NEC Team Primer: #10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Fairleigh Dickinson kicks off our NEC team preview coverage. During the next 10 weekdays leading up until the season we’ll look at what every team needs to do to compete in the NEC this season.

Fairleigh-Dickinson-Knights_1_220_220_sHead Coach: Greg Herenda, 1st year
Last season: 7-24, 2-16 (NEC), failed to qualify for the NEC tournament
RPI/KenPom: 297/335
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 10th out of 10 teams
State of Program: Complete Rebuild
Starters Returning: 2
Key Loss(es): Kinu Rochford (14.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 59.2% FG%), Melquan Bolding (13.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Lonnie Robinson (8.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Trevor Charles (5 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Incoming Players: Scooter Gillette (PF), Matt MacDonald (G/F), Scott Kingsley (G/F), Malachi Nix (PG), Miles Mann (PF), Michael Owona (PF), Jayde Dawson (G)

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Sidney Sanders, Jr. (4.6 ppg, 3.4 apg, 1.8 A/TO)
G: Mostafaa Jones (5.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
G: Matt MacDonald (first season)
F: Mathias Seilund (5.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 41.3% 3PT%)
F: Scooter Gillette (3.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, only played 6 games due to injury)

Key Reserves: Literally everyone else on the roster…

Major Storylines:

  • Changing the Culture – It’s never an easy task to “change the culture” of a program used to losing, and losing often, but that’s exactly what Herenda strives to do in season one. Knight teams of the past have been quite prone to giving in to adversity, so the coaching staff continues to challenge their players to be accountable, both on and off the floor.
  • Playing Defense – Since Tom Green guided the Knights to their last 20-win season in 2006, FDU has toiled in mediocrity, largely due to their inability to stop their opponent’s from scoring the basketball and attacking the glass. For the past seven seasons, FDU has finished in the bottom 20 percent nationally in defensive efficiency and rebounding margin, cratering last year when they allowed 112.2 points per 100 possessions and were outrebounded by an unfathomable eight rebounds per game! Therefore, it’s no surprise defense and rebounding are Herenda’s number one focuses this offseason. There’s no where to go but up.
  • An Up-Tempo, Balanced Approach – One aspect of Herenda basketball is to push the tempo, when necessary. After practicing for nearly a month, the head coach is confident he has the personnel to push the ball up the floor off of defensive rebounds. “Get the ball up the floor in five seconds or less” has been the motto during practice. With a somewhat athletic roster and capable long-range shooters, the onus will fall on Sanders and Nix to facilitate and find open looks for teammates. Players like Jones, Seilund, MacDonald and others have the potential to make 40 percent of their three-point attempts, as long as they don’t have to create for themselves.

The Skinny:

Rebuilding programs from the ground up is something Herenda does very well, as he guided UMass-Lowell to the NCAA Division II tournament four out of the last five seasons, despite inheriting a program rife with inconsistency. As such, Herenda tackles another project that is the FDU Knights, arguably the worst program in the NEC since 2007. The roster has the least returning possession minutes in the conference (33%), so Herenda has the mammoth challenge of integrating an inexperienced roster with seven scholarship players who have yet to play at the Division I level. The cupboard isn’t completely bare, as the starting lineup features four upperclassmen that’ve experienced some success previously. The de-facto leader is senior point guard Sidney Sanders, Jr., a steady, yet unspectacular floor general who posted a nice assist to turnover ratio of 1.8. He, along with lightening quick freshman guard Malachi Nix, three-point specialist Mostafaa Jones, and athletic freshman Jayde Dawson will comprise the Knights backcourt. Both Nix and Dawson have the talent to see their roles increase deeper into the season.

Scooter Gillette, a fifth year transfer from Niagara, stabilizes the Knights’ frontline with his defensive prowess and toughness in the lane. The rest of the frontcourt around Gillette is raw and unproven, but the upside is there with Xavier Harris, Michael Owona, Miles Mann, and Kyle Pearson. Mann is coming off a torn ACL last June, but has looked good this preseason. Filling out the roster are swingmen Scott Kingsley and Matt MacDonald, both rookies. MacDonald, in particular, has impressed with his high basketball IQ – he’s the son of a coach – and could find starter minutes at the “3” right away.

In all, Herenda will play all 12 of his players during FDU’s rather treacherous non-conference slate of games, where they square off against the likes of Hofstra, Arizona, Iowa, Stony Brook, Princeton, and Seton Hall. Wins will be extremely difficult to come by the first couple of months, but if Herenda can figure out his rotation and players begin to adapt and fully buy in, they could have their moments during NEC play. It will have to be though a balanced attack, however, with the roster devoid of any apparent star power.

Coach’s Quotes:

“I like to press, but I don’t know when we start playing teams how much we can press. When I coached at (UMass) Lowell, we pressed UConn and we pressed Providence.”
– Herenda, when asked if he’ll attack teams defensively this season

“I think we have talent that is comparable (to the other NEC teams). We have players that can play and compete in this league and beyond. I really believe that. If I don’t believe it, and the kids don’t believe it, then we’re in trouble.”
– Herenda, when asked if he’s comfortable with the personnel on this roster

“When you are the new kid on the block, so to speak, it just gives you an edge, because people don’t know how we’re going to play. It’s going to be a different Fairleigh Dickinson team that they’ve played in the past.”
– Herenda, on what to expect this season from FDU

Final Predictions:

Ryan – It’s likely going to get worse before it gets better in Hackensack. The ship is finally steered in the right direction under the guidance of Herenda (I’m a big fan), yet it could take a while for his players to fully adapt to his scheme. Still, they’ll better their conference win total from a season ago (2) and it wouldn’t surprise me if they pull off a few conference upsets at home. This team will compete hard and be a pest to NEC rivals come February. (6 total wins, 3-13 NEC)

John – It’s hard to argue that FDU won’t finish last in the NEC this season. Still, Herenda has a history of rebuilding programs. If nothing else, this team should be a lot more fun to watch as the defense and offense should both be opened up under their new head coach. There’s also some young talent on the roster – with more surely to come. While the Knights won’t escape the basement, they’ll be competitive. Here’s one not so bold prediction: The FDU in-conference defense won’t finish last in the NEC on a per-possession basis in 2013-14. (6 total wins, 3-13 NEC)