Sunday, April 25, 2010

Off-Season Report: Peacocks Are Primed

Here's the latest in the "10 Teams in 10 Days" series looking back and ahead at MAAC men's teams. Up now ...

SAINT PETER'S (11-7 in MAAC play last season, 16-14 overall).

FINAL 2009-10 RPI: No. 180 of 347 Division I teams nationall.

RECAP: The past season was progress. Every key player from the previous year returned, but it was still a relatively young team. Its best three players, guards Wesley Jenkins and Nick Leon, and forward Ryan Bacon, were all juniors. Starting center Darius Conley was a red-shirt freshman and Jeron Belin, a small forward, was adjusting to the D-I level after coming in from a junior college. The 16-14 overall mark accounted for the first winning record since the 2005-06 season and just the fifth above .500 ledger in the past 16 years. The 11 conference victories accounted for the most since the Peacocks won 12 in the 2003-04 season and was just the fifth time it had won at least 11 conference games in its 29-year affiliation with the MAAC. Saint Peter's finished fourth in league play last year for a very good reason: the three teams ahead of it, Siena, Fairfield and Iona, were all better. Need proof? The Peacocks' regular-season record against those three was 0-6. It was 11-1 against the other six conference teams.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: Jenkins and Leon continued to improve and become established as one of the conference's upper-echelon backcourts. Bacon remained an athletic force, particularly around the basket. Conley was an effective "banger," the type player the Peacocks lacked in recent years. Belin showed flashes of effectiveness, although not often enough. Some depth began developing. Defensively, St. Peter's made things tough for every opponent. Its 37.7 percent field-goal defense was second-best nationally. Only Florida State had a better defensive FG percentage.

WHAT WENT WRONG: If one can point at anything, it was a lack of experience. There wasn't a single senior contributor this past season. Conley and Belin were playing D-I for the first time. The team's top two reserves, swingman Steve Samuels and guard Yvon Raymond, were both freshmen. St. Peter's troubles showed up against veteran teams, and on the offensive end when it often went through lengthy periods struggling to score points. And, while the "Big 3"" of Jenkins, Leon and Bacon all had solid seasons, none of them moved into the league's "elite" group of players. Belin wasn't consistent, particularly on the defensive end. Teams with the league's better players usually compete for league titles. Teams with "solid" players finish, well, fourth which is where Saint Peter's wound up this past season.

WHAT'S AHEAD: Even better days. Saint Peter's is respectable again and on the precipice of challenging for the conference title. Every significant contributor from this past team is back. The playing group went nine deep most nights last year, so depth is there. Jenkins and Bacon, in particular, are each capable of stepping it up and carrying the team to a higher position in the standings. Leon isn't far behind those two. Conley and Belin will both benefit from a year's experience. Last year's youthful depth also returns with some experience. And, then, the team adds 6-1 guard Blaise Ffrench, a transfer from UTEP where he played 26 games but only scored eight total points two years ago.

PREDICTION FOR 2010-11: Saint Peter's three best players will be seniors, which is usually a recipe for success. It is more than capable of taking the next step forward. An 11-victory league season probably won't be considered a success. The Peacocks could approach a minimum of 20 overall victories and compete for the league championship. The early call is a second-, or third-place finish.

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