Mid-Makeovers: Which O26 Units are Poised for a Turnaround?

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 12th, 2014

With the season now only a few days away, let’s look at five teams in great position to improve considerably this year – and in some cases, even compete for a conference crown.

Detroit – Horizon League – 2013-14 record: 13-18 (6-10). After finishing eighth in the Horizon League standings in 2013-14 (out of nine teams) and graduating its top rebounder and second-leading scorer, Evan Bruinsma, Detroit was picked third in this year’s preseason poll. Why such high expectations? The simple answer is twofold: Juwan Howard Jr. is back, and a wave of talent joins him. Howard, a 6’5’’ senior who led the Titans in scoring last season (18.3 PPG), should be one of the best players in the conference this year, even if his numbers do not drastically improve. He was probably relied upon far too heavily a season ago – the wing took 20-plus shots on six different occasions – so this year’s additions should help reduce the pressure and enable Howard to score more efficiently. Those reinforcements – transfers Chris Jenkins (Colorado) and Brandan Kearney (Arizona State), along with redshirt freshman Paris Bass – will bring depth at small forward and provide supplemental offensive punch. Add that to the trio of quality guards in the backcourt, plus 6’10’’ Penn State transfer Patrick Ackerman down low, and Ray McCallum’s team should rediscover its winning ways this season.

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Courtesy of Detroit athletics media relations)

Juwan Howard Jr. and the Detroit Titans should be much better this season. (Detroit athletics)

Lafayette – Patriot League – 2013-14 record: 11-20 (6-12). Lafayette forward Seth Hinrichs missed 10 games in the middle of last season because of a knee injury, and the Leopards proceeded to lose all 10, including their first eight league contests. When he returned to the lineup? Fran O’Hanlon’s group won eight of its last 12. Needless to say, the 6’7’’ senior – a versatile wing who can stretch the floor – is enormously important to Lafayette’s success. With virtually the entire roster back alongside him, including now-seasoned point guard Nick Lindner and sharpshooter Joey Ptasinski (43.5% 3FG), Hinrichs (16.3 PPG) should make the Leopards legitimate Patriot League contenders and put himself in discussion for conference Player of the Year. A postseason berth is more than possible for the Patriot’s most offensively-efficient unit.

Northeastern – Colonial – 2013-14 record: 11-21 (7-9). Perhaps no other O26 team is expected to improve as much as Northeastern this season. The Huskies were an abysmal 11-21 last year, never able to overcome an early season injury to wing Quincy Ford (12.2 PPG and 5.8 RPG the year before) and at one point losing 11 of 13 contests from late November to mid-January. But with Ford now healthy and ready to rejoin a lineup that returns nearly everyone, including conference Defensive Player of the Year Scott Eatherton, the outlook is substantially brighter. KenPom slots Northeastern more than 100 spots higher in his preseason rankings than where it finished in 2013-14 – 102nd overall, up from 205th – and the CAA coaches and media last month tabbed the Huskies as preseason CAA favorites. Ford’s dynamic offensive ability, Eatherton’s presence on both ends of the floor (he logged 19 double-double last year), and the slew of returning minutes should make Bill Coen’s club much, much better, even with guard Demetrius Pollard’s recent decision to transfer out of the program. If the Huskies can find another perimeter shooter, a complete inversion of last season’s dismal record is not out of the question.

Northeastern is the CAA favorite after going 11-21 last season. (Photo: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)

Northeastern is the CAA favorite after going 11-21 last season. (Photo: Evan Habeeb, USA TODAY Sports)

UC Davis – Big West – 2013-14 record: 9-22 (4-12). UC Davis will not compete for the Big West crown this year, but with their two best frontcourt players back from injury, the Aggies should be far more competitive. Forward J.T. Adenrele hurt his knee before last season even began, and fellow big man Josh Ritchart – after averaging 17.3 PPG and 6.6 RPG over the first nine games – was also sidelined by injury prior to conference play — their returns should lead to major improvements on both ends of the floor. The 6’7’’ Adenrele was an all-Big West Honorable Mention two year ago and Ritchart, who can step out and shoot from the perimeter, has all-league potential. Senior Corey Hawkins might be the conference’s premier scoring guard and should continue to post eye-popping numbers after averaging 18.0 PPG a year ago. Even though the Aggies won just nine games and were awful defensively last season, the talent is clearly there for a major turnaround. UC Davis has a chance to finish in the middle-of-the-pack in a top-heavy Big West, if everyone stays healthy.

Duquesne – Atlantic 10 – 2013-14 record: 13-17 (5-11). Look, we are not saying the Dukes are going to make the NCAA Tournament or even finish among the top five in the Atlantic 10 – they are probably a year or two away from that conversation – but there is evidence that improvement is coming. In fact, to some extent, it’s already underway. After an 8-22 campaign two seasons ago, Jim Ferry’s group nabbed five additional victories last year (four in A-10 play) and proved quite competitive during the second half of the season – despite being one of the 50 unluckiest units in the country. With numerous contributors returning for year three in Ferry’s fast-paced system — including the nation’s most efficient three-point shooter, Micah Mason (56% 3FG) — Duquesne should be a more cohesive bunch (and should get more favorable bounces). Of course, the one starter not returning is 6’8’’ forward Ovie Soko, the team’s best player last season, but the combination of experienced returnees, quality additions and Ferry’s free-flowing offense might make for a better overall team. Expect the Dukes to finish above .500 this year.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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