When it was announced that Austin Nehls would be transferring from Central Connecticut State, it was a sad day at the TBDD headquarters. The sharpshooter from Arizona was a staple in the Blue Devils lineup; he played in 90 games across three seasons (starting 89 of them), averaging 11.5 ppg and shooting 36.5% from three.
The natural question back in March 2018 was; where is the three-point shooting going to come from? The Blue Devils were coming off a season in which they didn’t take a ton of 3’s (34.5% of field goal attempts, below the D1 average of 37.5%), and didn’t make many either (32.9%). Losing a guy like Nehls, who led the team with 67 made three-pointers (Hugley was 2nd with 44), was a major loss. Sure, he struggled mightily in NEC play last year. But there was every reason to believe he’d bounce back in 2018-19.
So three weeks later, when Ian Krishnan signed with Donyell Marshall and Central Connecticut State, things became a bit clearer. New England Recruiting Report described Krishnan as a “former two-sport athlete who brings a grid-iron like approach to the hardwood, this Maryland native isn’t just competitive, he’s also skilled as he can rain in threes from behind the arc with the best of them.” Sure, NERR is prone to hyperbole from time-to-time (hey, they pump up their guys! Can’t fault them for that), but Krishnan was ranked 54th in New England by NERR, which was two spots ahead of Sacred Heart’s stud point guard Cam Parker.
But could a freshman replace a guy like Nehls, who finished sixth in school history with 206 career three-pointers (in just three seasons)? Well, it turns out, yes!
While Nehls was a great shooter, he was never going to be cast as a “bucket getter”, or someone who could go make a play off the dribble. He needed to be run off screens, or have someone else break down the defense to get him open. Which is ok of course- not everyone is Tyler Kohl- but for a rebuilding team like CCSU, Nehls wasn’t a great fit.
In terms of usage (essentially the percentage of possessions that a player attempts a field goal, gets an assist, or commits a turnover), Nehls was 5th among rotation players last season at 14.2%. Kohl (30.1%), Hugley (25%), Bute (22.7%), and Mustafa Jones (19.1%) were all more involved in the offense than Nehls. It’s fair to say that, when he was on the floor, he was typically the 4th offensive option.
With Krishnan, that’s certainly not the case. Through 8 games, the freshman currently has a 19.5% usage rate, which is the 3rd highest on the roster behind Tyler Kohl (31.3%) and Joe Hugley (26.1%). Ahh, but higher usage often correlates with less efficiency, right? Yeah, usually. But check it.
While he’s playing fewer minutes (Nehls was on some teams with limited depth), Krishnan is outperforming Nehls in terms of O-Rating, despite having a significantly higher usage rate. What’s more, he’s shooting the ball better! Krishnan’s 53.9% eFG% is currently higher than any of Nehls’ three seasons in New Britain, and his 37.3% 3P% is better than Nehls in each of the last two seasons. Oh, and for good measure, Krishnan is shooting 82% from the free throw line. Nehls’ best season from the stripe was 81% as a sophomore.
Plus, Krishnan is a significantly better defender than Nehls ever was. Sure, we don’t have much of a sample size, and Krishnan did have a ton of trouble staying in front of James Blackmon of LMU down the stretch a couple of weeks ago, but Krishnan already has 10 steals on the season (1.1 per game), while Nehls had just 19 steals all of last season (0.6 per game).
This isn’t meant to be an indictment on Austin Nehls. As a CCSU alum, he represented CCSU with a ton of class (Dean’s List student, graduating in three years), and went through some tough times in a CCSU uniform.
However, the backcourt was a major question mark coming into the season, largely because Nehls chose to transfer to Ball State for his final year of eligibility. Eight games in, it's clear that Donyell Marshall's latest find is actually resulting in an improvement at the 2 guard.