As we enter the home stretch in conference play everybody is going to be looking for this year's Florida Gulf Coast. That's why we've put together "Cinderella Watch" to profile all the mid-major teams you should know before heading into March.
Delaware Blue Hens
Colonial Athletic Association
Overall Record: 15-7
Conference Record: 7-0
Key Wins: Drexel (118)
Worst Loss: Charleston Southern (289)
Average RPI Win: 207
Average RPI Loss: 84
NCAA Tournament History: 4 Appearances (92, 93, 98, 99), 0-4 all-time
Delaware has had quite a month making noise on the court for their stellar play and off the court for the suspensions of Jarvis Threatt and Marvin King-Davis. The Blue Hens have now won nine straight games and are 7-0 in conference play. Their last three games have come, arguably, against the conference's three best teams (beyond UD) in Drexel, Towson, and William & Mary with two of those three games coming on the road. Monte Ross' teams breezed through that stretch winning by an average margin of over 12 points.
We might be talking about an at-large bid for the Blue Hens if they could have converted on some of their close out-of-conference games against Richmond, Villanova, Ohio State, Saint Bonaventure, and Notre Dame. Instead, the Blue Hens have a fairly impressive list of losses and a not so impressive resume when it comes to quality wins. Their best out of conference win came against Bryant (RPI: 143) in a 108-107 overtime win on a neutral court.
Despite Delaware's impressive CAA stretch, the Blue Hens are still going to have to take care of business in the conference tournament in Baltimore to get to the "Big Dance".
Key Player: Devon Saddler
Senior Devon Saddler will be leaned on heavily by Monte Ross over the next month with suspensions. The 6'2 guard is now averaging 21.7 points per game to lead the CAA and is adding 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per night. Saddler missed some time in November, due to suspension, and his minutes are down from last year, so his potentially fresh legs could come in handy down the stretch for the Blue Hens.
The scary thing is that Saddler's numbers have been even higher in CAA play by averaging 23.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per outing. Sure teams can key in more on Saddler with Threatt out for the next month, but Mississippi Valley State transfer Davon Usher can score at will, as evidenced by his 28 points versus William & Mary Wednesday night.
Senior, experienced guard are always a key to March success and the Blue Hens certainly have one.
Why they will succeed in March?
The aforementioned seasoned guards will give the Hens a big boost in March, but the thing they really have going with them is scoring. If Saddler or Usher have an off night then Threatt, Carl Baptise, or others can pick up the slack. While they aren't the world's most defensive team, they are a well diversified team that can exploit mismatches at any position on the floor.
Another thing that could make the Blue Hens a potential Cinderella is their resume. Sure, they haven't beaten any of the big boys, but they've gone toe to toe with them on the road and know that they can win. This is even more true for the more experienced players who were part of the Preseason NIT team last year that knocked off Virginia and gave Kansas State all they could handle in Madison Square Garden. While the Hens lack postseason experience, they should be confident enough to worry some people in March.
Right now SB Nation resident bracketologist Chris Dobbertean has the Blue Hens as a 13 seed matching up against Duke. A lot of four seeds are going to have a player like Jabari Parker, Doug McDermott, or Marcus Smart that any mid-major team would struggle with, but Delaware may have the weapons to survive and advance in a shootout against one of these teams.