San Jose State Basketball: 2020-2021 Season Preview-The Spartans Need Growth
The Spartans return plenty of talent and boast a “large” recruiting class, will it be enough?
The Spartans return leading scorer Seneca Knight and others, will it all be enough to make their Mountain West ascent?
There is good news in San Jose, and that is the return of the team’s top two scorers in Seneca Knight (17.1 PPG) and Richard Washington (10.3 PPG). Which if you have followed the Spartan program over the last five years or so, it means the hemorrhaging of this programs top talent every offseason has officially ended. It was one of the more cringe worthy aspects of Spartan teams in recent years, as the program’s attempts to grow and establish any sort of winning ways always seemed hindered by it’s search for a new top dog or dogs, each season.
That has to be a foundation in which to build upon for now fourth year head coach Jean Prioleau.
The ongoing theme surrounding the San Jose basketball program is growth, which is something the Spartan’s are in desperate need of. The Spartans failed to reach double-digits wins for a third consecutive year, finishing the season off with a 7-24 (3-15, in the MW) record, just one win ahead of Wyoming in last place.
It’s a tough job, and it has always felt a little out of place in the Mountain West since their move from the WAC back in 2013-2014. Since the move, the Spartans have only reached double-digit wins one time. That was back in 2016-2017, back when former Gonzaga Bulldog and current Memphis Grizzly Brandon Clarke suited up for San Jose State and led the team to it’s most successful season in their new conference.
Year four may be different for coach Prioleau, he certainly returns some very talented players in Seneca Knight (17.1 PPG), Richard Washington (10.3 PPG) and Omari Moore (4.9 PPG). While also bringing in a five-man recruiting class with several players who have the opportunity to make an impact in the Spartan’s frontcourt on top of that.
But the fact of the matter is, San Jose State needs to begin it’s ascent out of the Mountain West’s basement soon to avoid another coaching change. Though with a decent roster to work with this year, maybe this squad gets the chance to do just that.
Starting Lineup: Jalen Dalcourt (6-2, Jr.), Omari Moore (6-6, So.) Richard Washington (6-6, R-Sr.) Seneca Knight (6-7, Jr.), Ralph Agee (6-8, Sr.)
Bench: Kaison Hammonds (6-4, Jr.), Eduardo Lane (6-11, Sr.), Sebastian Mendoza (6-3, Fr.), Michael Ofoegbu (6-7, Fr.), Chase Courtney (6-10, Fr.), Hugo Clarkin (7-0, Fr.), Nate Lacewell (6-9, Fr.), Trey Smith (6-3, Jr.), Harminder Dhaliwal (6-10, So.)
This year’s squad like others around the conference will have to rely on the college readiness of it’s freshmen and other newcomers. But unlike some other programs, coach Prioleau returns 3/5 starters, two of which are double digit scorers.
During Mountain West media day, coach Prioleau spoke to the development of his players this offseason. Touching on returning sophomore Omari Moore’s improved shooting, Richard Washington’s improved playmaking ability. Moore is a very talented young player who saw valuable minutes on the floor in his freshman season (31 games w/20 starts and 19.3 MPG), including a 17 point 8 steal (yes, 8) in a conference tournament loss against New Mexico. Washington on the other hand is a veteran player who has seen his career take him to the ACC at Wake Forrest, Juco and now his second year in San Jose. He is a great complimentary scorer to Knight but further development as a 6-6 distributor is nothing but great news for a Spartan squad who did happen to lose starting point guard Brae Ivey to graduation and backup Zach Chappell to transfer.
The hope is that these two provide a bit of scoring relief and draw defenders away so that leading scorer Seneca Knight may have further room to work with. Knight is an extremely talented player, but finds most of his offense in transition and at the line (6.5 free throw attempts a game in 19-20).
Though this squad returns key scorers from last year’s team who appear to be making big strides in their game, the Spartan’s still boasted one of the worst defenses in the country last year, especially at the rim. A huge point of emphasis for this squad needs to be improvement on the defensive end. This squad gave up a conference high 81.4 PPG on defense last season.
Gone is starter and leading blocker Christian Anigwe (1.1 BPG), who transferred to UC-Davis out in the Big West. But expected starter Ralph Agee, who is a bit undersized for the five at just 6-8, should receive some help from a tall group of incoming freshmen (Ofoegbu 6-7, Lacewell 6-9, Courtney 6-10, and Clarkin 7-0). This group will be largely untested and a bit out of place at first, but have the opportunity to play quality minutes early on.
This squad will go as far as their defense takes them, but if the last three years have been any sort of indicator, there needs to be some major growth and major contribution from a very tall but youthful freshmen class.
The Spartans were picked to finish last by the media on Wednesday, and many see San Jose State and Air Force as interchangeable at the 10th and 11th spots. This teams ceiling is entirely reliant on the progression of it’s defense and ability to decrease their number of turnovers (13.9 turnovers per game, 2nd in the conference).
Any finish ahead of 10th place would be considered a win in my book for San Jose State.