Over the past 10 days, two noteworthy All-NEC first teamers—Elijah Long and Quincy McKnight—decided to go elsewhere to finish their collegiate careers. Though they haven’t signed with a new program as of this posting, the general consensus is that both players will up-transfer.
How high they go is still yet to be determined, although my expectation is they’ll end up in a conference in the upper third of KenPom. I believe their skill set and talents justify each player being scooped up by a noteworthy program.
Where they inevitably end up and deciding if it was a good decision isn’t the point of this post; instead it’s to determine if their departures cripple their respective programs in the short term. Throw in Nisre Zouzoua’s decision to leave Bryant, and you have three high volume guys who all were in the top five of the league in possession rate last season.
(Quick fun fact: For the first time in the KenPom era dating back to 2002, the NEC’s top seven players in possession rate will not be returning for the following season.)
Before diving into each individual situation though, here’s a brief history of the NEC’s attempt to replace volume scorers. KenPom considers heavy usage players (a.k.a. high volume players) as those who consume at least 28% of the team’s possessions in a given season. Utilizing this distinction, I present to you the last 14 high volume players (since 2010) who left their team after posting a possession rate north of 28% in their final year.
|Player||Team (Yr)||%Poss||ORtg||KenPom||+/- NEC Wins Following Yr|
|Jaytornah Wisseh||LIU (2010)||30.1%||100.2||+161||+7|
|Devin Sweetney||SFU (2010)||30.6%||101.5||+37||-2|
|Lamar Trice||MSM (2011)||29.4%||90.3||-45||-3|
|Velton Jones||RMU (2013)||28.5%||103.3||-31||+1|
|Shane Gibson||SHU (2013)||30.6%||106.4||-31||-5|
|Jamal Olasewere||LIU (2013)||31.0%||104.8||-127||-11|
|Kyle Vinales||CCSU (2014)||28.7%||99.6||-39||-4|
|Julian Norfleet||MSM (2014)||28.9%||109.7||-18||-1|
|Sidney Sanders||FDU (2014)||33.9%||108.2||-37||-3|
|Marcquise Reed||RMU (2015)||28.5%||104.1||-119||-7|
|Faronte Drakeford||CCSU (2015)||28.1%||90.8||-7||E|
|Rodney Pryor||RMU (2016)||29.4%||100.9||+37||+2|
|Chris Hooper||SFBK (2016)||29.5%||102.1||-62||-9|
|Cane Broome||SHU (2016)||30.0%||104.0||-1||-4|
That is an interesting and accomplished group of high volume guys. Of the group, only three teams had a better conference record the following season, as LIU Brooklyn improved substantially by winning the NEC championship once Wisseh left. I’m pretty sure Jason Brickman, Julian Boyd and Olasewere had something to do with that.
The two other improvements, both nominal, belong to Robert Morris, yet I’d chalk up those more as statistical variation. These days the difference between one or two conference wins is fairly narrow. In 2014 when the Colonials improved by a win, Robert Morris benefited from a monster senior season from Karvel Anderson (129.0 offensive rating!!) to help temper the loss of the immortal Velton Jones. The 2017 Colonial club improved by two wins after Pryor’s transfer to Georgetown, mainly due to a resurgent defensive effort that finished in the top 100 of the country.
As for the other examples, the transition wasn’t pretty. 10 of 11 teams posted a worse KenPom rating and the same finished with fewer NEC wins a year later. Nearly half (6 of 14) dropped significantly, at least four conference wins off their total the previous season. The quick moral of the story: replacing high volume scorers is hard for the following reasons:
- There are many vacated possessions someone else has to take on. If you don’t have another skilled, high volume player ready to take over those possessions, then you’re likely going to struggle.
- Several players must step up seamlessly for the transition to work. Player A may have been comfortable as a role player, but he’s now forced to become one of the team’s best scoring options. The result is more shot attempts that aren’t efficient takes, leading to plummeting shooting percentages. Elijah Minnie circa 2016, Brandon Peel circa 2015, and E.J. Reed circa 2014 come to mind as recent examples. None of them thrived when given a bigger role.
- A high volume player can carry a team in individual games, which can help maintain a reasonable floor for your offense. Through better athleticism and savvy, they are typically the best option to create their own opportunities and make difficult shots, as opposed to their teammates.
Which brings us to our departing trio. Let dive into each situation separately to predict how each team will adapt.
Elijah Long, formerly of Mount St. Mary’s
- Offensive Profile – 96.2 offensive rating, 28.1% possession rate, 51.7% true shooting %
- Projected Starting Lineup: Junior Robinson, Jonah Antonio, Greg Alexander, Chris Wray, Ryan Gomes
- Best Candidates to Take on More Possessions: Robinson, Alexander, Antonio, TBD
All the NEC coaches I talked to said Josh Nebo and Long’s departure are the biggest blows to their respective teams. Regarding Long, the sophomore point guard pretty much did it all, leading the NEC in assist rate (30.1%) while finishing in the top 10 in 3-point shooting (39.7%), fouls drawn (5.3 fouls per 40 minutes), and steal rate (3.4%). Along with Julian Norfleet, Long was the quintessential scoring floor general that Jamion Christian coveted. He’s versatile, creative and unafraid of the big moment.
He wasn’t the most efficient shooter, but his impact on both ends of the floor was invaluable to what the Mount was trying to accomplish. Along with Junior Robinson, Long essentially gave the Mount a two-headed combo guard monster that played together 75% of the time. Does Long’s transfer ruin a backcourt dynamic that led the program to 17 conference wins?
Honestly, I had two paragraphs written up yesterday about how Miles Wilson would absorb more possessions and likely thrive with a higher profile role. Now, that plan must be abandoned with Wilson’s announcement last night that he’ll be transferring before his sophomore season.
This isn’t Christian’s first go-around replacing star talent. Norfleet, Rashad Whack, Shivaughn Wiggins and BK Ashe all left (the latter two prematurely), yet the Mount has always finished at least two games over .500 in the regular season of Christian’s tenure. Despite the most recent defections, I’d still bet on Christian getting close to that mark in year six, but this may be his most challenging season yet in Emmitsburg. There’s likely nowhere to go but down from a 14-4 regular season, given the loss of Long, Wilson, and Mawdo Sallah.
With the currently constructed roster, Robinson is the most logical candidate to see an increase in usage. It’s really too bad regarding Wilson: his size, perimeter skills (36.3% 3PT) and ability to slash to the rim (60.4% on 2s near the rim) had no match for most NEC competition. Now, a lot will depend on Robinson handling the ball a majority of the time. That’s something he’s been accustomed to in the past. As a sophomore, the 5-foot-5 guard had a 27.1% possession rate with a respectable offensive rating. I’d expect better efficiency in his fourth season.
It remains to be seen if senior Greg Alexander has the chops for more possessions. A whooping 84% of his shots came from behind the arc and 93% of his makes were assisted. He doesn’t seem like a great candidate to see his possession rate rise from a low usage of 14.1% last season; in a season sample he has yet to demonstrate he’s a shot creator.
Christian will rely a ton on Robinson with several inexperienced pieces behind him. After Robinson and Alexander, players like Jonah Antonio, whose outside shooting has received rave reviews, will need to step up. And perhaps Christian has another recruiting gem up his sleeve in the mold of Long. He’ll certainly need it given the Mount’s questionable depth in the backcourt.
Quincy McKnight, formerly of Sacred Heart
- Offensive Profile – 92.5 offensive rating, 33.1% possession rate, 52.3% true shooting %
- Projected Starting Lineup: Cha Cha Tucker, Sean Hoehn, De’von Barnett, Joe Lopez, Mario Matasovic
- Best Candidates to Take on More Possessions: Unknown
Anthony Latina has now dealt with two high profile players leaving the program after their sophomore season. Cane Broome did it prior to last season, whereas McKnight needed more than a month after Sacred Heart’s season ended before asking for a release from his scholarship.
On paper McKnight has the weakest statistical profile of these guards; he led the nation in turnovers and still isn’t a great mid-range and outside shooter. Despite those weaknesses and a mediocre 92.9 offensive rating in league play, however, McKnight’s impact shouldn’t be understated.
He absorbed a tremendous amount of defensive attention in the absence of Broome, yet he developed into a prolific scorer by posting 20 or more points in 14 of 32 games. In the contests where he was dubbed the KenPom MVP, Sacred Heart was 7-0. Additionally, he did a reasonable job keeping his teammates involved (less than Long but more than Zouzoua) with a 20.6% assist rate and he drew a staggering 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes. He was a very difficult player to contain at the low mid-major level, even though opponents were well aware of his pedestrian 31.7% shooting percentage on 2-point and 3-point jumpers.
So where does Sacred Heart go from here? First of all, much of the scoring will now be funneled into the frontcourt where the Pioneers three best players reside. Joe Lopez, Mario Matasovic and De’von Barnett may very well comprise the best frontcourt in the NEC, but unless this group is the second coming of Boyd/Olasewere, the Pioneers need productive guard play to succeed. And that’s really the biggest question mark heading into next season: Are there enough shot creators to make up for McKnight, who particularly excelled at getting to the rim?
Senior point guard Cha Cha Tucker is coming off a mildly disappointing junior campaign, yet the staff believes his senior season will bring more improvement. If he could give the Pioneers a Phil Gaetano senior year kind of contribution (99.6 offensive rating, 30.6% assist rate, 37.6% 3PT) and put Sacred Heart’s bigs in a position to score, then that would be a big boost. Sean Hoehn, while not the most athletic guard in the league, illustrated why he was so important to the Pioneers bottom line last season. In league play:
- In 8 wins, Hoehn averaged 11.5 ppg, shot 48.8% from 3PT and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.53.
- In 11 losses, Hoehn averaged 5.5 ppg, shot 23.8% from 3P and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.07.
Hoehn clearly needs to make outside shots, but he’s not the type of player to regularly generate looks off the dribble.
Latina could look to senior Chris Robinson and incoming freshman Alex Watson to suck up possessions as well. Watson, a 6-foot-3 combo guard from Georgia who has drawn comparisons to Bryant’s Adam Grant, excites the Pioneer staff. Latina will likely need an All-NEC rookie team type of season from Watson and improvement from Hoehn/Tucker for Sacred Heart to reasonably complete for the NEC championship. It could happen, but the margin of error is far more narrow without the talents of McKnight.
Nisre Zouzoua, formerly of Bryant
- Offensive Profile: 106.7 offensive rating, 26.7% possession rate, 54.1% true shooting %
- Projected Starting Lineup: Ikenna Ndugba, Adam Grant, Bosko Kostur, Bash Townes, Marcel Pettway
- Best Candidate(s) to Take on More Possessions: Ndugba, Grant, TBD
Of the three transfers mentioned, Zouzoua was the most efficient player, posting good shooting percentages of 46.0% 2PT/36.2% 3PT/76.9% FT while sporting a minuscule turnover rate of 11.5%. While his possession rate doesn’t quite qualify as a high volume guy under KenPom’s definition, he was close enough to analyze here after hoisting more than 31% of Bryant’s shots when he was on the floor.
Overall, his offensive profile is pristine and he appears to be the best offensive player of the group, yet there’s likely a reason why Zouzoua’s recent recruitment has stalled to the point where his camp is releasing highlight videos of him on Twitter. It’s been more than seven weeks and there have been no official visits to high major schools. Taking a chance on a 6-foot-1 shooting guard with limited point guard skills (9.8% career assist rate) doesn’t seem to be a risk a high-major wants to take.
Nevertheless, the undersized 2-guard had two tremendous seasons at Bryant that’ll surely be missed. Adam Grant’s freshman profile (100.5 offensive rating, 50.7% true shooting %) wasn’t far off Zouzoua’s rookie numbers; therefore is it fair to expect Grant to improve at the level Zouzoua did?
No, but I guess anything is possible. The median outcome likely puts Grant as a 14-16 ppg scorer with Ndugba showing progress in year two. Honestly though, that may not be enough to make Bryant a top three contender. The Bryant staff may be looking at the graduate route for an additional player to help bolster the backcourt, so it remains to be seen how the program will completely replace Zouzoua.
As currently constructed though, Bryant will need a few career years out of guys like Marcel Pettway, Grant and Bosko Kostur to improve upon a 9-9 regular season.
Update (May 2 at 3:22 PM): Zouzoua has reportedly signed with Nevada. He will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules.
Update (May 3 at 2:30 PM): Long has reportedly signed with Texas. He will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride