Despite losses, Hens still optimistic

Senior guard Ryan Allen is fourth in UD history with 212 three-pointers and 19th with 1,211 points. UD sports information

NEWARK — When the Delaware men’s basketball team finished its season last March, it felt as much like a start for the Blue Hens as it did an ending.

Delaware was slated to return all five starters from a 22-11 squad that reached the CAA Tournament semifinals.

Joe Mihalich, the coach of league champion Hofstra, declared the Hens the clear favorite to win the CAA in 2021.

Martin Ingelsby

“On paper we’ve got as good a roster coming back as anybody in our league,” UD coach Martin Ingelsby agreed shortly after the season ended.

But then the off-season happened.

Along with dealing with the limitations of the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of the world, Delaware unexpectedly lost two of its best players.

Leading scorer Nate Darling decided to go pro with forward Justyn Mutts transferring to Virginia Tech.

Enough optimism about the Hens lingered, though, that they were voted to finish second in the pre-season Colonial Athletic Association poll that was announced on Wednesday. With Delaware receiving 11 first-place votes, only favorite Hofstra received more with 16.

It’s the highest UD has ever been in a CAA pre-season ranking.

The Hens, who are tentatively slated to start the season on Nov. 25, also had senior guards Kevin Anderson and Ryan Allen both named second-team All-CAA on the pre-season team.

“I think it’s a testament to the program that we built and the depth and experience we have on our roster,” said Ingelsby. “We knew we had a good nucleus returning. Obviously we wish Justyn and Nate were here with us but they made those decisions to move on.

“It gives the other guys a great opportunity to step up in kind of the ‘next man up’ mentality. We like our group, we like our personnel.”

With much of Delaware’s roster untested, Anderson’s and Allen’s roles will become bigger as seniors.

The two guards, who join senior center Dylan Painter as returning starters, have been regulars for the Hens since they were freshmen.

Senior guard Kevin Anderson was a third team All-CAA selection last year when he led the Hens with 122 assists and 45 steals while ranking 4th with 11.5 points per game. UD sports information

Allen is fourth in UD history with 212 three-pointers and 19th with 1,211 points. Anderson was a third team All-CAA selection last year when he led the Hens with 122 assists and 45 steals while ranking fourth with 11.5 points per game.

The 6-foot-10 Painter, a former Villanova transfer, averaged 9.3 ppg and 5.7 rpg after becoming eligible for the final 22 games of last season.

“Those three guys are really fun guys to coach,” said Ingelsby. “I’ve been on them since the summer — since we lost Justyn and Nate — to really take a step forward from a leadership standpoint.

“Our backcourt is the most experienced backcourt in the league. They’ve been with us through some ups and downs, through the progress we’ve made in our basketball program. I want to really rely on them and their voice, their presence.”

The Hens, though, are going to have to find some other players who can contribute right away if they’re going to remain successful.

Sophomore guards Johnny McCoy and Ebby Asamoah along with 6-foot-9 forward Aleks Novakovich are the next-most experienced players in the group. Novakovich, though, missed the second half of last season with a foot injury.

Delaware also adds junior guard Regegie Gardner, who sat out last winter after transferring from North Carolina Central where he was a second-team All-MEAC pick in 2017-18.

Anthony Ochefu, a 6-foot-8, 240-poound grad transfer from Stony Brook, is expected to give the Hens some help inside when he’s cleared by the NCAA.

The two incoming freshmen — 6-foot-9 forward Andrew Carr and 6-foot-6 guard Gianmarco Arletti — will also get the chance to play right away.

“We really like our young guys,” said Ingelsby. “I do think this will be the most depth that we’ve had in our basketball program. I’ve got to be able to utilize those guys.

“There’s opportunities. Guys have worked really hard to put themselves in position to compete. I’m kind of excited to see how it plays out.”