NEC Trade Value – The First Edition

Every once in a while we like to have fun here at Big Apple Buckets. It doesn’t always have to be “make fun of Jon Rothstein’s optimism until he blocks me on Twitter” kind of fun, but more like the “well this doesn’t make a ton of sense” kind of fun. This time, please allow me to channel my inner Bill Simmons. Continue reading “NEC Trade Value – The First Edition”

Wednesday Evening Recap – A Lost Night for the NEC

Half of the NEC was in action on Wednesday night, so let’s recap each contest. In all, it was a mostly disappointing evening for the league with four teams failing to come out victorious.

Bryant 87, Dartmouth 77
Let’s begin with the good news. Bryant recovered nicely from their drubbing out west to Gonzaga by handling the Green Wave on the road. Dartmouth, behind the efforts of all-league talent Gabas Maldunas (14 points, 11 rebounds), managed to keep the game close before succumbing late. Dyami Starks scored 35 points once again, this time on a very efficient 18 shots. In fact, all of the Bulldogs were tremendously efficient in this one, posting a splendid scoring line of 59% FG%/43% 3PT%/82% FT%. Bryant’s superb shooting allowed them to overcome 15 turnovers. The big four of Starks, Alex Francis, Joe O’Shea, and Corey Maynard combined to impressively score 79 of their 89 points.

Holy Cross 122, Sacred Heart 118
After a wild, back-and-forth affair in Worcester, Holy Cross held on after ten minutes of free basketball to earn their first win of the season over Anthony Latina’s Pioneers. This will be a cruel bus ride back for Sacred Heart – they had a seemingly commanding five point lead late before a three-point play by Dave Dudzinski evened the score with just three seconds left in regulation. In the end, Cullen Hamilton’s 35 points on 21 shots and Dudzinski’s interior presence (26 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks) was enough to outlast the feisty Pioneers. Sacred Heart imposed their will for much of the game – attacking the rim, pushing the pace (there were 192 total possessions in the game), and forcing careless errors out of the Crusaders. In spite of this, Holy Cross found a way to win their third straight against their New England rivals. Evan Kelley was excellent in the loss, scoring a career high 32 points. His final efficiency rating of 33 was the best individual performance for an NEC player this young season. Steve Glowiak was also terrific, scoring 28 points by sinking seven out of nine three-pointers.

Villanova 90, Mount St. Mary’s 59
It may be against two teams from the power conferences, yet Jamion Christian can’t be pleased with his team’s effort early in the season, especially defensively. Tonight, the Mount gave up 1.22 points per possession (ppp) after allowing West Virginia to score 1.27 ppp on opening night. Really, it was an ugly effort in Philadephia any way you slice it – Villanova shot 63% from the floor, won the rebounding margin by 15, had 11 more assists, and outscored the Mount 60-16 in the paint. Ouch. Julian Norfleet has been the only glimmer of hope thus far, as he led the team tonight with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott have been ice-cold early on; both guards have combined to miss 30 of 41 shots in two games.

Purdue 103, Central Connecticut 73
If you were expecting an encore to LIU Brooklyn’s terrific effort last night in Indiana, then you came away disappointed. After jumping out to an early 17-14 lead thanks to Faronte Drakeford’s eight points, CCSU was shutdown for the next 5:17. The prolonged slump allowed Purdue to extend their lead to double digits and they never looked back. The Boilermakers scored 1.36 ppp, which was buoyed by 22 assists versus a mere nine turnovers. For the second straight game, Kyle Vinales led the Blue Devils in scoring with 22 points, but it was acquired by jacking up 21 attempts. This time, however, Vinales was afforded more rest; in fact, nine Blue Devils logged 14+ minutes in the game. Of the bench guys, freshman Matt Mobley was quite active with 10 points and four rebounds in limited time.

Dayton 70, St. Francis (PA) 57
It’s been a tough stretch for Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash. Tonight was their third game in six days, although St. Francis didn’t appear tired throughout much of the contest. Dayton was only up three at the under four minute timeout for the second half, but a 13-2 run sealed the deal for the Flyers. Four Red Flash players – Earl Brown, Ronnie Drinnon, Ollie Jackson, and Malik Harmon – finished in double figures for the night. 17 turnovers inevitably did St. Francis in, with three of those coming in the final three minutes. Dayton sank almost as many free throws (21) as they did field goals (23) in the victory.

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

Predictions:

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

Breaking Down the NEC Transfer List

With the “free agent” period of college basketball in full swing, I felt it was a good time to identify who has prematurely left the NEC and what kind of impact it has on their former team. Here are the top nine transfers that decided to leave the conference. For Jeff Goodman’s complete list of 2013 basketball transfers, go here. Continue reading “Breaking Down the NEC Transfer List”

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

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”

NEC Makeup Monday: CCSU Clinches NEC Playoff Berth

The snowstorm that nearly destroyed the state of Connecticut a few weeks ago forced two postponements, therefore fans were treated to a rare doubleheader on Monday night. All four teams were seriously jockeying for playoff position, so let’s recap the action and summarize the NEC Standings.

Bryant 84, Sacred Heart 66
Given the recent play of both clubs, this final should surprise no one. The Pioneers hung around for a half thanks to Shane Gibson and Louis Montes’ combined 34 first half points, but the offensive firepower of Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs was too much to handle as the game moved along. Sacred Heart cut Bryant’s lead to a paltry one point early in the second half, but then O’Shea pulled out the matchup zone. The different defensive look befuddled the Pioneers, and Bryant took full advantage going on a back-breaking 17-2 run. The big four of Bryant was once again unstoppable, as the Starks/Francis/Maynard/Dobbs group combined to log 70 points on a super efficient 44 shots. Starks led the group with 25 points on 10 of 14 shooting. In all, Bryant scored 1.20 points per possession (PPP). If the season ended today, Bryant’s 1.12 PPP average would be the best mark in the NEC since Javier Mojica’s Blue Devils scored 1.12 PPP in the 2006-07 season. With the loss, the Sacred Heart ship is capsizing fast. The Pioneers have lost seven of their last eight games and have pretty much guaranteed a St. Francis Brooklyn/Sacred Heart playoff play-in game on Saturday, March 2nd. There’s no way Dave Bike and company could have imagined that scenario after their hot 6-2 start. On the bright side, Shane Gibson became the fifth player in NEC history to crack the 2,000 point milestone. The senior scored 30 points on only 19 shots, which was 20 points more than the Pioneers front-court tonight.

Central Connecticut 67, Quinnipiac 65
Kyle Vinales long, contested (some would say ill-advised) three-pointer from the parking lot with five seconds remaining hit nothing but the bottom of the net, and pushed his Blue Devils to a thrilling two point victory over Quinnipiac. The Blue Devils were seemingly in control when Malcolm McMillan’s two free-throws gave Howie Dickenman’s group a six point lead with 5:35 left, but severe foul trouble helped the Bobcats go on a 12-3 run to push them ahead with a 65-62 lead. Despite the lapse, the Blue Devils scored the last five points and broke the Bobcats six game winning streak. The supremely confident Joe Efase scored 14 points in the victory and is averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in his last four contests. The win guarentees a playoff game for the Blue Devils, while Quinnipiac’s chances for their first regular season title since 2010 have all but vanished. It didn’t help that Quinnipiac missed nine of their 22 free throw attempts. Ousname Drame continued his dominant play with another double double of 11 points and 13 rebounds. In his last nine games – seven of them Quinnipiac victories – Drame has averaged 11.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. It looks like Drame is finally beginning to realize his full potential.

NEC Standings
1) Robert Morris, 12-4
2) Bryant, 11-5
3) Quinnipaic, 10-6
4) Wagner, 10-6
5) LIU Brooklyn, 10-6
6) Mount St. Mary’s, 9-7
7) Central Connecticut, 8-8
8) Sacred Heart, 7-9
9) St. Francis Brooklyn, 7-9
10) St. Francis (PA), 5-11
11) Monmouth, 5-11
12) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-14
*Quinnipiac earns tiebreaker over Wagner/LIU based on head-to-head-to-head record (2-0)
*Wagner earns tiebreaker over LIU based on head-to-head record (2-0)
*Sacred Heart earns tiebreaker over St. Francis Brooklyn based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*Top seven teams in standings have clinched a NEC playoff berth

CCSU Takes Control of Their Playoff Destiny, Beats Sacred Heart

It was set up perfectly. Shane Gibson, the greatest player in Sacred Heart Division I history, was only 19 points shy of 2000 points coming into Senior Day. The fifth year senior was approaching the end of his sensational career, so of course he’d crack the 2000 point milestone, while also leading the Pioneers to a much-needed victory in his last ever home game. After all, these are what dreams are made of.

The only problem was Kyle Vinales had other ideas.

The Central Connecticut (CCSU) sophomore was excellent on both ends of the floor in the second half, as his Blue Devils used clutch play late to seal a critical victory and break their four game losing streak.

“We’ve been on the skids,” said CCSU head coach Howie Dickenman after the game. “We came out and played with more emotion this afternoon than any game this year. We played like it was a championship game.”

The championship effort was anchored with terrific performances by Vinales and senior big man Joe Efase. Both players combined for 49 points on only 31 shots. It was Vinales phenomenal play down the stretch that impressed his grizzled head coach the most.

“Today, I thought we concentrated on [Shane] Gibson and Kyle did a fantastic job on Gibson,” said Dickenman. “We know Gibson is going to get his 25-28 points, but you can’t let him go off. And Kyle keeps him under 19, which would have been 2000.”

When asked about Vinales performance, Sacred Heart head coach Dave Bike simply added, “He got the best of [Gibson].”

CCSU played stout interior defense that allowed the Pioneers to only convert 38.1% of their two pointers. Joe Efase, in particular, was a beast defensively blocking eight shots, tying a career high. His defensive prowess, along with Brandon Peel and Terrell Allen, discouraged Sacred Heart down low and forced Dave Bike’s squad to jack up 27 three-pointers. For the first time in five contests, CCSU held their opponent to 1.00 point per possession. In their previous four games, all defeats, CCSU had given up an unsavory 1.23 points per possession.

“[Efase] was so focused and he was really upset after the Bryant game with how he played, how we played,” said Dickenman when asked about Joe Efase’s terrific game. “You could tell, he came out of that game besides himself and yesterday’s practice was probably the most intense practice we had. We played as hard as we could in practice, and it carried over into the game.”

Despite the Blue Devils energy, Sacred Heart kept the game close enough late to have a chance. When Shane Gibson, who finished with 14 points leaving the senior five points shy of 2000 for his career, hit his first three-pointer of the second half with 2:47 remaining, the Pioneers were only trailing by one point, 66-65. But no Sacred Heart defender could stay in front of Vinales late, as the fifth leading scorer in the nation at 22.3 points per game logged eight points in the final 2:16 to snap the Blue Devils losing streak.

In addition, Sacred Heart was sloppy with the ball late, which led to 12 turnovers for the game. The Blue Devils took advantage of the Pioneers miscues, by outscoring Sacred Heart 19-4 on points off turnovers. CCSU was also money from the charity stripe down the stretch (17 of 19), which certainly helped ice the game late.

“I think they got too many layups,” said a dejected Dave Bike after the loss. “Important games like these you got to play tougher defense, and they shot too well and we didn’t shoot good enough.”

Steve Glowiak scored a team high 21 points on six of 14 shooting. Freshman Tevin Falzon added ten points – eight in the second half – to go along with six rebounds. Louis Montes also finished with a double double with 14 points and ten rebounds, but he needed 16 shots to register the 14 points.

The win moves CCSU into a seventh place tie in the NEC standings, which at the moment, puts them in very good shape to qualify for the NEC tournament. With head-to-head tiebreakers over seventh place Sacred Heart and ninth place St. Francis Brooklyn, the Blue Devils are likely to be playing a first round NEC tournament game on Wednesday, March 6th. Especially with three home games left on the regular season schedule.

Sacred Heart, on the other hand, concludes the season with a brutal three game road stretch, which includes Bryant, LIU Brooklyn, and St. Francis Brooklyn. If things break right, the Sacred Heart/St. Francis Brooklyn showdown could very well serve as an eight/nine seeded play-in game for the NEC tournament.

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