34 Teams in 34 Days: Fairleigh Dickinson

Outlook: An experienced team still loaded with several players from their NCAA run two years ago is looking to rebound from a subpar 2016-17 season. FDU will look to continue to play fast while finding a way to solve some of their defensive inefficiencies which set them back a season ago.

Last year: 11-19 (9-9 NEC)

Who’s in: Tyler Jones (G), Jahlil Jenkins (G), Noah Morgan (F), Elyjah Williams (F), Pat McNamara (G)

Who’s out: Earl Potts Jr. (G/F), Stephan Jiggetts (G), Ghassan Nehme (G), Tyrone O’Garro (F)

Key Non-Conference Games: Princeton (11-26-17); at Iona (12-2-17); at Rutgers (12-9-17)

A year ago at this time, Fairleigh Dickinson was heading into the 2016-17 season as the defending Northeast Conference tournament champions and a favorite of many to repeat as champs once again including by the NEC coaches.

Unfortunately, FDU couldn’t live up to the expectations with an up-and-down season that was filled with more downs than ups. The Knights started with a rocky 2-9 start during non-conference play, partly due to not having one of their main weapons—junior forward Earl Potts Jr.—for the first seven games of the season due to a foot injury.

Once Potts returned, FDU started looking like the team many were expecting, winning eight of their first nine NEC games. But then as hot as FDU was in the first half of the NEC season, they were just as cold in the second, dropping eight of their last nine games. The Knights flamed out to a six-seed finish, and eventually, a two-point loss at Wagner in a rematch of the previous season’s NEC tournament final in the quarterfinal round.

After the season, somewhat surprisingly, FDU lost two key contributors in point guard Stephan Jiggetts (13.5 ppg) who left for South Florida as a graduate transfer and Potts (12.2 ppg) who left the program with one year of eligibility remaining. They also lost sophomore guard Ghassan Nehme who decided to pursue professional basketball.

Yet, the cupboard is far from bare in Hackensack, NJ. The Knights have several weapons to rely on in 2017-18, starting with their two-time All-NEC second teamer in guard Darian Anderson (17.0 ppg) who will once again be the go-to guy on the offensive end. Anderson has played in all but one game in his three seasons for FDU head coach Greg Herenda and has started every one of those games. 

Two juniors that will surely make an impact this season are forward Mike Holloway (11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and guard Darnell Edge (9.0 ppg). Holloway is a load that hurts teams inside (55.3% on 2pt FGs) and gets to the line (49.8% FT Rate) and looks to attack the offensive glass (11.4% Off. Reb Rate). Edge at 6-foot-1 made 60 percent of his two-point shots last season and had a team-high 116 offensive rating.

Look for sophomore forward Kaleb Bishop (4.7 ppg) and junior forward Malik Miller (4.6 ppg) to have larger roles in light of Potts’s departure. Miller’s 6-foot-9 length made him a threat on both ends of the floor while 6-foot-8 Bishop showed promise as a freshman and could become a force on the glass.

The biggest uncertainty heading into the season will be what Herenda will do at the point guard position after Jiggetts’s departure. Anderson has the most experience on the roster as a point guard, but this team will need him to thrive off the ball which could mean Herenda giving the keys to his offense to a pair of freshman point guards in 5-foot-11 Tyler Jones and 5-foot-10 Jahlil Jenkins. Both freshmen are quick and are suited for the fast tempo Herenda like to utilize. Last season, FDU finished in the top 50 in the nation in adjusted tempo and will look to continue playing fast again this season.

The Knights will play a rather challenging 11-game non-conference schedule with a strong New Jersey theme to it, as seven of the 11 games are against teams based in New Jersey, starting with their game against Seton Hall to open the season. They will also face Penn State on the road before returning home for a four-game homestand ending with a matchup against another strong in-state rival in Princeton. They’ll close out non-conference play with five straight on the road with games at Iona, Rutgers, NJIT and their new Events Center, and end against Maryland. NEC play opens for the Knights with games at LIU Brooklyn and Sacred Heart on opening week. They’ll also head to Staten Island to play Wagner during week two of NEC play. On Jan. 20, FDU will first meet defending NEC champs Mount St. Mary’s at home. They’ll get their first glance at likely NEC preseason favorite Saint Francis U. on the road on Feb. 1.

FDU has a team capable of contending and challenging the likes of SFU and Wagner for top-billing in the NEC. Expect to see Darian Anderson on an All-NEC team once again at the end of the season, this time finally breaking onto the first team. It will not be a surprise if either Tyler Jones or Jahlil Jenkins make it onto the NEC All-Rookie team at season’s end, as one or both should get an opportunity to play major minutes at the point guard spot.

FDU will continue to try and play fast and put up points as they did last season, putting up a NEC-best 103.3 points per 100 possessions. But they will definitely need to make improvements on the defensive end if they want to challenge for a conference title, as they gave up an NEC second-worst 114 points per 100 possessions last season.

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