Looking Forward: Towson

Heading into this season, the Towson Tigers have been picked to finish seventh in the CAA. No preseason prediction better demonstrates the CAA’s depth.

It was inevitable that our crystal ball would slight some of the mid-tier teams, and for my money, Pat Skerry’s team pulled the shortest straw. Despite the fact that the Tigers add a big-time transfer and return 72.5% of the scoring from one of the nation’s youngest teams (26th), media folk still have them pegged to be one of the four teams to play in the CAA Tournament’s Opening Round.

We were skeptical of Skerry’s squad in ’12-‘13, and it made us look silly. This team is going to be better, and potentially by a wide margin.

The Tigers’ mauling style produced some striking data points on the offensive side of the ball, as Towson finished third nationally in both offensive rebounding percentage (41.1%) and free-throw rate (48.3%). Towson scored a higher percentage of points (26.4%) at the foul line than any D-I team, although scoring such a hefty portion of points from the foul line was made possible in part by an abysmal effective field goal percentage (44.6%, 322nd in D-I).

Defensively, the Tigers permitted 107.1 points per 100 possessions (268th nationally). The Tigers were solid in defending the lane and preventing second-chance opportunities, but their slow physical brand didn’t produce many turnovers (sixth-worst defensive turnover percentage in D-I), and allowed opponents to get 25% of their points at the charity stripe.

Given the personnel returning, you can expect this year’s team to be a near carbon copy of its ’14-’15 rendition. Adding an ACC transfer to an intriguing core will make Towson even more brutish than before.

Arnaud William Adala Moto is a Cameroonian-born hoopster who averaged 6.9 points and 5.2 boards in 19.7 minutes of playing time at Wake Forest in ’13-‘14. The 6’6” redshirt junior’s ability to rebound and get to the foul line fits exactly with Skerry’s vision. He showed well at AfroBasket 2015 (12.4 points, 6.6 points per game), and the fact that he was an All-CAA Honorable Mention selection indicates that most pundits are expecting immediate contributions.

Adala Moto will team with junior forward John Davis to form a fearsome duo in the post. An All-CAA Preseason Second Teamer, Davis averaged 11.8 points and 8.1 boards off the bench. Davis excels in the same areas as Adala Moto, and is the biggest reason why Towson posted the third-best rebounding margin (+8.7 rebounds per game) in D-I.

The promise in the frontcourt doesn’t stop there. Sans Senior Day, Timajh Parker-Rivera started every game as a junior. He’s flashed tantalizing talent throughout his first three years, but has struggled with consistency. 6’8” junior Walter Foster plays both post positions, and could develop into one of the CAA’s better shot blockers.

With the switch to a 30-second shot clock, the importance of stable ball-handling will be more important than ever before. After its youthful backcourt produced the sixth-worst turnover margin (-3.9 turnovers per game) in D-I, this is an area in which Towson must improve.

With Four McGlynn onto his third different college, sophomore Byron Hawkins is the guy at point guard. Starting with the tenth game of the season, Hawkins became a staple in the starting five. He’s the most natural fit at point guard, and will also be tasked with picking up some of the scoring load.

Sophomore Mike Morsell, a 6’5” swingman with a 7’2” wingspan, was an All-CAA Rookie Team member. Morsell started Towson’s final 12 games, and averaged 10.9 points and 4.3 boards over that span. He’s a lock for big-time minutes on the wing, and could make a massive leap if he irons out his three-point shot.

After averaging slightly under a dozen minutes per outing last season, 6’2” senior Josh Ivory, a transfer from Cleveland State by way of Baton Rouge Community College, has a chance to carve out a significant role. 6’5” sophomore Eddie Keith started Towson’s final six games, and will have to cut down on the turnovers if he’s to keep a stronghold on his spot in the rotation. Redshirt junior A.J. Astroh hasn’t seen many meaningful minutes since graduating high school in 2012, but could certainly find the court if he can display a consistent three-point shot.

Skerry has spoken excitedly about his three freshmen. Jordan McNeil is a 6’5” shooting guard who redshirted last season. Freshmen forwards Dennis Tunstall and Alex Thomas will have many bodies ahead of them in the fight for frontcourt minutes, but add much-needed size to Towson’s short but potent frontcourt.

With McGlynn gone, there are legitimate reasons to believe that Towson may be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. Towson finished 321st nationally with a 30.1% mark from three, and doesn’t return any players who hit above 30% from downtown. Skerry’s teams have never depended upon the three-point shot as a primary means of offense, but still need someone to stretch the floor and provide a spark when the team is down.

An easy way for Towson to put up more points would be at the foul line. As mentioned, the Tigers were more dependent upon foul-line scoring than any other team in the country. But they shot just 66.3% (271st nationally) from the line, and lost one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters in McGlynn (hit 122-of-133, 91.7%). The Tigers dropped 11 games by five points or less, so it’s obvious that improvement on the freebies would go a long way towards fielding a more efficient offensive team.

The Towerlight’s Tyler Beard has indicated that Skerry wants this team to run more, which is noteworthy for a team that was in the conversation with College of Charleston and Drexel to be considered the CAA’s slowest. Skerry gives his teams offensive freedom once they’ve become comfortable in the system, and pushing in transition would allow this shooting-challenged group to put some easy points on the board.

It’s easy to visualize a flustered Matt Brady or Tony Shaver, seated inside SECU Arena’s pristine media room, recounting the difficulties their teams faced against the Tigers’ ferocious frontcourt. It’s not hard to imagine the Tigers grabbing each and every missed shot that clanks off the iron, getting the opposition in foul trouble, and being absolute hellacious for those CAA teams with thinner frontcourts. It’s just as easy, however, to imagine the Tigers playing long stretches without hitting net.

Towson has embraced its rock fighting identity, and most of its victories will be ugly. Improvements from the foul line (and beyond) and in the turnover department are essential, and will likely be season-defining pieces for this group. If one of the younger guards takes a big step, Towson has the pieces in place to vastly outplay preseason expectations.

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