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2011-12 Blue Ribbon Preview - Jacksonville
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2011-12 Blue Ribbon Preview - Jacksonville
Team preview: Jacksonville
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COACH AND PROGRAM

Jacksonville Dolphins
Last Season 20-12 (.625)
Conference Record 13-7 (3rd)
Starters Lost/Returning 1/4
Coach Cliff Warren (Mount St. Mary's '90)
Record At School 92-92 (6 years)
Career Record 92-92 (6 years)
RPI Last 5 years 195-163-144-131-136

Cliff Warren knows better than anyone that replacing a guy like Ayron Hardy is virtually impossible.

Not only did Hardy lead the Dolphins in scoring last season (12.3 ppg) and finish second in rebounding (6.2 rpg), he was the Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. Hardy also was the defensive POY as a sophomore, and Warren was surprised when he didn't win it as a junior.

"I'm not sure any one person can make up for the defense that Ayron gave us," Warren said. "We're trying to come up with some new defensive schemes, considering doing some things in the full court and the half court. We'll try to be a little bit more aggressive. Everyone will have to step up on that end, because that's something you knew you could count on Ayron for."

PLAYERS

Warren is on the hunt for the next guys he can count on. He's sure they're on the roster, but he's eager to see who will step to the forefront.

JU fielded a very young team last season. Hardy and Travis Cohn (10.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg), the team's second-leading scorer, were the only seniors. Warren brought in a seven-man recruiting class, and he knew most of the newcomers would have to contribute immediately.

The results were mostly positive. The Dolphins fashioned a second consecutive 20-win season, accomplished with a postseason victory for the second year in a row. In 2010 their first-round road upset of Arizona State in the NIT was their first postseason victory since 1974. Last year they took out East Carolina 71-66 in overtime in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

No, it's not playing in the NCAA Tournament. But it still means something to a program that had been in the doldrums for most of the last two decades.

"I think it just means we're showing progression," Warren said. "It's showing that we're continually getting better. We've established a good brand. Jacksonville basketball is good basketball.

"We're very thankful we got to the postseason for the third year in a row. The administration here values what we do and they support us, and that's obviously hugely important."

This year's JU team will be a blend of the youth brought in last year and some program veterans in what should be a better mix.

"I think what we did last year, if you've seen us play, whoever is on the roster is gonna have to contribute in some way," Warren said. "It may not always be with minutes, points or rebounds. But there are other ways, whether it's talking, being excited, being good in practice.

There's a wonderful clich� in the college sports world that goes something like this: The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. In college basketball, that clich� extends to this one: Typically players make their biggest jump on the court between their freshman and sophomore seasons.

"We definitely need that class to make that jump," Warren said. Keith McDougald [9.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg], if he can make a jump, he can be a really good player. He's our leading returning scorer.

"Some guys who have been role players most of their careers have to make that jump. They can't be role players anymore; they have to be doers. They have to get out on the court and do."

McDougald, a 6-1 shooting guard, is JU's only returning player who made more than 20 threes during the season. He hit a season-high four en route to a season-high 18 points in a shocking upset at Florida on Dec. 20.

"He has worked extremely hard on his body and on his game this offseason," Warren said. "We're expecting a jump in all phases of his game. He understands now the obvious; he understands other teams will know he's our leading returning scorer.

"I think the strongest part of his game is his strength. He's a very physical guard, very imposing, and he can make shots at a consistent rate."

McDougald will be joined in the backcourt by junior point guard Russell Powell (7.5 ppg, 3.0 apg, 2.4 rpg). Along with Hardy, the 5-9 Powell was the only other player to start all 32 games.

"Russell understands what it means to go from being a role player to a doer," Warren said. "He has played with some good players, and now he understands, 'Hey, I've gotta produce.' He has to do a little bit more for his team.

"I think he's ready to accept that role. He's [was very good during the] summer, made sure to maintain open communication with all of the returning players and all of the freshmen. He's like the Pied Piper; when he speaks everybody's got to follow."

The third member of the backcourt is 6-4 senior Tevin Galvin (6.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg). He appeared in all 32 games and made 23 starts, but his numbers weren't quite what Warren wanted or expected.

"You look at his numbers, they were pretty consistent but a little low," Warren said. "He's one of those guys who struggled with going from role player to doer, and I think he understands he has to do more on the court.

"The thing about Tevin, though, is he has a better understanding of what we want off the court, what type of player I like to coach, what type of recruits we want to bring into the program. He has to be an ambassador for us off the court."

The frontcourt is manned by 6-5 junior forward Glenn Powell (6.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and 6-7 senior Delwan Graham (9.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg). Powell is another steady if unspectacular performer who could make a leap this year. He has shown flashes, including opening last season with 47 points over JU's first three games. He also had 16 points and eight rebounds at Mercer on Jan. 20 and followed with 18 points and eight boards two days later at Kennesaw State.

"Glenn just needs to be more consistent," Warren said.

Graham gave JU some much-needed muscle inside, leading the team in rebounding. By the time the conference season rolled around he could be counted on for 10-12 points and six- to eight rebounds a game.

Graham appeared in 30 games and made 18 starts after coming to JU from the junior college ranks after signing with LSU out of high school.

"He hasn't been here long, but he has a commanding presence," Warren said. "We need him to lead by example. I think it took him a while to adjust to what we were doing. He plays with a lot of energy and got into some early foul trouble. It frustrated him and us as a coaching staff, but at the end of year his numbers were a lot better because he understood what we wanted and the pace of the game."

The chief backup in the frontcourt is sophomore Keion Palmer (3.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.1 bpg), a wiry 6-9 forward with long arms and good defensive timing. Despite averaging just 9.4 minutes, Palmer led the Dolphins in blocks (26) and in field-goal percentage (.554). With an expected increase in minutes, Palmer could become a force on the defensive end, and maybe on both ends. He just needs to add weight and strength.

Shamile Jeffers (2.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg), another sophomore, is a 6-7 forward who also played 9.4 minutes per game and has a chance to raise his contributions significantly.

The main backup in the backcourt is 5-10 sophomore Alyos Cabell (3.6 ppg). He appeared in all 32 games as a freshman. He struggled mightily to find his shooting stroke last season (.342 FG), but he's capable.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B+
BENCH/DEPTH: C+
FRONTCOURT: B-
INTANGIBLES: B+

The Dolphins rely on defense, so it will be interesting to see how they adjust without Hardy. Their best offense is good defense because they don't shoot it particularly well (.424 FG) and don't have a bunch of guys who can score the ball. One who can is McDougald, who could make a big jump this season and become an upper-echelon player in the A-Sun.

JU will win plenty; it just won't win pretty. But if McDougald can carry a lot of the scoring load, it's possible to believe Warren can fashion another 20-win season with what now is a veteran group. The Dolphins won't quite challenge Belmont, but a fourth consecutive postseason trip is well within reach.

"We had so many new guys. Everybody had some kind of role to contribute."
10-26-2011 09:31 AM
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