Photos courtesy of Jacksonville University Athletics
College basketball season is upon us, and the Jacksonville Dolphins will be racking up the frequent flyer miles to start the 2016-17 campaign. Year three of the Tony Jasick era of Dolphin basketball has people feeling good after last season’s surprise second place finish in the ASUN, but public expectations are not what you would expect. JU was picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in both preseason polls (sixth in the coaches, fifth in the media).
Jacksonville opens on the road in Colorado, playing Denver and Air Force on Saturday and Monday, respectively. Let’s take a look at the season opening matchup. In our previews, instead of listing players at traditional positions (point and shooting guard, small and power forward, and center), we will list by point guard, wing players, stretch forwards and post players.
Darien Fernandez returns to man the point for JU coming off of a career best 31 point outing in the overtime loss in the quarterfinal round of the ASUN tournament last year. He also had five rebounds, five assists, and three steals in the game and will try to roll over to this year, older, wiser and more vocal. Devin Harris is eligible after sitting out last year as a transfer from East Tennessee State and provides size at six foot four, as well as versatility defensively. Freshman Tanner Rubio has moxie and unlimited range, but might not be needed this year depending on how minutes shake out.
Sophomore Joe Rosga returns after averaging a team high 12.7 points per game, and the preseason All-Summit League second team selection is expected to help ease the transition to a run-and-gun style this year. Junior Jake Pemberton handles well and lead the team in assists a year ago with 2.7 per game. Freshman Luke Neff should bring an element of sharp shooting.
Edge: Jacksonville. Diversity and returning talent in year three of a coaching system helps the Dolphins have the advantage here.
Marcel White is back for his senior campaign after bursting out last year. The six foot six wing man averaged almost 16 ppg last year, and shot a team best 39 percent from deep for guys who suited up all year. Joining him are Andris Misters, back from a knee injury that cost him all of 2015-16 after he averaged 12 ppg and shot 38 percent from deep two seasons ago, and Tyrone Sam, a 6 foot 4 guard who averaged nearly 26 ppg last year at South Georgia State.
Ade Murkey, Billups first true recruit, is a multi-dimensional athlete who averaged 22 points and nearly 10 rebounds per contest as a senior in Minneapolis last year. Junior Duke Douglas averaged nearly two rebounds per game in under 10 minutes a contest last year.
Edge: Jacksonville. White should be a monster this year, and Denver is going to be playing a lot of a true freshman.
Darius Dawkins also returns from a leg injury that forced him to miss nearly all of ASUN play last season. He was shooting a lethal 50 percent from deep at the time he went down, and he sharp shooting will be most of what JU looks for from him this year. Cosy Helgeland, another big shooting threat is itching to go after an untimely bout with mononucleosis in the preseason led to him being shut down for the year. At six foot eight, he shot 40 percent from three at South Georgia State two years ago. JR Holder is as strong as he has ever been, and is hoping that the added strength will help on the glass to complement his deep shooting ability (42 percent in ASUN play) and length at the rim (six feet seven with a nearly seven feet wingspan).
Sophomore Thomas Neff, older brother of incoming freshman Luke, figures to start after getting the nod in all 31 games last year.He shot 42 percent from behind the arc as a 6 foot 5 swingman. Sophomore CJ Bobbitt showed a bit of an ability to step out and shoot last year (attempted 31 threes), but does most of his damage around the rim. Freshman Jake Krafka is 6 foot 7 and described as “sneaky athletic.”
Edge: Denver. Lots of injuries and unknowns here for Jacksonville, where as Denver feels good about what is coming back on top of what is being added here.
Antwon Clayton suffered a foot injury and is on the shelf for an undisclosed amount of time to open the season, so not only are the Dolphins missing their human highlight reel, but perhaps the most tenacious rebounder. Demontrez Austin hopes to help pick up the slack after a year to acclimate to division one hoops, and Omar El Manasterly continues to provide solid rebounding and defense, and can sometimes surprise with his offense, such as his career high 16 points on 6-6 shooting at Kennesaw State last year.
Junior Daniel Amigo was limited to just 13 games last year, but is targeted as a breakout candidate this season. Fellow junior Christian Mackey played in all 31 games a season ago, but is undersized for a center at just 6 foot 6. Rebounding was a struggle for the entire Pioneer roster last year, and these two are expected to anchor improved efforts in that regard.
Edge: Denver. Size and health gives the Pioneers the advantage.
Since it is the season opener, it is a little tougher to predict who will see time as starters vs reserves, but the Jacksonville bench is as deep as it has ever been under Jasick. Six guys figure to battle for playing time off the bench at a variety of positions, and that depth and versatility figures to help JU keep up the fast pace of play it enjoys throughout the season, should help with foul management and figures to be crucial in the high altitude of Colorado the first two games.
There is not a senior on the roster for first year head coach Billups, and it is made up of mostly young guys. The drastic transition in styles means that those that begin the year as starters might not find themselves in that role too long if the game moves too quickly. Rotation questions will be answered continuously as the season goes along.
Final remarks: Most lid-lifters are crap shoots. Jacksonville returns a lot, but has a lot of question marks, most notably being who will rebound the ball, what will the ball sharing offense look like, and immediately, how will altitude factor in?
Denver is completely revamping its system, which never goes according to plan in game one, but will be at home. Expect this one to come down to the wire.
Jacksonville at Denver tips off at 9 p.m. and can be heard in Jacksonville on 92.5 FM and streaming nationwide on mixlr.com/judolphins.