Mediocre start not a problem

A new guard is expected to join the basketball team.

To some, the men’s basketball team’s 4-3 start may seem frustrating and a bit perplexing.

Last week, the Owls dropped their home opener to Miami (Ohio) 68-52, much to the chagrin of most in attendance. Then, this past Saturday, they took out Penn State 65-59 in a game that saw senior guard Dionte Christmas roll in a lone bucket.

The inconsistency is apparent, but it’s nothing the Cherry and White haven’t seen before. The defending Atlantic Ten Conference champs will have plenty of time for retribution and a few tricks to unveil come 2009.

Last year, the early-season irks gnawed at the team immediately, as they stumbled to a 3-4 start. On the surface, recent losses to Buffalo and Miami (Ohio) may appear to be similar, unwarranted casualties of the season. However, closer examination concludes that both squads were well-prepared for the Owls. Last Thursday, Buffalo nearly toppled Connecticut, the No. 2-ranked team in the land, in a 68-64 loss. Miami (Ohio) took both then-No. 14 Xavier and then-No. 12 UCLA into the late stages of the second half.

The Owls are currently grappling with the most challenging portion of their schedule. The win at Penn State was just the beginning of a menacing stretch. Next up is No. 8 Tennessee at the Liacouras Center, followed by a trip to Lawrence, Kan., to meet last year’s national champions. It doesn’t get any easier two days later when they fly out to California to tip off with Long Beach State. Finally, Dec. 29 is a Big 5 clash with No. 15 Villanova.

Just typing about it is exhausting.

But momentum plays a funny role in college basketball, much like in all sports. Get on a hot streak, and who knows what can happen. By the time the Owls meet Villanova, they will most likely be a better-looking team, if nothing else. If senior center Sergio Olmos and sophomore forward Lavoy Allen remain healthy, they will be operating at full strength. Allen posted his third double-double of the season against Penn State and looked effortless in doing so.

The Owls should also be getting a little-known Christmas present sometime over winter break – one that has nothing to do with a familiar sharpshooting guard.

Sources close to the team say that 6-foot-4-inch point guard Juan Fernandez from Argentina is slated to join the roster as early as the Villanova game. While his immediate impact is uncertain, and his playing time will likely be restricted early on, he has received comparisons to fellow countryman and former Owl Juan “Pepe” Sanchez.

The praise may be premature, but Fernandez made a splash with 16 points in a United States versus Argentina under-18 game this past summer. It was Sanchez, along with assistant coach Matt Langel, who combined to be the driving influence behind Fernandez’s decision. He wasn’t able to join the team this semester because he just finished high school last week.

His assistance should definitely aid a backcourt that is still looking for continuity. The Owls have mixed in numerous guard combinations but still average 14.9 turnovers per game. The team worked well against Penn State to limit its giveaways to 10.

A-10 play should bring some relief from a difficult schedule. Christmas has torched the conference with two straight scoring titles. But, if his scoring woes continue, it will be up to a slew of willing candidates to gobble up the leftover points.

The lukewarm start may not be satisfying, but it is certainly justifiable. Recent years have indicated that the Owls are capable of rebounding from a handful of bad losses. Time will be the team’s adhesive, and another NCAA Tournament appearance is beckoning in 2009.

Anthony Stipa can be reached at

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