Awards and Observations From the Connecticut 6 Basketball Event

College basketball is finally upon us and I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Connecticut 6 (CT6) basketball tournament, an event that allows the 6 mid-major Division I teams from the Nutmeg State to face off in three games.

This was the first CT6 event I’ve attended in its entirety in some time, and I was treated to some terrific basketball.

Please allow me to hand out some awards from the event and offer my thoughts on the teams that competed in this great event.

Game of the Night
Hartford at Central Connecticut – By KenPom’s standards (Hartford 311, CCSU 340), and everyone else’s standards for that matter, these were the two worst teams heading into the CT6. That didn’t matter, though, as both rebuilding clubs fed off the energy of the Detrick Gymnasium crowd and produced a fantastic and highly competitive game. Hartford led for most of the second half, but a Blue Devil run late – thanks to clutch 3s from rookies Austin Nehls and Jahlil Nails and terrific playmaking by Khalen Cumberlander – allowed them to force the game into overtime after trailing by as many as 13 points late.

In the overtime periods, the two rivals engaged in a wildly entertaining back and forth before Hartford was too much in the second OT. Justin Graham and Taylor Dyson combined to score 10 points in the final five minutes, sealing CCSU’s fate and sending the once raucous crowd to the exits.

Best Player Performance
Cane Broome, Sacred Heart – The electric 6’0 combo guard finished with a CT6 high and career high 27 points, and honestly, he could’ve had more after uncharacteristically missing 8 of his 20 free throw attempts. Despite those charity stripe misses, though, Broome was the sole reason the Pioneers were able to withstand severe foul trouble and an undersized six-to-seven man rotation as a result. His ability to effortlessly (at least it seemed that way) slash to the hole was a thorn in Tom Moore’s side all game, not to mention his four thefts in the open floor. Those steals generated some badly needed transition opportunities as the Pioneers outscored Quinnipiac in transition 10-0. Overall, the East Hartford native was awesome.

Best Player Performance in a Losing Effort
Khalen Cumberlander, Central Connecticut – There weren’t many encouraging performances from Fairfield or Quinnipiac in defeat, yet Cumberlander managed to shine among a group of fresh faces at CCSU. The 6’3 guard’s athleticism was on full display, as the junior broke down opponents with ease off the bounce and sank a couple of deep 3s in the second half when his team needed a spark. In 49 minutes of play, Cumberlander fell 2 assists shy of a triple double, pouring in 19 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists versus just three turnovers. The efficiency rating for this effort should be, as Jon Rothstein would say, “off the charts!”

Perhaps even more impressive, Cumberlander looked like the leader of a team desperate for a veteran presence. There certainly will be bumps in the road in what’s considered a start-over season for CCSU, although the guard appears to be a player opposing coaches must target as the number one threat on their scouting report. If he can consistently elevate his game to the high level we witnessed tonight, then he’s a top 15 NEC player without question.

Best Player Performance in a Supporting Role
Taylor Dyson, Hartford – John Gallagher received contributions from several players in tonight’s win, and Dyson was one of those guys. His 17 points was a team high but it was the little things late that had impressed Gallagher the most regarding his lone senior. “I thought Taylor Dyson made the two biggest plays of the game,” Gallagher said afterwards. “(He had) the offensive rebound where he made it 86-83… an absolutely huge play in the game. And his defensive rebounds kind of sealed it.”

On a team that purged six seniors from its roster after last season, Gallagher will need Dyson to provide production and leadership if Hartford is to continue their trend of respectability. So far, so good for the Australian native.

Best Newcomers to Be Excited About
Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart –After missing his first seven shots, including two easy layups and a dunk, McKnight settled down and provided Latina with some big time minutes down the stretch. The dynamic freshman guard had 11 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in the second stanza, and along with Cane Broome, gave Pioneers fans a reason to be excited for the upcoming season. These two profile as the best underclassmen guard duo the NEC has to offer if both play up to expectations.

Daniel Harris, Quinnipiac – After tonight’s frustrating loss, Tom Moore was scouring the box score to find something, anything really, to feel good about. Enter the JUCO transfer Daniel Harris, who was a big reason why Quinnipiac hung around in the second half. His four three-pointers in the second half ended up accounting for half of the Bobcats’ 3s for the entire contest. Harris’ teammates made just 4 of 17 from behind the arc, which really hurt given Sacred Heart’s commitment to doubling Quinnipiac’s big men.

Jalen Ross, Hartford – The red-shirt junior guard from Eastern Michigan gave John Gallagher some toughness and grit throughout the double overtime thriller. Ross scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting thanks to some creative playmaking off the dribble, essentially knifing his way through CCSU frontline.

My Unofficial All CT6 Team
G: Cane Broome, Sacred Heart
G: Makai Mason, Yale
G: Taylor Dyson, Hartford
G: Khalen Cumberlander, CCSU
F: Brandon Sherrod, Yale

Best Team Performance
Yale – Despite shooting just 5 of 21 from three and getting a mediocre effort from Justin Sears (6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 turnovers) thanks to first half foul trouble, the Bulldogs took care of business against the overmatched Stags. Yale outrebounded Fairfield 47 to 24 and used 19 offensive rebounds to generate 16 second-chance points. This was a nice start for the Ivy League’s preseason favorite.

Worst Team Performance

Fairfield: The last two seasons have been rather dismal for Sydney Johnson, with his Stags compiling a meager 14 victories against 49 defeats. In response, Johnson decided… ummm was forced to revamp half of his coaching staff, hiring two former head coaches in Mitch Buonoguro and Tom Parrotta. Johnson may be signed through the 2018-19 season, but the seat would likely get a little warmer should Fairfield fall flat on their face for the third season in a row.

Unfortunately for Johnson, the Stags were mostly uncompetitive tonight, albeit against a very game Yale squad. It may be only one game, but this surely wasn’t the start Johnson was envisioning.

Most Disappointing Outcomes
Fairfield’s Offense: I came into Detrick Gym late, but from what I gathered the Stags were off to a fast start. They had scored 18 points in their first 14 possessions nine minutes in, giving Johnson a reason to enthusiastically direct his team from the sideline. The Stags even made 4 of their first 7 three-point attempts, after shooting a paltry 32.2% from behind the arc in the season prior. These were the new Stags!

Until they weren’t. Rather suddenly, the Stags reverted back to their unwatchable 2014-15 form of offensive ineptness. The Stags settled for an inordinate number of long jumpers and failed to drive and subsequently get into the lane, leading to a ghastly 0.74 points per possession in the final 31 minutes of the game. It was the same old story from a season ago when the Stags hit just 31.4% of their 2 and 3-point jumpers. It was more of the same tonight.

Quinnipiac’s Bigs Failing to Take Advantage of Sacred Heart’s Depleted Frontcourt – Vinny Simone did an excellent job breaking this down in his Quinnipiac recap, but I’ll add my two cents as well. Despite the overwhelming size and gerth of Donovan Smith and Chaise Daniels when compared to the Pioneers frontcourt (minus Tevin Falzon and Matej Buovac), the two 6’9 wide bodies down low failed to take advantage. They were more so a liability, committing 12 turnovers as they continued to get stripped by SHU’s guards. Credit Anthony Latina for the sound game plan of doubling Quinnipiac bigs whenever the opportunity presented itself, but Daniels and Smith needed to do a better job of protecting the ball once they received the incoming pass. Those gaffs were a big reason why Quinnipiac dropped their first CT6 opener since losing to Fairfield in November of 2011.

Other Observations

  • In tonight’s press conference, Howie Dickenman admitted that he’s been away from the team since Halloween to “deal with a sickness.” In the interim, assistant coach Obie Nwadike has assumed the head coaching duties, while receiving daily input from Dickenman. The 20-year head coach doesn’t have a timetable for his return, but he won’t make the trip out to Penn on Sunday. He’s claims to be feeling better though and should be back in the near future.
  • Speaking of those feisty Blue Devils, freshmen Austin Nehls and Jahlil Nails looked very comfortable as Nwadike deployed them during the tense moments of the second half as part of a lineup that also included Brandon Peel, Cumberlander and Mostafa Jones. Nehls and Nails combined to shoot 7 of 16 from behind the arc and displayed the moxie you’d expect to see from an upperclassman. They appeared to be unfazed by the moment, which is a great sign for a team looking to turn the tables after an awful 5-26 campaign.
  • Yale deserves some credit for Fairfield’s offensive woes, as the Bulldogs forced their I-95 rival into committing 15 turnovers. Furthermore, Yale never allowed the Stags to get into a rhythm offensively, forcing long jumpers and awkward shots in the paint when the Stags were brave enough to enter the paint. The size and outstanding defensive awareness of Sears, Sherrod and Victor made life awfully difficult for Fairfield.

Overall it was a great night of basketball. And we’re just getting started. Enjoy the weekend!

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