Delaware Primer 2012

Evan Nolte and the Hoos hope to get win No. 2.

After holding Fairfield to 15 points in the second half of a 54-45 victory Monday night, the Virginia Cavaliers (1-1) return to the court Tuesday night to face the Delaware Blue Hens (1-1) with a trip to Madison Square Garden on the line. Will the Wahoos finish this game in an Empire State of Mind, or will they lose their second game of the season to a CAA opponent? Find out in the Delaware Primer.

1. Team Introduction. Last season, Delaware finished 18-14 and 12-6 in the CAA, with its season ending on a 75-58 loss to Butler in the opening round of the CBI tournament. The 2011-2012 season was coach Monte Ross’ sixth in Newark and the first season in which one of his squads finished with a winning record. Before securing the Delaware gig, Ross was an assistant to Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s for a decade. The Blue Hens opened this season by dropping a 73-66 road contest at La Salle before triumphing over Penn, 84-69, on Monday night at the John Paul Jones Arena. They have been tabbed to finish second in the CAA this year, behind Drexel but ahead of George Mason.

2. Offense. On the offensive side of the ball, Ross’ team frequently relies on a dribble drive offense, with the triple threat backcourt of Jarvis Threatt, Devon Saddler, and Kyle Anderson often taking it to the hole and finishing or getting the defense to collapse and dishing it to their big men. Last season, it was much more of the former than the latter, with Delaware finishing No. 268 in the country in assists per possession. Marking all three of Delaware’s backcourt players will be a tall task for UVa’s depleted and youthful backcourt. One other big question will be whether the Hoos can slow down the Hens’ transition offense. Last season, Delaware was a middle-of-the road offensive team, finishing No. 149 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.

3. Defense. With a Monte Ross team, you are going to face a man-to-man defense. Thankfully, Delaware tends to play more of a sagging style than an attacking man defense, ranking No. 340 in the country in opponent turnovers per possession last season. The Blue Hens did force 18 turnovers against Penn last night in large part due to some pressing that could cause UVa issues, but La Salle only coughed it up 7 times in the season opener. Delaware’s three-headed backcourt is known much more for its offense than its defense, which explains the team’s No. 202 rank in adjusted defensive efficiency last season.

4. Player Turnover. The Blue Hens return their top 5 scorers from last season but have lost their sixth, seventh, and eighth leading scorers. First, Khalid Lewis, a freshman guard, transferred to La Salle. Last season, he averaged 29.6 minutes per game, a team-high 2.6 assists per game, 5.2 points per game, and 1.1 steals per game. Second, forward Kelvin McNeil, who averaged 14.1 minutes, 2.4 points, and 3 rebounds per game last season, transferred to UNC-Greensboro. Third, forward Hakim McCullar, who was good for 1.4 points and 1.4 rebounds per game last season, graduated. The only other returning Blue Hen reserve that averaged more than a minute a game, Larry Savage, hasn’t seen the floor this season for whatever reason. What this means is that Delaware has a pretty terrific returning starting five but not much in the way of a bench, which could be a factor after they played the late game Monday night.

5. Likely Starters. Here’s a look at the starting group.

Point Guard: Jarvis Threatt (No. 4), a 6’2″, 165-pound sophomore from Richmond, will man the point for the Blue Hens after earning a spot on the All-CAA freshman team last season. Like the Delaware team as a whole, Threatt turned things on late in the season last year. He averaged 10.7 points per game over the course of the season but upped that average to over 19 points a game in the team’s last seven contests. Threatt has some jets, but he’s not a burner. Instead, he’s simply a very solid all-around player who can score, pass and rebound. In the first two games of the season, he’s averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 assists, and 5 rebounds a game. That said, he’s not much of a shooter, connecting on 39.5% of his shots last year and 33.3% so far this season. He’s also not much of an outside threat, not having made a 3-pointer yet this season after averaging 32.2% from behind the arc in his freshman campaign.

Shooting guard: Kyle Anderson (No. 13), a 6’2″, 195-pound sophomore guard, will join Threatt in the backcourt. Last season, Anderson was primarily known as a mad bomber, launching 200 3-pointers and connecting on 68 of them (34%), both records for a Delaware freshman. Those 3-balls allowed Anderson to average 8.9 points per game, but he also had more turnovers (1.1) than assists (.8) per game and shot a mere 66.7% from the line. It’s still early in the season, but Anderson’s numbers have dipped this year as he has scored a total of 10 points and has shot 2-6 from behind the arc in the Blue Hens’ first two games. He is playing with a protective face guard after an injury so that may be affecting his shooting consistency.

Shooting Guard: Ross’ best player is Devon Saddler (No. 10), a 6’2″, 200 pound junior. After finishing second team All-CAA last season, he is a first team All-CAA preseason selection this year. Saddler is a volume shooter, taking 210 more shots than any other teammate last season, resulting in 18.8 points per game. Saddler, however, isn’t the most efficient player, connecting on only 39.1% of his shots and 31.1% of his 3-pointers last season, with both of those percentages dropping in Delaware’s first two games of this year (34.5% and 14.3%). Saddler’s assist and turnover numbers also reflect a player who tries to do too much by himself. He averaged 1.8 assists and 3.2 turnovers per game last season and is averaging 2.5 assists and 5.0 turnovers per game this year.

Forward: Josh Brinkley (No. 32), a 6’6″, 250-pound senior from Richmond, is a space-eating, undersized “4” for this squad. Like a fine wine, Brinkley keeps getting better with age. As a junior, he posted a career-high 8.7 points per game, and he’s already scored 25 points in Delaware’s first two games of the season. He also uses his bulk to be a force on the boards, pulling down 13 rebounds so far this year.

Center: At center, Jamelle Hagins (No. 44) gives the Blue Hens two senior starters in its frontcourt. Hagins, a Roanoke native, averaged a double-double as a junior (12.4 points and 11.1 rebounds per game). Hagins is a consistent offensive scorer and a menace in the defensive paint, swatting 3 shots a game as both a sophomore and junior.

6. Key Reserves. The team’s bench follows.

Point Guard: Terrell Rogers (No. 12), a 5’8″, 160-pound point guard, has given the Blue Hens a boost off the bench in their first two games. Rogers is a lightning bug, averaging 11 points in his first 2 collegiate games on 57.1% shooting as he has blown by slower defenders. Sometimes, though, he is too fast for his own good as he has 6 turnovers against only 3 assists.

Power Forward: Carl Baptiste (No. 33), a 6’9″, 245-pound redshirt junior transfer from St. Joseph’s, actually started Delaware’s season-opener against La Salle. Baptiste seems to have a solid low post game and is averaging 5.5 points (on 62.5% shooting) and 5 rebounds per game in his first two games in Delaware blue.

Forward: The Blue Hens might get a few minutes and a point or two from freshman forward Marvin King-Davis (No. 21), but that’s about as deep as their bench goes.

7. Prediction. This might be the most important out-of-conference game this season. To repeat my memo from Monday, a loss here gives UVa two games against teams that won’t help an NCAA or NIT resume. A win means a trip to Madison Square Garden and two encounters with likely NCAA teams. As with the game Monday, the Hoos should have a height advantage, and they will be playing a team that might not have a full tank of gas. On the other hand, Delaware is probably better than Fairfield at all five positions and has guards more equipped to exploit the Cavaliers’ current weakness in the backcourt. I’m going to predict another grind-it-out, low-scoring game, with the Hoos pulling off a 55-52 victory.