What a difference a year can make for Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. At this point last season, the Bulldogs future was uncertain, coming off a dismal two-win season in the final year of an arduous Division I transition. Sure, the 2012-13 roster was instantly upgraded with the addition of transfers Dyami Starks and Joe O’Shea, but the long time coach was still unsure how everything would pan out.
“I knew we were going to be a lot better, but my apprehension coming (to NEC media day) last year was we were going to be picked last (in the NEC preseason coaches poll),” admitted O’Shea. “You never want to be first, and you certainly don’t want to be last. We were at the point where we needed to turn a corner and the hardest thing to shake off after a transition is – and Pat Duquette (at UMass-Lowell) is going to go through this – all the losing. How do you take a losing mentality and start to develop a winning mentality?”
Fast forward one year later. Bryant, along with Towson, had engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in Division I history by winning 17 more games than they did in the previous season. The Bulldogs also won twice as many conference games as they lost, thanks to a wonderfully efficient season scoring the basketball. In league play, Bryant scored 117 points per 100 possessions, easily the best mark in the NEC for quite some time.
Forging ahead, O’Shea must go on without point guard and NEC all-conference third team selection, Frankie Dobbs. The do-everything floor general masterfully ran the offense in his senior season, finishing in the top 15 of the conference in points (13.4 ppg), assists (5.3 apg), steals (1.2 spg), and assist to turnover ratio (2.2). How exactly can that superb production be replaced?
Look no further than veteran guard Corey Maynard.
“I talked to Corey about playing point – and he had always done that when he played for the Australian national team,” said O’Shea. “He’s really looked good in practice. Corey knows how to play that position, he’s crafty. He’s really a good player.”
The statistic similarities between Maynard and Dobbs – who both stand at 6’3″ – are striking. Both posted A/TO ratios of 2.0 or greater, while filling up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. Both guards can score anywhere on the floor, add toughness rebounding the basketball, and are crafty and creative enough to make their teammates better. The latter point will be especially important for Dyami Starks and Alex Francis, the two focal points of O’Shea’s high-powered offense.
While Maynard’s presence at the point gives Bryant the experience of a grizzled upperclassman, it also allows O’Shea to field a bigger lineup. It’s nothing against freshman Justin Brickman or sophomore Shane McLaughlin, who has also looked good this preseason.
“(This move) allows Joe (O’Shea) in the starting lineup, which now gives us a chance,” explained O’Shea. “Basically what happened was Shane McLaughlin was doing a nice job, but if I started Shane, Dyami and Corey, that’s makes us really small. And Joe O’Shea was playing so well, it seems to me imperative to get him in the starting lineup to give us some real size.”
As a 6’5″ swingman, O’Shea is coming off an underrated season, to say the least, by posting an impressive, team high 115.7 offensive rating. His versatility and ability to get to the free-throw line, while limiting his turnovers (14.0% turnover rate, 280th best nationally) should optimize Bryant’s starting lineup. In addition, O’Shea can also stretch the defense with his perimeter scoring, much like teammates Maynard and Starks.
With a starting lineup featuring Maynard, Starks, O’Shea, Francis, and fifth year senior Claybrin McMath, it remains to be seen how the team will respond on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s lack of depth and athleticism in their first Division I postseason eligible season led to rather porous defensive effort, one that allowed opponents to score 107 points per 100 possessions. That ranked eighth among 12 NEC clubs last season.
O’Shea, however, is encouraged with the frontcourt depth he’s added, even if it’s unknown who will emerge to fill his bench minutes. Whoever rises to the top, whether it’s red-shirt freshman Andrew Scocca, sophomore Curtis Oakley or freshmen Ellis Williams, Daniel Garvin, and Bosko Kostur, O’Shea feels they’ll be better prepared to defend the paint.
The head coach agrees, “We needed to get bigger in the interior. Alex (Francis) used to score at will in practice. He has a hard time scoring in practice, because of the added size and length that we’ve brought in. There, at least, are those kinds of options where a year ago, there were no options.”
“The hardest thing is I’m going to get it down to eight or nine guys and three to four guys – who are legitimately good players – will have to wait until their time comes. That’s going to be the challenge chemistry wise.”
It’s certainly a good problem to have if you’re O’Shea, considering the Bulldogs had difficultly fielding a starting lineup of Division I capable players just two seasons prior. Now, as a preseason number two ranked team (tied with Robert Morris), Bryant is in a position they’ve never been in before. And they’re counting on the versatile Maynard to lead them as the facilitator.
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