TOWSON MEN’S BASKETBALL SEASON OUTLOOK
After recording the biggest turnaround in NCAA history last season, Towson has its sights set on winning its first Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) title in 2013-14. Coming off a season in which the Tigers won 18 games, the programs most since 1993-94, expectations will be high for a team that returns four starters and 85 percent of its scoring.
Headlining the group of four returning starters for the Tigers is reigning CAA Player of the Year Jerrelle Benimon, who averaged 17 points and nearly 12 rebounds per game a year ago. The 6-8 senior posted 20 double-doubles during his junior season and was also a member of the CAA All-Defensive team.
Also back at forward is senior Marcus Damas, who added 11 points and over five rebounds per game a year ago. The backcourt is solid with CAA All-Rookie point guard Jerome Hairston, senior Mike Burwell, Rafriel Guthrie and the addition of Vermont transfer Four McGlynn.
Sophomore Timajh Parker-Rivera is expected to see his role increase this season, while junior Jamel Flash has improved greatly and could push for playing time. Redshirt freshmen Barrington Alston and Marquis Marshall, along with newcomers John Davis and Walter Foster, could also see playing time.
One thing Towson head coach Pat Skerry won’t lack this season is backcourt options. The Tigers return four backcourt players that averaged eight or more points per game last season. Add in to that mix sharpshooters Four McGlynn and Marquis Marshall and the Tigers could throw a variety of lineups at their opponents.
Skerry expects a big year out of starting point guard Jerome Hairston, who averaged 9.9 points and 2.6 assists per game while being named to the CAA All-Rookie team a year ago. The 6-3 point guard is big, and a very good passer with excellent vision. Although he’s a natural point guard, Hairston can score the ball, especially in transition where he is extremely dangerous.
“He’s really worked on his body. He’s in unbelievable shape, stronger, more explosive and a key guy for us,” says Skerry. “We need him to have a great year.”
Marcus Damas (11.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg) provides a ton of versatility as the senior can play nearly any position on the court. The 6-7 forward will see the bulk of his minutes at the small forward spot, bringing not just offensive skills to the table, but also serving as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders.
“Marcus is one of my favorite guys because he’s lived through it all,” says Skerry. “He played at an all-conference level during the second half of last year and I’m expecting that to continue into this season.”
Mike Burwell (9.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg), a 6-6 senior, came to Towson as a noted shooter, but displayed his all-around game last season. Burwell hit a team-high 47 three-pointers during his junior season, but impressed many with his stellar play on the defensive side of the court.
“He was terrific defensively which was exciting,” says Skerry. “He’s a veteran and a long wing and we like that combination. He’s been through the wars and Mike’s one of our most reliable guys.”
Four McGlynn (12.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg in 2011-12) was the American East Rookie of the Year and led Vermont in scoring, three-pointers made (68) and free throw percentage (88.9 percent) before transferring to Towson and sitting out last season. McGlynn is expected to give the Tigers a potent outside threat this season as well as seeing some time at the backup point guard spot.
“Four is an exceptional shooter that can really hit from deep and he is very accurate,” said Skerry. “We didn’t shoot the three great last year, so he’s a great weapon for us to have.”
Perhaps the most improved player on this year’s roster is guard Rafriel Guthrie (8.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg). The 6-4 senior brings grit, determination, and a warrior’s style to the table. Known as a player that can drive and finish around the basket, Guthrie has worked relentlessly on his shooting during the summer to improve his all-around game.
“His game has improved tremendously, his shot, and his ball handling,” says Skerry. “He’s one of our best defenders and someone that’s going to see the court a lot for us this season.”
Coming off a red-shirt season, Marquis Marshall will fight for playing time in a very talented Tiger backcourt. Known as a terrific shooter, Marshall used his sit-out year to add muscle and work on his all-around game. Freshman John Davis could also see some minutes at the small forward spot.
Size and athleticism won’t be a problem for the Tigers in the frontcourt.
Senior Jerrelle Benimon is who most opponent’s will focus their game plans on and for good reason. The 6-8 forward was dangerous from all spots of the court last year. He shot 53.3 percent from the field, which included knocking down 20 three-pointers at a 41-percent clip. Benimon blocked 60 shots and grabbed 102 offensive rebounds, leading the team in both blocks and assists as well.
“Jerrelle has improved both his ball handling and shooting, so that’s a big plus,” said Skerry. “We are going to play through him this year. We’ll get it to him in the post, he’ll handle the ball in transition and we might even play him as a backup point guard. He’s really matured a lot and he wants to take on a role as a leader of this team.”
Timajh Parker-Rivera (2.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg) could see the biggest jump in minutes played this season as he’ll push for the starting center spot. The 6-7 sophomore was one of Towson’s best players during their summer trip to Canada this year, averaging 10.5 points and 10.7 rebounds with three double-doubles in four games.
“TJ’s as tough as they come,” said Skerry. “His body has improved and he’s put in a lot of work on his jump shot this offseason. He’ll play major minutes for us and we expect him to have a big year rebounding the basketball.”
The longest tenured Tiger is junior Jamel Flash (0.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg). The 6-11 forward has improved each year since his arrival and Skerry expects him to see the floor this season.
Barrington Alston, perhaps the most athletic player on the team, returns after taking a red-shirt season last year due to an illness. The 6-8 lefty has a 7-2 reach and excels in transition due in large part because of his ability to finish above the rim over or around defenders.
Newcomers Walter Foster and John Davis will also see playing time this season for the Tigers. Davis is tough on the block but will also see time on the perimeter. Foster may have the best midrange shot of any Tiger. The 6-8 freshman will push for minutes at the center position while also backing up Benimon at the power forward spot.
Towson will once again play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country, while also playing a balanced CAA slate during the 2013-14 season. The Tigers will take on eight teams that reached post-season play last year, including four 2013 NCAA Tournament teams.
During the non-conference portion of their schedule, the Tigers will face teams from 11 different conferences, including squads from the BIG EAST, Pac-12, Big 12 and American Athletic Conference. This year’s CAA slate will be a balanced schedule with the Tigers playing the other eight league schools twice.
“We’re extremely excited about a challenging non-conference schedule which will prepare us for the battles that we’re going to see night in and night out in the CAA,” said Skerry. “We’re really excited about the number of home games that we’re going to be able to play in SECU Arena, starting with Navy, Morgan State and Temple right out of the gate. We’re also thrilled that we’ll be playing so many of the local area teams.”
Some of the marquee games on the schedule include contests at Kansas, Villanova and Oregon State. The Tigers will also begin their first season inside the brand new SECU arena. They’ll open up the arena with three straight home games, including a contest against 2013 NCAA Tournament team Temple.
The Tigers will also play in the 2013 Lumberjack E-Tech Classic in Texas and host the Battle 4 Atlantis Mainland Tournament inside SECU Arena.
Towson will continue to renew local rivalries with games against Morgan State, UMBC and Coppin State on the schedule.
The CAA slate of games for the Tigers will once again be extremely challenging. The Tigers will play home-and-home series against each of the other eight league schools. This year’s CAA Tournament will be moving to the Baltimore Arena and will run March 7-10 with the winner gaining the league automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament