NEC Team Capsule: Central Connecticut Blue Devils

Head Coach: Howie Dickenman, 17th year (249-224)
Last Season: 13-16 (10-8 NEC), lost first round of the NEC tournament to Wagner, 87-77
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 8th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Rebuilding
Key Players Lost: Ken Horton (19.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.1 spg, 1.4 bpg, 80.2% FT), Robby Ptacek (17.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 92.0% FT), David Simmons (3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.9 spg)
Incoming Players: Matthew Hunter (G/F), Khalen Cumberlander (G), Brandon Peel (PF)
Previous Posts: Central Connecticut Recruiting Recap

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Malcolm McMillan (4.0 apg, 2.9 rpg, 1.2 spg, 2.0 A/TO)
G: Kyle Vinales (17.9 ppg, 3.6 apg, 1.2 spg, 38.6% 3PT)
G: Matthew Hunter (JC transfer)
F: Terrell Allen (2.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
F: Joe Efese (3.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.9 bpg)

Key Reserves: Adonis Burbage (F), De’Angelo Speech (F), Khalen Cumberlander (G), Brandon Peel (PF), Shelton Mickell (G), Eric Raleigh (PF)

Major Storylines:

  1. Who Will Score? – Super sophomore Kyle Vinales returns, after averaging a remarkable 17.9 points per game, yet CCSU still loses 54.9% of their total scoring from last season. All-NEC selections Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek are gone, therefore several inexperienced guys will be asked to pick up the scoring slack. Junior college transfer Matthew Hunter has a lot of promise and Malcolm McMillan should look for his points more, but other guys will need to step in to fill the void. Where the rest of the Blue Devil offense comes from (other than Vinales) is the biggest question in New Britain.
  2. A New Identity – Howie Dickenman enters his 17th season as the CCSU’s head coach with a speedy and athletic roster. As a result, Dickenman plans to push the tempo and apply full court pressure, which in turn may create turnovers and give the Blue Devils easy baskets in transition. Dickenman is fully aware his team will struggle scoring in the half-court set, so his athletes should run more often than not.
  3. The New Guys – Of the potential playoff teams in the NEC, the Blue Devils will ask their newcomers to contribute the most. Hunter will get his numbers at the wing, while Khalen Cumberlander – who Dickenman calls the best athlete on the team – will likely be the first combo guard of the bench. In addition, 17-year old freshman Brandon Peel expects to do the dirty work necessary down low by grabbing rebounds and blocking shots. Throw in redshirt freshman Eric Raleigh and you have a roster heavily dependent on the production of its newest members. How they adjust to the DI schedule may determine where the Blue Devils end up at season’s end.

Lineup Analysis: After losing the former NEC Player of the Year in Ken Horton, Howie Dickenman finds his team in an unusual position – they are in a complete rebuilding mode. CCSU has made the NEC tournament the past 14 seasons, but one the youngest rosters in the league should challenge Dickenman to make it 15 straight. The veteran coach will hand the reigns over to two sophomores, Kyle Vinales and Malcolm McMillan. Vinales is the reigning NEC Rookie of the Year, and will look to continue the momentum of his record-setting freshman season that saw the rookie score nearly 18 points per game. Most of the defensive attention will be now focused on Vinales, therefore it may be difficult to expect a big step forward in season two. McMillan did a remarkable job protecting and facilitating the basketball last season, but he’ll be asked to score a little more to lessen the load on Vinales. The agile Khalen Cumberlander, whose strength is to attack the rim and create in transition, will play significant minutes backing up Vinales and McMillan. Matthew Hunter can score a variety of ways and will be leaned upon as the stat-compiling, explosive wing of the team. Perhaps the biggest x-factor is the lone senior on the roster, Joe Efese. After an inconsistent career, Efese is Dickenman’s starting “5” and has practiced very well this offseason. Freshmen Brandon Peel and Eric Raleigh are offensively raw, but could make life very difficult for opposing players in the paint with their shot-altering ability. Adonis Burbage and Terrell Allen are unknowns and will need to up their level, in order to add depth to a squad expected to run a majority of the time. All in all, it’s an inexperienced roster, though Dickenman may enjoy molding these players into the next foundation at CCSU.

Coach’s Quotes:

“We need a surprise in the frontcourt, and I tell [the players], ‘I don’t care who surprises. It’s nothing personal. We have four guys. Who ever wants to go out and beat out the other three players, then you’re going to start.’ We need a surprise, an overachiever.”
– Dickenman, on how the team will deal with the inexperience in their frontcourt

“I would call our team – if I had to give you one word – dangerous, because if we’re doing a good job defensively, we can be very dangerous where we’re getting tips, trying to get deflections, trying to get loose balls and usually those kind of combinations get you up the court quickly and for a good part of the time you’ll get easy baskets.”
– Dickenman, when asked to describe his team’s status going into the season

Ryan – There will be some growing pains with this roster, but on some nights they’ll be a big pain for a NEC upper echelon team. Their combination of speed, agility, and athleticism will certainly be fun to watch, if nothing else. If McMillan and Hunter can step up to help Vinales with the scoring load, CCSU will find themselves in the thick of competing for a NEC playoff spot. For now, I have them just missing out.

John – Is it wrong that I just don’t trust CCSU this season? Yeah, I probably picked then too low, but with so many question marks missing the playoffs seems like a distinct possibility.

Previous NEC Team Capsules:
October 24: St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
October 25: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
October 26: Bryant Bulldogs
October 29: Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

Central Connecticut’s 2012 recruiting class full of athletes

 Central Connecticut Blue Devils: 13-16 (10-8 NEC), Lost 1st round in NEC Tournament to Wagner, 87-77

Players Lost:
F Ken Horton – 19.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.4 bpg, 2 time All-NEC 1st Teamer
SG Robby Ptacek – 17.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 92% FT%
F David Simmons – 3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 67% FG%

Incoming Players:
Khalen Cumberlander, 6’3” G – Coolidge High (DC)
Brandon Peel, 6’6” PF – Riverdale Baptist School (MD)
Matthew Hunter, 6’5” G/F – Odessa College (TX)
Jalen Chapman, 6’6” PF – Eagle Academy (NY)

The Central Connecticut Blue Devils were arguably the biggest disappointment of the Northeast Conference (NEC) last season, finishing with a losing record and suffering a 1st round NEC tournament defeat at the hands of Wagner.  It wasn’t supposed to end like this for a team expected to contend, especially with accomplished seniors Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek leading the way.

With the disappointment however, comes optimism and hope for the Blue Devil faithful.  Head coach Howie Dickenman, the second longest tenured coach in the NEC, has a fine track record for recruiting talent.  Since the 1998-99 season, Dickenman has coached 5 NEC Players of the Year, 3 NEC Defensive Players of the Year, 2 NEC Rookies of the Year, and 21 All-NEC selections.  So now, with four shiny athletic recruits – and one eligible redshirt freshman – on CCSU’s roster, you can bet the rest of the conference will take notice.

One freshman that could provide an instant impact is 6-foot-3 combo guard Khalen Cumberlander.  Cumberlander can score in a variety of ways, but his penetration into the lane and transition game may be his biggest strengths.  The DC star led his team in scoring his senior season, while helping Coolidge High win a DCIAA championship.  High school defenders had great difficulty staying in front of Cumberlander, thanks to his excellent shiftiness, agility and ball control.  As documented several times in the Washington Post, he never shied away from a big moment, which bodes well for a CCSU team that had trouble closing out games last season.  With sophomores Malcolm McMillan and a dedicated Kyle Vinales locked in as CCSU’s starting backcourt, look for Cumberlander to receive key minutes off the bench in his freshman campaign.

Another impact newcomer is junior college transfer Matthew Hunter.  It’s been a long tough road for Hunter, but after spending two years at Odessa College improving his grades, he received three Division I offers this past winter.  Luckily for Dickenman, Hunter chose CCSU where he can play with his old buddy and Detroit AAU teammate Vinales.  More importantly, Hunter has a terrific opportunity ahead of him, given the youth and lack of experience on CCSU’s front line.  Hunter is a stat filler and should impact the game on both ends of the floor right away.

Last season, the undersized Blue Devils were in the bottom half of the NEC in rebounding rate, and that was with Horton on the team.  To help make up for their rebounding deficiency, Coach Dickenman signed a pair of 6-foot-6 high energy rebounders in Brandon Peel, and more recently, Jalen Chapman.

Peel, much like the majority of incoming NEC freshmen, needs time to develop his scoring acumen, yet it’s his rebounding and defensive presence that may give the opposing team headaches.  Characterized as the ultimate team player in high school, Peel did whatever it took for his team to win – crash the glass, block shots, dive on the floor for loose balls, and take some offensive charges.  Dickenman has admitted Peel probably needs time to mature; therefore the high-motored clean-shaven Peel probably won’t log more than 10 minutes per game.

There isn’t much information on Chapman, but CBS Sports College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein had this to say on Twitter, “Central Connecticut is getting solid rebounder in Eagle Academy’s Jalen Chapman.  2012 PF never stops working and always is around the ball.”  That’s certainly nice praise from a respected analyst.  Then again, I’ve never read a negative player review on Rothstein’s Twitter feed, so please take this endorsement with a grain of salt. 

Nevertheless, Peel and Chapman should provide the Blue Devils with much needed athleticism in the frontcourt, and even though they may not help immediately, these two signings could pay dividends down the road.  Because of their rawness offensively, there’s a decent chance that one of these two is redshirted for their first season.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 6-foot-8 power forward Erik Raleigh, who sat out the 2011-12 season as a redshirt.  Dickenman loves the progress made by Raleigh, a Philadelphia native, but it’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be as the tallest man in CCSU’s lineup.

For the 2012-13 season, CCSU signed a foursome of talented athletes, with each possessing good to very good upside.  For NEC teams (and other low mid-major conference teams), developing raw athletes is a necessity, because if these players had polished offensive skills out of high school, they more often than not wouldn’t sign with a NEC program.  Now, Coach Dickenman has an opportunity to mold these inexperienced players into a cohesive high octane unit that may some day realize their potential.  The youth and rebuilding movement is in full effect at CCSU, as they attempt to once again represent the Northeast Conference in the NCAA tournament.  It may take a while, but opponents shouldn’t count out Dickenman’s bunch just yet.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference and Sacred Heart University basketball on Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.