When the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook is released later this off-season (you can reserve a copy here!), many might be surprised that I picked Bryant to finish fourth in the Northeast Conference. Continue reading “Can Freshman PG Ikenna Ndugba Elevate Bryant?”
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – In an NEC race that seems to pretty clearly up for grabs this season, it’s nice to have a guy like Shane McLaughlin around. The Bryant senior captain leads the conference in assists, and although he averages just 7.4 points per game can almost always be counted on to do the right thing down the stretch.
And with seemingly every NEC game going to the wire in 2015-16, he’s a big reason why the Bulldogs have shaken off a frustrating non-conference campaign to sit atop the NEC at 4-1 thus far. Thursday night in a tie game with the clock running down, Tim O’Shea put the ball in McLaughlin’s hands and hoped he could find an open teammate. When the tough St. Francis Brooklyn defense wouldn’t let him, McLaughlin – despite being just 1-5 from the field for two points at the time – took it upon himself, draining a fade away 18-footer with 1.3 seconds left to give Bryant a hard-fought 61-59 win at the Chace Athletic Center.
We have reached the conclusion of the four games in eight days stretch. With more than 20% of the conference already completed, let’s break down the action from the second Saturday of the New Year. Continue reading “NEC Recap January 9 – Rounding Out the Eight Day Stretch”
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – It was a tale of two halves for Bryant Friday night in the semifinals of the 2K Classic at the Chace Athletic Center.
In Act I, the Bulldogs (2-1) obliterated a weaker opponent in Prairie View A&M (which entered No. 348 in KenPom) to the tune of a 23-point halftime lead. It ballooned to as much as 29 early in the second half before things started to go wrong in Act II, especially on the offensive end. Bryant was never seriously threatened (although close, the Panthers never got to within single digits), but the sloppiness was concerning for a Bryant team that wants to contend for an NEC title and its first NCAA Tournament berth in March.
Or was it?
Because point guard play has been a strength for the NEC in previous seasons, it’s expected the position will take a significant step back with the graduations of Julian Norfleet, Sidney Sanders, Jr., and Jason Brickman – the latest NCAA student athlete to crack 1,000 career assists. All three all-conference first teamers will be sorely missed. We’d also be remiss failing to acknowledge the departures of Kenny Ortiz, Corey Maynard and Anthony Myers-Pate, all of whom were also solid to terrific contributors on teams in contention for an NCAA berth.
What a difference a year can make for Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. At this point last season, the Bulldogs future was uncertain, coming off a dismal two-win season in the final year of an arduous Division I transition. Sure, the 2012-13 roster was instantly upgraded with the addition of transfers Dyami Starks and Joe O’Shea, but the long time coach was still unsure how everything would pan out.
“I knew we were going to be a lot better, but my apprehension coming (to NEC media day) last year was we were going to be picked last (in the NEC preseason coaches poll),” admitted O’Shea. “You never want to be first, and you certainly don’t want to be last. We were at the point where we needed to turn a corner and the hardest thing to shake off after a transition is – and Pat Duquette (at UMass-Lowell) is going to go through this – all the losing. How do you take a losing mentality and start to develop a winning mentality?”
Fast forward one year later. Bryant, along with Towson, had engineered one of the greatest turnarounds in Division I history by winning 17 more games than they did in the previous season. The Bulldogs also won twice as many conference games as they lost, thanks to a wonderfully efficient season scoring the basketball. In league play, Bryant scored 117 points per 100 possessions, easily the best mark in the NEC for quite some time.
Forging ahead, O’Shea must go on without point guard and NEC all-conference third team selection, Frankie Dobbs. The do-everything floor general masterfully ran the offense in his senior season, finishing in the top 15 of the conference in points (13.4 ppg), assists (5.3 apg), steals (1.2 spg), and assist to turnover ratio (2.2). How exactly can that superb production be replaced?
Look no further than veteran guard Corey Maynard.
“I talked to Corey about playing point – and he had always done that when he played for the Australian national team,” said O’Shea. “He’s really looked good in practice. Corey knows how to play that position, he’s crafty. He’s really a good player.”
The statistic similarities between Maynard and Dobbs – who both stand at 6’3″ – are striking. Both posted A/TO ratios of 2.0 or greater, while filling up the stat sheet in a variety of ways. Both guards can score anywhere on the floor, add toughness rebounding the basketball, and are crafty and creative enough to make their teammates better. The latter point will be especially important for Dyami Starks and Alex Francis, the two focal points of O’Shea’s high-powered offense.
While Maynard’s presence at the point gives Bryant the experience of a grizzled upperclassman, it also allows O’Shea to field a bigger lineup. It’s nothing against freshman Justin Brickman or sophomore Shane McLaughlin, who has also looked good this preseason.
“(This move) allows Joe (O’Shea) in the starting lineup, which now gives us a chance,” explained O’Shea. “Basically what happened was Shane McLaughlin was doing a nice job, but if I started Shane, Dyami and Corey, that’s makes us really small. And Joe O’Shea was playing so well, it seems to me imperative to get him in the starting lineup to give us some real size.”
As a 6’5″ swingman, O’Shea is coming off an underrated season, to say the least, by posting an impressive, team high 115.7 offensive rating. His versatility and ability to get to the free-throw line, while limiting his turnovers (14.0% turnover rate, 280th best nationally) should optimize Bryant’s starting lineup. In addition, O’Shea can also stretch the defense with his perimeter scoring, much like teammates Maynard and Starks.
With a starting lineup featuring Maynard, Starks, O’Shea, Francis, and fifth year senior Claybrin McMath, it remains to be seen how the team will respond on the defensive side of the ball. The team’s lack of depth and athleticism in their first Division I postseason eligible season led to rather porous defensive effort, one that allowed opponents to score 107 points per 100 possessions. That ranked eighth among 12 NEC clubs last season.
O’Shea, however, is encouraged with the frontcourt depth he’s added, even if it’s unknown who will emerge to fill his bench minutes. Whoever rises to the top, whether it’s red-shirt freshman Andrew Scocca, sophomore Curtis Oakley or freshmen Ellis Williams, Daniel Garvin, and Bosko Kostur, O’Shea feels they’ll be better prepared to defend the paint.
The head coach agrees, “We needed to get bigger in the interior. Alex (Francis) used to score at will in practice. He has a hard time scoring in practice, because of the added size and length that we’ve brought in. There, at least, are those kinds of options where a year ago, there were no options.”
“The hardest thing is I’m going to get it down to eight or nine guys and three to four guys – who are legitimately good players – will have to wait until their time comes. That’s going to be the challenge chemistry wise.”
It’s certainly a good problem to have if you’re O’Shea, considering the Bulldogs had difficultly fielding a starting lineup of Division I capable players just two seasons prior. Now, as a preseason number two ranked team (tied with Robert Morris), Bryant is in a position they’ve never been in before. And they’re counting on the versatile Maynard to lead them as the facilitator.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride
Head Coach: Tim O’Shea, 5th year (20-99)
Last Season: 2-28 (1-17 NEC), ineligible for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 10th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Agressively improving
Key Players Lost: Ben Altit (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg)
Incoming Players: Curtis Oakley (F), Shane McLaughlin (PG), Andrew Scocca (PF/C)
Previous Posts: Bryant Recruiting Recap, Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs Ready to Make a Move
PG: Frankie Dobbs (13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 81.8% FT)
G: Dyami Starks (transfer, sat out last season)
G: Corey Maynard (11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 spg)
F: Alex Francis (17.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 51.2% FG)
F: Claybrin McMath (4.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
Key Reserves: Joe O’Shea (G), Raphael Jordan (G), Vlad Kondratvey (PF/C), Curtis Oakley (F), Shane McLaughlin (PG), Andrew Scocca (PF/C)
- Transition Over – After undergoing an arduous four year Division I transition period, Bryant is finally eligible to participate in the NEC postseason, should they qualify. The transition period made it nearly impossible for Tim O’Shea to recruit, but finally the Bulldogs can boast a lineup stocked with capable DI players. Of course, with two transfers and three freshmen added to the roster, it will take time to mesh all of the pieces together. The question of how quickly remains to be seen.
- Defend, Defend, Defend – Last season, the Bulldogs gave up a conference worst 1.10 points per possession. Whether it was the lack of depth or limited frontcourt options that served as the culprit to their lousy defense, O’Shea must find a way to prevent the opponent from scoring the basketball.
- The New Guys – If there’s one thing to be optimistic about, it’s the additions of transfers Dyami Starks (Columbia) and Joe O’Shea (Holy Cross). Both had notable high school careers, were moderately recruited, but then wasted away on the bench of their respective university when new coaches came in to replace the old coaches that originally recruited them. Now in Smithfield, look for Starks and O’Shea to have an immediate impact.
Lineup Analysis: The years of serving as the NEC’s doormat should end shortly, if not already. For the first time in five seasons, O’Shea has a roster full of competent DI players, which will allow Bryant to comfortably play 8-9 guys every game night. It all starts with the upperclassman trio of Alex Francis, Frankie Dobbs, and Corey Maynard. Francis and Dobbs had an all-conference type of performance last season, which hardly went noticed due to Bryant’s shortcomings as a team. Now with more depth in place, expect the talented trio to get the respect they deserve. Joining them is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks, whom O’Shea expects will start right away. Both Starks and Joe O’Shea, the head coach’s nephew, have the ability to drain the perimeter jumper and add another dimension to Bryant’s offense that was seriously lacking last season. Much of the team’s depth will rely on the development of freshmen Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca. Of the three, McLaughlin has the most promise early on, as he projects as the first guard off the bench backing up Dobbs and Starks. Oakley is an undersized forward who could have difficultly creating his own shot, but at least has the versatility and range to pull defenders out of the paint. Clay McMath, Vlad Kondratvey, and Andrew Scocca will patrol the paint, now that Ben Altit has left the team to serve for his native country of Israel. How this rotation merges is anyone’s guess, yet one thing is for certain, this is the most talented and athletic roster O’Shea has had the pleasure of working with since taking the Bryant job.
“When I took this job we targeted year five as a year we really wanted to come out of the gate and be as competitive as possible. It’s one of the reasons we sat some transfers out last year. As you might imagine it’s been very difficult to have no possibility of a postseason, especially in recruiting those early years. Who’s going to take a legitimate Division I offer where you can compete for a postseason where here you can’t. This is a big deal for us to get this postseason ban off our back.”
– O’Shea, on how difficult it’s been to lead Bryant into Division I basketball
Ryan – It may take some time for all of the pieces to fit, but when they do, the Bulldogs have the potential to pull off a major upset or two in the NEC. Bryant should take a step forward this season, but realistically the Bulldogs are probably at least a year away before they’re ready to join the middle of the pack in the NEC and become annual playoff participants.
John – The early season schedule is absolutely brutal, but if the Bulldogs can survive that, they might be the surprise team in the NEC this season. I think they were picked way too low. Dobbs and Francis are all-conference caliber players and, if coach O’Shea can continue to build around those two, it should make for a competitive season in the NEC.
Since taking on a full NEC schedule for the 2009-10 season, the Bryant Bulldogs have struggled mightily to compete with their conference foes – or any Division I foes for that matter – as they fully transitioned into DI basketball. The Bulldogs managed a meager nine victories versus NEC opponents in the past three seasons. It was, for the lack of a better phrase, a brutal stretch of basketball.
In fairness, there wasn’t much head coach Tim O’Shea could do, since most DI recruits were turned off by the prospect of not playing postseason basketball. Bryant, after all, needed to serve out their DI probationary period, as per NCAA rules, forcing the team to operate by a very thin margin last season. Thus, when Bryant’s third leading scorer, Corey Maynard, missed a majority of the conference season due to a foot injury, it led to a 2-28 debacle of a season.
The days of the Bryant Bulldogs serving as the NEC’s punching bag, however, may soon be over. All along, O’Shea was targeting this upcoming season when he signed his eight year contract in June of 2008.
“When I took the job, I initially targeted year five as a year where we could really hopefully make a move,” said O’Shea. “And I feel confident that, despite what we went through last year, that we’ll be able to (become competitive).”
With Bryant now fully integrated as a NEC school eligible for postseason play, fans have reason for optimism. For starters, Bryant is equipped with a very solid core of upperclassmen, led by junior Alex Francis and fifth year senior Frankie Dobbs. One glimpse at their statistics last season (Francis: 17.0 ppg/7.4 rpg, Dobbs: 13.4 ppg/3.5 rpg/4.6 apg/1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio) would probably generate a double take. Those numbers would have easily pushed both players into serious All-NEC second team consideration, if Bryant hadn’t finished last season ranked 333rd overall in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.
Nevertheless, O’Shea believes his team is in a much better position to compete with this year’s crop of incoming players.
“This is the first year I feel confident that when I look at my top 8 guys, they’re all legitimately DI players,” said an optimistic O’Shea.
Several newcomers are expected to significantly enhance Bryant’s offensive firepower and depth, yet perhaps the most important player of the bunch is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks. The explosive scorer begins his Bryant tenure with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“Truthfully, I think (Starks) has the potential to be an All-Conference player in the NEC,” said O’Shea. “He averaged 25 (points per game) against some pretty good teams over in Europe. He can really score. That’s something we didn’t have (last season); we had nobody in the perimeter that could score like him.”
Originally projected by some to be an All-Ivy League Rookie Team candidate, Starks fell out of Columbia’s rotation early, despite scoring double-digit points in five of his first seven games as a freshman. Now with an offseason under his belt to refine his game, O’Shea believes Stark’s strong work ethic and undeniable talent will open some eyes within the NEC. Just how talented is he?
“In all my years of coaching, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve seen and I’m talking guys like Preston Murphy, Cuttino Mobley, Troy Bell,” said O’Shea. “I’m not saying he’s the athlete some of those guys are, but in terms of shooting the ball, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve been around.”
Another transfer who will play significant minutes at the “3” is the coach’s nephew, Joe O’Shea. Listed at 6-foot-5, O’Shea should present match-up issues with his length, high basketball IQ, and excellent shooting range.
“He can really stroke it,” said O’Shea. “What he gives us is one of the things we really lacked last year; we weren’t a good three-point shooting team and here’s a kid that can really make threes.”
With a top 5 of Francis, Dobbs, Maynard, Starks, and O’Shea firmly in place, Bryant will look to their freshmen newcomers to bolster the team’s bench. Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca are all expected to compete for minutes right away.
Oakley profiles as a bulky wing, who can really shoot it from the perimeter. Oakley’s excellent body control and assortment of ball fakes and post moves should accelerate his development. McLaughlin brings a mental toughness to the team, and will be looked apon to backup Dobbs, Starks, and O’Shea most of the time. And finally, Andrew Scocca gives O’Shea a big body in the middle that Bryant so desperately needs. All in all, it’s a freshmen recruiting class O’Shea is really pleased with.
“We’ve really increased our basketball IQ, in terms of adding guys that know how to play, and that includes our freshmen,” said O’Shea. “These are guys that will get minutes for us this year and I think are pretty good players.”
O’Shea will look to employ a small lineup much of the time, unfortunately due to the unexpected departure of 6-foot-10 Israeli Ben Altit. Altit, who averaged 5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, left Bryant recently to serve in the Israeli armed forces. Typically, college students are granted deferments from serving, but with the recent political unrest in the Middle East, all deferments were waived immediately by the Israel government, thereby forcing Altit to defend the homeland, rather than DI big men. Hopefully, Altit will be safe and return to Bryant sometime down the road.
Even without Altit patrolling the middle, the new additions give Bryant a much improved roster. O’Shea seems to agree. “You’re going to see a very different Bryant team this year, very different in terms of talent, in terms of basketball IQ, and the ability to shoot the three.”
“It’s amazing in basketball, 1 or 2 good players can totally transform a team from where we were a year ago to a team that’s now a hard out every night, and that’s exactly what we’ll be. If it all comes together, it’s going to be an interesting year for us.”
The rest of the NEC should certainly take notice. In a league applauded for its recent improvement at the top of the conference, it’s the young team in the bottom tier that’s ready to play with the big boys. It’s going to be an interesting year for the Bryant Bulldogs indeed.
Bryant Bulldogs: 2-28 (1-17 NEC), Wasn’t Eligible for NEC Tournament
Players Lost: None
In their final season before qualifying as a fully integrated Division I program, the Bryant University Bulldogs staggered to a 2-28 season, with 19 of those losses coming by double digits. It was a rough four-year DI transition period, but with the Bulldogs finally through it, head coach Tim O’Shea can now target and sell recruits on an opportunity to play in a college postseason. Given their lack of success recently – an average of 5 victories the past four seasons – O’Shea has a difficult task of elevating Bryant to a respectable level.
Step number one for O’Shea and his staff – acquire multiple pieces with decent upside and begin to improve Bryant’s notorious depth problem. Last season, the Bulldogs were the only NEC team that had less than 5 players with an efficiency rating over 5.0. Alex Francis, Frankie Dobbs, and Corey Maynard were all productive, at least offensively speaking, but a huge drop off depth wise was evident beyond Bryant’s Big 3.
This recruiting class aims to change that.
Bryant’s 2012 freshman group begins with wing forward Curtis Oakley. If Oakley’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the nephew of former New York Knick (and Michael Jordan enforcer) Charles Oakley. Bloodlines aside, Oakley established himself as a versatile forward with solid skills both on the perimeter and in the post. Though undersized as a power forward, even by NEC standards, Oakley’s sweet lefty stroke and assortment of ball fakes and post moves should make him an awkward cover. He’ll have difficultly creating his own shot off the dribble and defending a true power “4” at the mid-major level, yet Oakley’s excellent body control and comfort on the perimeter gives him a chance to be an impact rookie.
Although Oakley somewhat helps Bryant’s inexperienced frontcourt, the true big man recruit of this class is 6-foot-8 center Andrew Scocca. Scocca, much like Tevin Falzon of Sacred Heart, played a season of post-graduate ball when he failed to land a DI offer after his senior season. Scocca is a hard-nosed competitor who should add much needed toughness to Bryant’s frontline. Scocca’s ceiling is limited due to his average athleticism, yet he could develop into a useful role player in the coming years for O’Shea. At this point, anything to improve upon a rebound rate that was in the bottom quarter of the NEC is welcome.
Finally, the trio of true freshmen ends with point guard Shane McLaughlin. The 6-foot-1 guard supposedly chose to attend Bryant over other interested Ivy and Patriot League schools. Whether it’s the right move for McLaughlin remains to be seen, although this NEC hater doesn’t like the guard’s decision to join a “mediocre school” one bit.
As a senior at Old Tappan High, McLaughlin was instrumental in leading his team as one of the best point guards in North Jersey. Twice, McLaughin was named to the All-Bergen County Team as a heady floor general who competed hard on both ends of the floor. McLaughin appears to be the next starting point guard when Dobbs graduates in a year, but for now, expect McLaughlin to be one of the first guards off the bench.
Another guard that could contribute right away is Holy Cross transfer Joe O’Shea. O’Shea is the nephew of head coach Tim O’Shea and was elected as Mr. Basketball of Vermont once upon a time. Despite the accolades, O’Shea was buried on Holy Cross’ bench by head coach Milan Brown (the former Mount St. Mary’s coach), who was brought in to replace the coach that recruited O’Shea. As a result, 6-foot-4 shooting guard transferred to Bryant and sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules.
Now as a Bulldog, O’Shea gets to show off his excellent range, and along with McLaughlin and Oakley, should help Bryant improve a pathetic 30.3% three-point percentage from last season. How O’Shea adjusts to the speed of the game is still the biggest question coming into his sophomore season.
The last newcomer is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks, a 6-foot-2 guard out of Minnesota. Starks burst onto the scene at Columbia, scoring double digit points in 5 of his first 7 games as a freshman. The fast start, however, was quickly extinguished and by season’s end Starks found himself playing little to no minutes per game.
Like O’Shea, Starks also enters Bryant with very good high school success. Scouting reports highlight Starks’ quick release and ability to score in a variety of ways. Once again, he’s another relative unknown, so it will be fascinating to watch if he and O’Shea adjust to the NEC game after failing in their first attempt at DI basketball.
Overall, coach O’Shea recruited a nice mix of players that should add capable bodies to his team. It remains to be seen if any of these newcomers will ascend into the NEC elite, or lead Bryant to an eventual NEC playoff berth, but there’s hope in Smithfield that things are moving in the right direction. After all, there’s really no direction for the Bryant Bulldogs to go but up.