Coming off three-straight A-10 titles, the Owls have to decide who will be their starting five.
Despite a largely intact roster from last year’s men’s basketball team, coach Fran Dunphy still has some choices to make in regards to his starting lineup.
The first three starting spots were relatively easy to determine. They are taken by senior forward Lavoy Allen, junior forward Micheal Eric and junior guard Juan Fernandez, all starters from last year.
Allen, a preseason All-Atlantic Ten Conference first team selection, averaged a double-double last season with 11.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He enters the season on the watch list for the Wooden Award, an honor given to the most outstanding players in men’s and women’s basketball. He is regarded as an excellent defender, but more is expected of him on the offensive side of the game this season.
“We need to get him into the midteens and have that as his average every night out, so we need him to be more aggressive on the offensive end,” Dunphy said.
“Everybody tells me I need to score more, and that’s my main goal,” added Allen.
Along with Allen, Fernandez figures to be one of the team’s leading scorers. With 12.6 points per game last year, he is the only returning player to average double digits during the 2009-10 season. The Argentine guard is expected to move to point guard, a spot vacated by Luis Guzman, who graduated last year. This change should be seamless for Fernandez.
“My position actually is the point guard, so it’s not really a transition,” he said. “The only transition is to keep scoring like I did last year. It’ll be a challenge, but I’m ready to take it.”
In the frontcourt, Allen is expected to see help in the form of the 6-foot, 11-inch Eric, who has battled with Allen in practice to help both players improve.
“He’s not a guy that I like to guard. He’s really strong and athletic,” Allen said. “It’s really tough guarding him.”
“People wonder why I’m such a good defensive player,” he said, attributing his strong defensive play in games to defending Eric in practices. “He’s one of the strongest guys I’ve played against … When it comes to game time, it doesn’t get much harder guarding other guys.”
For the fourth starting spot, junior guard Ramone Moore goes from being the sixth man to the fourth. The reigning A-10 Sixth Man of the Year will shed his off-the-bench role this season.
“I just want to take my game to another level,” Moore said. “I had to play the role coming off the bench. Starting this year, there’s going to be a lot of things that coach expects from me. It’s going to be a different role for me, and I’m ready for it.”
After those four, the fifth starter is unknown at this point.
“If we had a set lineup with five guys that you knew were going to start and three guys that knew when they were going to get in the game, that would be ideal,” Dunphy said. “We don’t necessarily have that, so we’re still in the stages of figuring all of that out.”
“I think a lot of guys want to show coach that they really want that spot,” Moore added. “That makes the practices even better, with guys coming in and showing they can take that spot or even be the first guy off the bench and get some minutes, which is good for us.”
That last starting spot could be taken by one of four players.
Freshman guard Aaron Brown impressed the coaches and players alike since he joined the team out of St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey.
“Aaron Brown is a really good offensive player. He can shoot the ball really well, and he can also play D,” Allen said. “He’s one of the best defensive guards that we have. He picks up things really quickly.”
Sophomore guards T.J. DiLeo and Khalif Wyatt also figure to be in the mix as either the fifth starter or the first guard off the bench. Junior forward Scootie Randall can also make a case to be the fifth starter with some playing experience to back it up. Last season, he showed some touch beyond the arc as he shot at a 41.9 percent clip from three-point range, the second best percentage on the team, after going 13-for-31 from that range.
Some of the other players expected to provide depth this season include sophomore forward Rahlir Jefferson and freshman forward Anthony Lee, who are both expected to see increased playing time in the event that Eric or Allen gets into foul trouble or becomes injured.
“[Jefferson is] a little undersized as a power forward, but he knows what he’s doing out there, and he’s very aggressive defensively and can get some rebounds defensively, so we’ll see how that works out,” Dunphy said. “Rahlir is more of a hybrid guy. You need him out there defensively because he can guard quicker guys, and that’ll be something we need to pay attention to depending on what the matchups are with who we’re playing.”
The 6-foot, 9-inch Lee is expected to contribute immediately given senior forward Craig Williams’ injury, but he has a decent pedigree coming out of West Oak Academy in Orlando, Fla., where he averaged 23 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks per game as a senior.
While the fifth starter’s identity remains a mystery – and it could change on a game-to-game basis for now – Dunphy isn’t letting the decision put him under too much pressure.
“When I listen to Andy Reid and people ask him who’s going to start [and] he names somebody, I don’t think he needs to do that,” Dunphy said. “We’re not sure yet about who is going to play … that doesn’t mean our starting lineup in game No. 5 can’t be different from game No. 1.”
“To me, it doesn’t really matter who starts,” he added. “It’s about who finishes.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at email@example.com.