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SAINT PETER'S MEN
2009-10 RECORD: 11-7 in MAAC play, 16-14 overall.
COACHES' PREDICTION: Picked for third in the preseason poll of conference coaches.
KEY RETURNEES: 6-2 senior guard Wesley Jenkins (13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds), 5-11 senior guard Nick Leon (13.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists0, 6-7 senior forward Ryan Bacon (10.6 points, 9.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), 6-7 sophomore forward Darius Conley (6.3 points, 4.9 rebounds), 6-6 senior forward Jeron Belin (8.2 points, 4.2 rebounds).
KEY LOSSES: None.
NOTES: The team's top seven scorers are back, which is usually a good thing. However, the top returnee, preseason first-season all-star pick Jenkins, suffered a partial MCL knee tear early in preseason workouts. While he's been cleared to begin practicing, he's still a couple of weeks away from game action. And, even then, won't be 100 percent for some time. That's a big blow for a team that struggled offensively a year ago.
But, the Peacocks still had their best league and overall record last season since 2004-05, primarily because of a dedication to defense that held opponents to 37.7 percent shooting from the field, second-best nationally (only Florida State was better). And, then, St. Peter's opened up by holding Robert Morris to 55 points on 34.4 percent shooting (21-of-61). The bad news, though, is that the Peacocks only scored 30 points in that game, suffering a 55-30 setback. Leon was the only player in double figures with 13 points. And the indication that this is a team of players that is still figuring out how to share the ball is the fact that it only had four total assists in that contest.
Still ... every player is back and two potentially good newcomers arrive to add some depth to a team that didn't have much of that last year. Blaise Ffrench, a 6-2 sophomore transfer from UTEP and Chris Burke, a 6-4 freshman, will both get into the playing group this season although both were also slowed in the preseason by minor injuries.
It gives the Peacocks probably the league's deepest backcourt. Besides Jenkins and Leon, the team also has sophomores 6-4 Steven Samuels (4.5 points, 3.2 rebounds last season) and 6-3 Jvon Raymond (3.6, 3.0).
That type of depth doesn't exist up front, though, and Saint Peter's is a little short inside in a literal sense. Its "big" men are 6-7 sophomore Darius Conley, a true banger, and 6-7 Ryan Bacon, a more athletic inside player. Its third front-court player is 6-6 senior Jeron Belin, a highly touted junior college transfer who went through some inconsistencies in his first Division I season a year ago, but improved as the year progressed.
Even if all goes well, there's concern if this team is good enough to contend for a league title. It went 0-6 against Siena, Fairfield and Iona, the conference's three top teams, last season, while going 11-1 against everyone else.
HOW SAINT PETER'S WILL SUCCEED: Unequivocally it needs a relatively healthy Jenkins, or it will struggle to finish in the upper half of the league standings. But, if Jenkins can provide the type offense he usually does it opens things up for everyone else, too. Plus, this is as veteran a team as their is in the conference with four seniors and a sophomore with a full year's experience as probably the regular starting five. It also goes a legitimate nine deep, although six of those top nine are perimeter players. If Bacon and Conley are enough inside, and if Jenkins regains a semblence of his former ability the Peacocks will be a potent team again this season. If Ffrench and Burke progress, the perimeter talent and depth alone will cause opponents problems. This has been a building process. After three straight sub-.500 seasons, the Peacocks got above the break-even point last year. This year was supposed to be another step forward and it still could be. But, most of those hopes are tied into Jenkins' health.
COACH'S COMMENTS: "There are high expectations here this year, and we'll handle it ... I'm happy for the kids that we're getting that kind of recognition," said John Dunne. "Two years ago we finished ninth in the league with a bunch of young players, and the sentiment was that we needed to keep moving up ... and we have. Nick Leon has been great for us so far, a great leader. Ffrench is a good penetrating guard, the type we haven't had here recently. He can handle the ball and get into the lane and make passes, so it might enable us to get Leon off the ball a little more."
PREDICTION: It's probably not fair to put all the expectations on Jenkins' health, because Saint Peter's will still be competitive even if he's not at his best. Still, with him the Peacocks should contend for the league title. Without him they still have a chance to finish above .500 and be a good team. But, the offense will have to improve, and Jenkins can have a big role in that. All the news from Saint Peter's so far is that Jenkins should be back in early December, in time for the start of conference play. If that's the case, expect the Peacocks to contend for one of the top three or four spots in the conference.