Three Thoughts: Central Connecticut 56, Hartford 47

Howie Dickenman, at 68 years young, has been dealt some tough hands the last couple of seasons at Central Connecticut. This, his 19th at the table with CCSU, looked like it could hold some winning cards,none more valuable than his ace, senior Kyle Vinales, who was a first-team preseason pick and the leading returning career scorer in the conference.

But just two weeks before the regular season began, Vinales was arrested after an altercation with his girlfriend and subsequently suspended indefinitely. The Blue Devils lost their first seven games, and were down to just nine players in uniform with starting point guard (and another senior) Malcolm McMillan out injured heading into Saturday’s short drive to Hartford. They also learned earlier in the week that Vinales would not return, leaving school completely, ending his collegiate career on an unfortunate note.

Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Central Connecticut 56, Hartford 47”

CCSU Denied Our Open Records Request

This summer I’ve been working on collecting all the available contracts of head coaches for the schools and conferences Big Apple Buckets covers. Many of those coaches lead state-funded basketball programs, and as such they’re public employees and subject to open records requests — commonly referred to as Freedom of Information or FOI requests. Continue reading “CCSU Denied Our Open Records Request”

Kyle Vinales’ Return Gives CCSU Renewed Life

Standing with arms akimbo, Howie Dickenman surveyed his team as they were struggling to open the second half of Saturday afternoon’s game. After knocking down five straight three-pointers, spurring an improbable 21-5 run out of halftime, Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) held a 13-point lead five minutes into the second frame. During the barrage of Knight rainmakers, not once did Dickenman call a timeout to stop the bleeding. He simply stood there with a frown. Continue reading “Kyle Vinales’ Return Gives CCSU Renewed Life”

Central Connecticut’s Matt Hunter Declared Academically Ineligible; Out for the Season

For those of you who believed Central Connecticut (CCSU) was a legitimate contender to win their first NEC championship since 2007, Mike Anthony’s tweet late on Sunday afternoon threw some cold water on the Blue Devils’ chances:

The news was broken by Anthony, the Hartford Courant beat reporter for CCSU, after the Blue Devils escaped a monster upset by Albertus Magnus, a Division III program residing in New Haven, CT. The narrow victory was of little significance in the grand scheme of the season, but it was Anthony’s scoop afterwards that will be most damning toward CCSU’s NEC title chances as they head into league play next month.

Matt Hunter's career at Central Connecticut has prematurely come to an end.
Matt Hunter’s career at Central Connecticut has prematurely come to an end.

Matt Hunter, a JUCO transfer from Odessa Junior College who was coveted by several Division I programs, joined the Blue Devils for the 2012-13 season, eventually earning an all-conference third team selection. In his breakout junior season, Hunter’s ability to stuff the stat season on both ends of the floor and remain durable was an asset for Howie Dickenman. The highlight of Hunter’s season came somewhat early in his Division I career, when he lit up Indiana at Assembly Hall for 40 points after making 13 of 25 shots. Later on that season, Hunter turned in his finest performance, at least from an efficiency rating standpoint, at home versus St. Francis (PA). In the double OT victory, he registered 23 points (on 11 shots), seven rebounds, nine assists and two steals.

During his final year of eligibility, however, Hunter’s production on the offensive end had regressed, albeit slightly:

2012-13 season: 91.3 ORtg, 39.5% FG%, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 0.77 A/TO, 37.2 mpg
2013-14 season: 84.1 ORtg, 42.4% FG%, 6.3 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.50 A/TO, 28.9 mpg

CCSU has the depth to replace Hunter’s minutes for the remainder of the season, which was a luxury Dickenman didn’t enjoy in an injury ridden 2012-13 season. Even though Hunter wasn’t terribly efficient shooting the basketball (career 44.2% effective field goal percentage), his versatility, infinite energy to reek havoc, especially defensively, and prowess on the glass will be nearly impossible for Dickenman to replace, though. His 3.5% steal rate and 4.6% block rate this season was nationally ranked, according to KenPom. Hunter also led the team in rebounding for the last two seasons.

Hunter’s scoring had been down compared to last season (15.7 ppg to 9.3 ppg), perhaps due to the emergence of forward Faronte Drakeford down low. The junior transfer is second on the team in scoring with 12.4 ppg.

Hunter’s absence places even more pressure on CCSU’s upperclassmen, led by, of course, Kyle Vinales. CCSU has struggled mightly to defend (107.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) and rebound the basketball (average rebounding margin of -5 per game). Those two facets of the game just got that much more difficult without their tireless swingman, who will forfeit his final semester of eligibility due to some unforeseen academic issues.

Dickenman will surely look to lean more on senior Terrell Allen and JUCO transfer forward Juwan Newman. Both have been underwhelming – neither was averaging more than five points and 15 minutes per game in CCSU’s first 12 contests.

As far as CCSU’s title chances are concerned, this latest news likely places them inside the bottom half of the conference, among the likes of LIU Brooklyn, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (PA), and Fairleigh Dickinson. Given their poor play with a record of 3-8 versus Division I competition, it’s difficult to consider them as a serious contender at the moment, especially without Hunter in uniform.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

NEC Team Primer: #4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils

Head Coach: Howie Dickenman, 18th year (262-241)
Last Season: 13-17, 9-9 (NEC), Lost First Round of the NEC tournament to Wagner, 72-50
RPI/KenPom: 194/179
NEC Preseason Poll: 6th out of 10 teams
State of Program: NEC Contender
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Joe Efese (7.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 58.9% FG%), Adonis Burbage (10.3 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 36.4% 3PT%)
Incoming Players: Faronte Drakeford (F), Juwan Newmen (G), Kevin Mickle (F), Matt Mobley (G), Ahmaad Wilson (G)

Central-Connecticut-State-Blue-Devils-logoProjected Starting Lineup:
PG: Malcolm McMillan (8.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.5 A/TO)
G: Kyle Vinales (21.6 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.4 spg, 81.0% FT%)
F: Matthew Hunter (15.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.6 spg)
F: Terrell Allen (6.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
PF: Brandon Peel (4.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Key Reserves: Faronte Drakeford (F), Juwan Newmen (F), Khalen Cumberlander (G), Matt Mobley (G), De’Angelo Speech (G/F)

Major Storylines:

Keeping the Legs Fresh Come February – 38.2. 37.2. 36.4. Those are the average minutes per game numbers last season for Kyle Vinales, Matthew Hunter, and Malcolm McMillan, respectively. Given the new defense rules and the overall depth of the conference, Howie Dickenman will need to scale back the playing time of the big three if the Blue Devils want to stay fresh late in the year. It’s the head coach’s hope that Khalen Cumberlander, who returns from a torn ACL, and newcomers Matt Mobley, Faronte Drakeford, and Juwan “Stretch” Newmen will bolster the depth, and allow for a more practical nine to ten man rotation.
A New Emphasis on Defense/Rebounding – The Blue Devils played an exciting brand of basketball for the 2012-13 season; in fact, their tempo was the fastest it has ever been (70.2 possession per game) in the KenPom era. Despite the up-tempo track meets though, CCSU was equally as inept at defending, allowing an unfathomable 108.2 points per 100 possessions. Obviously, the defense will need to tighten up, and Dickenman is banking on an improved presence in the paint. The additions of Drakeford and Newmen and another year of development from Brandon Peel give the Blue Devils’ defensive and rebounding numbers a chance to improve back to the mean. It can’t get much worse rebounding wise – the Blue Devils were in the bottom 50 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate.
Becoming More Efficient Offensively – Last season, CCSU bettered the national average for scoring by more than five points per game, yet that statistic is rather misleading. If you factor their tempo into the equation, the Blue Devils fell shy of scoring 1.00 point per possession. That mark was only eighth best in the NEC. The depth, once again, should help this cause, as well as a renewed sense of sharing the basketball. Dickenman has made it clear to Vinales that he needs to improve his shot selection and make his teammates better in the process. The team’s second leading scorer from a season ago, Hunter, has also looked more efficient shooting the basketball this preseason.

The Skinny:
CCSU wasn’t exactly a model of consistency last season. After losing to St. Peter’s two games in, they shocked La Salle, an eventual Sweet 16 team. Soon thereafter, they were mired in an eye-opening five game losing streak with the nadir occurring in Loretto, PA against the winless Red Flash. After that embarrassing loss, they then beat Robert Morris on the road! It was a season truly lacking predictability; no one ever knew – including Dickenman himself – how this team would perform on any given night.

The eroding depth was partially to blame, as CCSU was forced to play a maximum of seven scholarship players throughout most of the season due to injuries (Cumberlander, De’Angelo Speech), dismissals (Shelton Mickell), and flat-out ineffectiveness (Erik Raleigh). Now, Dickenman and his staff have some talent on the second team that could desperately give the regulars some rest.

Still, this team remains built around three perimeter players – Malcolm McMillan, Matthew Hunter, and Kyle Vinales. All three are crafty with the ball, excel at playmaking, and can score with the best of them, especially the latter two. While McMillan serves more as a facilitator, he does it quite well, as evident from his league leading assist to turnover ratio of 2.5. Hunter is a “stat stuffer” and is active in all facets of the game. A bit of a freelancer on defense, Hunter’s 4.0% steal rate was 65th nationally among players.

Vinales, though, is the leader and will need a Player of the Year type of season if the Blue Devils wish to qualify for the Big Dance. He’s the reigning scoring champion of the conference – a remarkable feat as a sophomore – but Dickenman is insistent that Vinales refocus his efforts on the defensive end. Surely, a reduction in minutes could work wonders in that regard as the junior has the talent to lockdown opposing two-guards, if he so wishes.

Cumberlander and Mobley have the unenviable task of backing up the McMillan/Hunter/Vinales trio, although both are very athletic and have a chance to eventually be very good in this league. Any kind of production off the bench from these two freshmen would be welcome.

Down low, Dickenman will rely on a senior (Terrell Allen), two JUCO transfers (Drakeford and Newman), and a promising, yet oft-injured sophomore (Brandon Peel). While Peel is nursing an injury and hopes to be back for the CT6 this upcoming weekend, Allen appears ready to take on a bigger role as a stretch four. Drakeford and Newman are unique talents in comparison, with both providing a dynamic post presence that was sorely lacking on the team last season. Their additions allow CCSU to run a little offense through the post, in case opposing defenses decide to attack CCSU’s perimeter game. Finally, De’Angelo Speech has an opportunity to find minutes in a backup role at the “3” and/or “4”.

Add it all up, and you have a team hopeful that they’re two biggest holes of last season (depth and interior play) have been reasonably filled. Given the high percentage of returning production, Ken Pomeroy and Dan Hanner’s preseason projection models have CCSU situated near the top of the NEC standings. Whether these projections come to fruition remains to be seen.

Coach’s Quotes:

“We’re different this year from last year, because we have depth. Last year, we played with a maximum of seven players, and at times six players, this year we can go 10 deep.”
– Dickenman, on the team’s newfound depth

“We have a different Kyle Vinales. I talked with Kyle well before the season began and I told him he had to make the other players better on the team. He’s heeded that advise, and it’s a reason why I think we have a chance to be pretty good… I think his work ethic is the best work ethic I’ve ever seen been around for an athlete. That’s includes five years at Canisius, 14 years at UConn, and 18 years at Central Connecticut. And Ray Allen was a workaholic, but nobody works as hard as Kyle Vinales.”
– Dickenman, on the NEC all-conference first team selection and leading scorer of the conference, Kyle Vinales


Ryan – I haven’t been shy about promoting CCSU as my “sleeper” team of the NEC. Most of the starters return and the depth and interior length has drastically improved, therefore I’m unapologetically bullish on the Blue Devils. This is the best team top to bottom Dickenman has had in New Britain in a while, so I’m expecting a NEC tournament semifinal appearance at least. With the exception of Wagner, there isn’t another NEC team that has a better shot to land in the NCAA tournament, in my humble opinion. (17 wins, 10-6 NEC)

John – I’m not as convinced that CCSU has what it takes to be an upper echelon team in the NEC. The Blue Devils have a ton of talent, especially in the backcourt, but the depth is going to rely on a number of question marks. This team is particularly reliant on two players – Vinales and Hunter – and if you can take away one or the other you’ll have a chance. (16 wins, 9-7 NEC)

Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers

#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs

Unbalanced NEC Schedule Garners Mixed Reaction Among Coaches

Over the past few seasons, the NEC and their athletic directors have done an excellent job promoting their basketball league. There’s been the wonderful advent of NEC Front Row, a free online streaming service that Big Apple Buckets recently profiled. Using social media, the NEC has been aggressive in successfully promoting its product. Thanks to league initiatives, the technology in all NEC gyms has improved as well. Overall, you’d be hard pressed to find someone upset with the recent decision-making of the NEC. Continue reading “Unbalanced NEC Schedule Garners Mixed Reaction Among Coaches”

Recruiting Recap: Central Connecticut Improves Depth With Length, Athleticism

Can the newcomers lessen the scoring burden on Kyle Vinales next season? (Photo Credit: CCSU Blue Devils)

Depth was a major issue for Howie Dickenman’s Central Connecticut (CCSU) Blue Devils in his 17th year at the helm. Injuries, unexpected defections, and ineffectiveness severely depleted Dickenman’s in-season rotation to seven regulars, and that was on a good day. Kyle Vinales, Matthew Hunter, and Malcolm McMillan were forced to play more than 36 minutes per game. As a result, the long arduous season slowly took its toll, worsening CCSU’s defensive attack and rendering them stagnant on the glass.

Their up-tempo, no set-plays offense was aesthetically pleasing to the eye – CCSU led the NEC with 70.2 possessions per game – yet the defense was compromised (actually Dickenman used the word embarrassment). They finished in the bottom 15% of the nation in KenPom defensive efficiency. Couple that with mediocre rebound rates and an overtaxed lineup, and it’s no wonder why CCSU went quietly without a fight in the first round of the NEC postseason tournament.

With those glaring issues in mind, Dickenman and his staff aimed to fill their bench with athleticism and much-needed length, and in some cases, ready to play now type of talent. Consider it a mission accomplished. When asked about this year’s recruiting class, Dickenman openly gushes about his team’s potential.

“I would say this team has the most depth and is the most athletic (in my tenure as the CCSU head coach),” explained Dickenman. “It’s easy to say that, especially the last couple of years when we didn’t have those characteristics that help you win games.”

At times their fitness may have seemed superb, but even Vinales, Hunter, and McMillan could have benefitted from an occasional spell last season. With a fresh trio of athletic guards now at Dickenman’s disposal, Vinales – the NEC co-leader in scoring last season – probably won’t finish nationally ranked in minutes played moving forward. He, and others, will be allowed to rest 5-10 minutes per contest with a bench fortified by high ceiling combo guards.

It begins with redshirt freshman Khalen Cumberlander, who was talked about in last year’s recruiting recap. After playing just 14 minutes, the Coolidge high school graduate blew out his ACL last November and required season ending surgery. Now seven months removed from the surgeon’s knife, Dickenman says Cumberlander’s recovery is right on schedule. He’s projected to be ready by the first jump ball in November.

Two true freshmen, Matt Mobley and Ahmaad Wilson, will also join the roster. Mobley comes to New Britain as a dynamic 6’3” combo guard with above-the-rim type of athleticism. The versatile scorer averaged over 23 points per game his senior year of high school, yet was forced to enroll at Worester Acedemy for a prep season when he exited St. Peter Marian without a Division-I offer. The CCSU staff discovered Mobley shortly thereafter, and it didn’t take long to extend an offer once they discovered his athleticism, silky smooth shooting stroke, and his ability to impact the ball on the defensive end.

“He is a hell of an athlete,” said Dickenman when asked about Mobley. “I’m not sure, between him and Khalen Cumberlander, who the better athlete is. It’s really close.”

Wilson, a 6’0″ score first guard from Randallstown, MD, became yet another recruit procured from the MD/DC region. Like Mobley, he is a very good perimeter scorer. It remains to be seen whether he’ll see much of the floor if Cumberlander and Mobley contributes like the coaching staff believes they each can.

With another offseason of development from All-NEC rookie team selection Brandon Peel and the addition of JUCO transfers Faronte Drakeford and Juwan “Stretch” Newman, along with true freshman Kevin Mickle, CCSU now possesses the best frontcourt depth this program has seen in quite some time.

Drakeford is listed at 6’7” in many places, although Dickenman believes he’s closer to 6’5” and a half-inch. Nevertheless, his height shouldn’t serve as a detriment to his post play. Drakeford is skilled forward with exceptional footwork, along with an adept passing eye. If he continues to progress, he’ll give Dickenman the legitimate post weapon his squad has been sorely lacking.

“For the first time I can remember, you have a solid post player (in Drakeford) we can throw the ball in to,” said Dickenman. “Because of his passing skills, he can pass it out, pass to a cutter, or just make a play.”

Newman is the second JUCO transfer that’ll be expected to contribute right away. The slender, yet versatile 6’7″ power forward was recruited heavily by CCSU assistant Sean Ryan, and even though Newman has never set foot on the New Britain campus, he accepted CCSU’s offer to join the 2013-14 roster. After an interesting journey toward improving his grades, Newman finally has made a Division-I roster.

Finally of the three big men, Mickle translates as the biggest project, due to his rawness on the offensive end. What he lacks in polish, however, is quickly made up in physicality and athleticism. It’s a big reason why Mickle, who Dickenman thinks may be the fastest player on the team, will be enrolled at CCSU this fall.

“He takes charges, he blocks shots, he wants to play,” said Dickenman. “I saw him play (on a recruiting trip) and after seven minutes in Orlando, I said to my assistant, ‘I’m going to offer him a scholarship.’ And I’m not even sure if he made a bucket.”

Add up all of CCSU’s pieces and you have an intriguing sleeper in what should be a wide open NEC next season. CCSU has potential, especially with the team’s newfound depth and improved presence in the frontcourt. After the start of a rough offsesaon that saw Vinales and Adonis Burbuge transfer (Vinales of course came back), fans have reason to be optimistic that Dickenman can take his Blue Devils back to the NCAA tournament.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Kyle Vinales To Transfer From Central Connecticut

After reading reports this morning confirming that Naofall Folahan was released from his scholarship at Wagner, I quickly tweeted out that this was simply another role player leaving a NEC program. It was no big deal, in my opinion, that the biggest transfers of the conference consisted of the following: Folahan, Eric Fanning, Kelvin Parker, Josh Castellanos and Adonis Burbage. With all due respect, those players were all nothing more than solid contributors to their team’s rotation. No big loss for the conference.

That is until I read about the following news:

Per a New Britian Herald report by Matt Schaub and a Hartford Courant report by Mike Anthony, Kyle Vinales will transfer from Central Connecticut with two years of eligibility remaining. The 6’1″ shooting guard from Detroit led the NEC last season with 21.6 points and 38.2 minutes played per game, and was elected to the All-NEC first team for his excellent efforts.

From reading Anthony’s report, it sounds like head coach Howie Dickenman and the CCSU community were caught completely off guard with the news. It’s likely that Vinales will be courted by several major basketball programs, much like Maine’s Justin Edwards has been the past few weeks.

Both Vinales and Adonis Burbage have asked for their release from CCSU this offseason, and it leaves the Blue Devils rife with inexperience on the roster. Matthew Hunter, an All-NEC third team selection, becomes the leading player with Vinales’ departure, yet many will now wonder about the status of the dynamic, playmaking wing moving forward. Vinales was instrumental in bringing Hunter to the CCSU campus – both are close friends and former AAU teammates – but with a decimated lineup sans Vinales and Burbage, will Hunter decide to exhaust his final year of eligibility at a rebuilding program?

As for Dickenman, well his approval ratings have seen better days. (Just head to the CCSU basketball forum for confirmation.) He signed an extension last year to be the Blue Devils coach through the 2015-16 season, so his job is safe. But since their NEC championship in 2007, CCSU has failed to mimic that success even with all-conference talents like Ken Horton, Robby Ptacek, and Vinales featured on the roster. Now with Vinales leaving in search of a winning program, CCSU is officially in full rebuild mode. The starting lineup of the 2013-14 season currently projects out to be:

PG: Malcolm McMillan
SG: Khalen Cumberlander (assuming he’s fully recovered from a torn ACL he suffered last November)
SF: Terrell Allen
PF: Matt Hunter
C: Brandon Peel

Without the firepower of Vinales, I will bump CCSU down to eighth in my preseason rankings behind St. Francis Brooklyn and Sacred Heart. And if Hunter decides to leave New Britain in the coming weeks, I would be inclined to push St. Francis (PA) in eighth place ahead of the Blue Devils. So much for my original sleeper team of the 2013-14 season.

(Update: For the latest, read Mike Anthony’s story w/ Dickenman quotes here. Derek Turner of the CCSU Recorder and Viper Live Sports also penned a piece with comments from Vinales here.)

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