Of the 345 teams in Division I basketball, there aren’t many that look like they are in a worse position than Towson.
Pat Skerry’s club is coming off of a season where the 1-31 Tigers were the only team in the country that didn’t win at least two games. Robert Nwankwo (who averaged a double-double last season) is graduating. If that wasn’t bad enough, Towson is one of ten programs nationally that won’t be allowed to participate in postseason play this season due to their poor APR scores.
But, believe it or not, Towson looks like they are heading in the right direction.
Skerry has spent just 14 months on the job, but he’s already landed a very solid incoming class. In addition to the trio of Big East cast-offs he has getting eligible this season — junior Jerelle Benimon (Georgetown), senior Bilal Dixon (Providence) and junior Mike Burwell (South Florida) — Skerry landed a recruiting class that was ranked 12th amongst the non-BCS programs by CBSSports.com. That class is headlined by talented back court players Jerome Hairston and Frank Mason.
And now, Towson is throwing Four McGlynn into the mix. McGlynn is the reigning America East Freshman of the Year, but opted to leave Vermont to transfer closer to his family in York, PA. (Interestingly enough, Skerry will not be applying for a waiver to get McGlynn eligible immediately. The waiver would have had a decent chance to go through given the circumstances, which makes you wonder what, exactly, the reason is.)
The rebuilding of Towson is still a ways from completion, but with Skerry’s recruiting chops and the talent that has already been brought into the program, the Tigers are currently ahead of the curve. With Old Dominion and VCU leaving the CAA, it may not be that long before Towson is competing with George Mason and Drexel (and Davidson and the College of Charleston?) for league titles.
Which means it may not be long before Skerry has a job in a bigger conference.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.
One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).
They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.
That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.
“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”
As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.
Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.
But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.