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Delaware could finish this season like they did last season

February 14, 2013 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

BOSTON – Last season, Delaware lost a heart-breaker at Northeastern, a game that they had in their grasp.  The Blue Hens were not deflated, however, although they lost their next game at Drexel, because then they didn’t lose again until the CAA Tournament.  This time around, the Blue Hens pulled out a dramatic 76-74 overtime win at Matthews Arena and hope a different game result is part of the same result after the game.

“I don’t know if that was exactly what I drew up in the huddle, but all’s well that ends well,” head coach Monte Ross said of the game-winning shot, a deep three-pointer by Jarvis Threatt with the shot clock running down.

With Northeastern in command in the conference and having its best CAA start ever, it can be easy to miss the fact that Delaware is off to its best CAA start ever at 9-4 through 13 games.  However, that’s not the only reason.  The Blue Hens didn’t exactly make waves during the non-conference portion of the schedule, and that helped them go below the radar after they many picked them second behind Drexel in the CAA in the preseason.

Delaware played a very demanding non-conference schedule that had difficult games at every turn.  They opened with eight in a row away from home, starting with La Salle and later including Temple and Duke.  It’s fair to wonder if they over-scheduled a bit, although the schedule was inflated in part by the Blue Hens knocking off Virginia in the NIT Season Tip-Off to advance to New York.  There, they took on Kansas State, who they had a very good chance to beat even after cramps sent Jamelle Hagins to the bench for key stretches, and Pittsburgh, who blew them out.

Delaware couldn’t break through in any of their big games, and that can go one of two ways: it can toughen a team up, or it can sap their confidence.  With this being a veteran group, one would figure the former, but as the Blue Hens lost three in a row in January and slipped to just 3-3 early in CAA play, one had to wonder if it wasn’t the latter that had happened.

Ross said he didn’t feel he over-scheduled, and he went back to something he talked about before the season with this slate.  Namely, he felt he knew his team and its makeup, and that was why he scheduled up as much as he did.  He felt that this team would get toughened up if they lost so many games, albeit against very good teams.  It’s a veteran group that has grown a lot, especially over the past year, and on Wednesday night he saw some of that growth and got a little poetic since they won the game.

“We’re playing much better basketball this year, we’re a better team,” said Ross.  “We’ve won nine of our last 11 (CAA games) on the road, we’ve one six of our last seven games.  (Last year) we were still trying to find our way.  I think now we know where our way is, and it’s just a matter of staying on the path, like Dorothy following the Yellow Brick Road.”

As a result of the schedule, as well as multiple bouts with cramps, the Blue Hens were 2-6 and 3-8 at different points in the season.  Although they started off 2-1, they never got above .500 overall again until Saturday’s win over Old Dominion.  After Wednesday night, they are two games over for the first time all season, and with three of the final five games being at home as well as how they are now playing, they should be able to stay there.

There was never a question that this team had the personnel to contend.  They have two of the best players in the conference in junior Devon Saddler and Hagins, the latter of whom is now the school’s all-time leading rebounder in addition to blocked shots and should soon reach 1,000 rebounds for his career.  They had a group of freshmen last year who made an impact and are now sophomores, and they have arguably the best combination of talent and experience in the CAA.

Besides the tough schedule, sophomores Threatt and Kyle Anderson haven’t made big leaps this year.  Threatt has raised his scoring and rebounding numbers, and his assist and turnover numbers are about where they were at the end of last year, but his shooting numbers are down quite a bit.  Anderson’s numbers are about where they were last year.  The Blue Hens are a solid, if unspectacular, defensive group, although they have been out-rebounded in CAA play.

The numbers don’t tell the story with this team, though.  They don’t do any one thing exceedingly well or poorly.  What they are is a mature, tough group with good chemistry that battles through anything that gets thrown at them.  This year has thrown some tough times at them on the bottom line, but as the middle of February hits, they are right there in second place in the CAA and have six wins in their last seven games.  They may be poised to repeat the finish to the regular season they had a year ago.

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