In the shadow of Robert Morris’ impressive First Four victory over North Florida last night, the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers fought admirably at the University of Richmond.
Despite trailing for much of the second half by double-digits and having Jalen Cannon plagued with foul trouble, the Terriers refused to go quietly in their first national postseason performance since 1963. A Tyreek Jewell put-back jam cut Richmond’s once sizable advantage to just two points late, but back-to-back buckets by Kendall Anthony essentially sealed the deal. The Spiders advanced to the NIT second round, whereas the Terriers season officially concluded.
Overall, it was a fantastic season in Brooklyn Heights. St. Francis finished with 23 victories, which hasn’t been done since — get this — the 1953-54 season when Daniel Lynch was the head coach. More than a half a century later, a team led by seniors Cannon and Brent Jones will go down as one of the most successful and memorable teams in program history.
Glenn Braica’s crew was out-matched against a very good Richmond squad — a team that was likely a mere quality win away from earning an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. With the Terriers’ 84-74 NIT setback now in the books, it’s time to offer my takeaways on St. Francis Brooklyn for the near future and why I believe they’ll be better than advertised.
The Terriers Will be Fine with Glenn Sanabria Running the Show
Losing arguably two of the NEC’s three best players in Jones and Cannon would be fairly crippling to any mid-major roster, but the cupboard is hardly bare for Braica moving forward. A senior group of Jewell, Chris Hooper and defensive stalwart Amdy Fall (more on him later) is a solid nucleus, but Terrier fans need to be most enthusiastic about the emergence of their soon-to-be-sophomore point guard, Glenn Sanabria. The numbers from Sanabria (6.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 0.7 spg) in his freshman campaign aren’t gaudy by any stretch, but he occupied the role Braica asked him to fill perfectly alongside Jones in the backcourt. Clearly, the head coach trusted Sanabria enough to give him vital minutes down the stretch and now Sanabria will be a better player because of the invaluable experience. His superb 111.4 offensive rating was buoyed by his ability to shoot the long-range jumper (44.4% on 63 three-point attempts) and keep his turnover rate under a very respectable 20%. Perhaps most impressive, however, was Sanabria’s ability to embrace the pressure moments — in the NEC championship game the freshman never appeared to waiver in the face of immense pressure. You simply can’t teach that type of composure.
This preseason, I concluded that NEC sophomore point guards typically take a big step in year number two of their development. Sanabria will not be an exception to that rule. There’s a lot to like with a starting backcourt of Sanabria and Jewell – the Terriers will have two tough, heady guards leading the charge for the 2015-16 season.
The Defense Will Still Be Pretty Good
With the exception of Naofall Folahan and 7’3” Monmouth center John Bunch, no one has posted a better NEC single season block rate this century than Amdy Fall did this past season. When the junior was on the floor, he swatted away more than 12.5% of his opponent’s shots. The next highest block rate (Taylor Danaher) was more than five percentage points below Fall’s league leading number! Fall’s presence around the rim is a game changer and it can only improve as he heads into his senior season.
Throw in an improved Chris Hooper, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds in last night’s loss to Richmond, and the upside of a versatile Antonio Jenifer, who in limited time had exceptional rebounding rates, and Braica has something to build off of after his team held conference opponents to a league worst 42.0% shooting on their two-point attempts. I expect that percentage to remain depressed with the reigning NEC Defense Player of the Year back.
The aforementioned Jewell is a very good defender as well, so with a couple more pieces in place, it isn’t a stretch to believe the Terriers could defend at a high level once again. Maybe they won’t match a defense that was second in defensive efficiency this season (96.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), but I doubt they’ll deviate far from that defensive baseline, even without Jones, Cannon, Lowell Ulmer and the moderately used Kevin Douglas.
We Need To Trust Glenn Braica
Braica has been a model of consistently in his five years leading the Terriers, guiding his team to a 0.500 record or better in four of those five seasons. He’s lost plenty of productive players along the way from Ricky Cadell to Stefan Perunicic to Akeem Johnson to Travis Nichols to Ben Mockford, and yet he’s done very well to fill their roles the following seasons and keep his program consistently in the running for a top four NEC berth. Replacing his graduating seniors this time around will be far more daunting, no question, but after earning 56 conference victories in five years, including a conference regular season championship, it’s clear that the league’s latest NEC Coach of the Year can flat out run a program. He warrants the benefit of the doubt.
Do I believe the Terriers are a top conference four program next year? At this juncture that’s difficult to ascertain, but with a couple of solid newcomers and another offseason of maturation for the returnees, it isn’t out of the question to think Braica’s group could finish in the league’s upper half. After Robert Morris (assuming if everyone returns, which may be a BIG if given Andy Toole’s sudden surge of popularity) and Mount St. Mary’s (who only graduates Kristijan Krajina), their isn’t a clear number three.
With plenty of competition in the middle of the conference next season, it’s my expectation that the Terriers will be in the mix along with Bryant, Sacred Heart, LIU Brooklyn and Wagner. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the Terriers as a factor for next season.