NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – “They’re going to beat somebody” might be the ultimate in backhanded compliments, but it’s become a common refrain for opponents of Central Connecticut the last two seasons.
There are many causes, the most prominent being the dismissal of Kyle Vinales before last season, but these aren’t encouraging times for CCSU, now 1-12 overall and 0-2 in the NEC after falling 76-67 Monday night. With no more winless teams in Division I, the Blue Devils are tied for bottom in that category, and perhaps even more concerning, rank No. 350 overall in KenPom, with only Florida A&M behind them.
There are still 16 games to play, of course, and writing an obituary on the Central Connecticut season would be premature, but the numbers are just not pretty to look at currently, particularly on the defensive end, where (somewhat ironically) the only team the Blue Devils have held under a point per possession was Yale in a game they scored only 42 points.
For long-time NEC fans (you’re out there somewhere), it’s tough to watch CCSU struggle, knowing that Howie Dickenman put together some of the best teams the conference has ever seen, including the Ray Mickens led 1999-2000 squad that went 25-6 and gave Iowa State all it could handle in the NCAA Tournament. Then there was two years later when the Blue Devils, led by Corsley Edwards, finished by winning 22 straight NEC games (including the tournament) and earned a No. 14 seed in the NCAAs. Detrick Gym was (and still is) home of one of the most loyal fanbases in the NEC, with very good student and community support
Dickenman and CCSU won at least seven conference games from 1998-99 to 2013-14, but barring a major shift in form, this will be the second straight tough campaign as the attendance numbers slowly dwindle. But this business leaves little room for feeling sorry for others, even if the Blue Devils seem to have a likable squad including doing “good works” off the court. That kind of thing won’t help them defend in the post or get stronger players, or improve on one of the worst shooting teams in the nation.
Again, there’s still time and we know they’ll beat somebody, but it’s hard to see them beating too many somebodys the rest of the way.
What else did we learn at the surprisingly chilly Detrick Gym Monday?
1) Jerome Frink may be the key for LIU Brooklyn
Frink started all 31 games for Florida International two seasons ago, and at 6’7”, 230 pounds has few physical equals in the NEC, whereas – even though Conference USA is a shell of what it once was – he previously might have more trouble getting to the rim or backing people down, he should be a major threat in conference play. The fact that Frink can also step out and hit threes could make him all but unguardable if he is playing well. Monday, he got 19 points and seemed like he left a few more on the table.
He was also involved in the funniest moment of the contest when he missed a wide-open dunk, but seconds later, stole the ball back (one of three steals) and decided instead of going for another spectacular dunk, to just place the ball through the rim.
“Our main focus was defense, stopping them,” Frink said. “We thought we wouldn’t have much trouble scoring, but we had to stop them on defense and grab rebounds.”
Said LIU Brooklyn coach Jack Perri: “He knows what he is. He has so many different parts to his game and it’s not just down low. There are times when he’s playing against bigger guys when he can step out and shoot. He’s a great offensive rebounder. He’s great on the block. He’s a luxury to have, and he always has the right mindset. He’s always the same. Always. He doesn’t get flustered. He misses that says, ‘I don’t care, I’ll just steal the ball and get another dunk.’ He’s starting to become a leader of this team, too.”
2) LIU Brooklyn is not that far away
The Blackbirds (7-6, 1-1) started conference play with a disappointing effort at Mount St. Mary’s that saw them turn the ball over 21 times and score just 0.88 points per possession. We know that Frink and Martin Hermannsson should deliver almost every night and Nura Zanna will be a defensive force meaning the wildcard could be Aarkim Saintil, who finished with 16 points and five assists Monday. When LIU nearly knocked off Fordham, Saintil was fantastic, even against Atlantic-10 competition, but was 1-11 from the field against the Mount and recorded just two assists, the third straight game he was in single figures in points.
“This was a tough road trip, long drive right after the last game (at Mount St. Mary’s) and we knew they would play hard and compete,” Perri said. “We had to get back to a few things. The Mount is just such a different animal. You can’t really move the ball, so there’s a lot of driving and trying to score it. You just have to get your mind back to ball movement, driving, and kicking, and we did they really well at the beginning.”
3) Putting teams away
LIU Brooklyn led by 17 late in the first half (33-16) and probably should have buried Central at that point as it was dominating on both ends of the floor. But it never happened, and CCSU – to its credit – was able to climb back within five early in the second half and even though the contest was never truly in doubt, made the Blackbirds work until almost the final horn. Perri, though, while somewhat concerned because LIU has had a couple of close losses that it probably could have won in non-conference, is realistic about how things like that work.
“More times than not, you’re not going to just run away with things in conference play,” Perri said “Obviously, you’re trying to get other guys minutes. Those guys have to perform at the same level as the starters. We put in some guys and the lead shrunk a little, even though they gave good effort. We just have to get everyone a little more consistent. Obviously, we want to have a 17-point lead and keep building it to 24 and 25, but the reality is that doesn’t happen a lot in conference play.”
— LIU Basketball (@LIUBasketball) January 5, 2016