Red Flash playing with high expectations

There are big expectations for Saint Francis basketball this season, and coach Rob Krimmel believes his team is better equipped to handle those expectations than it was a year ago.

For the second straight year, the Red Flash are the preseason pick to win the Northeast Conference. They tied for second in the league a year ago at 12-6 in conference play, only to lose at home in the first round of the conference tournament to Fairleigh Dickinson.

The Flash finished 18-13, the program’s most wins since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 1991, but the home loss in the NEC Tournament spoiled the hopes for a magical run to the dance.

Saint Francis, which plays its home opener tonight against Morgan State, has been good for the past several years under Krimmel, who has put the program in position to have high expectations.

“Keith Braxton’s freshman year and his class, there were no expectations,” Krimmel said. “I think we were picked eighth and ended up in the championship game. That was playing the hunter, feeling like maybe you’re a little underappreciated and you kind of have that chip on your shoulder. And then they went through the experience of being picked No. 1 (last year).

“So you really can’t go through the emotion and preparation until you actually have that experience. I think our guys, and our coaching staff, too … we’re more comfortable now with those expectations. And there’s a standard now when we go into practice, there’s a standard now when we go into our film sessions.”

Saint Francis returns more statistical production this season than any team in Division I, plus it has two all-conference players in Braxton, a junior forward, and senior point guard Jamal King. Last year, they became the first Saint Francis teammates to both be named first-team all-NEC.

Junior sharpshooter Andre Wolford is back after finishing second in the nation in 3-point percentage last year (49.5).

Junior guard Isaiah Blackmon is back after missing much of last season with a knee injury. He’s battled through injuries throughout his career, but when healthy, he’s a dynamic playmaker and scorer.

Blackmon and Wolford both missed SFU’s opener Tuesday at Buffalo. Wolford was dealing with a minor injury, while Blackmon sat out because of a violation of team rules.

“Isaiah is one of my favorite people, and I love him to death, and he’s a student-athlete,” Krimmel said. “We have certain standards in our program, and we hold our guys to those standards, I don’t care if you’re a starter all-conference guy or you’re the 17th man on the bench.”

Krimmel said his biggest concern for this group is for the players to all accept their roles. The Flash have a lot of talent and depth, so everyone will have to understand how to put it all together to benefit the team.

“We have great kids, and I love coaching this team,” Krimmel said. “And I don’t doubt that they will accept those roles.

“But they’re different year to year, and maybe a kid that played a lot a year ago maybe has to sacrifice one or two minutes because we have someone else that can help the cause.”