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

Big Apple Bucket’s NEC All-Conference Second and Third Teams

With nearly half of the 2013 NEC all-conference selections no longer residing inside the conference, there’s plenty of opportunity for players to emerge into the limelight. Estimating who lands in the top 15 won’t be easy, but Big Apple Buckets will begin the process today by naming our all-conference second and third teams as the first installment of our two-part series. Tomorrow, we’ll present our NEC first team along with our player, rookie, coach, and defensive player of the year selections. Continue reading “Big Apple Bucket’s NEC All-Conference Second and Third Teams”

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”

Surprise individual performances of the young season

With most teams having played at least one quarter of their schedule (crazy, huh?), I felt this was a perfect time to give you ten players that have really surprised and/or impressed me this season. In the first part, John and I list our top five surprises of the NEC thus far, who we feel truly have the potential to end up on an all-conference team in March. For part two, I decided to give you the five best non-conference players I’ve seen live so far in the 13 games I’ve attended. Enjoy!

Rashad Whack, Mount St. Mary’s – Everybody knew about Whack’s ability to knock down the long-range jumper, but not everyone could have envisioned Whack being the key ingredient in Jamion Christian’s MAYHEM attack. Through seven games, the George Mason transfer not only leads the team in three-pointers made and points per game, but he also is tops in rebounds and steals (6.4% steal rate, best in the NEC) as well. His off-the-ball skills and play have been pleasant surprises and for that credit must be given to the coach Christian replaced, Robert Burke. Christian inherited quite a player in Whack, who absolutely has the potential to crack a NEC all-conference team.

Stephon Mosley, St. Francis (PA) – Go ahead, it’s OK. You can admit this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Stephon Mosley. Admittedly, I knew little about the freshman, as he was a late signee for Rob Krimmel’s team. But shockingly in the early going, Mosley is leading all NEC freshmen in efficiency rating, rebounds and minutes per game. The 6’6″ power forward, along with notable recruit Ronnie Drinnon, have spearheaded the youth movement in Loretto, as Krimmel has clearly moved forward with his young players, rather than utilizing veterans like Anthony Ervin, Tony Peters, and Storm Stanley. If Mosley continues his 10 points and 4.5 rebounds per game production, he’ll easily crack the NEC All-Rookie Team at season’s end.

Matthew Hunter, Central Connecticut – The immediate impact this accomplished junior college transfer could provide was well-known, thanks to Howie Dickenman’s constant praise in the preseason. We knew Hunter would be a stat-filler, but we didn’t realize that he’d be in the top four of the conference in points, rebounds, and steals per game. Hunter showcased his skills in Indiana recently, when he famously dropped 40 points in a losing effort at Assembly Hall. It was a performance that surely opened coach’s eyes, and shows that merely shutting down Kyle Vinales will not restrict the Blue Devils efficient offense. There’s officially a bona fide one-two punch in New Britain, so sit back and enjoy the ride for the next two seasons. Vinales and Hunter will put up some mind-blowing numbers together.

Kevin Douglas, St. Francis Brooklyn – Last season Douglas was on the bench behind Stefan Perunicic for SFC. Now that he’s in the rotation on a consistent basis, Douglas is tearing it up. He’s already attempted more threes this season than he did during his entire freshman campaign and he’s making a ridiculous 41% of them. That’s not sustainable, but the sophomore’s low turnover rate and ability to attack the rim look like they weren’t flukes last season. The two biggest criticisms of Douglas thus far this season is that he could be shooting even more and that his defense is a work in progress. Still, he’s provided an excellent scoring threat on the wing for the Terriers.

Dyami Starks, Bryant – In the preseason, Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea was so high on Starks, he called him one of the best shooters he has ever coached. So far, Starks hasn’t disappointed, hitting 27 three-pointers (37% three-point percentage) and dropping double-digit points in seven of nine games. Starks ability to make the long-range jumper has added a much-needed dimension to the Bulldogs’ offense, so much so that Bryant can no longer be considered a pushover. We’re incredibly bullish on Starks to continue his impressive production, mainly because O’Shea has been blown away with Columbia transfer’s work ethic. Enjoy Bulldog fans, since you have the next three years to witness the soon to be best shooter in Bryant’s young history.

And now for some players that really impressed me in the live games I’ve seen so far this season…

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Well, duh?! It’s not terribly imaginative for me to put a potential likely All-American here, but his insertion onto my list is due to the “wow” factor. When I saw Lehigh smoke Sacred Heart on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it wasn’t that McCollum scored 26 super efficient points. It was the way he scored, which was seemed so easy, so effortless. He scored in the post, in the lane, behind the arc, and yet he hardly broke a sweat doing it. He was by far and away the best player on that court and this is coming from an unapologetic supporter of Shane Gibson. As Patriot League expert Kevin Doyle said at the game, a player of McCollum’s caliber belongs in the Big East, not in the outdated Pitt Center whipping up on the hapless Pioneers. As far as mid-major players are concerned, he is the most transcendent talent I have ever witnessed.

Tilman Dunbar, Navy – You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why Navy has already doubled their win total from a season ago. It’s the lightning quick, surprisingly mature freshman Tilman Dunbar who has helped lead the Midshipmen out of a couple of abysmal seasons into a team that could legitimately finish the upper half of the Patriot League. Dunbar possesses a terrific handle, an explosive first step, and adept court vision, yet it’s his poise that may be his most impressive talent. The diminutive point guard carries himself like an upperclassman. Dunbar’s undeniable talent will be fun to watch for Midshipmen fans the next four seasons, but in the meantime, he’ll continue to only improve under the tutelage of head coach Ed DeChellis. You can basically hand him the Patriot League Rookie of the Year trophy right now.

Ryan Cook, UMBC – I didn’t see UMBC play last season (which probably was a good thing), but a number of articles raved about the play of forward Chase Plummer. So you could imagine my surprise when I saw it was guard Ryan Cook, and not Plummer, that made the Retrievers tick. Not to pick on Plummer, but Cook – a former walk-on – has easily been the most efficient player for Aki Thomas’ UMBC club in the early going. The athletic Cook is a do all guard who can score a variety of ways. In addition to leading the America East in scoring, the 6’2 senior is eighth in the conference in rebounds per game. Forecasting ahead, expect Cook to continue to have an expanded role in the Retrievers’ offense. It’s probably the most optimal way UMBC can claw back to respectability in the America East this season.

Stephen Lumpkins, American – You won’t find American upperclassman Steve Lumpkins on any stat sheets last season, because he was playing minor league baseball. After the failed stint, Lumpkins came back to utilize his final season of eligibility, and it’s a good thing for the Eagles he did. Without his fantastic interior production, American would really struggle this season. It’s been a disappointing start to the season already in Washington D.C., yet Lumpkins at least gives the Eagles a little hope heading into conference play. His efficient, fluid play around the rim demands double teams and should leave American’s bevy of long-range shooters open on the outside. So far, Lumpkins is holding up his end of the bargain, as he’s averaging 15.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. That’s not too shabby for someone who completely missed the previous season.

Billy Baron, Canisius – When Canisius hired the former long time URI coach Jim Baron this offseason, they were essentially adding a top-notch transfer as well, in the form of Baron’s son, Billy. As a result, the Golden Griffens have exceeded expectations in the early going and have finally caught MAAC fans attention with their quick 2-0 start in the conference. Baron – the young one – is a huge reason for Canisius’ success, having posted averages of 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He’s fresh off a MAAC Player of the Week award, after torching conference foe Marist with a fantastic effort. Throw in backcourt mate Harold Washington, and you have a dynamic scoring duo that can seemingly make the right decision time and time again for a contending club in Canisius.

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

Early Season KenPom Trends for NEC Teams

With the young season now a month old, I felt this was a good opportunity to analyze some early season trends. I combed through Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics to highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of several NEC teams. Some trends will be of no surprise, but others I can bet were not expected. Continue reading “Early Season KenPom Trends for NEC Teams”

NEC Week 5 Recap: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

After our most glowing NEC recap last Monday, this version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly isn’t all peaches and cream. Overall though, the conference had another solid week with the two biggest contenders in LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris continuing their winning streak and a little known junior college transfer entering the spotlight.

The Good

  • A Performance to Tell the Grandkids About – Later this week when I post my biggest individual surprises of the young season, I thought I would be all slick when I highlighted the play of Central Connecticut junior college transfer Matthew Hunter. With all of the attention going to teammate Kyle Vinales, and rightfully so, Hunter’s performance in the young season has been quietly productive. That is until Hunter had a historic performance on the road versus Big Ten power Indiana. Hunter’s 40 points (on only 25 shots) tied a record for the most points scored by an opponent in Assembly Hall. In the early going, Hunter has been the fourth most efficient player in the NEC, so if conference opponents weren’t paying attention to the energetic, highly skilled slasher, they sure are now. Vinales and Hunter are turning into a phenomenal one-two punch that will terrorize NEC opponents this winter.
  • More Like a 15 Seed – After an uneven start to the season, the Robert Morris Colonials are slowing morphing back into the Colonials of old, playing inspired defense and aggressively driving to the rim on offense. In their three game winning streak, Andy Toole’s group has outscored their opponents by an average of 11 points at the charity stripe, while forcing 47 turnovers. Lucky Jones has quietly been the most efficient player for Robert Morris, averaging 10.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. Karvel Anderson has provided instant offense off the bench, as he’s shooting a fantastic 16 of 23 from behind the arc during the winning streak. Despite the recent success, Toole is still searching for a consistent effort for all 40 minutes, yet the upside of this Colonial group is quite intriguing.

The Bad

  • What Home Court Advantage? – This past Saturday marks another confounding home loss by the Quinnipiac Bobcats, who now have lost three times to non-conference opponents in the friendly confines of TD Bank Sports Center. The latest defeat to America East contender Vermont was the latest example of Quinnipiac’s inefficiencies on the offensive side of the ball. Tom Moore had hoped his team would execute better in the half court and push the ball a little more in transition, but so far neither plan has actually come to fruition yet. Poor free throw shooting continues to plague the Bobcats, with Quinnipiac missing nearly half of their 20 attempts versus Vermont. It’s an issue that may have little chance to resolve itself, so Moore will have to find creative ways to overcome this glaring deficiency.
  • Attacking the Rim – It has been a difficult start to the season for Glenn Braica, who finds his on the wrong end of these non-conference battles in year number three. The Terriers winless week now has them with a surprising record of 2-5. A quick glance at the statistics doesn’t illustrate any outragous trends, with the exception of one facet. St. Francis Brooklyn is doing a lousy job of getting to the charity stripe (bottom 20 nationally in free throw attempts per field goal attempts) and making them once at the line (59.6%). All other things equal, if you’re consisently getting outscored at the line most nights, it will usually be an uphill battle to make up the difference in points elsewhere. The Terriers need to be more aggressive getting into the lane.

The Ugly

  • Not Fit for a King – One of the things that makes King Rice good for Monmouth and the NEC is his competitive drive, although it was that same fire that got Rice in trouble with his athletic director. After a tough upset loss to Navy at home, Rice went off on the officials after he was ejected from the game for acquiring two technical fouls. The post-game tirade earned Rice a one game suspension and left him in the locker room for the Hawks’ showdown with Syracuse. Obviously, Rice’s presence wouldn’t have determined the outcome of the game, but Rice needs to exercise caution before ripping NCAA officials after a difficult loss. I’m sure the second year head coach has learned his lesson.
  • Where’s the Defense? – It was yet another winless week for the Sacred Heart Pioneers, as they dropped two contests to middling teams of the Patriot League. Sacred Heart had their opportunities to win both, but only before they had made exhaustive comebacks in each game. The biggest culprit is the defense, which has allowed 1.12 points per possession this season, good for third worst in the NEC. If the Pioneers are going to overcome the crippling injuries to the backcourt, then they’ll need defensive stops eventually. In crunch time versus Lafayette, the defense never stepped up. In fact, the Pioneers gave up 17 Lafayette points in their final 12 possessions, good for a 1.42 PPP. That will simply not get it done.

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

Central Connecticut guts out a win against UMBC

Coming off one of their best non-conference wins in recent memory at La Salle, it may have been acceptable if the Central Connecticut (CCSU) Blue Devils packed it in after a hard-fought effort. Down five with under two minutes remaining in overtime, it just didn’t seem to be the Blue Devils night. They were shooting 21.7% from behind the arc. They were outrebounded by a significant margin. Their star player was having an off night with 22 points on 24 shots, while shooting a pedestrian 22.2% from three. Joe Efase, who sadly had to bury his sister recently, had a chance to win it in regulation, but he missed an open layup at the horn.

It wasn’t meant to be for the Blue Devils tonight in Catonsville, right?

Not according to Kyle Vinales. The sophomore guard quieted the surprisingly raucous UMBC crowd by scoring CCSU’s final seven points in overtime, including two free-throws with five seconds remaining that put the Blue Devils ahead for good, 83-82. Quite simply, the kid has ice water in his veins.

“Kyle Vinales is a horse,” said the raspy voiced Howie Dickenman after the comeback victory. “He made big plays and big shots. I’m just proud of how the team hung in there. We could have faded and gone away, but we didn’t. We have some tough kids on this team.”

After Chase Plummer hit two free-throws to give the UMBC Retrievers a 81-76 lead in the extra frame, Vinales drilled a long three right in front of the Blue Devils’ bench (he was a step away from sitting in Dickenman’s lap) with 1:24 left to keep his team in the game. After an Aaron Morgan turnover, Vinales again answered with a top of the key jumper that hit nothing but net. Then with the shot clock off and his team down a point, Vinales drew a controversal foul about 45 feet away from the basket. Plummer came up to double Vinales and had pinned the guard near the half-court line when he was charged with a blocking foul. The UMBC crowd (and radio announcer who slammed his fist into the press row table) was irate with the call.

It was a tough way to decide a game that saw 12 ties and 13 lead changes, but in reality, Plummer should have never put himself in that position to begin with.

Overall, it was a solid game plan for CCSU. As they had done against La Salle two days earlier, the defensive focus was to make life very difficult for UMBC’s big men and they surely did that. Preseason All-America East first team selection Plummer and 6’10” St. Bonnie transfer Brett Roseboro were consistently double-teamed in the post all night. The vociferous coverage led to the duo having a combined scoring line of 14 points, 13 rebounds, and seven turnovers on 4-21 shooting.

The UMBC guards kept the Retrievers in the game, as they shot 50.0% from behind the arc in regulation. Early on, they were excellent at using the Blue Devils’ aggressive defensive nature against them, by creating open looks with a bevy of pump fakes and penetration into the lane. In particular, the poise and composure of freshman Aaron Morgan was very impressive, and his two free-throws late had forced the game into overtime to begin with. Senior guard Ryan Cook also played a fantastic game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, and was repsonsible for locking down Vinales for most of the night.

But CCSU overcame UMBC’s hot shooting and inspired guard play to force 19 Retriever turnovers. The Blue Devils received signficant contributions from transfer Matthew Hunter (22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals) and Malcolm McMillan (10 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers), who was playing near his hometown of Baltimore. Overall, five Blue Devils scored in double figures.

Five Blue Devils also played over 36 minutes in the game, with four of them playing 40+ minutes in a fast paced environment. Their thin bench is certainly a concern moving forward, especially with freshman Khlaen Cumberlander now out for the season with a knee injury. When asked about his limited rotation, Dickennman was hopeful someone will eventually step up to give his starting lineup a blow every once in a while. Tonight, however, Dickenman felt he wasn’t afforded that luxury.

“We’d like to get more (players) in the rotation if they can perform,” said Dickenman. “We didn’t get much out of either (Terrell Allen or Brandon Peel tonight).”

The win gives these exciting Blue Devils a three game winning streak going into their in-state showdown with the Hartford Hawks on Saturday. CCSU now sits at 3-2, yet they could realistically have won all five of their contests thus far. They lost those two games by a combined total of four points. Looks like these Blue Devils are for real after all.

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

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