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Once again whole, Delaware looks to complete run to CAA title

Feb 26, 2014, 11:04 AM EDT

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For many teams the loss of two starters during conference play would be a critical blow, one that would prove to be incredibly difficult to overcome. But for others such an issue doesn’t prove to be as problematic, with the Delaware Blue Hens being a prime example. In late-January point guard Jarvis Threat and forward Marvin King-Davis were lost for a month due to suspensions for separate violations of athletic department policy, and given the talent possessed by preseason favorite Towson the Blue Hens’ CAA title hopes could have taken a serious hit.

But that wasn’t the case for Monte Ross’ club, which went 6-2 in the eight games that followed the suspension and currently hold a one-game lead in the CAA entering the final week of regular season play. While King-Davis is one of many contributors in the front court the same can’t be said of Threatt, who was averaging 17.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game at the time of his suspension.

Threatt may be just one player in Delaware’s talented backcourt but he’s an important piece, and the loss of their point guard robbed the Blue Hens of the depth they enjoyed at the position.

“I thought we were talented enough to overcome it,” Ross told NBC Sports. “We had a suspension earlier in the year with Devon Saddler and we were able to overcome that, and I thought we would be able to do the same thing with these guys being out and we have.

“My biggest concern was the fact that our depth at point guard was null and void. It was just Devon, but thankfully he didn’t get hurt or get in foul trouble. I thought with Marvin in the front court we had some depth, but Jarvis in terms of being a point guard the only other option we had was Devon Saddler.”

Without Threatt more would be asked of Saddler in regards to the point guard role, and throughout the eight-game stretch he answered the call. In those games Saddler, currently averaging 3.5 assists per game, dished out 5.8 helpers per contest while boasting an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.1. But for as good as Saddler’s been when it comes to both scoring, as he’s averaging 20.4 points per game, and distributing his biggest assist to the Delaware program this season may have come off the court.

Senior guard Davon Usher was in need of a new home after making the decision to leave Mississippi Valley State with the Delta Devils ineligible for postseason play. Saddler was able to get his childhood friend to make the move to Delaware, and all parties have benefitted from the partnership. Usher’s scoring an average of 19.8 points per game, putting up 26.5 points per game in the Blue Hens’ last eight contests. And if there’s one area in which Usher’s improved throughout the course of his one season in Newark, it’s been in regards to the quality of his shot attempts

“I think his comfort level has risen. He realizes he’s going to get the ball, he’s taking good shots and he’s not settling,” noted Ross. “I thought early in the year he was settling for jump shots because he is a good shooter, but he also has a really good ability to get into the lane and finish. I thought he got away from that a little bit. But now he’s really making himself a threat where teams have to guard the drive and the jump shot.”

Counting Threatt, who along with King-Davis will return on Wednesday night when Delaware visits UNCW, the Blue Hens have five players scoring in double figures with sharpshooter Kyle Anderson and forward Carl Baptiste being the others. And in regards to Baptiste, he’s taken advantage of the extra opportunities that have come as a result of the graduation of Jamelle Hagins.

To use the word “replace” in regards to Hagins would be a bit unfair, as he left the school as the program’s all-time leader in both rebounds and blocked shots. Losing a player of his caliber makes it difficult to simply say “next man up” and expect similar production.

But even with this being the case Delaware needed Baptiste, who began his college career at Saint Joseph’s, to prove himself capable of leading the way inside. And to this point in the season the senior’s done so, averaging 10.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. And before falling one point short in a 69-65 loss to Drexel on Sunday afternoon Baptiste had posted three consecutive double doubles, and for the season he’s had seven such outings.

“Carl has always been a very skilled big man for us. What I tell people all the time is that he just didn’t get the opportunity because we had Jamelle,” Ross said. “He didn’t get as much of an opportunity as he’s getting now. And when we [increased] his minutes he’s really performed admirably.”

On the season Delaware’s averaging just over 79 points per game, and with the return on Threatt offensive production shouldn’t be a concern for a group that’s failed to score at least 70 points in three of its 14 conference games. But in order for the Blue Hens to earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1999, not only will they need to successfully reincorporate King-Davis and Threatt into the rotation but they’ll need to shore things up on the boards as well.

In conference play Delaware, while a good defensive team in regards to shooting percentages, ranks seventh in the CAA in opponents’ offensive rebound percentage with teams grabbing 32.7% of their missed shots against the Blue Hens. Games tend to slow down and get tighter in tournament play, and the failure to close out a solid defensive sequence by grabbing the ensuing rebounds could make all the difference between cutting down the nets and heading home early without the ultimate prize.

“We want to make sure that we’re sharp defensively, because I think that always gives you a chance,” said Ross. “When you get into tournament play the game slows down and there’s a lot less transition, so it’s about being able to execute in the half-court. I want to make sure that we’re able to execute, that we’re able to guard and make sure the “apple cart” won’t be upset with [Jarvis and Marvin] coming back.”

If Delaware can accomplish those tasks, both the CAA title and the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in 15 years are well within their reach.