Games 22 & 23: St. Francis-Brooklyn and Bryant
St. Francis-Brooklyn Terriers (5-3) at Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (2-6): Thursday at 7pm in New Britain, CT
Kenpom: CCSU 71-70 (50%)
Bart Torvik: SFC 71-70 (51%)
Bryant Bulldogs (4-4) at Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (2-6): Saturday at 3:30pm in New Britain, CT
Kenpom: CCSU 77-70 (75%)
Bart Torvik: CCSU 78-71 (77%)
About St. Francis-Brooklyn
The second place Terriers come into Thursday’s game the winners of 4 out of their last five games, and 6 of their last 8 (and the losses were by a total of 5 points). Not too shabby!
SFC has been consistently good all season, especially away from home; they picked up three road wins in the non-conference (Lafayette, Niagara, and Presbyterian), and are 3-3 on the road in the league.
Glenn Braica has done it by building perhaps the quickest backcourt in the Northeast Conference. It starts with 5’11” senior guard Glenn Sanabria, who is the steady leader of this team; he’s averaging 14.1 ppg in conference play, is shooting 40% from three, and has a miniscule 13.3% turnover rate (especially considering how frequently the ball is in his hands). Jalen Jordan, a 6’3” sophomore, has become one of the most reliable perimeter players in the league this season. After shooting 41% from three as a freshman, he’s at 42% this season (39% in NEC play), and has seen his efficiency improve despite increased usage (16.6% in league play last year, 23.2% this year). One aspect of his game that has improved is his ability/willingness to attack the rim; he had 65 free throw attempts in 29 games last season, and has already exceeded that number (81 attempts) in 10 fewer games.
And then there’s Chauncey Hawkins. The 5’8” dynamo is 3rd on the team in scoring (11.1 ppg overall), though he leads the team in usage (28.7%) and has had some monster games in wins this season; 23 points vs. Sacred Heart, 27 points against Presbyterian, 22 at Niagara, and 26 against Lafayette. While he’s struggled in converting inside the three-point line (35% on twos), he’s aggressive and ends up at the foul line a ton. Seems like NEC teams have success with under-recruited smallish guards. Go figure! It’s worth noting that Hawkins has missed the Terriers last three games due to an unspecified injury, and his status for Thursday’s game remains up in the air.
Lest one think that it’s all about the guard play, Braica brought in some size from the JUCO ranks, namely 6’8” Deniz Celen and 6’6” Yaya Evans. Celen currently leads the league in offensive rebounding rate, and is shooting a cool 72% from inside the 3-point arc. As a team, the Terriers are 3rd in NEC play in converting two-pointers (51.1%), thanks in large part to Celen and 6’5” JUCO transfer Rosel Hurley, who has made 61.2% of his opportunities.
Defensively, Braica’s group does one thing incredibly well; defend the three-point line. SFC is currently allowing the fewest percentage of three-pointers taken (31.4%), and also holding teams to just 24% from three. That’s some next-level perimeter defense. (It’s worth reiterating for those of you who think having taller guards make it difficult for opponents to get clean looks, SFC’s backcourt typically goes 5’8”, 5’11”, and 6’3”.)
The Bulldogs currently sit 4-4 in league play, but it is a bit deceiving; they’re the only team that has played six of their eight games at home, and they have a negative 6.8 Efficiency Margin in league play thanks to some blowout losses (98-70 at SHU, 79-65 vs. RMU, and 78-63 vs. FDU). But here’s the thing with Bryant; when their offense is clicking (like it was last weekend against SFU, scoring 1.14 PPP), they can pull off some upsets. But when it’s not, their defense doesn’t have the ability to keep them in the game, as they are allowing 108 points per 100 possessions, which is 2nd worst in the conference.
Not much has changed since our preview of last week’s game, so there’s no point in regurgitating information I’ve already typed. But I will say this; SaBastian Townes is a dude. In their win over CCSU last weekend, he had 18 points including the game-winning three-pointer with 6 seconds left, and chipped in 7 boards. But he does more than that; at just 6’5” he’s able to play both the 4 and the 5, and certainly provides matchup issues for opposing defenses. Another guy who was impressive was freshman guard Joe Kasperzyk. He’s got a nice combination of ability to penetrate, as well as knock down perimeter shots.
Beginning with Thursday’s road game against Wagner, Bryant will play four straight away from home, as well as five of their next six, including the western PA trip and Sacred Heart. It could be a rough road ahead.
Things to Watch
Can CCSU make shots?
Here’s a little comparison:
Note: A 59.0% eFG% would place a team 5th nationally. 44.1% would be 342nd (out of 353 teams).
Give up? Team A is Central Connecticut State over their first 7 games. Team B is CCSU since then (excluding non-D1 games).
Let’s look at the breakdown of those shooting percentages (courtesy of Bart Torvik):
With hindsight, it’s clear that the team’s shot-making in November was unsustainable, especially considering that they were attempting two-point jumpers almost 26% of the time, which is slightly more than average. However, it’s not like the offense is good at other things; while they actually lead the league in turnover percentage (who saw that coming?), there’s a general absence of play-making, and they are 8th in offensive rebounding. Essentially; if they make shots, they have a chance of having an above average offensive night (like they did at FDU and Mount St. Mary’s). If not? No shot.
What’s gotten into Tyler Kohl?
The last four games of CCSU’s season have been the worst four games of Tyler Kohl’s career as a Blue Devil; he’s just 15 of 60 from the field, essentially refused to shoot in the loss to RMU, and has picked up technical fouls in each of the last two games.
In conference play, it’s been clear that opposing defenses have had one goal; take Tyler Kohl out of the game. They are double teaming him every chance they get (or denying him the ball), which wouldn’t normally be such a problem given his passing ability. However, one thing I’ve noticed is that, especially in ball screens, whoever is guarding the point guard (Batiste or Segwai) has been able to cheat middle in order to make up for the double-team. Essentially teams are leaving the Blue Devil point guard open, aware that neither guy looks for his offense much.
The other thing I’ve noticed? Kohl is really struggling to score in the paint. After his hot start, his shooting numbers are down across the board, and it’s no more evident than his ability to make layups; after making 60.5% of his shots at the rim a year ago, he’s down to just 44% on such shots. Against LIU on Saturday, he was just 3 of 13.
Defending The Three
You know a sure sign of a team that struggles to defend the three-point line? No, it’s not allowing teams to shoot 36% from deep (though CCSU does do that). It’s fouling three-point shooters to the tune of 10 times over a five game stretch!
But seriously, the Central Connecticut defenders are consistently one step late in getting out on shooters. Well, both teams they play this weekend can knock ‘em down; SFC is making just 31.4% of their threes in conference play, but is shooting 33% on the season. Plus, they have those ultra-quick guards who have the ability to get into the lane, draw help defense, and kick out to open shooters.
Meanwhile, Bryant made nine of their 25 three-point attempts last Saturday, and currently lead the league in 3-point shooting at 33.1%.
In a little over two months, Central Connecticut has just three D1 wins, two of which were in overtime, and the third over the team currently ranked #326 in Kenpom. Since November 29th, they’ve dropped a whopping 62 spots in Kenpom (from 238 to 300), and have been called out by their coach for “b*tching and moaning”. It's been a tough road to say the least.
Can Donyell Marshall get this thing turned around? He continues to say all the right things ("The message is that we believe"), but I see no evidence that a bounce back is coming.
A concerning trend: In 2017-18, CCSU began the season at #342 in Kenpom, moved all the way up to #266 after winning their first conference game against St. Francis University, then ended up at #307. This year's Blue Devils have followed a similar path. For whatever reason, they have been much more successful in non-conference play than during the NEC slate.
If they are going to get back into the thick of things, they essentially need to sweep the week. And if Central loses to St. Francis-Brooklyn on Thursday, it sets up a likely MUST-WIN on Saturday, as they’re chasing Bryant for the final playoff spot. Getting swept by the Bulldogs would have dire tie-breaker consequences.