What Devon Saddler’s Return Means for Delaware and the CAAPosted by Tommy Lemoine on December 18th, 2013
After missing the previous seven games for an unspecified violation of team rules, Delaware guard Devon Saddler returned Monday night in a difficult road meeting with North Dakota State that did not go well for the Blue Hens — they surrendered 1.23 points per possession, shot just 5-of-22 from three-point range, and lost by 19 points. “We were not sharp,” head coach Monte Ross commented after the game. Saddler, though, was, dropping in 24 efficient points off the bench and showing onlookers why he is one of the preeminent scorers in college basketball. It was a significant silver lining in an otherwise disappointing night for Delaware, the type of impressive return that could be a harbinger of good things to come in CAA play this season.
But before we just assume that Saddler’s return automatically means all positive things for the Hens, it is important to note how the team performed during his absence. In those seven games, Ross’s up-tempo club won five of them and pushed both Villanova and Notre Dame to the brink in two close road losses by a combined nine points. The offense was arguably more efficient since before the personnel loss, never finishing below 80 points and receiving increased production from emerging scoring option — and verifiable sharpshooter — Kyle Anderson, who currently ranks first in the country in three-point percentage for players with at least 60 attempts, at 54 percent. Impact transfer Davon Usher, who was eligible immediately after coming over from Mississippi Valley State in the offseason, also shouldered a large amount of the scoring load with considerable success, finishing with at least 25 points in four of the contests without Saddler. Additionally, Delaware moved up a whopping 83 spots in KenPom during that time, from #162 to #79, making it second among CAA teams behind only ailing-but-resilient Drexel. Put simply, the Blue Hens were playing good basketball.
So, taking into account both the team’s respectable play without Saddler and his nice outing in a loss Monday night, what will throwing the senior guard back in the mix mean for Delaware going forward? Well, for one, it probably means fewer shots for other guys. Last season, Saddler was seventh in the country in percentage of minutes played, ranked in the top 100 in percentage of possessions used and took at least 12 shots in every game. At 6’2’’, 210 pounds, he is an aggressive, score-first player who led the conference in points per game last year (19.9 PPG) and was never afraid to take a big shot, any shot, when his team needed it. Having a high-volume shooter and scorer can have both good and bad consequences, of course, but it will ultimately result in even better offensive output for the already proficient Blue Hens. On the nights Saddler missed, quick-handed point guard Jarvis Threatt — who is the team’s best distributor at six assists per outing — was probably forced into taking more shots than he otherwise would have, like his 7-of-24 performance in the Villanova game in which he attempted six threes. Threatt is an offensive weapon, to be sure, but he is better suited attacking the lane and either getting to the free throw line or kicking out for open shots, not launching from deep. Saddler’s return will take scoring pressure off Threatt and allow him to play more his style. Ultimately, the key will be to integrate Saddler back into the lineup without diminishing the number of good shots the offense takes as a whole, ensuring that quality looks are not taken away from players like Anderson.
Let’s be honest, though — Saddler is a really, really good basketball player who is capable of scoring in ways that few other players can. His return will make Delaware one of the better offensive teams in the country—it already ranks in the top 50 in offensive efficiency — and fellow CAA teams will be hard-pressed to stop the Blue Hens’ attack once conference play begins; aside from Drexel, not one other school in the league ranks within the top 150 nationally on the defensive end. On nights when Delaware is unable to hit its threes, like in the NDSU game, Saddler’s ability to create his own shot and score in other ways will be hugely important.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for Ross’squad will be its own ability to play defense and whether it can body up with opposing big men. Losing 6’9’’ forward Jamelle Hagins (and his 10+ rebounds a game) to graduation was a difficult loss, and senior Carl Baptiste will have to pick up the lion’s share of the slack in that department, along with Marvin-King Davis off the bench. If the frontcourt can hold its own and the loaded backcourt can continue scoring with ease, the Hens absolutely have the firepower to win the CAA this season and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.
Before that league title pursuit starts in early January, though, Delaware will have a chance to sharpen its attack in several remaining non-conference tilts, including tonight’s game against the best defensive team in the country, Ohio State.