Hofstra was picked as the favorite in the hotly contested Colonial Athletic Association, and while they sit tied for first at 8-2, this is hardly how the plan was imagined back in the summer.
The Pride, who host UNC Wilmington on Thursday in a battle for first place, will likely play no more than eight players in their game against the Seahawks but still have managed to keep a hold on first place.
Hofstra most recently lost senior Malik Nichols to a knee injury suffered against William & Mary on Jan. 24, which only compounds their problems inside. Sophomore Rokas Gustys has broken out into a rebounding and scoring machine, but there is relatively little depth behind him after the Pride lose Nichols. They also lost 6’10” Clemson transfer Ibrahim Djambo in the preseason, who returned home to take care of a personal issue in his native Mali.
“It’s not the team we thought we were going to have back in June, two seniors and two front court guys who are very good,” head coach Joe Mihalich said. “It’s been a blow.”
The Pride will need to ask more from their three man bench of true freshmen Desure Buie and Justin Wright-Foreman as well as sophomore forward Andre Walker to help replace Nichols’ 5.2 ppg and 5.4 rpg. The bench has only given Hofstra 18.2% of the team’s minutes, which is the second lowest in the country according to KenPom: only Syracuse has used their bench for fewer minutes.
“We have to kind of reinvent our team a little bit,” Mihalich said. “It’s different players with different roles doing different things and so we’re going to need Andre Walker, he’ll get some minutes, it’s tough to get him on the floor because of the way Rokus Gustys is playing, even though he’s having as good a year as anybody in the league.”
“It’s tough to get Andre on the floor for that reason, but Justin Wright Foreman is going to get some minutes. Now he did a good job against Drexel, came in and scored a couple buckets, gave us some minutes, so and then Desuire Buie is going to have to play some minutes. None of them are 6’6”, none of them play like Malik, but we’re just going to have to reinvent the team and find a way to use those guys to overcome the loss of Malik Nichols.”
One way they have reinvented themselves is by building their defense in CAA play. Hofstra ranks third in defensive efficiency in conference games, giving up just under a point per possession. Their lack of depth has helped with their ability to not draw fouls; in their zone defense they have allowed the eighth lowest FTA/FGA according to KenPom.
“It’s still a work in progress, not just for us but for everybody with each game,” Mihalich said of their defense. “We try to play a lot of different zones, I don’t know if any of them are any good, but I try to do that.”
“We tell the team with each game you improve at it, because you’re going to learn what other teams have done because they’re doing good things against you and and you have to adjust. It has gotten better, it had to get better and we still got a long way to go if we’re going to be a good team.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.