Season In Review: St. Francis (PA) Red Flash

Rebuilding a program isn’t an easy thing to do, yet St. Francis University has seemingly been a part of the vicious cycle for several years running. In Rob Krimmel’s first season at the helm – after serving as a Red Flash assistant coach for 12 seasons – the NEC basement dweller struggled once again, yet there were some silver linings to be found. Two members of Krimmel’s freshmen class, Ben Millaud-Meunier and Stephon Mosley, were selected to the NEC all-rookie team. Millaud-Meunier, whose work ethic has been lauded by Krimmel, made 47% of his shots, with a majority of those coming from the perimeter. Sophomore Earl Brown, after an uninspiring rookie campaign, emerged as one of the best rebounders of the conference and took home the NEC’s most improved player of the year award. Only 13 players in the nation bettered Brown defensive rebounding percentage of 25.9%.

Several other underclassmen played significant roles on the rebuilding Red Flash, with more than 75% of the team’s available minutes falling to a freshman or sophomore. Perhaps due to the youth movement in Loretto, the inexperienced Red Flash dropped 19 of their first 20 contests, en route to another disappointing and ultimately uncompetitive season.

Injuries surely deserved part of the blame, with team star Umar Shannon failing to recapture his old magic a season removed from an ACL tear. As is the case for several athletes recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, Shannon had difficultly clearing the mental hurdle of trusting his knee when competing at full speed on the hardwood. It led to an inconsistent junior season, although Shannon will return next season to provide the senior presence Krimmel so desperately needs on this roster.

In addition to Shannon’s struggles, senior Anthony Ervin, arguably the second most valuable player of the 2011-12 season behind Scott Eatherton, saw limited playing time due to a nagging groin injury. His condition improved for the second half of the season, and not surprisingly, so did the Red Flash’s performance. They won four of their final nine games, which included a grueling double overtime loss at Central Connecticut that could have easily gone St. Francis’ way.

Best Moment – After slogging their way to a miserable 0-11 start, the Red Flash stunned the community by upsetting Central Connecticut, 67-60, in Loretto for the NEC opener. In the victory, Earl Brown corralled 25 rebounds, the most by any Division I player since the 2009-10 season. If Brown wasn’t the focal point of the opposition’s game plan before the victory, he certainly was now.

Worst Moment – As much as the Red Flash lost in the 2012-13 season, nothing really paled in comparison to the tumultuous offseason the program had to endure previously. Therefore, it remains perfectly logical to cite the Red Flash’s past offseason as their worst moment. In a span of two weeks last spring, St. Francis had parted ways with head coach Don Friday and budding star Scott Eatherton. Those chain of events essentially guaranteed the Red Flash would go through yet another rebuilding season, if not more.

Saying Goodbye

Anthony Ervin – On a team that sorely needed leadership, Ervin struggled to get healthy in his senior season. When he finally was effective for the second half of the season, however, Ervin averaged 7.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.4% from behind the arc. His graduation leaves a leadership void that will be transferred to Shannon, as the only senior who could receive meaningful minutes next year. (24 games, 4.5 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.8 apg)

Looking Ahead to the 2013-14 Season
With many assuming the Red Flash will once again struggle for relevancy, it remains plausible that Krimmel could begin to reap the benefits of having one of the youngest rosters in D-I basketball last season. By next November, Shannon will be two years removed from his knee surgery and could return to the form he once displayed as a promising sophomore. The soon-to-be-sophomore class of Ronnie Drinnon, Greg Brown, Mosley, and Millaud-Meunier will have another offseason to improve their game and provide an impact. Brown could emerge as the league’s best rebounder and double double machine with more work. It all adds up to an intriguing second year under Krimmel. With a little bit of luck in the injury department, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Red Flash sneak into the NEC playoffs for the first time in three years. A return to the upper echelon of the conference, however, is highly unlikely, even in a basketball climate full of parity.

Our NEC Midseason Awards

With most of the NEC teams having 15-16 games in the books, John and I felt it was a perfect time to unveil our NEC midseason awards. Selecting players for this honorable distinction wasn’t an easy task, given all of the parity throughout the conference. Nevertheless, we each listed our individual award winners, along with our first and second all-conference teams. Here we go. Continue reading “Our NEC Midseason Awards”

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