Thoughts on CCSU: July 2019
It's hard to believe that the 4th of July has come and gone, which means the college basketball season is only four short months away.
Things have been pretty busy for the CCSU Men's basketball team. So of course, I have some thoughts. Let's get to it.
1. Donyell Marshall and his staff received two commitments over the past two weeks in 6’4” combo guard Jamir Reed and 6’10” center Olanrewaju Olamuyiwa (who will, henceforth, only be referred to on here as “Ola”). Reed, in particular, seems like a great get at this stage in the calendar. He was initially going to attend a prep school and reclassify to 2020, but ultimately decided to sign and enroll at CCSU this coming fall. A gifted scorer, he received offers from George Washington and Bowling Green this spring, and previously had offers from Kent St. and Hartford. This isn’t a “last minute flyer” like you often see during the summer. This kid should make an immediate impact.
2. The signing of Ola is interesting, and not because it means someone else is leaving the program (more on that in a minute). The coaching staff seems excited about him, based on their Twitter gif “war”, but I can’t help but be skeptical. I mean, who knows, the kid could come in and be the kind of rim protector Jare’l Spellman was for Sacred Heart this past season (at least eventually). However, a center in the new age of basketball has to show an ability to defend the pick & roll, which favors smaller/quicker interior players. Of the 64 NEC players who played at least 40% of their team's available minutes last season, just six were listed at taller than 6’8”; Deion Bute, Jare’l Spellman, Malik Jefferson, Mark Flagg, Patrick Harding, and Ty Flowers. And of those six, only Spellman and Flowers played more than 54% of their team’s minutes (Spellman is an elite shot blocker, while Flowers is a pick-and-pop guy, not a center). Again, Ola could be a rotation player from Day 1, and could develop into a stud in the NEC. But the track record for bigs at this level suggests otherwise. I’d love to be wrong, believe me.
3. So who’s out? According to Verbal Commits, there are now 14 scholarship players committed for 2019-20, and obviously that can’t be true (each D1 program has a maximum of 13 scholarships). The only returning scholarship players are Jamir Coleman, Ian Krishnan, Karrington Wallace, and Harrison Kay. The first three were rotation players last season (Coleman and Krishnan were starters), while Kay played sparingly. Of course, it could be that one of the incoming players are no longer attending CCSU. Absent reliable information, it’d be silly to speculate at this point.
4. The first three years of the Marshall era haven't exactly been fruitful, and he’s even on record as saying that he’s not happy with the lack of wins over the first three years of his head coaching tenure. But fans need to give him this; other coaches may have continued to go the JUCO route in building a program in order to try and chase wins, rather than a straight rebuild, especially given that he has two years remaining on his deal. Yet, that’s not what Marshall and his staff did. Instead, they are bringing in SEVEN (7) freshman, a JUCO sophomore, and a JUCO junior. Do the math, and that’s 11 underclassmen (Krishnan, Segwai, Wallace and Zach Newkirk are sophomores). That’s a straight-up rebuild, and something that fans should be giddy about. I remain super excited about Reed, Myles Baker and Trey Tennyson, and also am very intrigued about Xavier Wilson. That feels like a nucleus of players that can be built around, especially considering the return of Ian Krishnan. Will they take their lumps in 2019-20? Probably. But they will be one of the youngest teams in the entire nation, and if the staff can develop/keep them, it should pay off down the road.
5. This probably deserves its own post, but I'm taking the easy way out and including it here. Below is a graph of NEC team's men's basketball expenditures, with data pulled from the Equity in Athletics website.
At one point in time, the amount of money CCSU was investing into its men’s basketball program was consistently in the upper half of the NEC, including 3rd highest in 2004. And, it’s no coincidence that in the early part of the aughts, the Blue Devils were one of the winningest NEC programs, including NEC titles in 2000, 2002, and 2007. But since then, Central’s investment when compared to its conference rivals dropped precipitously. Let’s look at the average NEC budget when compared to Central Connecticut’s budget, shall we?:
That 2007 figure feels like an anomaly, but by 2010 CCSU’s expenses had cratered to nowhere near the league average. Meanwhile, schools like Mount St. Mary’s, LIU and Robert Morris, which have heavily invested in their programs, have experienced unrivaled success. Need more comparisons? Here are the total expenses over the past 8 years, dating back to 2010, for all current NEC programs:
No school has invested less in its MBB program over the past eight years than Central Connecticut St. Meanwhile, Mount St. Mary’s has invested almost THREE TIMES as much, while Robert Morris is well above double that of CCSU (including a shiny new arena).
So each time you feel the need to complain about the lack of wins during the Donyell Marshall era (or even the end of the Howie Dickenman era), feel free to criticize the State of Connecticut and the CSUS system as well. Because the lack of a competitive budget has seriously hampered the ability of the coaching staff to recruit and develop players.
6. It’s very interesting to me that Marshall, who last year spoke out against the use of analytics, spent a weekend in June down at George Washington with new head coach (and former Mount head coach) Jamion Christian. Christian is an “analytics junkie”, and it’s well-known that he’s had a Director of Analytics on staff since his Mount days. As a CCSU fan and self-described “stat nerd”, I’m hoping that this is a sign that Marshall may be embracing analytics, at least to the extent that his budget will allow him to. Information is good.
7. Speaking of the weekend spent at George Washington; it was also interesting to me that Jamir Reed was one of the first players offered by Jamion Christian upon being hired at GW, and that following week is when Reed committed to CCSU. It could be a total coincidence, but maybe not.
8. As we look toward the season, I’m very curious what will happen at the point guard position. Tyson Batiste is gone (he’ll be playing his final season at The Citadel), as is Will Ellis, while Thai Segwai struggled in his first season in New Britain. Zach Newkirk, a sophomore JUCO transfer, is undoubtedly going to be part of the rotation (coaches in general, and Marshall specifically, don’t bring in JUCO guys to sit the bench), while incoming freshman Javen Udofia will be in the fold. However, Segwai and Udofia feel more like depth/long-term prospects, not necessarily rotation guys next season. My hope is that the staff will experiment with playing one of Jamir Reed or Trey Tennyson (or both!) at the point guard spot, at least in a part-time role. I firmly believe the best way to winning games is by playing your best players, regardless of position. Who knows, maybe neither one is capable of doing it, but given their athleticism, I’d expect them to be able to make the transition given enough reps.
9. So what might a depth chart look like? Call this an somewhat educated guess:
Starters: Newkirk, Krishnan, Tennyson*, Coleman, Ayangma
Primary Reserves: Reed, Baker, Wallace, Wilson
Depth: Segwai, Udofia, Outlaw, Olamuyiwa
*I put Tennyson in here but I don’t feel confident about it. Could just as easily be Reed or Baker