Men’s Basketball Season Preview: team chemistry, strong sophomores highlight Media Day themes

By: Ethan Fuller

BOSTON, MA — Joe Jones finished off his opening Media Day statement on Wednesday by calling the 2019-20 men’s basketball squad “the most cohesive group” he’s coached in a long time.

“I feel really good about our team chemistry and how hard our guys have worked up to this point,” the BU head coach said. “It’s been a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to the season.”

Boston University ranked fifth in the Patriot League’s preseason poll, which was released on Wednesday. Their jump versus last year’s final standings hinges on the development of a largely similar roster. Inconsistency, fueled by a wave of youth, plagued the Terriers last season as they stumbled to a 15-18 record and a second round exit in the Patriot League postseason. This year BU returns 11 players; that familiarity will be a major asset for the program.

Media Day provided a glimpse into the ceiling of this year’s Terriers. Individual growth and team versatility project as two vital components for success.

Sophomores on the Rise

BU carries six sophomores into the 2019-20 season, and they figure to play a major role in the success of the Terriers.

Walter Whyte – 6’6″, 210 lbs. – G/F

After missing all of 2018-19 due to a bone bruise, Whyte’s highly-anticipated return is critical for Boston University. The Spain trip provided the swingman opportunities to get back in the flow of basketball, and those minutes have him ready for the season.

“Since we’ve been back [from Spain] he’s been more consistent,” Jones said of Whyte’s performance. “He’s shooting the ball at a really high level right now and he’s working his way through some of the rust.”

The former All-Rookie honoree will play a major role on both ends, according to Coach Jones. “I think he’s someone that we need a lot from. He’s gotta be able to guard four to five positions. At times we do some switching. He’s gotta be a guy that can knock it down from three, he’s gotta be a guy that can get himself fouled and can get to the foul line. You know, I think he’s a guy that can get seven to nine rebounds a game, he’s that good.”

“I think he’s ready to take that responsibility on.”

Alex Vilarino – 6’2″, 180 lbs. – G

As a freshman, Vilarino endured a rough start to his collegiate career but improved nicely as a scorer, notching double-digit points in four of the last seven contests. According to Coach Jones, the guard has impressed over the course of the offseason.

“I thought Alex Vilarino was one of our most improved players,” Jones said. “We gotta get him having a more attacking mentality more often, but I was really pleased to see his overall development. His competitiveness has started to improve.”

Vilarino has made a strong case to start at point guard for the Terriers after starting in 21 games last season. If he can increase his perimeter volume after taking just 21 threes in 2018-19, Vilarino will become a dynamic three-level scorer for BU.

Jonas Harper – 6’2″, 190 lbs. – G

Harper burst onto the scene as a sharpshooting freshman last season, converting a blistering 46.6 percent of his three-pointers. But the 2019 Patriot League All-Rookie Team member continues to trend upward.

“Jonas has really taken off from where he was last year as a player,” Jones noted. “I think he’s very competitive with Alex in terms of who the most improved guys are in that class right now.”

Coach Jones emphasized the holistic improvement of Jones, saying the elusive guard also “takes pride in his defense.”

“I think his motor is very high,” he added.

A 3-and-D archetype sounds spectacular, and Harper has the skills and mentality to become a two-way mismatch.

Jack Hemphill – 6’9″ 230 lbs. – F

One of the most notable performers during BU’s exhibition trip to Spain, Hemphill averaged a strong 11.3 points across four games, showing obvious offensive improvement.

“[He’s] a guy that can come into a game and do some different things because his skill set’s a lot different,” said Jones.

Though he averaged just under ten minutes per game last season, Hemphill made sixteen three-pointers in his limited action. He adds a nice boost for floor spacing in the frontcourt behind Max Mahoney and Sukhmail Mathon. 

Fletcher Tynen – 6’7″, 195 lbs. – G/F

Tynen has dealt with minor back issues recently, per Coach Jones, but he is close to returning and should be healthy for the home opener. The sophomore wing played sparingly last season but has demonstrated good offensive development over the summer.

“He put a lot of time in the gym with his shot, and he’s been able to make jumpers at a pretty consistent rate,” Jones said.

This is a great sign for Tynen’s growth. The California native made 48.5 percent of his shots last year but canned only four of 17 three-pointers and 57.6 percent of his free-throws. Tynen can be an intriguing piece at his size, but the jumper will ultimately decide his role.

Garrett Pascoe – 6’3″, 180 lbs. – G

Unfortunately, Pascoe’s 2019-20 future is already murky. The guard has been dealing with injuries, according to Coach Jones, who said “we don’t know if we’re gonna be able to get him back this year.”

The loss of Pascoe would be a sizeable blow to BU’s guard depth, as he started eleven games last year.

Mahoney Takes the Lead

Senior forward Max Mahoney was also available at Media Day ahead of his final season for BU. Mahoney has steadily improved his post scoring and rebounding throughout college and posted a strong stat line of 16.5 points and 6.6 rebounds on 63 percent shooting last season. He became the first Terrier since Eric Fanning to be named to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team.

Mahoney noted that shooting has been a key part of his offseason development.

“Primarily it’s free-throw shooting,” he said (Mahoney shot just 63.6 percent on free throws in 2018-19). “I’m getting to the line a lot, drawing fouls in the paint. So being able to consistently make free throws will help our team.”

As a senior, Mahoney understands his role continues to grow as a leader. Though he helped lead the team with Tyler Scanlon last season, Mahoney is now one of just two seniors and the offensive fulcrum for the Terriers.

“Being in a leadership position I’ll be giving the feedback, but I have to understand that as I’m holding other guys accountable, it has to come from me as well,” Mahoney said. “So a lot of leading by example.”

 Lineup Versatility

The Terrier backcourt went through consistent changes last season as freshmen struggled to acclimate to high-minutes roles. Though Coach Jones has not set anything in stone yet, he acknowledged that Alex Vilarino, Jonas Harper and Javante McCoy have the early edge in this year’s guard pecking order.

But Jones also emphasized that the range of diverse skills allow room to experiment with lineups.

“[We have] Vilarino, Harper and McCoy,” Jones said, “but there are times when we can kind of play Walt as a guard and play bigger with Suk and Max and Jack.”

Another interesting note — Ethan Brittain-Watts, one of only two freshmen on the team, has also made a statement in early action.

“He plays with a lot of poise,” said Jones, “and I’m really confident that he’s gonna have a solid year for us as well.”

Add in junior Andrew Petcash, who has “shot the lights out in practice” according to Jones. Petcash was a 40-percent shooter from downtown last year, and his stroke adds yet another player for defenses to watch. Altogether, numerous options abound for lineup possibilities.

Similarly, the Terriers have a multitude of scorers, who will need to produce after versatile threat Tyler Scanlon transferred to Belmont University. But Max Mahoney has clear confidence that the team can form a diverse attack.

“Walter Whyte adds some size and athleticism and scoring ability to the lineup,” Mahoney said. “And then we have other guys like Javante McCoy and Alex Vilarino, who I think developed tremendously over the summer and offseason.”

“Obviously there’s a little bit of a scoring gap to fill, but I’m pretty confident our guys can fill that in.”

Boston University takes the court for the first time on November 5 when they host rival Northeastern University.

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