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2006-07 Preview: Lafayette Leopards

3 November, 2006

by

Forgive Lafayette fans if they’re looking a little too far into the future. This year’s incoming freshman class is Lafayette’s first group on athletic scholarships, and it looks like Fran O’Hanlon’s squad will be back in the Patriot League mix in no time. Meanwhile, there’s a season to play this year and the Leopards are undermanned to compete in the league. Sophomore point guard Andrew Brown is back after flirting with transferring, but 2005-06 leading scorer and rebounder Andrei Capusan is graduated and the upper-echelon frontcourts of the league tower over Lafayette’s. The Leopards have some talent in place and have the always-dangerous O’Hanlon, but it will be an uphill battle to be competitive in the Patriot League this year.

Point
After nearly transferring, Andrew Brown returns to Easton for his sophomore year. Brown led the team in minutes and shots last season, garnering All-Rookie honors. This year Brown will be asked to play a more mature point. He shot only 36.6 percent from the floor last year, and hit just 30.5 percent of his team-high 167 three-point shots. Brown will still need to take a good amount of shots, but will need to be more disciplined in finding his shots. He would also be well served to attack more and find his way to the free-throw stripe more often (he took 36 free throws last season). If Brown runs a tight, controlled point, then Lafayette has a leg up on some other league teams without a true point guard. Under O’Hanlon’s tutelage, Brown should continue to develop into one of the league’s better points.
Rating: OO

Wing
Senior co-captain Jamaal Hilliard missed significant time last year with foot and hand injuries, but is expected to be back at full health in time for Lafayette’s season opener at Wagner next Friday. Hilliard has been a dangerous shooter when on the court for the Leopards; he hit 40.3 percent of his three-point attempts over the last two seasons. Hilliard’s also shown an ability to get to the line and hit free throws, nailing 86.8 percent of his attempts the last two years. Hilliard also plays tight perimeter defense. If Hilliard can stay on the court, his consistency on both sides of the ball will help keep Lafayette in games all season.

At 6-5, Lafayette’s top returning scorer Bilal Abdullah brings size to the third-guard position. Abdullah significantly improved his shooting last year to 40.8 percent from the field and 39.6 percent from the arc, up from 39.6 percent and 27.7 percent respectively the previous season. With Hilliard taking attention as the focal point of the offense, Abdullah should continue to get chances to shoot. If he continues to develop as rapidly as he has, it will be difficult for opponents to put the clamps on both Hilliard and Abdullah on the outside.
Rating: OO

Post
Lafayette’s best interior defense comes from Ted Detmer, a junior who led the team last year with 47 steals and added 15 blocks. Detmer, a quick post player with good hands, is also a good rebounder on both sides of the floor. His defense will trouble a lot of big men in the league. Detmer shot just 35.0 percent from the floor last year, a number that will need to improve this season. If he develops some post offense, it will open up the outside for Hilliard and Abdullah to take uncontested threes.

At 6-7, Everest Schmidt will play the role of center in Lafayette’s offense. He had success in the post last year, hitting 48.6 percent of field goal attempts playing behind departed senior Capusan. Can Schmidt continue to hit such a high rate of shots as he becomes more of an offensive focus? Can he adjust to tighter defense and become a good passer? The answers to these questions will have a big impact on the success of the Leopards’ offense. Defensively, Schmidt isn’t the troublemaker Detmer is, but he has the size and girth to control the paint.
Rating: O

Bench
Only 6-5, guard Matt Betley was among Lafayette’s leading rebounders last year with 4.0 per game. Betley is a good defender, and an alright shooter and passer. He will get significant minutes in the backcourt mix, along with junior Paul Cummins. Cummins is a shooter who struggled last year, hitting just 39.2 percent of field goals. He can be a big contributor if his shots are falling. After missing a lot of last year with a leg injury, Marcus Harley will back up at both guard positions. Harley posted 9.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game two years ago when he started every game. He will be counted on to provide consistent bench points for Lafayette. Also seeing action in the backcourt will be sophomore Derek Heckendorn, who missed all of his freshman year with injury, and freshman Michael Gruner. Heckendorn is a distributor who will battle Harley for backup point guard minutes. Gruner, a big scorer in high school, will be asked to come in for short spurts while O’Hanlon grooms him as a future focus of the offense.

Lafayette’s frontcourt bench is very thin, and several freshmen will have to play big roles to pick up the slack. Of the frosh, Andre Hines is the most polished and ready for league action. Hines is a strong defender and good rebounder, and will be counted on to be a reliable presence for the Leopards. Polish import Marek Koltun is a 6-10 project, but will receive playing time out of necessity. If Koltun can redirect a few shots, give a few fouls and make life difficult for opposing frontcourts, he will be making a positive contribution. A pair of 6-7 backups, sophomore Dave Smith and freshman Jesper Andersson, will also get chances to step up and collect bench minutes.
Rating: O1/2

Coach Track Record
Fran O’Hanlon’s record speaks for itself. He has two Patriot League Coach of the Year awards and two NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt, both from before the Patriot League became a scholarship conference. Since scholarships became prevalent elsewhere in the league, O’Hanlon’s teams have overachieved every year. But with every other non-military team now having a full slate of scholarship players, the gap is wider than ever before. It will take pure magic from O’Hanlon to get Lafayette to the top half of the league. You can count on a well-run, fundamentally solid squad under O’Hanlon as always, but that likely won’t be enough to pull them back to the pack.
Rating: OO1/2

Schedule
Lafayette has tough road games against Indiana (Preseason NIT), Miami, Temple and San Diego State, and difficult home battles with St. Joseph’s and Princeton. The Leopards also have an oddly-timed four-game homestand during the heart of fall semester finals, facing Lycoming, Columbia, King’s College and Mount St. Mary’s between Dec. 7 and 22. The start of their league schedule is quite unfriendly; Lafayette could easily start 0-5 in league play before a home battle with Army on Jan. 24.
Rating: O

Overall
It will be a huge uphill battle for Lafayette to be competitive in the Patriot League this season. O’Hanlon has some shooters to work with, but the physical abilities of the scholarship players in the rest of the league will make it too hard for the Leopards to find any sort of momentum.

Best-case scenario: Brown runs a crisp offense, the wings hit their shots, O’Hanlon puts together a masterpiece year and the Leopards pull some league upsets en route to a 7-7 season.

Worst-case scenario: The backcourt fires shots indiscriminately; the frontcourt gets run over repeatedly, and Lafayette only musters one league win.

Most likely scenario: Hillard’s and Abdullah’s long-range games dominate at times, Hines becomes a key contributor down low, but Lafayette doesn’t have enough firepower to stay in games and ends up 3-11 in league play.
Rating: O1/2

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