Bryant, Tim O’Shea Asking Corey Maynard to Play Point Guard

What a difference a year can make for Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. At this point last season, the Bulldogs future was uncertain, coming off a dismal two-win season in the final year of an arduous Division I transition. Sure, the 2012-13 roster was instantly upgraded with the addition of transfers Dyami Starks and Joe O’Shea, but the long time coach was still unsure how everything would pan out.

“I knew we were going to be a lot better, but my apprehension coming (to NEC media day) last year was we were going to be picked last (in the NEC preseason coaches poll),” admitted O’Shea. “You never want to be first, and you certainly don’t want to be last. We were at the point where we needed to turn a corner and the hardest thing to shake off after a transition is – and Pat Duquette (at UMass-Lowell) is going to go through this – all the losing. How do you take a losing mentality and start to develop a winning mentality?”

Fast forward one year later. Bryant, along with Towson, had engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in Division I history by winning 17 more games than they did in the previous season. The Bulldogs also won twice as many conference games as they lost, thanks to a wonderfully efficient season scoring the basketball. In league play, Bryant scored 117 points per 100 possessions, easily the best mark in the NEC for quite some time.

Forging ahead, O’Shea must go on without point guard and NEC all-conference third team selection, Frankie Dobbs. The do-everything floor general masterfully ran the offense in his senior season, finishing in the top 15 of the conference in points (13.4 ppg), assists (5.3 apg), steals (1.2 spg), and assist to turnover ratio (2.2). How exactly can that superb production be replaced?

While an unconventional choice, Corey Maynard gives Bryant leadership and stability at the point.
While an unconventional choice, Corey Maynard gives Bryant leadership and stability at the point.

Look no further than veteran guard Corey Maynard.

“I talked to Corey about playing point – and he had always done that when he played for the Australian national team,” said O’Shea. “He’s really looked good in practice. Corey knows how to play that position, he’s crafty. He’s really a good player.”

The statistic similarities between Maynard and Dobbs – who both stand at 6’3″ – are striking. Both posted A/TO ratios of 2.0 or greater, while filling up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. Both guards can score anywhere on the floor, add toughness rebounding the basketball, and are crafty and creative enough to make their teammates better. The latter point will be especially important for Dyami Starks and Alex Francis, the two focal points of O’Shea’s high-powered offense.

While Maynard’s presence at the point gives Bryant the experience of a grizzled upperclassman, it also allows O’Shea to field a bigger lineup. It’s nothing against freshman Justin Brickman or sophomore Shane McLaughlin, who has also looked good this preseason. 

“(This move) allows Joe (O’Shea) in the starting lineup, which now gives us a chance,” explained O’Shea. “Basically what happened was Shane McLaughlin was doing a nice job, but if I started Shane, Dyami and Corey, that’s makes us really small. And Joe O’Shea was playing so well, it seems to me imperative to get him in the starting lineup to give us some real size.”

As a 6’5″ swingman, O’Shea is coming off an underrated season, to say the least, by posting an impressive, team high 115.7 offensive rating. His versatility and ability to get to the free-throw line, while limiting his turnovers (14.0% turnover rate, 280th best nationally) should optimize Bryant’s starting lineup. In addition, O’Shea can also stretch the defense with his perimeter scoring, much like teammates Maynard and Starks.

With a starting lineup featuring Maynard, Starks, O’Shea, Francis, and fifth year senior Claybrin McMath, it remains to be seen how the team will respond on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s lack of depth and athleticism in their first Division I postseason eligible season led to rather porous defensive effort, one that allowed opponents to score 107 points per 100 possessions. That ranked eighth among 12 NEC clubs last season.

O’Shea, however, is encouraged with the frontcourt depth he’s added, even if it’s unknown who will emerge to fill his bench minutes. Whoever rises to the top, whether it’s red-shirt freshman Andrew Scocca, sophomore Curtis Oakley or freshmen Ellis Williams, Daniel Garvin, and Bosko Kostur, O’Shea feels they’ll be better prepared to defend the paint.

The head coach agrees, “We needed to get bigger in the interior. Alex (Francis) used to score at will in practice. He has a hard time scoring in practice, because of the added size and length that we’ve brought in.  There, at least, are those kinds of options where a year ago, there were no options.”

“The hardest thing is I’m going to get it down to eight or nine guys and three to four guys – who are legitimately good players – will have to wait until their time comes. That’s going to be the challenge chemistry wise.”

It’s certainly a good problem to have if you’re O’Shea, considering the Bulldogs had difficultly fielding a starting lineup of Division I capable players just two seasons prior. Now, as a preseason number two ranked team (tied with Robert Morris), Bryant is in a position they’ve never been in before. And they’re counting on the versatile Maynard to lead them as the facilitator.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Season In Review: Bryant Bulldogs

Losing 99 basketball games in 119 tries will take a lot out of you, even if you have the legitimate excuse of overseeing your program transition from Division II to Division I athletics. Such was the case for Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea, who after succumbing to four seasons of recruiting purgatory, was fighting to stay optimistic. When he signed on the dotted line to become Bryant’s leader in 2008, O’Shea had pegged the program’s transformation as a five-year plan. Year five was supposed to be the pivotal season when Bryant made their move toward competitive basketball inside the Northeast Conference.

To say Bryant made a move would be an understatement. After procuring shocking road wins over Boston College and Lehigh, Bryant sprinted out to a 6-0 start in the NEC. When the smoke finally cleared, the Bulldogs had engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in Division I history. Their 19 wins was a 17 win improvement over a dismal 2011-12 season that found them ranked 333rd out of 345 teams in KenPom’s ratings. Despite the historic turnaround, O’Shea wanted just a little more when he reflects back on the season.

“I’m proud (of Bryant’s season), but honestly I’m also a little disappointed in the sense that we got into position to win the league and we came up a little bit short,” said a candid O’Shea. “I don’t think it was a lack of effort, but whenever you get in position like that – it’s hard to do – you want to finish it off and take it to completion and we didn’t do that.”

O’Shea then added, “In hindsight, after what we’ve been through in this transition, how could I not be proud? Especially for a guy like a Frankie Dobbs who hung in there the whole way and had great leadership. Vlad Kondratyev had a great year for us.”

Even in the lean seasons, Bryant boasted three above average talents in Dobbs, Alex Francis, and Corey Maynard, yet it was their depth, or lack thereof, that made winning such a chore. It’s tough to win when a majority of the roster is comprised of Division II talent, but that was the case for the first four years under O’Shea. For year five, however, the insertion of transfers Dyami Starks and Joe O’Shea – Tim O’Shea’s nephew – did wonders for giving Bryant a complete Division I lineup ready to compete with the likes of Robert Morris, LIU Brooklyn, and Wagner.

Due to insertion of Starks – an All-NEC second team selection at season’s end who made 40.8% of his three-point attempts – Bryant’s offense posted a league best 1.14 points per possession (PPP) in NEC play, a stark improvement over their 0.90 PPP mark for the 2011-12 season. The Bulldogs shot 47.9% from the floor, aided by Francis’ excellent 56.9% mark on 371 shot attempts. After several seasons of serving as the NEC’s doormat, Bryant was lighting up opponents on the offensive end.

Near the end though, Bryant’s short bench and average defense struggled to close out games late, but it was a masterful season nonetheless. Bryant finished in a three-way tie for second place in the conference, and hosted a game in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament, falling to Atlantic-10 foe Richmond after a hard-fought battle.

With the arduous transition to Division I now in the rear view, O’Shea can rest easier knowing that he has guided the Bulldogs into the thick of the NEC elite. He may be a little disappointed Bryant couldn’t finish their otherwise spectacular season off, but it was surely an unforgettable year in O’Shea’s eyes. “Other than making the NCAA tournament or the NIT, I don’t know if it could have gone much better.”

Best Moment – Take your pick. I select their 80-79 victory over the Lehigh Mountain Hawks, the same Mountain Hawks who had upended Duke in the second round of the 2012 NCAA tournament the previous season. Shortly thereafter, Bryant surprised a hot Robert Morris club with a terrific offense display at Moon Township. The normally stout Colonials defense gave up 1.15 points per possession in the contest, thanks to the outside shooting capabilities of Starks and Dobbs. The Bulldogs were now officially relevant in the eyes of everyone.

Worst Moment – When recapping a drastically improved team, it’s difficult to pinpoint a truly awful moment. But if I had to choose a setback, it would be their home loss to Robert Morris in the last week of the regular season. A victory would have inevitably secured a #1 seed in the NEC tournament, not to mention drew a much weaker opponent in the first round (as opposed to a scorching Mount St. Mary’s club). Unfortunately for Bryant, Robert Morris’ execution down the stretch sent the vociferous sellout crowd in Smithfield home disappointed.

Saying Goodbye

Frankie Dobbs – Words can’t truly capture the sincere gratitude O’Shea has towards Dobbs, who patiently spent three long seasons – one as a redshirt – on an undermanned Bryant team waiting for relevancy. Dobbs’ decision to transfer to Bryant surely was pushed by the presence of D.J. Cooper on Ohio, yet the point guard could have chosen a different program nonetheless. In Dobbs’ fifth and final season, he was selected to the All-NEC third team selection for his excellent efforts. Bryant’s remarkable turnaround wouldn’t have occurred without the leadership of Dobbs, who O’Shea says is the definition of a program cornerstone. (13.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.2 A/TO)

Vlad Kondratyev – The overlooked big man made his presence felt throughout the season with terrific rebounding rates of 8.8% (offensive) and 18.3% (defensive). He was practically the only cog in the paint when freshman Andrew Scocca went down. Kondratyev may have been foul prone, committing nearly six fouls per 40 minutes, but his overall steadiness made things easier for O’Shea in dealing with a short bench. Along with his team, the 6’8” center exceeded expectations as a Bulldog his senior year. (5.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 58.5% FG%)

Looking Ahead to the 2013-14 Season
In spite of the late heartbreak, Bryant will come back in year six of O’Shea’s master plan with much higher expectations. Maynard, Starks and Francis are all returning, so the talent is there to continue a run of excellence. Of course, Dobbs’ departure raises a deserving question regarding their point guard position, but O’Shea is confident that someone from the three-man competition of sophomore Shane McLaughlin, freshman Justin Brickman (you may know his brother, Jason Brickman of LIU Brooklyn) and redshirt freshman and fellow Australian Declan Sukoup will emerge. If one of those three does just that, and O’Shea’s freshmen and sophomore class helps solidify their depth, Bryant has as good a chance as any to capture their first NEC crown. A difficult, yet compelling non-conference schedule including road matchups versus Gonzaga, Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Delaware and home tilts with Lehigh, North Dakota State, and Vermont should harden the Bulldogs’ resolve heading into NEC play for January of 2014.

Our All-NEC Conference Teams: A Difficult Exercise Indeed

It was the year of parity and unpredictably in the NEC, and that notion certainly extends out to our all-conference awards. There are several worthy candidates, so it was a challenging exercise for John and I to sort out our All-NEC first, second, and third teams. For our individual awards, including Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc., go here. So without further ado, let’s begin! Continue reading “Our All-NEC Conference Teams: A Difficult Exercise Indeed”

Bryant Bulldogs Garnering National Attention

With an overall record of 13-4, and more importantly, a perfect conference record of 6-0, some could say the Bryant Bulldogs have already exceeded expectations in Tim O’Shea’s fifth season. When it’s all said and done, Bryant’s turnaround will most likely be the best story and improvement of the college basketball season and there still are 12 regular season games to be played.

Since beating Robert Morris in Moon Township in their NEC opener and then dominating the suddenly struggling Wagner Seahawks last week, local fans have become fully cognizant of Bryant’s newfound improvement. But now it seems the national media is beginning to catch on too.

Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports The Dagger blog wrote an excellent piece illustrating the sudden rise of Bryant Bulldogs basketball. In his piece, Jeff talks with O’Shea and Frankie Dobbs on the struggles of transitioning a Division II team into a Division I club capable of beating mid-major power Lehigh and regional ACC foe Boston College. The article is definitely worth your attention.

Looking ahead, Bryant has an interesting week of basketball in front of them. Tonight, they take on the somewhat surprising 4-2 Pioneers, who are most likely without the services of senior forward Justin Swidowski for the game. Both teams have a short bench, but for different reasons. Bryant’s bench is thin thanks to the difficultly O’Shea had in recruiting D-I ready players to a program in transition. Sacred Heart’s depth has seriously eroded because of season ending injuries to Chris Evans and Evan Kelley, which by now is common knowledge. Foul trouble could undoubtedly swing the outcome of the game.

On Saturday, Bryant will host the two-time defending champion LIU Blackbirds, of course without their reigning POY Julian Boyd. Nonetheless, the atmosphere will probably be the most electric the Smithfield, RI gym has ever been, even more so if Bryant continues their undefeated NEC run after tonight. If you’re ready for an up-and-down offense battle, then I suggest you tune in!

With Bryant in unchartered territory now, every game must feel like a new challenge as the Bulldogs must adapt to going from a hapless and significant underdog to league favorite. How the team adjusts and how O’Shea keeps his players fresh – Dobbs, Dyami Starks, Alex Francis, and Corey Maynard are all averaging more than 31 minutes per game – throughout the season could ultimately decide if Bryant can crack the NCAA tournament in only its fifth D-I season.

If everything goes according to O’Shea’s plan, I will be making the really long drive up from Maryland to Smithfield in order to cover the NEC finals.

NEC Week 2: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Week two of the NEC season has come and gone, clearing up the conference picture just a bit. The contenders are slowly beginning to separate themselves from the pretenders, but as we expect to be the case for the entire season, the NEC should be just as unpredictable from start to finish. Through 24 conference games, the home team has only gone 13-11, another indication that any team can win on any given night. Let’s sift through the positive and negative developments of the week.

The Good

  • Back to Normal in Moon Township – After enduring a surprising two game slide to open up conference play, the Colonials responded to Andy Toole’s challenge: play defense and compete with maximum effort and toughness. Robert Morris did just that during their New Jersey road trip, soundly beating Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth by 34 and 15 points, respectively. Neither game was ever in question, as the Colonials held their opponents to 0.84 points allowed per possession. The Colonials received significant contributions throughout the roster, highlighted by upperclassmen Russell Johnson and Coron Williams. Johnson, who has struggled in the past with his consistency, filled up the stat sheet as of late, registering 17 points, 21 rebounds, 11 assists (against only one turnover), and six steals in his last two games. The sharp shooting Williams has been potent from behind the arc, draining 12 of his 17 long-range jumpers this past week.
  • Officially Among the Elite – It’s time to stop being surprised by the Bulldogs’ success; they simply are for real. In four conference games – three on the road – Bryant has scored 1.15 points per possession, in large part thanks to unsung floor general Frankie Dobbs. The loyal senior has masterfully run Tim O’Shea’s offense by scoring (14.4 ppg) when necessary, while keeping his talented teammates involved (4.2 apg, 2.0 A/TO) as well. Down in the low block, Alex Francis continues to torment opposing defenses. On Saturday versus CCSU, the junior posted 26 points and a career high 18 rebounds. Throw in Starks, Maynard, and O’Shea and you have a lethal starting five. Ken Pomeroy agrees; Bryant is now rated #169 (out of 347 D-I teams) after beginning the season at #290. That is one heck of an improvement in only 15 games played.
  • Tough Terriers – Since their lopsided losses to Stony Brook and St. John’s this past December, St. Francis Brooklyn has won five of their last six contests. The Terriers impressively went into Spiro Sports Center and upset Wagner by holding the Seahawks to 0.80 points per possession. In fact, defense has been the major culprit for St. Francis’ recent run, as they are the only team to hold all four of their NEC opponents to under 1.00 points per possession. It also helps that Travis Nichols has been heating up recently. In their two most recent wins, Nicholas averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. When he is able to produce from behind the arc (4-9 from three-point range versus Wagner), Glenn Braica’s offense becomes that much better. With home games versus FDU and Monmouth coming up, St. Francis could find themselves with five wins after three weeks of conference play. That notion seemed far-fetched a month ago when the Terriers were 2-7.
  • The Youth Movement – It hasn’t exactly been the year of the NEC freshmen so far (I’ll have more on that in the near future), but recently two frontcourt novices have emerged as important contributors for their respective teams. In Brooklyn, E.J. Reed has taken advantage of increased playing time with Boyd’s season-ending injury by scoring 15.6 points per game in his last five games. The athletic 6’6″ freshman has shown a propensity toward fouling (he has committed 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes), yet he’s infused some much-needed energy on the offensive glass and in the defensive post. Further north in Connecticut, Brandon Peel made a name for himself in New Britain when he put together a monster 17 point, 17 rebound, and four block performance against Sacred Heart last Thursday. Since being named as a starter in Howie Dickenman’s lineup, Peel has grabbed an average of 11.5 rebounds per game, relegating senior Joe Efase to the bench. It should only get better for the high-motored Reed and Peel in the coming weeks as they elevate themselves into the NEC Rookie of the Year discussion (along with St. Francis freshman Stephon Mosley).

The Bad

  • Still a Work in Progress – There’s a lot to be encouraged about if you’re a long suffering FDU Knights fan, but the second week of conference play probably wasn’t what their fans could have envisioned. Sure, they split the two game home stand against the Pennsylvania teams, but they never had a chance versus Robert Morris and barely edged out a victory over the feisty, yet flawed and inexperienced St. Francis Red Flash. Two NEC wins in four tries is a nice start for a team that went 3-26 last year, but you can bet Greg Vetrone is cognizant his team has been hideous at defending. In 16 games, FDU has given up 113.8 points per 100 possessions, bad enough for 10th worst in the nation. With a difficult slate of NEC games coming up, the Knights will need to dial up the defensive effort – and reduce their 23.6% turnover rate – to become a factor in this wonderfully competitive conference.

The Ugly

  • Unchartered Territory for Quinnipiac – With only one season left to earn that elusive NEC postseason title and NCAA automatic bid, it’s becoming more apparent that Tom Moore may fall short in that regard. For the first time in the Moore era, the Bobcats find themselves at 5-10. Quinnipiac is inventing new ways to lose each game, but the most troubling issues have been their poor free throw shooting (once again) and their inconsistency to score and respond when other teams make a run. Overall, the offense has performed better of late (1.18 points per possession), whereas the defense has been exceptionally porous (1.18 points allowed per possession). The optimistic approach for a Bobcat fan is to recall their team’s early NEC slump last season when they climbed out of a 2-5 hole to finish with a 10-8 NEC record. This season however, I’d be a little more skeptical that Tom Moore can somehow turn the ship around without any true playmakers. I’ll have more on their issues in the near future.
  • The Mayhem Mess – Jamion Christian is one of the most positive coaches in the conference, but even the first year head coach has to be shaking his head over his team’s recent play. The numbers have become particularly ugly during their 2-6 skid: the Mountaineers are allowing opponents to shoot 43.9% from three (worst in the nation) and 59.3% from inside the arc (2nd worst in the nation). In addition, their interior players – Krajina, Barber, Danaher – aren’t intimidating opposing big men with their puny block percentages and heavy foul rates. With an upcoming schedule that immediately includes Bryant, CCSU, Wagner, and Robert Morris, the defense needs to improve in a hurry. Right now when the Mount gives up more than 1.00 points per possession, they are 2-8 on the season. That must change if the Mount wants to get back into the NEC postseason.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Convincing Defeats Dominate NEC Thursday

There was plenty of action across the upper east coast tonight for the NEC, so let’s jump right into it!

Robert Morris 88, Fairleigh Dickinson 54
If there was any doubt that the Colonials would respond after their two lackluster losses at home, you quickly got your answer in the early going. After one half, Robert Morris jumped out to a 19 point lead, forcing ten Knight turnovers and holding them to 42.7% shooting. I guess all teams should run the balance a chair between the legs drill! The Colonials sizzled from beyond the arc, hitting 13 of 24 threes. Coron Williams had a game high 27 points, but really everyone played well in this one. Anytime you can force 17 turnovers, dish out 22 assists versus nine turnovers (2.4 A/TO) and make more than half your shots, the head coach will probably smile during the post game. Not bad for a bunch of prima donna players led by a prima donna coach! (sorry I couldn’t help myself)

Guest contributor Ray Floriani had these observations on Thursday:

Robert Morris rang up 88 points en route to a rout of FDU. Forget the offense for a minute. The 88-54 wipe out was courtesy of defense. Close outs, ball pressure, communication etc. The Colonials came in and dominated on the defensive end.

The Colonials finished 8-5 in pre-NEC contests. They squandered a great opportunity for a solid start by losing home contests to Bryant and Central Connecticut.

“I think our guys got a wake up call.” Robert Morris coach Andy Toole said following the win at FDU’s Rothman Center.  “We were reminded that in this league there are good teams and you have to be ready and play every night.”

Against FDU they did just that. In non-conference games, Robert Morris showed a 98 defensive efficiency. It fell considerably with a 114 in the recent ‘lost weekend’. Against FDU, the Colonials were outstanding. They limited FDU to an 86 efficiency in a 63 possession contest. On the offensive end, Robert Morris posted an outstanding 140 efficiency. A 21-7 turnover scoring advantage largely contributed as the Colonials forced FDU into a 27% turnover rate. A classic example of defense creating and energizing the offense. And on the offensive end, the Colonials scorched the nets with a 67 effective field goal percentage mark made possible in part by a gaudy 14% turnover rate.

Individually, the Colonials had five players in double figures. Coron Williams led the way with 27 points, shooting a torrid 8-10 from beyond the arc.

Melquan Bolding led the way with 17 points for FDU, now 1-2 in conference play. Despite the one sided affair, Toole sees improvement in FDU. “We watched a few of their games on tape,” he said. “They have a few good seniors like Bolding and (Lonnie) Robinson plus they really play well together from what we have seen.”

Next up for Robert Morris on the ‘Garden State’ swing is a visit to Monmouth on Saturday. “It will be tough,” Toole admitted. “They play very hard.”

Central Connecticut 84, Sacred Heart 78
Sacred Heart jumped out to a double digit lead in the first half, but it was mainly because of the Blue Devils’ incompetence on offense, as CCSU missed nine of ten three pointers (several were open looks) in the first half. After Kyle Vinales went scoreless in the first 20 minutes, the sophomore exploded for 15 points, 7 assists, and two rebounds pushing CCSU to their second straight NEC victory. The Pioneers lost the lead midway through the second half, after Shane Gibson exited with four fouls. Brandon Peel had the game of his life (although there will be many more for this freshman) registering a career high 17 points and 17 rebounds. No one down low for Sacred Heart could keep Peel off the boards and it cost them dearly. What also cost the Pioneers dearly was their transition defense, as CCSU outscored SHU 14-4 in fast break points. Shane Gibson and Steve Glowiak – playing in his hometown of New Britain – each had a team high 22 points, although both players needed a combined 40 shots just to get there.

Bryant 103, Quinnipiac 95
This is not a typo, I repeat this is not a typo. Bryant dropped 103 points on Quinnipiac, as the Bulldogs continue their torrid display of offensive basketball. I didn’t see much of the game, but here are the wonderful statistics: Bryant shot 60.7% from the floor, made 12 of 19 three-pointers, had 24 assists against ten turnovers, and scored 1.38 points per possession! Wow. Every Bulldog starter scored at least 14 points with Frankie Dobbs leading the way. The fifth year senior netted 20 points (his 10th game of the season in double figures), 6 assists, and 2 rebounds. Despite their defensive ineptness, Quinnipiac actually hung around in this one, but a Bulldog 14-4 run midway through the 2nd half essentially sealed the deal. Now winners of five straight, Bryant is 3-0 in the conference for the first time ever, while Quinnipiac drops to 1-2.

Monmouth 65, St. Francis (PA) 60
It was another mediocre offensive performance by the Hawks, but these days King Rice will take any victory he can get. The Hawks only shot 40.7% from the field, but forced 18 Red Flash turnovers to earn their first NEC win. Monmouth did convert nine of their 20 three-point attempts on the night, including perhaps a slump busting performance by Jesse Steele. The senior did take 15 shots to register 17 points, yet he drained five of eight from downtown. The youthful Red Flash were only trailing by three points with less than five minutes remaining (I’m sure the MAC crowd was loving that), but missed seven of their final eight shots in the closing minutes. Earl Brown continued his mastery on the boards, registering his four straight double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Not bad for a kid who only had eight points and ten rebounds in the first five games of the season!

St. Francis 70, Mount St. Mary’s 55
Ben Mockford had a season high 19 points, including five threes, as St. Francis (NY) earned their second NEC victory of the season over Jamion Christian’s squad. Once again, the Mountaineers awful perimeter defense came back to haunt them, with the Terriers sinking more than half (51.0%) of their field goals attempts, while draining seven of 15 from behind the arc. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 25-17 lead, but were outscored 53-30 the rest of the way. Jalen Cannon had perhaps his worst game of the season, only scoring seven points to go along with three rebounds. St. Francis did cough the ball up 16 times, but still had two less turnovers than the Mountaineers, who have now lost five of their last seven games.

Wagner 86, LIU Brooklyn 75
In a surprising development, it was the Seahawks offense (1.18 points per possession) that snapped the Blackbirds 27 game winning streak at the WRAC tonight. Mario Moody, Kenneth Ortiz, and Latif Rivers combined for 59 points and led an surprisingly efficient Seahawk attack even without their star wing Jonathan Williams (hip). LIU sinks to 0-3 in the NEC and has a really important game versus the Mount coming up. John has a complete game recap here.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

A Holiday Special: NEC, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

With the NEC – and most of college basketball – off for the past couple of days, I broke out my periodic review of all things NEC. Unfortunately, I had some difficultly finding an equal amount of good and bad stories, so I did my best to sprinkle in some positive news. To be quite frank, it hasn’t been the greatest non-conference season for the NEC. The Ken Pomeroy rating for the conference has dipped from #19, at the start of the season, to #25. With little time left before conference play begins, it appears the NEC is destined for a maximum of two combined NCAA and NIT bids, at best. Continue reading “A Holiday Special: NEC, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

NEC Team Capsule: Bryant Bulldogs

Head Coach: Tim O’Shea, 5th year (20-99)
Last Season: 2-28 (1-17 NEC), ineligible for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 10th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Agressively improving
Key Players Lost: Ben Altit (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg)
Incoming Players: Curtis Oakley (F), Shane McLaughlin (PG), Andrew Scocca (PF/C)
Previous Posts: Bryant Recruiting Recap, Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs Ready to Make a Move

Projected Lineup:
PG: Frankie Dobbs (13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 81.8% FT)
G: Dyami Starks (transfer, sat out last season)
G: Corey Maynard (11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 spg)
F: Alex Francis (17.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 51.2% FG)
F: Claybrin McMath (4.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg)

Key Reserves: Joe O’Shea (G), Raphael Jordan (G), Vlad Kondratvey (PF/C), Curtis Oakley (F), Shane McLaughlin (PG), Andrew Scocca (PF/C)

Key Storylines:

    1. Transition Over – After undergoing an arduous four year Division I transition period, Bryant is finally eligible to participate in the NEC postseason, should they qualify. The transition period made it nearly impossible for Tim O’Shea to recruit, but finally the Bulldogs can boast a lineup stocked with capable DI players. Of course, with two transfers and three freshmen added to the roster, it will take time to mesh all of the pieces together. The question of how quickly remains to be seen.
    2. Defend, Defend, Defend – Last season, the Bulldogs gave up a conference worst 1.10 points per possession. Whether it was the lack of depth or limited frontcourt options that served as the culprit to their lousy defense, O’Shea must find a way to prevent the opponent from scoring the basketball.
    3. The New Guys – If there’s one thing to be optimistic about, it’s the additions of transfers Dyami Starks (Columbia) and Joe O’Shea (Holy Cross). Both had notable high school careers, were moderately recruited, but then wasted away on the bench of their respective university when new coaches came in to replace the old coaches that originally recruited them. Now in Smithfield, look for Starks and O’Shea to have an immediate impact.

Lineup Analysis: The years of serving as the NEC’s doormat should end shortly, if not already. For the first time in five seasons, O’Shea has a roster full of competent DI players, which will allow Bryant to comfortably play 8-9 guys every game night. It all starts with the upperclassman trio of Alex Francis, Frankie Dobbs, and Corey Maynard. Francis and Dobbs had an all-conference type of performance last season, which hardly went noticed due to Bryant’s shortcomings as a team. Now with more depth in place, expect the talented trio to get the respect they deserve. Joining them is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks, whom O’Shea expects will start right away. Both Starks and Joe O’Shea, the head coach’s nephew, have the ability to drain the perimeter jumper and add another dimension to Bryant’s offense that was seriously lacking last season. Much of the team’s depth will rely on the development of freshmen Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca. Of the three, McLaughlin has the most promise early on, as he projects as the first guard off the bench backing up Dobbs and Starks. Oakley is an undersized forward who could have difficultly creating his own shot, but at least has the versatility and range to pull defenders out of the paint. Clay McMath, Vlad Kondratvey, and Andrew Scocca will patrol the paint, now that Ben Altit has left the team to serve for his native country of Israel. How this rotation merges is anyone’s guess, yet one thing is for certain, this is the most talented and athletic roster O’Shea has had the pleasure of working with since taking the Bryant job.

Coach’s Quotes:

“When I took this job we targeted year five as a year we really wanted to come out of the gate and be as competitive as possible. It’s one of the reasons we sat some transfers out last year. As you might imagine it’s been very difficult to have no possibility of a postseason, especially in recruiting those early years. Who’s going to take a legitimate Division I offer where you can compete for a postseason where here you can’t. This is a big deal for us to get this postseason ban off our back.”
– O’Shea, on how difficult it’s been to lead Bryant into Division I basketball

Ryan – It may take some time for all of the pieces to fit, but when they do, the Bulldogs have the potential to pull off a major upset or two in the NEC. Bryant should take a step forward this season, but realistically the Bulldogs are probably at least a year away before they’re ready to join the middle of the pack in the NEC and become annual playoff participants.

John – The early season schedule is absolutely brutal, but if the Bulldogs can survive that, they might be the surprise team in the NEC this season. I think they were picked way too low. Dobbs and Francis are all-conference caliber players and, if coach O’Shea can continue to build around those two, it should make for a competitive season in the NEC.

Previous NEC team capsules:
October 24th: St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
October 25th: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Tim O’Shea’s Bryant Bulldogs ready to make a move

Since taking on a full NEC schedule for the 2009-10 season, the Bryant Bulldogs have struggled mightily to compete with their conference foes – or any Division I foes for that matter – as they fully transitioned into DI basketball.  The Bulldogs managed a meager nine victories versus NEC opponents in the past three seasons.  It was, for the lack of a better phrase, a brutal stretch of basketball.

In fairness, there wasn’t much head coach Tim O’Shea could do, since most DI recruits were turned off by the prospect of not playing postseason basketball.  Bryant, after all, needed to serve out their DI probationary period, as per NCAA rules, forcing the team to operate by a very thin margin last season.  Thus, when Bryant’s third leading scorer, Corey Maynard, missed a majority of the conference season due to a foot injury, it led to a 2-28 debacle of a season.

The days of the Bryant Bulldogs serving as the NEC’s punching bag, however, may soon be over.  All along, O’Shea was targeting this upcoming season when he signed his eight year contract in June of 2008.

“When I took the job, I initially targeted year five as a year where we could really hopefully make a move,” said O’Shea.  “And I feel confident that, despite what we went through last year, that we’ll be able to (become competitive).”

With Bryant now fully integrated as a NEC school eligible for postseason play, fans have reason for optimism.  For starters, Bryant is equipped with a very solid core of upperclassmen, led by junior Alex Francis and fifth year senior Frankie Dobbs.  One glimpse at their statistics last season (Francis: 17.0 ppg/7.4 rpg, Dobbs: 13.4 ppg/3.5 rpg/4.6 apg/1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio) would probably generate a double take.  Those numbers would have easily pushed both players into serious All-NEC second team consideration, if Bryant hadn’t finished last season ranked 333rd overall in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.

Nevertheless, O’Shea believes his team is in a much better position to compete with this year’s crop of incoming players.

“This is the first year I feel confident that when I look at my top 8 guys, they’re all legitimately DI players,” said an optimistic O’Shea.

Several newcomers are expected to significantly enhance Bryant’s offensive firepower and depth, yet perhaps the most important player of the bunch is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks.  The explosive scorer begins his Bryant tenure with three seasons of eligibility remaining.

“Truthfully, I think (Starks) has the potential to be an All-Conference player in the NEC,” said O’Shea.  “He averaged 25 (points per game) against some pretty good teams over in Europe.  He can really score.  That’s something we didn’t have (last season); we had nobody in the perimeter that could score like him.”

Originally projected by some to be an All-Ivy League Rookie Team candidate, Starks fell out of Columbia’s rotation early, despite scoring double-digit points in five of his first seven games as a freshman.  Now with an offseason under his belt to refine his game, O’Shea believes Stark’s strong work ethic and undeniable talent will open some eyes within the NEC.  Just how talented is he?

“In all my years of coaching, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve seen and I’m talking guys like Preston Murphy, Cuttino Mobley, Troy Bell,” said O’Shea.  “I’m not saying he’s the athlete some of those guys are, but in terms of shooting the ball, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve been around.”

Another transfer who will play significant minutes at the “3” is the coach’s nephew, Joe O’Shea.  Listed at 6-foot-5, O’Shea should present match-up issues with his length, high basketball IQ, and excellent shooting range.

“He can really stroke it,” said O’Shea. “What he gives us is one of the things we really lacked last year; we weren’t a good three-point shooting team and here’s a kid that can really make threes.”

With a top 5 of Francis, Dobbs, Maynard, Starks, and O’Shea firmly in place, Bryant will look to their freshmen newcomers to bolster the team’s bench.  Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca are all expected to compete for minutes right away.

Oakley profiles as a bulky wing, who can really shoot it from the perimeter.  Oakley’s excellent body control and assortment of ball fakes and post moves should accelerate his development.  McLaughlin brings a mental toughness to the team, and will be looked apon to backup Dobbs, Starks, and O’Shea most of the time.  And finally, Andrew Scocca gives O’Shea a big body in the middle that Bryant so desperately needs.  All in all, it’s a freshmen recruiting class O’Shea is really pleased with.

“We’ve really increased our basketball IQ, in terms of adding guys that know how to play, and that includes our freshmen,” said O’Shea.  “These are guys that will get minutes for us this year and I think are pretty good players.”

O’Shea will look to employ a small lineup much of the time, unfortunately due to the unexpected departure of 6-foot-10 Israeli Ben Altit.  Altit, who averaged 5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, left Bryant recently to serve in the Israeli armed forces.  Typically, college students are granted deferments from serving, but with the recent political unrest in the Middle East, all deferments were waived immediately by the Israel government, thereby forcing Altit to defend the homeland, rather than DI big men.  Hopefully, Altit will be safe and return to Bryant sometime down the road.

Even without Altit patrolling the middle, the new additions give Bryant a much improved roster.  O’Shea seems to agree. “You’re going to see a very different Bryant team this year, very different in terms of talent, in terms of basketball IQ, and the ability to shoot the three.”

“It’s amazing in basketball, 1 or 2 good players can totally transform a team from where we were a year ago to a team that’s now a hard out every night, and that’s exactly what we’ll be.  If it all comes together, it’s going to be an interesting year for us.”

The rest of the NEC should certainly take notice.  In a league applauded for its recent improvement at the top of the conference, it’s the young team in the bottom tier that’s ready to play with the big boys.  It’s going to be an interesting year for the Bryant Bulldogs indeed.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball on Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride.