Games 24 & 25: The Pennsylvania Trip
Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (4-6) at St. Francis University (6-4)
Thursday, 2/7, 5pm, at DeGol Arena, on ESPNU
Kenpom: SFU 78-73 (68%)
Bart Torvik: SFU 80-73 (74%)
Central Connecticut St. Blue Devils (4-6) at Robert Morris Colonials (7-3)
Saturday, 2/9, 4pm, at North Athletic Complex, on NEC FrontRow
Kenpom: RMU 71-64 (72%)
Bart Torvik: RMU 71-63 (81%)
About St. Francis University
The Red Flash come in the winners of three straight, and two of those were one possession wins over Sacred Heart (at home) and Robert Morris (on the road). However, those big wins have masked a disappointing campaign thus far for Rob Krimmel; SFU was essentially a unanimous pick to win the league in every pre-season poll, and reached as high at #167 at Kenpom back in November. However, after some difficult though expected losses in the non-conference, SFU started out 3-4 in the NEC with home losses to Fairleigh Dickinson (by 18 points) and Wagner, and also lost to Bryant and St. Francis-Brooklyn on the road.
The culprit has largely been a defense that has allowed teams to get whatever they want inside the paint; they’re allowing teams to shoot 55% on two-pointers, and are allowing 106 points per 100 possessions in league play, 2nd worst in the NEC.
On the flip side, man can they score it. The Red Flash is currently averaging 107 points per 100 possessions, the 2nd highest output in the league thus far, and after a somewhat slow start are shooting 37.3% from three (2nd in the NEC). Isaiah Blackmon, who appears healthy after missing last season with a knee injury, is shooting a team best 41% from deep in conference play, while Jamaal King is shooting 36% from three and Andre Wolford is knocking them down at a 33% clip, though he’s 15 for 25 over his past six games dating back to the first meeting between these two teams (he was 5 for 11 that day).
The biggest change over the past few weeks is that Rob Krimmell has gone back to his 4-guard lineups, with NEC MVP candidate Keith Braxton at the 4. That is what worked for SFU last year when they finished 12-6 in the league, yet this season their lineups had been more “traditional”, opting for two bigs (Laporal/Flagg at the 5 and Myles Thompson at the 4). Over the past three games (all wins), Krimmel has played a 4-guard lineup for over 30 minutes a game, and it seems to be working.
SFU continues to be led by Keith Braxton, who is averaging a cool 17.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 3.8 apg in league play, and is undoubtedly one of the top three players in the league. Jamaal King (15.1 ppg) and Isaiah Blackmon (11.5 ppg) are the other double-figure scorers, while Andre Wolford (8 ppg) can light it up in a hurry, as he did in Detrick Gym earlier this season.
About Robert Morris
Robert Morris, on the hand, has had nearly the opposite season as St. Francis U. The Colonials were picked to finish 5th in the pre-season coaches poll, then were mostly “ok” in the non-conference, dropping to as low as 295 in Kenpom after a blowout loss at Rider on 12/15. Since then, however, it’s been a steady climb to #231 prior to last week’s home loss to the Red Flash, and first place in the Northeast Conference.
And they’ve done it in a completely different way than SFU; with defense. Andy Toole has done what Andy Toole does- he’s gotten his team to defend at a high level, allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions, 2nd in the league behind SHU (at 96.2), though their adjusted defensive efficiency is easily tops in the NEC. They lead the league in turnover rate (by far), and have held teams to 34.4% from three.
Offensively it has been a struggle, though they may be figuring things out. Despite two losses last week, they averaged ~1.12 PPP, though neither SFU or FDU are particularly known for their defense. While they’ve shot the ball decently, where they’ve been able to have success is on the offensive boards, as they lead the league with a 33.5% offensive rebounding rate. They’ve also found something in senior forward Malik Petteway, who is averaging 11.7 ppg in conference play in just 21 mpg, and has scored in double figures in 9 of their 10 league games. Akron transfer Josh Williams has also continued to play well, averaging around 14 ppg on 35% from three.
Things to Watch
Kohl Being Kohl
Tyler Kohl is coming off a week in which he averaged 26/12.5/4.5 and shot 19 of 22 from the free throw line in wins over St. Francis-Brooklyn and Bryant, earning him NEC Player of the Week honors for the 5th time this season. However, things haven’t been great for Kohl in NEC play. He has an eFG% of just 37.6% (it was 49.4% in NEC play last season), and is shooting just 28% from three. Plus, there was the now infamous loss to Robert Morris at home, in which Kohl took just two field goals and sat the bench for the final 7 minutes of the game. Kohl said he was "in his feelings", which is not a good look for a senior leader.
With that said, this team will only go as far as Kohl leads them. He has the 2nd highest usage rate in the league behind LIU-Brooklyn’s Raiquan Clark, he’s second in the league in rebounding at 8.8 rpg, and 2nd in assists at 5.7 apg. Simply put, the Blue Devils need Tyler Kohl to be Tyler Kohl in each and every game.
On Wednesday, CBS’ Matt Norlander released his weekly court report, and in it he discussed North Carolina St.’s penchant for being foul prone, dropping this nugget: There isn’t a team in the top 70 in total fouls this season that projects as an NCAA Tournament at-large candidate. No, that has no bearing on any NEC team; it’s obviously win the conference tournament or bust. However, the larger point remains; fouling is not a good way to win basketball games.
Well, CCSU is 26th nationally with 468 fouls this season (~20.3 fouls per game), with Deion Bute again being one of the most foul prone players in the league (5.4 fouls per 40 minutes in league play). But he’s not alone; Thai Segwai (6.1 fouls per 40 minutes), Karrington Wallace (5.7), Tyson Batiste (4.8), and Kashaun Hicks (4.4) have all struggled to avoid foul trouble (interestingly, Joe Hugley has been able to almost completely curb his fouling issues, as he’s averaging just 3.8 fouls per 40 minutes in conference play 4.2 overall).
What’s the reason? My theory is that Central defenders are consistently over-matched in terms of quickness, and while they usually have significant size advantage, teams are able to use dribble penetration to get them on their heels.
CCSU needs Deion Bute on the floor for as many minutes as possible, especially if Joe Hugley is not back in uniform. They really can't afford him to pick up to quick fouls like he did on Saturday against Bryant.
Tyson Batiste’s leadership
Last weekend, Donyell Marshall went with a different starting lineup for the first time all season, replacing Tyson Batiste with Kashaun Hicks?
Why? Well, for one, because Batiste suggested it. If you haven't read Patrick Gustavson's piece in The Recorder, go check it out, but in short; Batiste thought that Kohl is more comfortable with the ball in his hands, so putting another shooter on the wing is more important than having another point guard on the floor.
He's not wrong; in fact, given Kohl's passing ability, the more spacing you give him the better (which is why Hugley returning is so important).
But kudos to Tyson Batiste, who has continued to show leadership and effort despite a disappointing offensive season.
Containing SFU’s Dribble Drive
As mentioned above, Rob Krimmel will likely throw out a 4-guard lineup for the majority of the game on Thursday night, almost all of whom have the ability to get into the paint via the dribble.
Perhaps Marshall opts to play a zone to try and limit the penetration, however the Red Flash are 2nd in the league in three-pointers made with 7.9 in conference play.
RMU on the Boards
After struggling on the defensive boards in non-conference play, no NEC team has limited offensive rebounds as well as CCSU has since the calendar flipped to 2019; they’re allowing opponents to grab just 26.5% of their misses. And a big part of that has been Jamir Coleman, who stepped up in the absence of Joe Hugley last week and averaged 7.5 defensive rebounds per game (10 rpg overall).
In the first matchup in New Britain between these two teams, the Colonials managed just six offensive rebounds (18.2%), which is well below their season average of 33.5% in league play (tops in the NEC). CCSU will need to contain their offensive rebounders, namely Malik Petteway, Yannis Mendy and Charles Bain, on Saturday afternoon.
Ugh, the dreaded western Pennsylvania road trip.
Before anyone starts talking about either of these games being “must wins” for Central Connecticut, I’d suggest you go read my map here regarding the path to getting in the NEC Tournament. Simply put; this is going to be a tough week for the Blue Devils. Kenpom gives CCSU a 60% chance of picking up one win, and they are significant underdogs in each.
However, wild things happen, especially in the Northeast Conference in 2019. SFU has home losses to Wagner and Fairleigh Dickinson, and oh by the way Central was up eight on the Red Flash early in the second half before everything went to hell. And Robert Morris is really good, but they’re not infallible. Get hot from outside and you never know what can happen.