Barring the biggest upset in the history of American sports, the season will come to end in some fashion or another for all NEC teams in the next month or so. For most, it will be a defeat at some stage of the upcoming NEC Tournament. However, for Central Connecticut (and St. Francis Brooklyn) it’s all over next week, a fact made official after the Blue Devils lost to Robert Morris 74-64 Saturday afternoon at Detrick Gym.
Donyell Marshall hoped for better this season, but he knew he had one of the hardest rebuilding projects in the nation on his hands, and now that the season is winding down and his team is officially eliminated, he can finally speak with some candor about his plight and what he learned as he looks a little toward the future.
The NEC has almost always been known for its guards, but unfortunately this season has been more about the players that are no longer with the conference than those currently participating. Rodney Pryor has had a great season (even though his team has not) at Georgetown, Marcquise Reed has a few big shots to his name at Clemson, while reigning NEC Player of the Year Cane Broome awaits his turn at Cincinnati, and Martin Hermannsson is doing his thing in France.
The void has been slow to fill, but there a few players peeking in the open door, the most prominent possibly Bryant sophomore Nisre Zouzoua. Despite battling an injury of late, Zouzoua has been hovering around 20 points per game all season, and showed Wednesday some of the skills necessary to grab the reins of those NEC stars that came before him.
Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, but Sacred Heart coach Anthony Latina hopes that being educated might help you relive the past as well.
On Jan. 14, 2016, Sacred Heart came into Detrick Gym with a record of 2-13 (1-3 in the NEC) and somehow pulled out a game in overtime against fellow struggler Central Connecticut despite trailing late and seemingly not having a whole lot of momentum down the stretch. While the performance itself was far from appealing, it did breathe some life into a stuttering campaign, the Pioneers would win 10 of their final 14 regular season games, even getting a home game in the NEC Tournament.
Thursday, Sacred Heart’s situation was similar, 5-10 overall, but 0-2 in the NEC, again at Detrick against a rebuilding Central Connecticut team. The Pioneers somehow blew a 12-point second half lead and looked to be on the verge a pretty brutal loss with three more road games in front of them. But Sean Hoehn came up with a three-point play, Quincy McKnight hit some free throws, and the Pioneers did enough on the defensive end to escape with a 64-62 victory.
With nearly a month of the 2016-17 season in the books, some interesting trends – both positive and negative – have developed for some NEC programs. I’m here to look at the positive developments and make an educated determination if they’ll continue for the duration of the season or if this is nothing more than small sample bias. Continue reading “NEC Roundup – Positive Trends and Power Rankings 2.0”→
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – We have long since established that the non-conference season means next to nothing for NEC teams, this season even more so than usual with parity abound. However, that zero next to Central Connecticut in the win column was still an eyesore at this point of the season.
Add the fact that of the 351 Division I basketball teams in this great country, only five had yet to win a game, and it grew harder to look at with each passing day.
With UConn and Yale next on the schedule, 69-years-young Howie Dickenman was well aware that a home loss Friday night to UMass Lowell likely meant that his Blue Devils would enter conference play 0-11, and so – now feeling much better after a health scare earlier in the season – he was out leading the warmup himself 45 minutes prior to tip, urging his players to up the tempo.
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.