For those of you who believed Central Connecticut (CCSU) was a legitimate contender to win their first NEC championship since 2007, Mike Anthony’s tweet late on Sunday afternoon threw some cold water on the Blue Devils’ chances:
Central Connecticut forward Matt Hunter out for season (and career over because he’s a senior). Academically ineligible.
— Mike Anthony (@ManthonyCourant) December 29, 2013
The news was broken by Anthony, the Hartford Courant beat reporter for CCSU, after the Blue Devils escaped a monster upset by Albertus Magnus, a Division III program residing in New Haven, CT. The narrow victory was of little significance in the grand scheme of the season, but it was Anthony’s scoop afterwards that will be most damning toward CCSU’s NEC title chances as they head into league play next month.
Matt Hunter, a JUCO transfer from Odessa Junior College who was coveted by several Division I programs, joined the Blue Devils for the 2012-13 season, eventually earning an all-conference third team selection. In his breakout junior season, Hunter’s ability to stuff the stat season on both ends of the floor and remain durable was an asset for Howie Dickenman. The highlight of Hunter’s season came somewhat early in his Division I career, when he lit up Indiana at Assembly Hall for 40 points after making 13 of 25 shots. Later on that season, Hunter turned in his finest performance, at least from an efficiency rating standpoint, at home versus St. Francis (PA). In the double OT victory, he registered 23 points (on 11 shots), seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals.
During his final year of eligibility, however, Hunter’s production on the offensive end had regressed, albeit slightly:
2012-13 season: 91.3 ORtg, 39.5% FG%, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.77 A/TO, 37.2 mpg
2013-14 season: 84.1 ORtg, 42.4% FG%, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.50 A/TO, 28.9 mpg
CCSU has the depth to replace Hunter’s minutes for the remainder of the season, which was a luxury Dickenman didn’t enjoy in an injury ridden 2012-13 season. Even though Hunter wasn’t terribly efficient shooting the basketball (career 44.2% effective field goal percentage), his versatility, infinite energy to reek havoc, especially defensively, and prowess on the glass will be nearly impossible for Dickenman to replace, though. His 3.5% steal rate and 4.6% block rate this season was nationally ranked, according to KenPom. Hunter also led the team in rebounding for the last two seasons.
Hunter’s scoring had been down compared to last season (15.7 ppg to 9.3 ppg), perhaps due to the emergence of forward Faronte Drakeford down low. The junior transfer is second on the team in scoring with 12.4 ppg.
Hunter’s absence places even more pressure on CCSU’s upperclassmen, led by, of course, Kyle Vinales. CCSU has struggled mightly to defend (107.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) and rebound the basketball (average rebounding margin of -5 per game). Those two facets of the game just got that much more difficult without their tireless swingman, who will forfeit his final semester of eligibility due to some unforeseen academic issues.
Dickenman will surely look to lean more on senior Terrell Allen and JUCO transfer forward Juwan Newman. Both have been underwhelming – neither was averaging more than five points and 15 minutes per game in CCSU’s first 12 contests.
As far as CCSU’s title chances are concerned, this latest news likely places them inside the bottom half of the conference, among the likes of LIU Brooklyn, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (PA), and Fairleigh Dickinson. Given their poor play with a record of 3-8 versus Division I competition, it’s difficult to consider them as a serious contender at the moment, especially without Hunter in uniform.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride