Conference Rank: #1 Atlantic Sun
2008-09: 18-14, 15-5
2008-09 postseason: NIT
Coach: Cliff Warren (52-67 at Jacksonville, 52-67 overall)
There is little doubt what direction the Jacksonville basketball program is heading. It was not long ago, during Coach Cliff Warren’s first year at the helm, that this team went 1-26. Coach Warren opted to build up the program by hitting the recruiting trail hard and not simply picking up junior college transfers and looking for the quick fix. The result in 2008-2009 was a conference championship and a trip to the NIT. The Dolphins hope to win the conference again, but add a conference tournament championship to their rapidly growing resume.
Key Losses: F Marcus Allen, G Evan Jefferson
Jacksonville returns four players who averaged between eight and 12 minutes per game last year and some of those young players will step up and play a bigger role. That means Coach Warren will not need to ask much of his group of newcomers. However, big man Josh Sparks has a ton of potential and should turn into a consistent force under the basket sooner or later and point guard Russell Powell will battle for minutes off the bench this year and look for a starting job in 2010-2011.
Ben Smith is the leader of this team. He connected on over two three-pointers per game and led the team with 16.9 points, 4.0 assists and 2.2 steals. He can almost take over a game at will. His presence overshadows the rest of the backcourt, which is certainly understandable, but Travis Cohn is an emerging force on the perimeter. He is not a superb shooter, but he is getting better and should turn into more than just ‘the other guard on the team’ now that he is an upperclassman. The biggest concern on the perimeter is the lack of depth. Tevin Galvin and Chris Edwards had promising freshmen campaigns and must be prepared to contribute more off the bench.
The Dolphins return two forwards who averaged at least ten points per game last year. Ayron Hardy tallied 10.1 points per game and led the team in blocks. Hardy, at 6-5, is a great small forward who can hit the outside shot, go to the basket and hit the glass. Lehmon Colbert played the power forward spot last year and did a superb job, averaging 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest. His ability to step outside and hit the outside shot makes him nearly impossible to defend. Colbert might have to move to the five spot this year if Aric Brooks works his way into the starting lineup. Brooks, at 6-6 and 192 pounds, certainly does not have the size to play center. Szymon Lukasiak, a 6-10 junior, would be the ideal fit so Colbert could stay at the four spot, but he averaged under ten minutes per game last year.
Who to Watch:
Jacksonville will go as far as Smith can take them. The 5-10 Dublin, Georgia product is simply a scorer in every possible way. He reached the free-throw line 5.5 times per game last year and hit over two three-pointers per contest. When Smith is not scoring, he is finding his teammates. Either way, Smith is getting to the basket and either scoring, getting fouled or finding one of the big guys for an easy bucket.
Marcus Allen is a big loss. He led the team in rebounding and his presence under the basket allowed Colbert to be effective as a power forward. If Colbert can be just as effective as a center or Lukasiak can play 20 to 25 minutes per game, there is no reason for this team to not win the Atlantic Sun once again. Now they just have to win the conference tournament as well and make a trip to the big dance.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Ben Smith, Senior, Guard, 16.9 points per game
Travis Cohn, Junior, Guard, 6.8 points per game
Ayron Hardy, Junior, Forward, 10.1 points per game
Aric Brooks, Junior, Forward, 4.4 points per game
Lehmon Colbert, Senior, Forward, 11.8 points per game