12. St. Francis (NY) (2006-07 Record: 9-22, 7-11 NEC)
Head coach: Brian Nash
Returning Starters: 4- G Jamaal Womack (senior): 5-8, 170; G Marcus Williams (senior): 6-3, 220; F Robert Hines (senior): 6-5, 250; C Bassith Yessoufou (senior): 6-9, 218.
Heading into the season’s first two weeks, it appeared as if all was lost for Brian Nash’s team after a road loss to St. Francis (PA). But no one within the program accepted mailing it in as an option. The result was a three-game win streak to end the regular season, which got the Terriers into a tie for eighth and the final spot in the NEC Tournament. And although they dropped the quarterfinal to the eventual NCAA Tournament representative Central Connecticut State, the end of last season is a good place to begin their progression to bigger and better things.
How good can this team be, with four senior starters returning, could very well depend on the play of second team All-NEC selection Robert Hines (16.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg). The senior forward led the Terriers in scoring last season and is their leading rebounder as well. How well the frontcourt as a whole performs will depend on which players step up to help offset the graduation of Allan Sheppard (10.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg). At center, seniors Bass Yessoufou and Sami Pekkola will split time at center. Yessoufou, who started 25 games last season, shot 53.2% from the field but can be foul prone as well, averaging slightly more than three per game. Pekkola only played in six games last season, but will need to step into a larger role. Three other players up front who can provide a serious spark are junior John Gooden (48.1% FG, 3.9 rpg) and sophomores Kayode Ayeni and David Burton. All three are capable athletes that can do a variety of things on the floor.
The backcourt situation looks to be a bit more stable for the Terriers, who return both Jamaal Womack (10.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg) and Marcus Williams (8.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.7 spg). Womack finished seventh in the conference in three-pointers made, and Williams was also the team’s leading assist man with 2.8 helpers per game. And four players who will be seeing their first action as Terriers this season should be able to contribute as well, beginning with junior Otis Campbell. Campbell, a teammate of Williams at famed St. Anthony in Jersey City, redshirted last season due to a back injury. If he’s recovered, Campbell will add the ability to hit the three to the Terriers offense.
Three freshmen from the NYC area will also be counted on to contribute, beginning with lead guard Ricky Cadell (New York, NY). Cadell, who averaged 15.0 ppg and 7.0 apg at The Patterson School last year, will allow Womack to play off the ball more this season. Also coming into the fold is sharpshooter Rocco Rubino (Brooklyn, NY) and point guard Lateef Willis (Bronx, NY). Rubino, in fact, may already be SFNY’s best perimeter shooter, so look for him to get some time early at the two coming off the bench. This will be a guard-heavy team, but given the number of returnees and the talent of the newcomers, that may not be such a bad thing.
In regards to the schedule this season, the Terriers don’t have to worry about an opener along the lines of last year’s debut at Syracuse. Non-conference games against St. John’s (November 14th), Hofstra (November 21st), Ohio (December 2nd), Columbia (December 10th) and South Florida (December 22nd) highlight an early-season slate that could have SFNY sitting above .500 come January. Within the NEC, there is a three-game road swing in late January that will have the Terriers visiting St. Francis (PA), Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s. The season ends with back-to-back home games against FDU and LIU.
Even though the coaches picked SFNY to finish eighth in the NEC this year, a finish in the top half of the standings is indeed there for the taking. While they struggled as a team from behind the arc last season (29.1% in 06-07), additions such as Rubino and Campbell could help get that number up to a more acceptable level. And given the lighter schedule load this season, don’t expect another 0-12 start to the season. In addition to improving the outside shooting, a third scoring option will be needed to give Hines and Womack a hand as well as offset the loss of Sheppard. In Hines, Coach Nash will have one of the best players in the NEC at his disposal, and the other returning seniors should be able to provide a helping hand this year.