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Northeast Conference preview: Saint Francis University has the backcourt to contend for a conference title

An early look at Saint Francis’s 2017-18 roster and schedule

With the college basketball season about four months away, it seems like the right time to take an in-depth look at each Northeast Conference team and try to assess how each will stack up within the conference.

First up, it’s the Saint Francis University Red Flash out of Loretto Pennsylvania, coached by Rob Krimmel.

2016-17 in review

The Red Flash made an impressive run to the NEC championship game, where they fell 71-61 to Mount St. Mary’s. After that, Saint Francis played in the CIT, defeating Jacksonville in the first round and losing to UMBC. On the season, the Red Flash finished 17-17.

2017-18 Roster Outlook

It was a challenge to come up with a projection for Saint Francis’s starting lineup, since the Red Flash have such a guard-oriented roster. Based off of average minutes per game last season, the top seven returners for the 2017-18 season are all in the backcourt.

Saint Francis will most likely go with a three-guard starting lineup. The Red Flash’s top three returning scorers — Isaiah Blackmon (Jr), Jamaal King (Jr), and Keith Braxton (So., reigning NEC Rookie of the Year — will all be instrumental in Saint Francis’s success.

While the backcourt for Saint Francis will be among the top in the conference, the front court remains in question. It doesn’t help that the Red Flash lost key big man and NEC Defensive Player of the Year Josh Nebo to Texas A&M as a transfer, either. Expect JUCO transfer Luidgy Laporal and incoming freshman Marc Flagg to play a major role in filling the gap.

Other incoming freshmen include guards Markus Vallien and Dan Henry, along with small forward Jalen Vaughns.

Coming off the bench, Andre Wolford, Randall Gaskins Jr., and Scott Meredith will all play important roles as guards. Both incoming freshman forwards Flagg and Vaughns had promising senior seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise if one or both eventually worked their way into the starting lineup.

2017-18 Season Prediction

If Nebo had returned, Saint Francis would have been my early NEC favorite. However, even with him gone, Krimmel’s team will still be strong. Saint Francis returns arguably the top backcourt in the NEC, led by Braxton.

Saint Francis’s biggest question is if it will be able to rebound and score inside. The team’s top returning forward averaged just eight points and 1.5 rebounds per game last season.

The Red Flash will need production down low from the new additions to the 2017-18 roster. Laporal will be relied on as a consistent scorer, as he shot 62.9 percent in his last season of JUCO ball. Flagg could be effective, as he is known for being able to step out and hit from beyond the arc. But will the combination of these two be able to replace Nebo?

Finally, Vaughns, who in my opinion should be the NEC preseason Rookie of the Year (if he can get enough playing time in a competitive lineup), will play an important role. Vaughns recorded 22 double-doubles in his senior season of high school, averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds per game, and was also all-state second team in Pennsylvania.

In a conference where transfers have become a common occurrence, Saint Francis’s roster has stayed relatively in tact. The Red Flash should be a top three team in the NEC next season, and they have a strong chance of winning the NEC and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992.