By: Matthew Doherty
Following a 2015-2016 season that was defined by close losses and nagging injuries, the Boston University Men’s Basketball Team sets off this season’s campaign with a talented, experienced roster mounted by sky high expectations in what is set up to be an exciting year on Commonwealth Avenue.
The Terriers are coming off a 19-15 (11-7 PL) season in which they advanced to the second round of the CIT Postseason Tournament before losing to NJIT. However, the loss that still stings for the returning Terriers is the 69-64 defeat to American University in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament on their home floor. An early exit in the league tournament meant no NCAA Tournament for the fifth year in a row for BU.
But as a new season rolls around, the dream and goal of making it to the Big Dance once again lingers through the minds of every coach and player with the season starting 0-0 for everyone on November 11th. The Terriers arguably have one their best teams in recent years as they set themselves up for the 2016-2017 journey.
Joe Jones’ squad loses two important seniors in John Papale and Nathan Dieudonne to graduation but returns everyone else.
With Papale the Terriers lose one of the best three-point shooters in school history. Papale was a player who was going to give you 30+ minutes a night and knock down his shots. With his departure, it opens up a lot of backcourt minutes to other players.
The loss of Dieudonne might hurt more than Papale because Dieudonne brought an interior presence and toughness that is hard to replace. Whether it was on the glass or blocking shots, Dieudonne was the heart and soul of that defense. Finding someone to replace his motor and intensity will be a daunting task for Jones.
However, this Terrier team will have more talent than ever. BU returns their best player from a season ago, senior Eric Fanning (15.2 PPG, 5.4 RPG) as well their best player from two seasons ago, redshirt junior Cedric Hankerson (15.9 PPG in 14-15) who missed last season with a torn ACL. With those players the Terriers have two deadly wing players that can attack the basket, get to the free throw line, and hit jumpers. Fanning earned First Team All Patriot League honors last year as a junior while Hankerson earned Second League All-Conference as a sophomore in 2015. Fanning was also named to the Preseason All-League Team just last week.
BU also brings back another familiar face from injury in fifth-year senior Justin Alston. Alston will serve as a primary rim protector at 6’8. The D.C. native broke his foot just 8 games into last season where he was averaging (8.8 PPG and 4.9 RPG) on 46.6 % shooting. The leadership and experience from Alston will be key for this year’s team.
Fanning, Hankerson, and Alston are all entrenched in the starting lineup and sophomore point guard Kyle Foreman will also be joining them. The Clyde Hill, Washington native averaged (9.2 PPG, 3.9 APG, 2.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG) as a true freshman while starting 26 games. Foreman also battled injuries to his foot for the latter half of the season slowing down his production. The 6’1 guard will serve as the primary ball handler where he is an advanced passer and should have a field day setting up Fanning and Hankerson on the wing and working the pick and roll with Alston.
The fifth and final starter for Joe Jones’ team is certainly up for grabs until the first game. The Terriers have many options like junior forward Nick Havener, junior guard Cheddi Mosely, senior centers Blaise Mbargorba and Dylan Haines, or freshman guard Destin Barnes. Either way, BU will have an abundance of depth. Havener will most likely get the nod in the starting lineup because of his rebounding ability. He averaged 6.1 RPG last season, sixth-best in the Patriot League and will be paired up with Alston down low.
With that being said the bench unit will present a devastating challenge for opposing teams consisting of Mosely, Barnes and two seven footers in Haines and Mbargorba.
Mosely served as the sixth-man for stretches of last year and was effective. He is an above average three-point shooter, especially when he gets hot, and can go off for 20 points in any instant. His spark plug scoring off the bench will be something the Terriers will benefit from.
Then, you throw out the two senior seven footers, who can protect the rim, rebound, and for Haines, step out and shoot the three. Combine that with Destin Barnes and the Terriers have a nice-looking second unit. Barnes, the 6’6 freshman from Chicago averaged 24 PPG for prep school powerhouse Dom Bosco Prep (Ind.) and his combo-guard style of play will mesh well with Fanning and Hankerson.
Look for junior back-up point guard Eric Johnson, junior three-point shooter Will Goff, and freshman forwards Max Mahoney and Tyler Scanlon to battle for minutes as well.
The season begins on Nov. 11 when BU heads to cross-town rival Northeastern. After a week-off, the Terriers will welcome the Huskies back to Case Gym on Nov.18, part of a home and home series that also kicks off the first annual Steve Wright Classic. The tournament, held at Case Gym, will consist of BU, Northeastern, Maine, and LIU-Brooklyn, with each team playing each other once. The tournament will last from Nov.18- Nov. 21.
Other non-conference games for the Terriers include home contests against DIII Western New England, Canisius, and UNH as well as road trips to Saint Peter’s and Umass Lowell.
The three and final non-conference games on the schedule feature marquee opponents for Joe Jones’ squad. First, on Wednesday Nov. 30, BU will head to Storrs, Conn. to take on the UConn Huskies. Three days later they face off against North Carolina St. and superstar freshman Dennis Smith Jr. in Raleigh. A week after that, the Terriers will head to Syracuse to take on the Orange at the Carrier Dome.
The three games in a week and a half span versus power programs will be a difficult task for the Terriers but will represent a learning experience. It will also be a measuring stick as for how this team fairs against higher competition. Connecticut and Syracuse are both in the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll.
The 18-game Patriot League slate kicks off on Friday, December 30th when the Terriers welcome defending champion Holy Cross to Case Gym. The following Monday, BU will face off against the preseason favorites, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, in a pivotal league game at Case.
Lehigh was picked as nearly unanimous favorites to win the league. The Terriers finished a distant second. The Mountain Hawks sport two-time Patriot League Player of the Year in senior forward/center Tim Kempton, who was named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Watch List for the nations best center.
The other matchup between the league favorites will take place on Monday, January 30th in Bethlehem. Both match ups will loom large if the Terriers hope to capture the regular season league title.
BU wraps up their 18-game league schedule on Saturday, February 25th, with a trip to Holy Cross. Senior Day will be held on Feb. 19 vs. Bucknell.
Keys to Success
A major key this year will be staying healthy. Hankerson missed all but one game last year recovering from an ACL tear, Alston missed the final 26 games, Foreman battled an ongoing foot problem, and Mosely missed time with injury as well. Add in Eric Fanning’s suspension for the first seven games and Jones was continuously mixing and matching lineups. BU was never able to play with their most complete lineup on the floor at the same time and the injuries disrupted a rhythm.
The fact that the Terriers return those injured pieces from a 19 win team is the intriguing factor surrounding them.
As for on the court, Eric Fanning and Cedric Hankerson are the two keys that will make this team go. They are gifted offensively because of their diversity. Fanning was asked to do a lot last year on the offensive end but we saw a huge growth in his game in terms of maturity and talent. Often disappearing in parts of games earlier in the season, his motor late in the season put it all together and the results showed. Fanning’s ability to drive, absorb contact, and get to the foul line make him a special talent.
With so much relying on him last year to make the offense go, Hankerson should help ease the burden. Hankerson isn’t the same driver as Fanning but he can attack the basket and get to the line as well. What separates Hankerson from Fanning is his shooting ability. Hankerson shot an impressive 39.8% from behind the arc his sophomore year. The two will be playing heavy minutes together for the first time in their careers but will be relied on to contribute a bulk of the scoring this year.
Foreman’s job as the point guard will be a game manager, meaning: facilitate and don’t turn the ball over. He did a great job in both of those categories last year while also providing a relentless defensive effort resulting in over one steal per game. Foreman will continue to grow on the offensive end but as a passer he is perfect for this offense.
Another key for the Terriers this season is rebounding. BU was middle of the pack last year in rebounding and lost some games because of their problems on the glass. Having Alston back will help instrumentally, especially with the loss of Dieudonne. Dieudonne’s loss though means Havener, Mbargorba, and Haines need to step up on the glass. The four of them have a lot of height and Fanning and Hankerson are both 6’5 as well. Crashing the boards will be an effort thing some games that Jones needs his team to commit too. Rebounding could be a key or an achilleas heel.
Finally, the Terriers need to rely on their depth. They have an extremely deep team barring injury with Mosely serving as a potential X-factor. The junior has a natural knack for scoring but sometimes his motor disappears. If Mosely puts it all together, just like Fanning did as a junior, he can be a special weapon for Jones.
For now though, the Terriers are focused on Northeastern on Friday. The Huskies lose their top three players from a season ago in David Walker, Quincy Ford, and Zach Stahl, but do get graduate transfer Alex Murphy. Murphy, a former ESPN Top 100 recruit, started his career at Duke before transferring to Florida. Injuries ravaged his collegiate career and he heads to Northeastern looking to salvage his former self. Last year, Northeastern won a thrilling overtime game vs. BU at Case Gym to start off the season.
This time around, the Terriers hope they have the talent and experience to pull out a victory in games such as the Northeastern one from a season ago.
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