This is the sixth of 10 NEC previews before the season starts. You can find links to the first five at the bottom of this post.
Head Coach: Rob Krimmel, 3rd Season (15-45, 12-22 NEC)
Last Season: 10-21, 7-9 (NEC), Lost in NEC tournament semifinals to Robert Morris, 60-57
NEC Preseason Poll: 4th out of 10 teams
State of Program: Time to Prove It
Starters Returning: 5
Key Loss(es): None
Incoming Players: Michael Clark (F), Simon Pittman (G), Basil Thompson (F), Daniel Wallace (C/F)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Malik Harmon (8.7 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 2.9 APG)
G: Dominique Major (6.9 PPG, 37.2% 3PT)
G: Ben Millaud-Meunier (8.3 PPG, 34.8% 3PT)
F: Ronnie Drinnon (7.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 53.1% 2PT)
F: Earl Brown (14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 53.1% 2PT)
Key Reserves: Greg Brown (G), Stephon Whyatt (F), Ollie Jackson (G/F), Patrick Wrencher (PF), Georgios Angelou (PG)
Storyline: Saint Francis University (SFU) is a college basketball prediction Rorschach test. What’s more important? Star talent? Continuity? Winning against the best teams? The postseason? What you care about will truly color how you think Rob Krimmel’s team is going to perform in his third season.
In one corner is the fact that the Red Flash return 94% of their possession minutes from last season. SFU is in the pivotal third season under Krimmel, and while the rebuild hasn’t been pretty at times (see the 5-13 conference record in his first season), the Red Flash finished 7-9 in the conference regular season and upset Bryant in the quarterfinals of the NEC tournament. Sure, that win took a little bit of luck, but the 55-54 victory was SFU’s first win in the NEC postseason in more than 10 years.
The challenge now is improving upon that success. A few things should help. Point guard Malik Harmon is another year older and wiser. After admirably shouldering the starting point guard duties and posting an assist to turnover ratio of 1.7 as a freshman, the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year should score more as he looks to finish stronger around the rim. Senior Earl Brown, a preseason NEC all-conference pick, has improved every season in Loretto. Last year he took on a large number of the Red Flash’s possessions and held his own in the paint, shooting 54% on two-point attempts while grabbing 9.1% and 20.9% of the available offensive and defensive rebounds, respectively. Brown’s front court mate, Ronnie Drinnon, was also a ferocious rebounder last year and looks to build on the momentum of a solid conference season where he averaged 9.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
Still, this is a team that finished seventh in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season in the NEC. Is everyone being back enough to improve those stats? Well, for one, I can almost guarantee teams won’t shoot 77% from the free throw line against the Red Flash in NEC play again this season. (Though they might shoot 66% from the line themselves again.) Even in the undersized NEC, the Red Flash desperately need some depth down low behind the accomplished Brown and Drinnon. One potential option is 6’6″ forward Patrick Wrencher, who played sparingly as a freshman. If Wrencher can give Krimmel some minutes they can move away from having the 6’3″ Ollie Jackson playing small forward. In general, too often last season the Red Flash were forced to play smaller lineups that hurt their ability to both defend and rebound. Wrencher, and an athletic group of freshmen, are SFU’s best shot at fixing that problem.
Ultimately the success or failure of this team is going to come down to if Brown and Harmon improve and the team continues to show progress in year three of the big rebuilding plan. But for the first time in a long time there are preseason expectations at SFU, so much so that one NEC coach even picked the Red Flash to finish first in the preseason poll. Considering SFU hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1991 — their only appearance — the one first place vote shows that Krimmel and his staff have this program propelling in the right direction.
Whether they can now take advantage in a conference full of parity remains to be seen.
Ryan – Count me among the pessimistic when assessing SFU this season. Don’t get me wrong, Krimmel has this program moving in the right direction and they’ll be better, but I just don’t see a top four finish in their future. For one, the defense was lousy last year (1.10 ppp, 17.5% turnover rate) and I don’t expect it to improve that much. The offense likely won’t pick up the slack because the Red Flash lack backcourt and wing playmakers (aka guys who can create off the dribble) other than Harmon. They’ll improve, but a 1-18 record versus the KenPom top 200 and 1-10 mark versus the NEC top 5 last year scares me enough to project SFU as no better than the fifth best team in the league, even if the NEC is in a down year. (12 wins, 9-9 NEC)
John – I believe that this team will be really good. (Yup, I said it.) The second unit is a big question mark, even with all the players returning, but Saint Francis will contend for the NEC title this season. (15 wins, 11-7 NEC)