Glenn Braica’s St. Francis Terriers surprised everyone last season by finishing 12-6 in NEC play. Even though they lost to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals of the NEC tournament, a .500 record with a young team returning leaves expectations much higher in Brooklyn Heights.
All but two rotation players return, but Stefan Perunicic and Justin Newton will definitely be missed. Also returning is point guard Dre Calloway, who missed all of the 2011-12 season with an injury. In order to stay competitive in the NEC and during a tricky non-conference schedule the Terriers will have to evolve. All the returnees have helped jump start things a bit this summer.
“Guys got to earn what they get, but I think we’re going to start at a more advanced point than we’ve started in the past,” Braica said. “In my first year everything was new to everybody and last year I probably underestimated how many younger guys we had. This year we have a lot of guys that are back and know what we’re talking about.”
Last season SFC was one of the best in the nation at shooting and defending the three-point line. The Terriers ranked second in the NEC and 17th in the nation in defensive three-point field goal percentage. They also finished 36.1% from three during conference play while shooting a lot of them – 39.5% of St. Francis’ shots in conference play were from beyond the arc.
A lot of the results on both sides of the ball last season can be attributed to Perunicic. He saw his three-point shooting jump to 42.7% as a senior, from 33.3% as a junior. He took 172 threes, the second most on the team.
The player who took the most? Ben Mockford at 240. If the former Iona Gael can improve his shooting from the 34.6% he shot last season, it’ll definitely help fill in some of the gap. This off season Mockford spent time with GB Futures team this summer prior to the Olympics.
But while many people think of Perunicic as a three-point shooter, it might be his defense that is missed even more. It was quite common last season to see him guarding the best scorer on the opposing team. Whether that was constantly chasing Shane Gibson through screens or making sure to get onto the perimeter against one of LIU’s deep threats, Perunicic’s length allowed him to disrupt top scoring options. Similarly, defense and leadership is the reason Newton will be missed next season.
“Justin did a great job,” Braica said. “His stuff didn’t always show up in the statsheet, but he helped you win a lot games. He had a lot of games under his belt.”
Braica said that he hopes returning players like Kevin Douglas and P.J. Santovenere can help pick up the defensive pressure. While SFC is bringing in some athletic newcomers, it takes a little while for new players to get up to speed on the defensive end.
“It’s tough for young guys to come in and contribute on defense,” Braica said. “It’s the toughest transition from players coming for high school and junior college players to make when coming to Division I.”
The return of Calloway should help the defense and offense. Brent Jones should be freed up to play more aggressively on the ball now that he knows he has a teammate that can pick up important minutes. Last season Jones was aggressive and had a steal percentage of 3.6%, 86th in the nation. The problem was he also committed 4.7 fouls per 40 minutes of play, which sometimes left Braica with difficult decisions to make. Now the addition of an experienced ball handler to the rotation should help St. Francis stay out of situations where there’s no true point guard on the court.
Because when Jones came off the court or teams forced him to give up the ball with full-court pressure SFC struggled. High turnover rates cost the Terriers at least four games during NEC play (both Wagner games, at Monmouth and at Fairleigh Dickinson). An improvement in the Terriers’ turnover rate, which was quite poor at 23.3% last season, should lead to a large uptick if offensive performance.
Also, expect St. Francis to go inside more on offense next season. Braica said that Akeem Johnson has been working hard in Brooklyn Heights all summer and has added range to his game. Already one of the most efficient players on the Terriers’ roster, he – like most of the players on SFC – could benefit from going to line more often. The only player that went to the line on a consistent basis last season for SFC was Jalen Cannon.
Overall, while the players might look the same, the game is going to change a bit for St. Francis (NY) in 2012-13.