Despite (More) Suspensions, Delaware Still in Great Position to Win CAA

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 31st, 2014

Just when it looked like the Blue Hens were going to run away with the CAA, Delaware announced Wednesday that starting point guard Jarvis Threatt and forward Marvin King-Davis had been suspended one month for an unspecified violation of team rules. If the nebulous infraction sounds familiar, that’s because it is — star shooting guard Devon Saddler was also suspended for an unspecified violation back in November, missing seven games as a result. Now without its leading distributor and a key frontcourt piece, Monte Ross’ team must once again adjust to playing short-handed for an extended period. And although that might spell trouble for an already-thin bunch, the good news is this: The Hens still have a big enough lead in league play and plenty of remaining offensive talent to weather the storm and claim the conference crown.

Delaware showed Wednesday that they can still win big short-handed. (AP)

Devon Saddler and Delaware showed Wednesday that they can still win big short-handed. (AP)

If you were to examine Wednesday night’s effort at William & Mary in a vacuum, you might even think Delaware could thrive in the absence of Threatt and King-Davis. The Hens dispatched the second-place Tribe, 89-72, behind Davon Usher’s 28 points and Carl Baptiste’s career-high 23, along with team-wide 10-of-22 shooting from behind the arc. It was an impressive outcome, prompting Ross to label it “one of the most unbelievable performances” he’s been associated with as head coach. The bigger story, though, might have been Saddler — who recorded seven first-half assists in his interim point guard role — and Cazmon Hayes, whose 24 minutes were by far his most since early December. If Saddler can adapt to being both a scorer and distributor, and Hayes and forward Devonne Pinkard can be dependable contributors, Ross’ club is capable of winning more games like it did on Wednesday.

Although Threatt will be missed — he scored over 17 points per game, led the conference in assists and steals, drew a ton of fouls and was an altogether excellent penetrate-and-kick point guard — the players themselves might not actually be the biggest issue going forward. In truth, the utter lack of roster depth will probably emerge as the biggest threat to Delaware’s title hopes. Even with the increased usage of Hayes and Pinkard, the Hens — which usually played with just seven guys as it was — only ran with six players for much of the night in Williamsburg. Big man Maurice Jeffers also saw the court for nine minutes, but he’s a redshirt freshman who can’t necessarily be relied upon to contribute consistently. With a smaller frontcourt and down a man, the team might very well run out of gas at some point in February, even if elite scorers Usher and Saddler (who combine to average almost 40 points per game) and three-point maven Kyle Anderson continue their hot shooting. And considering that it plays the ninth-fastest pace in the country, fatigue seems more like a probability than a possibility.

Still, the Hens have several things working in their favor. They now hold a 2.5 game conference lead over Towson and a three-game lead over William & Mary, having already swept the Tribe. Their next four games are at home. They have won nine straight contests and — if Wednesday night was any indication — seem to be brimming with confidence. Finally, unlike the Saddler suspension earlier this season, the team knows exactly when Threatt and King-Davis will return: March 1, if everything goes smoothly. The certainty that reinforcements are on the way (likely for the regular season finale at College of Charleston) will only help Delaware faithfully press on as it pursues a first-ever CAA championship. And even if Ross’ bunch manages to blow the regular season title, it will still become full-strength plenty in time for the league tournament. A March run might very well be in the cards.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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