, and notably lost out on talented guard Eli Cain, who Ross had snared from Memphis, Oklahoma, and Providence.

Ross did pull George Washington transfer Darian Bryant, but he’ll need to positively affect practices over the next season before he’ll be eligible to make things happen on the court.

At positions one through five, the Hens have the talent and athleticism to stack up with anyone in the CAA.  They’ll still be one of the youngest teams in the conference, and in order to take the next step, they’ll need to become a more disciplined bunch.

When Delaware visited the NCAA Tournament in ’13-‘14, the Hens were one of two D-I teams (VMI) to finish top-eight in both turnover percentage and adjusted tempo.

Last season, the Hens committed 2.7 more turnovers despite averaging 6.3 fewer possessions game. They weren’t a turnover-prone team by any stretch. But Ross will want to play faster this season, and controlling the ball will have extra importance as college hoops begins the 30-second shot clock era.

Delaware is on an obvious upswing, but I’m still finding it difficult to place them above the CAA’s middle tier. This is when you have to remember that four-way ties happen, and that the difference between 10-8 and 9-9 season might be a couple of places in the standings.

I expect the Hens to hang around, but ultimately be a year away from developing the consistency to truly contend. They were a nice surprise last season, but I expect this year’s league to be a bit tougher on the whole. For perspective, Towson should be much improved this year, but still seems likely to slot into seventh place in the preseason polls.

Then again, I might look like a fool for sleeping on them. The Hens didn’t lose as many key pieces as last year’s Top Three, and certainly have the upside to go three-for-three in Baltimore.

And when you hear Holden talk, you realize that the Fightins’ fear no one.

“We’re going to be really good. It’s scary.”

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