1. Whose absence – Keith Butler, Wayne Marshall or Wilbur Allen – will hurt the team most?
POINT: Keith Butler’s. Though the 7-foot-1 center tallied double-digit scoring just three times all of last year, Butler’s ability to take up space in the paint kept the Owls’ opponents busy on the perimeter. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But Butler’s big body is something the Owls could use this season.
COUNTERPOINT: Honestly? Fans will miss Allen’s energy a lot more than the Owls will miss either big man. It’s painful to watch what Marshall’s going through, especially since nobody really knows what’s preventing him from playing this season. With another year of seasoning, Marshall may be able to bring the Owls some inside presence, but he was an underwhelming rebounder in his first year and turned the ball over at an alarming rate for a big man.
2. Mardy Collins is the Owls’ best player. Is he the best player in the Atlantic Ten Conference?
POINT: Is Mardy the best? Nope. That honor belongs to La Salle senior forward Steven Smith. The Explorers were picked to finish 10th in the A-10. The only reason they weren’t chosen last is Smith, a preseason all-America pick who last season averaged 20 points and 8.5 rebounds, while shooting at a 42 percent clip.
COUNTERPOINT: If you’re looking for the most talent, take Smith. If you want the most menacing, take Charlotte’s 6-8 power forward, Curtis Withers. But there is no combination of skill, natural ability and mental fortitude in the league that should even be discussed in the same sentence as Collins.
3. Is this team truly built to reach the NCAA Tournament?
POINT: Chaney has the ability to build contenders. This year the 73-year-old coach is using a guard-heavy rotation, so speed will be his game. The Owls annually are among the nation’s best in fewest turnovers per game. Helping their cause will be a schedule featuring national titans Duke, Maryland, Villanova and Alabama. A split against those four will put the Owls in the NCAA Tournament.
COUNTERPOINT: How times have changed. A few years ago, this question would have involved the Owls going deep in the Tournament. Now, just making it to the Big Dance is considered a victory. If the Owls beat St. Joe’s twice – something they couldn’t do last year – they would be on course for about 18 wins, probably not enough to get an at-large bid. Any trip to the NCAA will likely go through Cincinnati, site of the A-10 tournament.
4. When CBSsportsline.com rated Collins the No. 1 point guard in the nation, it added that “he can’t do it alone.” Will he have to?
POINT: Of course. Mark Tyndale’s erratic shooting display last season and a lack of any reliable inside presence makes Collins’ job that much more difficult. Among last season’s conference leaders in points, rebounds, assists and steals among guards, Collins will need a similarly effective season for the Owls to be successful.
COUNTERPOINT: Erratic shooting is one thing, but recent seasons have shown that post-up big men are a postseason hindrance unless a team plays in Chapel Hill.
A small lineup will help, not hurt. As far as shooting, freshman Dionte Christmas is, by all indications, a sniper. And Tyndale would rather collide with a defender on a layup than settle for an easy jumper. Expect Collins’ numbers to go up, but simply because he’s better this year.