By: Chris Lynch
Two years ago, Maurice Watson Jr. led the Boston University Terriers into the conference championship game. After a loss to the American Eagles, the program changed dramatically.
Seniors Dom Morris and DJ Irving graduated, Malik Thomas transferred to Norfolk State, and Watson transferred to Creighton, leaving only four players returned with any game experience at BU for the 2014-2015 season.
BU played a tough schedule in the competitive Patriot League, finishing 9-9 in regular season conference play. They held a lead early in their playoff game, only to be defeated 89-64 by the eventual conference champion Lafayette Leopards.
Since the end of that game, the Terriers have been on a mission to improve their game and make this upcoming season one to remember on Commonwealth Avenue. No player graduated or transferred away from BU, and everyone acknowledges that they didn’t play up to their potential last season and that they each improved over the summer. But what can be expected out of this unit this year?
Well, they are predicted to finish third in this year’s Patriot League preseason poll, behind Lehigh and Bucknell, two of the top teams from last year. Both teams are similar in that they return a veteran team with few changes from last season.
Lehigh brings back a powerful team, anchored by the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year and preseason Lou Henson All-American, Tim Kempton. Kempton averaged 15.3 points and a league high 8.3 rebounds a game last season and will be the driving force for the Mountain Hawks this season. Look for him to be the main attention grabber of the Terrier defense when the teams face off on Saturday, January 2nd, and at home on Sunday January 31st.
Bucknell returns sharp-shooter Chris Haas, and an experienced group, but also bring a new coach in. Nathan Davis was an assistant coach with Bucknell from 2003-2008 and has spent the last 7 seasons as the head coach at his alma mater, Randolph-Macon, a successful DIII school in Ashland, Virignia.
When asked about the preseason predictions, however, Coach Joe Jones explained that he didn’t pay too much attention to them. And his team shouldn’t do so either. In 2014, American was picked to finish low in the standings and won the conference. Last year, Army was picked to finish first in conference and they finished in last. The Patriot League is very fluid and competitive.
Having said that, let’s get to the Terriers, who will take on Northeastern on Friday night.
Now the only players with no game experience for the Terriers are the freshmen. The starting unit is all returning this year. Guards John Papale and Cheddi Mosely will set the tone, shooting the ball from the outside.
Papale is in his second year as a captain, and will bring veteran guile and toughness. He set a school record averaging 37.0 minutes a game last season, and averaged 9.2 points a game, while shooting 40.6% from the field and 37.7% from 3-point range.
Cheddi Mosely was an all-conference rookie last year, averaging 10.1 points a game in conference play and shooting 43.2% from three point range in conference play. He also earned the admiration of Coach this summer. When WTBU sat down with him in October, Coach Jones said that the most improved player was Cheddi. He will need to perform well this year for the Terriers to go where they want this season.
The front court also returns seniors Justin Alston and Nathan Dieudonne. Alston was the most improved player last season, averaging 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game. He dropped a career high 18 points in a crucial game against Army a year ago, and has only continued to mature as the summer progressed.
Dieudonne finished second in the Patriot League in rebounding at 7.4 a game, and led the league in offensive rebounds at 2.4 a game.
The only member of the starting lineup that won’t play on Friday night is Cedric Hankerson. He is out until at least December with an ACL injury. When he returns, the 2nd team all-conference player from last year will be expected to play a big role in Patriot League play.
Other returning players include seven-footers Blaise Mbargorba and Dylan Haines. Look for those two to give energy and rebounding minutes during the season, and to give Alston and Dieudonne a chance to rest.
Will Goff and Cameron Curry return to the back-court this season as well. Goff is a strong shooter, especially from the free throw line, and Curry is a quick player with a lot of energy in his tank. Again, look for these guys to give the starters a chance to breathe, and for the bench to contribute in a big way.
Last season’s starters were asked to play a lot of minutes last year. The team ranked consistently in the top ten for most minutes played by a starting lineup in all of NCAA basketball last season. The bench will have to perform better this season. They will be hampered in their efforts early on, though. Last year’s 6th man and the second leading scorer on the team, Eric Fanning, has been suspended for breaking team rules, and he will remain suspended at the discretion of Coach Jones. His absence will limit the efforts of the bench early in the year.
However, there is a trio of freshman who will play minutes to give the team some flexibility. Kamali Chambers arrives from Minnesota, Kyle Forman brings a defensive swagger from Washington state, and Brandon Johnson brings athletic skill and a high scoring rate from Mount Vernon, New York. The freshmen have impressed the coaches and the experienced players in practices to this point, and they provide flexibility for coach Jones to work with.
And the return of Eric Johnson from a shoulder injury that kept him out most of the season will allow the Terriers something they didn’t have much of last season: point guard play.
This team isn’t young and immature anymore. They grew up through a tough year last season. They played hard for the duration of the year, and they learned the system well under Coach Jones. Now, they return with a full year of play under their belt and a closeness and unity needed to win. The team has all the skills needed to win this season. And in the volatile Patriot League, the Terriers can make the 2015-2016 season a memorable one.