Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Men's Preview: Saint Peter's Poised For Improvement

Here's another in the series previewing conference teams for the coming season.

Up now ...


2011-12 SEASON: 4-14 in MAAC play, 5-26 overall and a 64-57 loss to Marist in the play-in round of the MAAC tournament.

KEY LOSS: Guard Lamin Fulton (8.9 ppg.).

KEY RETURNEES: Darius Conley, 6-7 senior forward (11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds per game), 6-2 senior guard Chris Prescott (10.1, 2.1), 6-3 senior guard Yvon Raymond (7.5, 3.9), 6-4 senior guard Chris Burke (6.2, 4.0), 6-5 sophomore forward Markese Tucker (5.4, 3.0), 6-2 senior guard Blaise Ffrench (4.4, 2.5, 2.9 assists), 6-7 senior forward Karee Ferguson (4.1, 3.3).

KEY ADDITIONS: Desi Washington, 6-2 sophomore guard, transfer from Delaware State, Patrick Jackson, 6-6 senior forward, transfer from Kent State, Elias Desport, 6-7 freshman forward, Chazz Patterson, 6-3 freshman forward.

NOTES: It was only two years ago, 2010-11, that Saint Peter's had one of its best season in recent memory, capturing the league's post-season tournament and making an appearance in the NCAA's. But, with four key senior starters lost after that year ... well, there had to be the proverbial morning after. It came last season when the Peacocks fell all the way to 4-14 in league play and 5-26 overall, yet the program's foundation ... hard play and defense ... remained in place. There just wasn't enough talent to do much better. This season? There's some additional talent coming in, plus seven of the top eight scorers from a year ago also return and should benefit from going through  last season ... Still, Saint Peter's is almost universally picked to finish at the bottom of the league standings again. But, one opposing coach had this to say about the team: "If Saint Peter's finishes last, it will be the best last-place team in the history of the league."... head coach John Dunne says the current team reminds him of the 2009-10 squad, the one that began turning the corner leading up to the 2010-11 season's NCAA berth. In other words, this team is probably a long shot to challenge for the top couple of spots in the league, but it could very well be solid enough to at least double last season's win total.... The only key loss from last year was freshman guard Lamin Fulton, who averaged 8.9 points per game but really never seemed to get comfortable ... The loss of his scoring will be more than picked up by incoming transfer Desi Washington, who averaged 13.1 points per game as a freshman at Delaware State two years ago and is eligible to play for the Peacocks this season. St. Peter's was also a little undermanned in the frontcourt last season, but that will be less of an issue this year thanks to another incoming transfer, rugged 6-6 forward Patrick Jackson who started his career at Rutgers, transferred to Kent State and, then, comes to Saint Peter's as a senior in eligibility and able to play right away due to rules that allow graduate students to switch programs without the traditional year's penalty (provided the new school offers a graduate degree not offered by the previous school) ... Jackson probably won't score a lot, but is a prototypical blue-collar player who can particularly help on the defensive end ... other newcomers are freshmen Elias Desport, a 6-7 forward from Sweden; and 6-3 guard Chazz Patterson, who has a fundamentally sound all-around game. Both frosh are expected to be in this year's playing group.... Desport backs up rugged post player Darius Conley, whose defensive play ended Siena O.D. Anosike's streak of 17-straight double-doubles last season ... Point guard Blaise Ffrench returns with a year's experience running the team ... Chris Burke, a senior guard will also see key minutes ... Yvon Raymond, a 6-3 swingman, who played some key minutes on the NCAA tournament team two years ago, is likely to be the fifth starter with additional depth coming from 6-2 senior Chris Prescott and hard-working 6-5 sophomore Markese Tucker.

SAINT PETER'S STRENGTHS: As usual, defense and effort. Jackson is a key and he and Conley is as strong a defensive tandem as there will be in the league this season. Plus, there's considerable quality depth that is likely to have three seniors (Prescott, Burke and Karee Ferguson), and a sophomore (Tucker) who played a lot last season will be coming off the bench. It will enable Desport and Patterson, both who look to be eventual contributors, to break in without getting thrown into things too soon ... Although offensive won't necessarily be a strength, the Peacocks' ability to score points should be better than last year. Ferguson, a good scorer on the junior college level before coming to Saint Peter's, might eventually help on that end, but he's still not 100 percent recovered from a torn Achilles tendon suffered midway through last season  and might not be a factor early. For sure, Saint Peter's defense will be vastly improved from a year ago. And, the depth will be a positive, too. It should ensure the team will almost always have five solid players on the court.

SAINT PETER'S WEAKNESSES: Look to the offensive end. Conley's offensive skills have improved since he arrived, but he's still not an offensive force inside. And, neither is Jackson. While those two will get some "hard-work" points, most of the team's scoring will have to come from the perimeter. It makes Washington, a good outside shooter, a key figure this season. Otherwise, though, there's not a clear-cut second offensive option. The team will have to find points from wherever else it can. But, Prescott and Burke can ensure the second unit has some decent offensive weapons and Patterson might contribute on the offensive end as well.

REASONABLE EXPECTATION: Hard to believe that with so much depth Saint Peter's is being overlooked by so many prognosticators. It's just indicative of how balanced the conference will be this season. There's certainly enough in place for a solid season, but probably not enough for the Peacocks to crack the top three or four spots in the standings. Still, it's not out of the realm of possibility for the team to finish as high as fifth if things go well, or fulfill the predictions of finishing last if things don't mesh. But, if things don't get drastically better this season, it appears they will next year.

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