Delaware Men’s Basketball Preview: Can Blue Hens Repeat Tourney Trip?


Being a Delaware fan last season was a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

The Blue Hens’ 2021-2022 regular season was good, but not great, with there being a reasonable question to ask of whether or not UD made any progress at all from its 22-win season (2019-2020), following a losing record in the COVID-19-affected 2020-2021 season.

However, Delaware quickly put all of those concerns to bed in emphatic fashion with its back against the wall, as the program qualified for its second NCAA Tournament in 23 years, representing the Colonial Athletic Association on a national stage and giving the program some newfound pedigree .

The biggest question now? How the Blue Hens follow the successful run.

What is there to look out for with Delaware men’s basketball this season? Below is a look into

what the Blue Hens will bring to the table, as FloHoops previews every team in the

league.

2021 Season Review

The cliche is that every team starts the postseason at 0-0, but Delaware took that saying by the horns and turned it into a season to remember.

The Blue Hens hovered around the upper half of the CAA standings, before suffering a three-game losing streak to close out the regular season, a stretch that saw UD fall to being the No. 5 seed in the CAA Tournament.

However, coach Martin Ingelsby’s team came alive in Washington DC, avenging two of those losses to Towson and UNC Wilmington in the tournament semifinals and title game, respectively, to clinch Delaware’s first trip back to the NCAA Tournament since 2014.

The dream run ended with a 20-point loss to Villanova in the first round of March Madness as a No. 15 seed, but the Blue Hens could hold their heads high in appreciating what they accomplished when the pressure ramped up.

Guard Jameer Nelson Jr. did his name proud as the son of a former Saint Joseph’s stud and NBA All-Star, having transferred from George Washington the previous offseason. He earned All-CAA second-team honors in the process with (13.6 points, 4.9 rebounds per game).

Add CAA Rookie of the Year and CAA Tournament MVP forward Jyare Davis and his emerging game to the mix – he erupted for 14 straight games in double figures to end the season after one in his first 17 – and there’s little reason to suspect that Delaware can ‘t compete for another trip to the Big Dance, but this time as a potentially even better team.

On The Court

Ingelsby was a longtime assistant and administrator for Notre Dame (and former UD) head coach Mike Brey, before being hired himself at Delaware. Like his mentor, he tends to have a free-flowing offense that, at its best, is hard to guard and gets the Blue Hens numerous high-percentage scoring opportunities each night.

It took Ingelsby, now entering his seventh year in charge in Newark, a bit of time to really ingrain his philosophy into the program, as UD had some of the worst offenses in the CAA across his first few seasons, but the Blue Hens ranked No . 1 in league play last season in effective field goal percentage at 55.1% and were excellent at drawing fouls and creating free throw attempts against CAA opposition, too.

Rebounding is an issue that must be fixed, however, as Delaware averaged 32.4 boards a game to rank only ahead of Northeastern on the league’s game average charts, as is guarding the 3-point line as Ingelsby’s teams have never prevented opponents from shooting lower than 34% from deep in a single season while he’s been in charge.

With Delaware featuring a new target on its back this year as the CAA’s reigning representative in March Madness, however, it’ll be especially important for Ingelsby to iron out the kinks this year.

Key Returner

Jyare Davis, R-Soph., F, Newark, Delaware

Nelson has the name recognition and talent to garner him some obvious eyeballs, but Delaware’s most important player this year might be Davis, especially if he maintains his ridiculous end-of-year stretch of powerful play.

The Providence transfer’s sudden explosion came seemingly out of nowhere mid-season. Davis never played more than 23 minutes in his first 14 games, then saw a sudden uptick in minutes, starting with 32 in a loss to Towson on Jan. 27.

Ingelsby clearly liked what he saw, as Davis never played less than 23 minutes in a game the rest of the way, and when he became a starter, beginning with the CAA Tournament quarterfinal against Drexel, that’s when Davis really began to show off his true potential.

Davis averaged 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and a 56.4% clip from the field during Delaware’s three conference tournament games, scoring a game-high 18 points in the championship game over UNC Wilmington – and hitting what proved to be the go-ahead bucket that gave UD a lead with 1:01 to play – to help the Blue Hens become the first No. 5 seed to win the CAA Tournament.

It can be safely assumed that Davis almost certainly is going to be a starter from the outset this season, and if the 6-foot-7 in-stater can build even more off of his late-season charge from a year ago, watch out .

Key Addition

LJ Owens, Gr., G, Annapolis, Maryland

Though Delaware certainly wasn’t a bad 3-point shooting team in 2021 – a total 34.6% mark from deep ranked in the top half of the CAA last season – the Blue Hens nonetheless didn’t really have that game-breaking sharpshooter who could be a danger whenever he had the ball outside the arc.

Enter Owens, a UMBC transfer who proved himself to be a lethal deep threat for the Retrievers over the past two seasons. An All-America East third-team selection during the 2021-2022 season, Owens is 41.7% good from 3-point range in his past two collegiate seasons, reaching a career-high clip of 42.9% in his last season with UMBC, with 67 made triples to have the second-most of any player in the America East.

A seasoned player who started 82 of a possible 84 games during his three years with the Retrievers, keen CAA fans also may recognize Owens’ name from his freshman year at William & Mary, where he averaged 6.9 points per night during his lone season with the Tribe and was one of the top-scoring freshmen in the conference.

Now returning to the league where his college career started, Owens – who took over half of his total shots from outside the 3-point arc a year ago, per college basketball analytics site Hoop Math – could form a lethal backcourt with Nelson and be one of the key pieces behind another deep Delaware postseason run.

Game To Watch: Delaware Vs. Davidson, Dec. 3

A showdown between two teams that each made the NCAA Tournament last season, the two programs have some recent prior history.

Davidson manhandled Delaware in a 93-71 win to open up each other’s seasons a year ago, but as judged by their obvious jump in form later in the year, the Blue Hens were not the same team in November as they later proved to be in March, while the Wildcats, who were in their 33rd year under legendary coach Bob McKillop, already had the look of one of the country’s best mid-major programs, as evidenced by its eventual at-large bid to March Madness as a No. 10 seeds.

However, it’s a new era at Davidson after McKillop, who most famously led the Wildcats to the 2008 Elite Eight on the back of future NBA superstar Stephen Curry, retired in the offseason. His son Matt McKillop has taken the reins of the program.

How the Wildcats respond to having a new coach for the first time since 1989 obviously is worth monitoring, but without two major contributors from last year in guard Hyunjung Lee (15.8 points per game) and forward Luka Brajkovic (14.4 points), Davidson is going to be looking elsewhere for production.

The Wildcats do get senior guard and reigning leading scorer Foster Loyer (16.1 points) back, however, but the familiar face to Delaware of junior guard Connor Kochera – a former CAA Rookie of the Year at William & Mary – could be another interesting element to watch.

Expect the Blue Hens to make things a bit closer this time around with all the turnover in the Davidson program, but don’t expect the Wildcats, one of the most respected mid-major programs in the country, to fall totally flat, either.

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