This is the year. This is when the University of Delaware men’s basketball team must make a statement. This is when coach Monte Ross’s two best recruiting classes have to prove they are what they were supposed to be when they arrived in Newark three or four years ago.
It’s time for Delaware to do more than put up a good fight – it’s time for the Blue Hens to finally beat the big boys on the block.
Delaware finished its regular season with an overall record of 18-13 and 13-5 in the Colonial Athletic Association, and those are the best records Ross has had in his seven seasons with the Blue Hens. Delaware enters Saturday’s CAA tournament as the No. 2 seed behind Northeastern and it will take on No. 7 Hofstra (7-24, 4-14) at 6 p.m. at the Richmond Coliseum.
The Blue Hens certainly didn’t look like contenders early in the season. They lost eight of their first 11 games, although some of those losses were against tough non-conference teams, including La Salle, Pittsburgh and mighty Duke. But then the Hens lost three straight games to CAA teams and the future looked grim.
Then Delaware did what good teams are supposed to do – they finished with a bang, winning 10 of their last 12 games, and now they go into the CAA tournament with some momentum.
Delaware has most of the ingredients to make a serious run at the conference title and the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament that goes with it. The Hens have a terrific low-post player in senior Jamelle Hagins, outside scoring and athleticism from guards Devon Saddler and Jarvis Threatt and solid role players like Kyle Anderson and Josh Brinkley.
The Hens have balance and they have experience and they also have a coach who needs to have a good showing in this tournament. Ross has been here for seven seasons now and his record isn’t good – 89-130 overall (a winning percentage of .406) and 54-72 (.428) in the CAA. Ross had a lot to overcome when he came to Newark as former coach David Henderson left an empty cupboard of talent. But this has been Ross’s team for several years now and it finally looks as if he has things on the right track – the Hens had a good season last year and an even better one this year and they’re no longer automatic first-round losers.
Still, an early exit can’t help Ross’s job security, especially since the expectations are so much higher now. Delaware has a new athletic director, Eric Ziady, who recently proved he isn’t afraid to make changes when he fired football coach K.C. Keeler, whose resume is a lot more impressive than Ross’s.
And even though we don’t think the Blue Hens will get bounced from the tournament early, we don’t seem them rolling to the championship, either. And that’s simply because the Hens tend to play bad games on occasion and you can’t do that in a conference tournament where the competition gets stiffer the higher you climb.
Plus they don’t handle the ball very well (as a team they average just 9.7 assists per game while turning the ball over an average of 12.4 times a game) and that’s the kind of stuff that can jump up and bite you in the playoffs.
Certainly the Blue Hens have the experience and expertise to win their first CAA championship and there’s not a team in the conference they can’t beat. At the same time, there’s not a team in the conference that can’t beat them, so…
If nothing else, the Hens are worth watching again after too many years of bad basketball. They’re legitimate contenders now and that’s all Delaware fans have wanted all of these years – a chance.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org