Malik Harmon’s Injury Leaves Hole in Saint Francis Backcourt

The Saint Francis Red Flash have had a very respectable run under Rob Krimmel. After stumbling to a 5-24 record in his inaugural season, even after star forward Scott Eatherton abruptly transferred in the offseason prior, Krimmel has quietly built the program into a solid NEC contender by compiling 27 conference victories during the past three seasons.

Continuing the program’s progression in year five wouldn’t be easy, though. With more than half of the team’s production no longer in Loretto and key players on the mend, Krimmel could’ve easily declared the upcoming season a transition year when I interviewed him for my Blue Ribbon preview.

Instead, he took the glass half full approach. “I’d like to think we’ll be able to reload and with Malik and Isaiah coming back healthy that will allow us to do it,” Krimmel said back in July.

That was a sizable assumption given the surgeries both Malik Harmon (torn labrum) and Isaiah Blackmon (torn ACL) underwent in March, yet both were projected to return by the time the season started for Saint Francis on Nov. 12.

Unfortunately for Harmon, he’ll have to wait another season before playing out his senior campaign. The point guard tore his ACL during a workout last month, effectively ending his 2016-17 season before it started. With 87 career starts, Harmon was by far the most experienced player on the Red Flash and was expected to lead a young and mostly unproven group. Who will replace the grizzled veteran?

For starters, Blackmon has been cleared to practice and has progressed well from his surgery eight months ago. That’s the good news, yet Krimmel and his staff will be predictably cautious as they ease their guard back into action. “We don’t need him November 1, we need him January 1,” Krimmel said at NEC Social Media Day.

Blackmon is a dynamic, game changing talent, but he’s not someone who’ll run the offense, at least not on a full-time basis, as I’ve explained before. While Krimmel was careful not to specifically name a replacement primary ball handler (in fairness his staff still needs to sort out roles), sophomore Jamaal King stands out as the most likely candidate. Even though the 5’10 guard has just 152 minutes of Division I experience, he’s had an impressive offseason after a difficult freshman campaign that he missed half of due to academic issues.

“Jamaal has done a very good of putting pressure on Malik even with Malik coming back,” Krimmel said. “There wasn’t going to be a huge gap in either direction. Jamaal knows how to play the position; he’s a very good defender.”

For the Red Flash to have a competitive year, a lot of the onus will now unfairly fall on King, who identified better as a true combo guard coming out of high school. While he exhibits the quickness and explosiveness needed to excel at the 1, his court vision and passing abilities are still unproven. He does own the best returning assist rate on the team, though finishing just 13.2% of your possessions with an assist is far from ideal for a point guard.

And that illustrates the value of Harmon–yes, his numbers the past two seasons were inconsistent, yet you could make an argument they were league average minutes. Losing his production and leadership creates a hole that puts the Red Flash staff in a very difficult spot.

Georgios Angelou is an excellent outside shooter, yet he can help SFU on the ball? (Photo credit: Saint Francis Athletics)

Georgios Angelou is an excellent outside shooter, yet he can help SFU on the ball? (Photo credit: Saint Francis Athletics)

After King, there are two guards better suited to play off the ball: senior Georgios Angelou and sophomore Scott Meredith. The former emerged as a bright spot amid a rough end to the 2015-16 season, becoming what his teammate Ben Millaud-Meunier once was: a lethal three-point threat off the bench. Over Saint Francis’ final seven games last season, Angelou made 12 of his 24 behind the arc attempts while averaging 23 minutes per game. For the season, the Greece native posted a strong 124.9 offensive rating, buoyed mostly by his long distance prowess.

With Meredith projected as the same type of shooting guard—Krimmel calls them the two best shooters in his program—the coach has two perimeter assets in his rotation, which is great when they are complimentary pieces. Given the graduation of Greg Brown and Harmon’s unforeseen injury however, Meredith and especially Angelou need to be more than that. And that’s asking a lot.

Of course, there are others who’ll take on some of the ball handling duties—Krimmel mentioned at NEC Media Day that rookie guard/forward Keith Braxton as one such candidate, but there’s no sugar coating what the loss of Harmon means to a roster in transition. Here’s my best guess at the current Red Flash depth chart:

PG: King
SG: Angelou, Meredith
SG: Blackmon, Braxton, Gaskins Jr.
F: Thompson, Wrencher
PF: Nebo, Umezurike
Intriguing walk-ons: Wolford, Baker

There are mainly intriguing pieces in this rotation, yet without a reliable point guard and accompanying depth much of that upside becomes displaced. Could Blackmon, Josh Nebo and Basil Thompson progress into above-average regulars while King stabilizes the offense and Angelou emerges as the team’s long distance threat? Sure that could happen, but without Harmon the margin of error is razor thin.

There’s enough talent to make the Red Flash a NEC contender once again, yet you simply can’t ignore what the floor of this team has become—a last place league finish. For now, a ninth place projection is the safe bet and one I’ve already made in my Blue Ribbon preview. Krimmel won’t publicly admit it, but 2017-18 could be the year Saint Francis returns to contention with Harmon back and everyone else a year more mature.

Update (11/1, 8:10 PM): The tough offseason continues for the Red Flash with the apparent arrest of Basil Thompson. The 6’6 forward was reportedly arrested for striking a police officer multiple times and resisting arrest. You can find the story here.

Ryan Peters wrote the NEC team previews for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can buy your copy here and follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride