I’ve chimed in on a couple of major NEC transfers this offseason (Marcquise Reed here and Andrew Smeathers here), but during my brief hiatus from the blog I failed to address a few other significant defections. Allow me to catch up as I assess how the recent turnover may affect two programs that finished in the bottom of the NEC standings, Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) and Central Connecticut (CCSU).
The Greg Herenda rebuilding train has, at least temporarily, gone off the tracks given the unforeseen events of 2015. After going a respectable 17-27 under Herenda — FDU won a COMBINED 15 games in their previous three seasons under Greg Vetrone — the tied-for-first-place Knights proceeded to drop 15 straight NEC contests by an average of 9.7 points per defeat. Even worse, the program is now devoid of a single upperclassman who logged valuable minutes during the 2014-15 campaign.
The departures of Matt MacDonald and Xavier Harris put a burden on the coaching staff to fill their vacant roster spots in short order. As of this writing, FDU had 11 scholarship players committed for the 2015-16 season and only two — Myles Mann and Monmouth transfer Tyrone O’Garro — have been in Division I basketball for at least two seasons. I doubt Herenda and his staff imagined the rebuilding process taking this shape for the start of his third season.
MacDonald’s departure, in particular, may come as a surprise to outsiders, but the heady guard never really emerged as the seasoned scorer many of us thought he would become, especially after his impressive seven game sample to begin last season. In those contests which included a career 29-point performance versus Princeton at home, MacDonald averaged 13.8 points and 9.6 shots per game. The sophomore appeared to be breaking out of his “role player” designation and morphing into a foundation piece that Herenda could realistically build his club around. Throw in his background story of FDU being the only Division I program to offer MacDonald in the summer of 2013, and this appeared to be a fantastic story in the making.
Until it wasn’t.
In the 22 games that followed the aforementioned seven game stretch, MacDonald deferred far more often once again, and saw his levels precipitously drop to 7.5 points and 5.9 shots taken per game. He was still his efficient self (111.0 offensive rating, 50.3% EFG%) amid the drop in production, yet less efficient players like Mostafaa Jones and Darian Anderson were dominating the ball and rendering MacDonald as a secondary scorer. Which is fine if that’s the role the sophomore guard coveted, but clearly he wasn’t on board with becoming the next Joe O’Shea. He admitted as much in a recent interview with Josh Verlin of City of Basketball Love, when he declared that FDU “wasn’t a fit” on and off the court, hence his departure to the Ivy League.
Regarding the athletic Harris, Herenda loses a competent and somewhat underrated power forward who grabbed 10.7% and 19.5% of the available offensive and defensive rebounds, respectively. Throw in a 6.1% block rate, good enough for fifth in the NEC and 140th nationally among Division I players, and you have a classic rim protector exiting stage left. Now, Herenda must forge on with an inexperienced frontline led by O’Garro, Mann and sophomore Earl Potts Jr. There’s certainly promise along that group, but the Knights are dangerously thin and have little room for error considering their horrid performance on the glass last season. Of the 351 Division I programs, the Knights were dead last in defensive rebounding percentage, when they failed to corral 60% of their opponents’ misses. Prematurely losing FDU’s best rebounder in Harris will make it more difficult to overcome this monster deficiency and also keep opponents from making 52.5% of their shot attempts from inside the arc.
Throw in the defection of point guard Malachi Nix, who was never really comfortable as a Herenda rotation piece, and you have a 2015-16 roster that’s incredibly young and unproven. Kind of like last season, hence the reason I’ll likely slot them as my ninth or tenth team in the preseason standings come October. They can exceed that expectation with Anderson, Marques Townes (who I feel is a future star in this league) and Potts Jr. as the core, but the floor is a little lower without MacDonald and Harris as a support.
When approaching the cusp of retirement, the opportunity for a college basketball head coach to leave on their “own terms” or even “good terms” is hopelessly difficult. More often than not, an aging coach is pushed out the door by his athletic director, or the pressure from the outside becomes too great for said coach to endure.
This may eventually be the case for Howie Dickenman, who despite the recent hardship on the court, has been one of the most successful head coaches in the NEC’s history. Because of his track record of previous excellence — three NCAA tournament berths, 278 career wins — no coach is respected more by his rivals these days than Dickenman is. Which is why last season’s utter collapse (5-26 overall, 3-15 NEC) was so difficult to watch. Is the end rapidly approaching for the all-time great, given that he is supposedly on the final year of his current contract?
I won’t attempt to answer that question now, but had Malcolm McMillan and Matt Mobley hung around for another season in New Britain, I have little doubt the Blue Devils would have been a competitive, middle-of-the-pack type of team in the NEC. Now, their departure leaves a desperately barren roster that consists of Brandon Peel, Khalen Cumberlander, Kevin Seymour and a bunch of unproven transfers and underclassmen.
Mobley not only led the Blue Devils in scoring, but he was also their most efficient player (99.9 offensive rating) while shouldering a heavy load of the offensive possessions. Removing a blossoming volume scorer such as Mobley from a team devoid of depth can be incredibly difficult to overcome, especially on a club that returns just 48.6% of their returning possession minutes. Who exactly will handle the offensive touches Mobley was supposed to be responsible for?
Throw in the transfer of an unspectacular, yet steady and very solid floor general in McMillan and there are a ton of holes for Dickenman to fill. There’s plenty of young talent coming in — I really like Eric Bowles, for one, and I think Seymour will take a nice step forward as a sophomore — but it’s difficult to project CCSU as a contender when there are so many unknowns on a team that finished 341st (out of 351) in KenPom’s overall Division I rankings last season.
Dickenman’s players will play hard, no doubt, but it’s hard to see CCSU as anything more than a bottom tier team with the upside of Wagner last season (the Seahawks finished seventh overall in the NEC standings). I doubt that gets the CCSU supporters super excited.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride
One thought on “The NEC’s Poor Getting Poorer – FDU/CCSU Deep in a Rebuild”
The Loss of MacDonald and Harris is not as bad as it seems. MacDonald problem last season was not that he deferred alot, but that he couldn’t create his own shot, and when he did shoot his shooting percentage was surprisingly poor. Harris could not finish around the basket offensively, and rebounding wise he had a few good games,but basically he was not a factor. Nix during most of the season was the 3rd string point guard. In short if all the transfer stayed there was a very good chance that the playing time would have been limited. Hopefully Garro and Potts with the 2 big incoming Freshmen will improve the front court play. In short it can not be worse then it was last year.