Stetson Hatters are Flying Under the Radar and Heading in the Right Direction

Freshman forward Derick Newton is putting together a stellar freshman campaign, and is one of many pieces in place as the Hatters are flying under the radar and building a team who could contend for the Atlantic Sun title in the coming years. (Source: Stetson Athletics)
Freshman forward Derick Newton is putting together a stellar freshman campaign, and is one of many pieces in place as the Hatters are flying under the radar and building a team that could contend for the Atlantic Sun title as early as next year. (Source: Stetson Athletics)

In recent years, the term ‘success’ and the Stetson Hatters haven’t gone hand-in-hand. The Hatters have struggled to contend in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and have found themselves on the losing end more often than not.

The last time the Hatters finished the season with a record at .500 or better was back in 2007-2008, when they finished the year 16-16 overall. In terms of conference play, the last time they finished at or above .500 was in 2012-13, when they finished 11-7 against conference opponents (15-16 overall).

With the lack of season success, NCAA Tournament appearances at the Division I level haven’t come for the Hatters. At the Division II level, the Hatters made three appearances in the NCAA Tournament (1967, 1970, and 1971). Since making the move to the top tier, they have failed to make a post-season appearance.

Fast forward to 2015-16, and the Hatters look like a team on the rise. They don’t get much attention on the national stage, which may be working in their favour.

After making a statement with their upset victory over the North Florida Ospreys on Monday night, more attention should be given to the Hatters. They went on the road and ended the Ospreys’ 18-game home winning streak with an 86-82 victory.

Some may say it was a fluke. But, when you dig a little deeper and look more into the team, it’s easy to see that this team is trending in the right direction, and could be a top contender for the Atlantic Sun Conference title as early as next season.

Head coach Corey Williams is in his third season with the Hatters, and the first two likely didn’t go as planned. Stetson went a combined 16-46 in Williams’ first two years, but the foundation has been laid for a strong future in Deland, FL.

The win over the Ospreys pushed Stetson’s record to 9-15 overall in 2015-16, and 3-5 in conference play. A year after being the cellar-dwellers in the Atlantic Sun, the Hatters are now a middle-of-the-pack team in a conference that is seeing a higher level of parity in comparison to the past few years.

Despite a sub-.500 record, the Hatters have shown they can hang around with some bigger name schools. They outscored the Marquette Golden Eagles by 12 in the second half of their game, but a rough first half was too much to overcome, as the Hatters ultimately fell on the road, 74-60. They showed determination and fight in the second half against a power program, and gave themselves plenty to build off of as the season progresses.

Considering the makeup of this year’s team, a 9-15 record isn’t all that bad. Yes, it’s 6 games below .500, and they sit 4 games back in conference play. But, they have to feel good about the future of the program.

Stetson has no seniors on their roster this season, and only three players are juniors. A healthy dose of youth has led the team over the course of 2015-16, and they haven’t looked out of place by any means.

Junior guard Brian Pegg has been the leader of the team this season. Averaging 12.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest, the 6’7” Pegg is a double-double threat on any given night. Following the win over North Florida, Pegg has recorded five straight double-doubles, and 14 overall on the season. Add in his effectiveness from the floor (56.2%), and the Hatters have their leader on both ends of the court.

With another year of Pegg in the system, he can help to develop the younger players on the team. He brings a wealth of experience to the table and a work ethic that you simply cannot teach, and the younger players can learn a lot by just watching Pegg on a daily basis.

While things start with Pegg, the Hatters are a deep balanced team. This season, 8 different players have appeared in at least 21 games and have played at least 17 minutes per contest. To make things better, these 8 players all average at least 6.1 points per contest. Having that kind of balance on a team is something that every coach would love to have, and it’s only a matter of time before they take their games to the next level.

One factor for their sub-.500 record is the lack of experience. The vast majority of their team leaders are underclassmen, and as they gain more experience at the Division I level, the results will follow close behind.

Freshman forward Derick Newton has quickly emerged as an impact forward in the conference. The 6’7”, 220-pound forward out of Beverly Hills, CA is the team’s leader in points, averaging an impressive 15.9 points per contest. Add in 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game, and Newton is having a large impact in his first season with Stetson.

Newton has scored in double-figures in 9 straight games, and in 16 of their last 17 games overall. During that time, he has topped the 20-point mark 6 times, and put up a season-high 30 points against the USC Upstate Spartans in an overtime win.

Stetson fans have to be thrilled with what they have seen from Newton so far in his young career. Remember, he’s only a freshman, so he will get better. That’s a scary thing for the rest of the Atlantic Sun.

Then, it’d be a crime to not mention the young back court trio for the Hatters. Sophomores Divine MylesLuke Doyle, and Angel Rivera have done an impressive job in the back court, and have set the Hatters up for success moving forwards.

Last season, we talked with Myles in advance of his freshman campaign, and it was clear from the start that he was destined for success in his collegiate career and beyond.

After a strong first season with the Hatters, Myles has picked up right where he left off, seemingly avoiding the sophomore slump in the process. The 5’11” point guard from Mobile, AL is averaging 13.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per contest while shooting 52.7% from the field. Finding a guard who is that effective from the field is hard to find, and Myles is an asset for the Hatters.

Myles brings a ton to the floor, and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to have an impact. Sure, he’s a strong shooter of the ball, but his basketball I.Q. and passing ability are what set him apart from other point guards in the country. Add in his quick hands on defense, and Myles is a complete player and is one of the top point guards in the country.

Factor in Luke Doyle (9.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and Angel Rivera (6.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) to the equation, and Coach Williams has a trio of talented guards at his disposal. It allows him to mix and match lineups, creating headaches for opponents on a regular basis.

From top to bottom, the Stetson Hatters have a young yet talented roster who are capable of big things.

When you look around the conference, the top teams are losing their experienced players as early as this season, and will need to rely heavily on under-proven young players to carry the load. While their new players are getting acclimated to the systems and the grind of Division I basketball, the Hatters will be steps ahead of them on the development trail.

Once a bottom-feeder in the Atlantic Sun, the Stetson Hatters have been able to fly under the radar and assemble a group of young players who could very well carry the team to success as early as next season.

If they can keep producing at the pace they are now, the results will soon follow suit. That is bad news for the rest of the Atlantic Sun, and great news for the people of Deland, FL and Stetson University who have supported their beloved Hatters through the toughest of times.

Good things come to those who wait, and the Stetson Hatters could be reaping the benefits as early as 2016-17.

– T.B.