“The hungry cat hunts best,” is the motto of the Fairleigh Dickinson program. That hunger still fuels FDU—even coming off a season in which the Knights stunned the Northeast Conference by advancing to the NCAA tournament after being picked ninth last preseason.
“We have a hunger to get back to the NCAA tournament,” Darian Anderson said at NEC Social Media Day at the Barclays Center last week.
The Knights will need that hunger this season as they attempt to defend their NEC title. An extremely talented junior class drives the team. Anderson and Earl Potts, Jr. are two of the most efficient scorers in the NEC and first-team players. But if Fairleigh Dickinson is going to get back to the NCAA tournament, Greg Herenda’s team will have to improve on the defensive end.
The Knights allowed 107.5 points per 100 possessions last season in NEC play, third worst in the entire conference. Only a blistering offense saved Fairleigh Dickinson from its defensive deficiencies.
“We’ve got a lot of improvement in front of us,” Herenda said. “We need to defend better, we need to rebound better, and we need to improve. Last year we won a championship while were evolving as a team and as a program.”
Rebounding was an especially big problem for the Knights last season. The combination of playing zone defense and smaller lineups cost FDU on the glass in NEC play. Conference opponents grabbed 36.3% of their misses last season, the worst in the NEC. The Knights also gave up a lot of points at the free throw line, where their 44.3 free throw rate was the worst in the NEC, and beyond the arc. (Opponents shot 37.2% from three). What kept the defense afloat were turnovers. The quick hands of Anderson, Potts and Stephan Jiggetts forced opponents to cough up the ball on more than a fifth of their possessions.
But plus-minus statistics show how the Knights struggled even more when those three iron men weren’t on the court, in particular when the versatile, 6’6 Potts wasn’t available. When Potts was on the court in NEC play Fairleigh Dickinson allowed 103.8 points per 100 possessions, but when he was off the Knights were 12.6 points per 100 possessions worse defensively.
The only player with a bigger spread than Potts was redshirt senior Tyrone O’Garro. When the former Monmouth forward was on the court the Knights were 16.4 points per 100 possession better, allowing only 94.5 points per 100 possessions. Of course that’s partly due to the fact that O’Garro missed almost the entire second half of NEC play due to injury. He only played 14 minutes of NEC action after February 11. But O’Garro’s return should be a welcome addition to the lineup. Mike Holloway, while outstanding on the offensive end during his freshman season, struggled a bit on the defensive end in his first season in the NEC. Hopefully an offseason of strength conditioning will make him stronger on the boards.
Herenda knows the Knights have to improve on the defensive side of the ball in order to live up to being picked first in the NEC Coaches Preseason Poll.
“We’ve dedicated our practices and our coaches’ preparation for this year to playing better defense and to rebounding better. And if we do that and make shots and play good offense, we have talented players, so we’ll be heading in the right direction,” Herenda said.
It also helps that the players in the program has a lot of desire, especially after the junior class experienced a 15-game losing streak in NEC play during their first season on campus.
“We keep our players hungry every day and I think that’s why we won last year,” Herenda said. “Every possession we just kept on playing and kept on playing. Our kids are relentless and they’re resilient, but we have to continue playing that way. I don’t know if we’re going to win the championship, but we’re going to continue playing that way. But we’ve got to guard better and we’ve got to rebound better.”
No matter what though the Knights will stay hungry.
Points allowed per 100 possessions when FDU players were on and off the court last season:
Quick Note: There may be confounding factors that cause a player’s numbers to be better or worse, so don’t take these as gospel, but they do provide some interesting insight. The chart includes all players who played a part in FDU’s rotation during NEC play. Negative is better.
|Player||On Court||Off Court||Difference|
|Earl Potts, Jr.|
|Marques Townes (transferred)||107.0||109.7||-2.7|