The basketball season ended on a high note for the University of Delaware men’s team, even though it ended with a heartbreaking loss.
The rest of the season, however, was a rollercoaster ride that produced some thrilling victories and numbing defeats. Delaware finished the 2018-19 season one game over .500 at 17-16, but they had a losing record in their conference, going 8-10 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
That’s just not good enough for a school that has the advantages that Delaware has – the Hens are in the middle of a rich recruiting area and the school has a great scholastic reputation, a nice campus and good athletic facilities. Plus, we have tax-free shopping.
The Blue Hens dragged to the end of the regular season, losing seven of their last nine, including their last four. But they did go out with a bang in the CAA tournament, beating William & Mary 78-74 in the quarterfinals and fighting through overtime before losing to top-seeded Hofstra 85-79 in the semifinals. That was a big step forward for the Hens, who had lost to Hofstra by 45 points earlier in the season.
Now it’s time to take another step forward and it remains to be seen if Delaware has the talent to do it. And that remains the challenge for soon to be soon-to-be-fourth-year coach Martin Ingelsby – recruiting.
Ingelsby has had some obvious successes in that department, and he’s had some bad luck – his first and best recruit, Ryan Daly, left the program to transfer to St. Joseph’s, where his family has strong ties.
And the Blue Hens have improved, ever so slightly, in his three seasons. They were 13-20 overall and 5-13 in the CAA in his first year, 14-19 and 6-12 in his second year and 17-16 and 8-10 in his third.
But Ingelsby hasn’t recruited a real stud yet, a player around whom his program can revolve and will attract other top-tier talents. And you just don’t win in a conference like the CAA without at least one of those guys.
Now, when we say top-tier, we’re not talking tippy-top-tier. Nobody expects Delaware to compete for recruits with Villanova like it does in football. Nobody expects a high school All-American to flip a coin to decide between Delaware and Duke.
That means that a mid-major coach like Ingelsby has to get lucky. He has to recruit a good player who was overlooked by the big boys and is better than expected. And there are lots of those players out there, guys who are late bloomers or maybe just needed the right coach and the right program to bring out the best in them.
Certainly, the Hens have some pieces already in place, and maybe one of those pieces will develop into that program centerpiece. They will lose their leading scorer, senior Eric Carter, who averaged 15.8 points per game, but they bring back (assuming nobody else transfers) their next three leading scorers and they’re still babies – sophomores Ryan Allen (16 points per game) and Kevin Anderson (10.7) and freshman Ithiel Horton (13.2).
That’s a nice nucleus of young, talented players, but the Blue Hens need more and it’s the job of Ingelsby and his staff – assistant coaches Bill Phillips, Corey McCrae and Torrian Jones – to get a couple of really good players to complement that nucleus.
Who knows – maybe that person is already on the roster. Perhaps a 2018-19 reserve like Aleksander Novakovich or Matt Veretto will jump out and become a star, or a transfer like Nate Darling (from Alabama-Birmingham) or Justyn Mutts (from High Point) will dazzle everyone, on an incoming freshman like Johnny McCoy from Massachusetts will play well beyond expectations.
When Ingelsby and his assistants took over in Newark three years ago, the recruiting cupboard was bare and, so far, they’ve done a pretty good job of restocking it, even if the results haven’t shown up on the court on a consistent basis.
That’s been the biggest challenge for Ingelsby in his brief time in Newark, and now he’s getting to a very important time, because this is his team now. The program is still feeling the effects of those cupboard-less years, but Ingelsby has been here long enough to put his own stamp on Delaware basketball, and the players going forward are all going to be his guys – for better or worse.