34 Teams in 34 Days: Saint Peter’s

Outlook: With three standout seniors graduated, most pundits will forecast the Peacocks to finish 2017-18 in the bottom third of the MAAC. Given some talented newcomers, however, there’s upside for John Dunne’s squad to get into the middle of the pack.

Last Year’s Record: 23-13 (14-6 MAAC)

Who’s Out: Quadir Welton (C); Trevis Wyche (G); Cavon Baker (G); Antown Portley (G/F); Chazz Peterson (G)

Who’s In: Davauhnte Turner (G); Elijah Gonzalez (G); Manny Dixon (G/F); Jeremiah Livingston (G);  Julian Powell (PF); Mikko Johnson (G); Kendrian Johnson (G)

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/29 vs Fairleigh Dickinson; 12/12 at Seton Hall; 12/19 at LIU Brooklyn (12/19)

Around these parts, John Dunne is known as a miracle worker for keeping the underfunded Saint Peter’s extremely competitive within the difficult MAAC. Even though Dunne pushed his program to a NCAA tournament berth in 2011 – something that unfortunately eluded last season’s roster when they lost to Iona in the MAAC tournament semifinals – the past campaign was arguably the finest season Dunne has experienced in Jersey City.

His team finished ranked 95th in KenPom, easily a program high this century, while winning 15 league games and hoisting the College Insider Tournament (CIT) trophy at season’s end. The CIT championship was the cherry of top of a great season – Dunne’s defensively stout squad gave up just 0.86 points per possession in the four tournament games, of which three were on the road.

Moving forward without their dominant post presence (Welton), defensive stopper (Peterson) and heady guard (Wyche) won’t be easy, yet Dunne is confident his team is equipped to plug holes in the near-term. An influx of freshmen and transfers may take their lumps early on, but there’s reason for optimism when breaking down the roster.

First let’s examine the Peacocks depth chart:

  • PG: Livingston, Gonzalez
  • G: Cam Jones, Turner
  • G: Griffin, Quinn Taylor, Dixon
  • F: Nnamdi Enechionyia, Powell
  • PF: Sam Idowu, Mamadou Ndiaye
    Others: Manny Dixon, Kendrian Johnson

in order to keep the Peacocks competitive, Griffin, Enechionyia and Idowu must emerge as reliable veterans, after serving as pivotal role players on last season’s 23-win squad. As a junior who posted an impressive 114.7 offensive rating, Griffin may have sacrificed the most last season, according to Dunne. Now without Welton and Antwon Portley on the roster, Griffin has the opportunity to build upon a season that saw him make 41.7% of his 3s.

Enechionyia and Idowu bolster a green frontcourt with their ability to stretch the defense. Both players combined to make 39.7% of their 3-point attempts. Idowu, in particular, has a chance to shine as one of the few established shot blockers – he posted a respectable block rate of 6.5% last season – of this roster. Enechionyia started in all 36 of the Peacocks games last season.

After those three veterans, Dunne must rely on a lot of inexperience to fill out the rest of the rotation.

At the point guard position, Jeremiah Livingston heads to Jersey City as an explosive combo guard who thrives at junior college. Given his junior standing, it’s reasonable to expect him to have the keys to the point guard position in the early going, at least until freshman Elijah Gonzalez is ready to provide an impact. The diminutive 5-foot-9 Gonzalez is an explosive playmaker in his own right, after leading his high school to an Oregon championship. Dunne believes this combination will be quite productive.

Two other guards, Devauhnte Turner and Cam Jones, also project to be part of the Peacocks’ backcourt rotation. Both players sat on the bench, for a different reasons, last season, building up strength and getting to practice against a veteran squad that finished second in the league’s regular season at 14-6. Turner profiles as an active, playmaking combo who can score anywhere on the floor. His penetration to the rim could emerge as his most valuable asset, especially next to the 3-point shooter of Griffin and several Peacock bigs.

Jones, now a red-shirt sophomore, has gotten quicker in his off year, which should help improve upon a freshman campaign where he was moderately productive (97.7 offensive rating).

Additionally, Julian Powell and Manny Dixon add depth to the wing and power forward positions, giving Dunne more options at his disposal. Powell has the ability to score in the post, not necessarily a strength of Enechionyia and Idowu, though it remains to be seem how productive he’ll be right from the outset.

Dixon reminds the Saint Peter’s staff, at least a little bit, of the now-graduated defensive stalwart Chazz Peterson. It’s a dangerous comp for a freshman, yet the athleticism, versatility and work ethic Dixon possesses should allow him to be a productive MAAC player down the road.

All together, it’s easy to write off Dunne and his Saint Peter’s as a program that’ll struggle much like it did after their 2011 NCAA tournament berth, yet this team is loaded with far more offensive talent moving forward. Can they be molded into one of the best defensive forces in the conference? That’s probably unlikely, but no one should be counting Dunne out these days. Not after he’s bought the Peacocks to a top 4 regular season finish the past two seasons.

No one expected that kind of production then, therefore it’s plausible to expect Saint Peter’s to exceed expectations once again. This time they’ll have more wiggle room given their likely preseason standing in the league’s bottom third.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride. Ryan wrote all ten NEC previews as well as the Iona, Manhattan and St. Peter’s preview for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Reserve your copy of the college basketball “bible” here.