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Thoughts on CCSU: First Impressions

On Monday Night, Central Connecticut opened its 2019-20 campaign with a 104-64 exhibition win over the Coast Guard Academy. Does the score mean anything? Not really; the Blue Devils overwhelmed Coast Guard with their size and athleticism, and it was clear from the jump that the Bears didn’t have the level of athletes to compete with a Division 1 team. Coast Guard couldn’t do much close to the basket (CCSU outscored them 52-24 in the paint), and the Blue Devils hammered them on the glass 48-24. CCSU scored 1.34 PPP (65.7% eFG%), and allowed just 0.83 PPP. BUT, that doesn’t mean there weren’t takeaways from last night.

1. Besides the first impressions of the newcomers (more on them later), the key takeaway from Monday night was the 77 possessions that this game had. Yes, Donyell Marshall finally has the horses to push the tempo, and it appears he’s going to do it (for reference; CCSU averaged 69 possessions per 40 minutes last season, and their highest was 75 in their win over Pine Manor College). The Blue Devils pushed the ball up the floor every chance they got (they outscored CGA 34-7 in Fastbreak Points), and there are multiple guys who can lead a fast-break. Will they be one of the more uptempo teams in the nation? Probably not (FWIW, FIU led the nation with 77.6 possessions/40 minutes), but they will get out and run when they can.

2. OK, let’s talk newcomers. Marshall started Zach Newkirk, Myles Baker, Jamir Coleman, Karrington Wallace, and Xavier Wilson (note: Ian Krishnan missed this game, it's unclear why). We’ll go right down the list in order of when they appeared in the game.

Zach Newkirk- 6’0” soph. PG- Newkirk appears to be a classic pass-first point guard, with an ability to push the basketball and find open guys. He came in with a reputation as a strong on-ball defender, and he did nothing to suggest that’s wrong. While he’s worked hard on his outside shot (he did make quite a few three-pointers in warmups), his lone 3-point attempt last night was an airball from the corner. What impressed me the most was that, for the most part, he seemed very in control; he had 4 assists against just 1 turnover, and attempted just three shots (making two of them) in 16 minutes of play. I fully expect him to be the engine of this team, playing 25-30 minutes per night at point guard.

Myles Baker- 6’2” Fr. Wing- We knew Baker was a major recruiting coup when he signed; he held offers from schools like Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis, Colorado St., Tulsa, Kent St., and Drexel. Now I see why after he scored 16 points in his debut, chipping in 5 rebounds and 4 assists against just 1 turnover. He’s got a smooth, controlled game, and is more athletic than he initially appears (though he did miss a transition dunk). He’s got a nice stroke, though it’s more of a set shot, and made 4 of 8 from deep. He did take a few ill-advised shots (he was 5 for 14 overall), but showed some versatility as he ran point for a few minutes, and has an ability to defend 1-3. I would not be surprised to see him on the NEC’s All-Rookie team, and he could contend for NEC Rookie of the Year, as he could put up some nice numbers (something like 12 ppg, 4 rpg, and 3 apg feels right to me).

Xavier Wilson- 6’7” Fr. Stretch-5- The first thing you notice about Wilson is that he’s a freaking Adonis; he’s listed at 210 lbs., yet he’s got these broad shoulders and hardly any body fat. When I saw he was starting I thought that maybe Ayangma has not been impressive during the early practices, but now I think it’s just that Wilson has been that good. Offensively, he showed a nice array of moves; he knocked down a long two during the first trip down, looked good around the basket, and even put the ball on the floor and hit a runner. He’s athletic with solid handle for a guy his size, and he has the ability to be a rim-runner; this is not a slow, plodding “big”. He was 0 for 2 from deep, but has a nice looking stroke and knocked down a higher percentage during warm-ups. Defensively, he finished with three blocks, though it’s hard to tell how much of that was due to the sheer size difference between him and the CGA frontcourt. He did only have three rebounds in 24 minutes, you’d like to see that number be a bit higher, but all-in-all he’s as impressive a freshman big that we’ve seen around these parts in a long time. Given his ability to play on the perimeter, he’ll be a difficult matchup for opposing NEC 5’s.

Trey Tennyson- 6’4” Fr. Guard- The first player off the bench, Tennyson committed way back in the spring of his junior year, so I’ve been following him closely for a long time. Here’s what I wrote back on May 1: “I can’t help but wonder if Marshall gives Myles Baker and/or Trey Tennyson some time at the PG spot. Time will tell”. Time did tell, because last night Tennyson saw significant minutes at both the 1 and wing (Nice job, Matt). Trey has a high arcing jump shot that I feel like could cause him to be somewhat inconsistent (he was 1 for 4 from three last night), but he does have a scorers mentality and looked to get the ball to the rim, including a nice finish through contact with his left hand. He showed nice court vision (3 assists), though was a little loose with the basketball, having his pocket picked twice (3 turnovers total). His size (he had 7 rebounds) and ability to handle the basketball is a luxury at this level, and he should see plenty of minutes at both the point and the wing.

Greg Outlaw- 6’4” Fr. Wing- So, here’s what I wrote about Greg Outlaw back on May 1: “Based on absolutely nothing but some amateur video scouting and reading between the lines, I can’t help but think it’s likely that Greg Outlaw and Javen Udofia are the long-term prospects in the bunch, while the other five incoming recruits will be rotation players in 2019-20”. So yeah, I was wrong about Outlaw. Perhaps the most impressive of the newcomers last night, Outlaw is a high-flyer who had two impressive dunks, one a straight-line drive down the middle where he dunked on at least two Coast Guard players, and another on a transition alley-oop from Thai Segwai.

That wasn't all, as he also knocked down a three-pointer (showing a nice looking stroke in the process), and appears to be a very good (maybe the team’s best?) perimeter defender. He finished with a team-high 17 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists (1 turnover), and 3 steals, and showed a little bit of everything. Sure, he won’t be able to overwhelm D1 opponents with sheer athleticism like he did on Monday night, but he’s deserving of significant minutes right now, especially if the Blue Devils continue to push the tempo.

Jamir Reed -6’4” Fr. Wing- While there’s multiple 6’4” freshman wings on the roster, they’re all a bit different. Tennyson is a high IQ scorer, Outlaw is an athletic freak, and Jamir Reed is more of a “point forward”. Listed at 200 lbs., Reed showed an interesting offensive game, making two three-pointers (in 3 tries), and also looking to distribute (4 assists, 1 turnover). Defensively, while he did chip in 6 rebounds, he got lost at times, and it’s clear that if he wants increased playing time it’ll come via an improvement on the defensive end. In the Blue Ribbon, Ryan Peters wrote of Reed: “…can create scoring opportunities with the ball in his hands. The Philadelphia native adds a dimension Kohl uniquely provided as a longer-framed point guard”. Yes! While he didn’t run the point, this was an apt comparison, and he will be a nice guy to provide instant offense off the bench.

Stephane Ayangma- 6’6” Forward- While I was surprised he didn’t start, Ayangma was the most efficient offensive player on the floor last night. He made all six of his field goal attempts (including a three-pointer and a couple of dunks) and had a team high 9 rebounds. Ayangma is incredibly athletic and long, and is the kind of player who will thrive in transition as a face-up 4 at the NEC level. While I do think there’s some redundancy with Jamir Coleman (both are bouncy and more comfortable on the perimeter), I do think they will be able to play together. However, coming into the season I thought he would be the ‘5’, and now I wonder if he’ll be able to guard NEC bigs. Either way, he’ll be a big-time contributor for the next two seasons, and provides some nice versatility for the coaching staff.

Ola Olamuyiwa (3 minutes) and Javen Udofia (1 minute) saw limited minutes last night, though Udofia did knock down a three-pointer in the first half. Both seem like bench depth at this point.

3. My biggest question for every team, every season, is at the point guard spot. Show me a good team, and I’ll show you a good point guard. Anyway, it’s clear from last night that the point guard depth chart is as follows: Newkirk, Tennyson, Baker, Segwai. Newkirk played just 16 minutes, while Tennyson probably played ~15 minutes at the 1 (21 total), Segwai played 7 minutes and Baker played the other ~2 minutes. I think Newkirk playing 16 minutes was more to see some of the younger guys run the point (Jamir Coleman played just 15, for what it’s worth), and it’s worth noting that Baker’s minutes at the 1 came prior to Segwai coming into the ball game. I’d expect Newkirk to play somewhere in the 25-30 minute range, with Tennyson picking up the rest of the minutes, and Baker being used there in a pinch (foul trouble, injury).

4. So what happens when Krishnan returns? I can’t say what Marshall will do, but if it were me, my starting lineup would be Newkirk, Krishnan, Baker, Coleman, Wilson. While Karrington Wallace looked good last night (10 points on 5-8 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks), having both Newkirk and Wallace on the court together means having two guys who don’t really stretch the floor, and I’m not a fan of that in this day and age. Who falls out of the rotation? That’s tough to say; last night nine players saw more than 15 minutes, and I have a hard time seeing Marshall play a 10-man rotation. I could see the starters above joined in the rotation by Tennyson (PG/Wing), Outlaw (Wing), Ayangma, and Wallace, with Reed being that 10th guy who is used for depth. That’s not a slight on Reed, they just have ten good players!

5. I loved how Marshall took Jamir Coleman out just 43 seconds into the game after Coleman was beaten twice defensively (one of the times he slipped on the floor, FWIW). Marshall told Ryan Peters in the Blue Ribbon Preview; “I think Jamir has to play better defensively, he has to rebound”. Do I think Marshall will yank him that quickly on January 2nd against Robert Morris? No, I don’t. But I like the message here; defend, or we will find someone who will. And it was clear from the jump that the defensive intensity has been turned up a notch, with more ball pressure and even some full-court pressure. Last season there was a severe lack of quickness; Tyson Batiste, Tyler Kohl, Joe Hugley, and Deion Bute, while they were good players, were not able to pressure the ball. This year’s team is different.

6. Of course, it was not ALL good last night right? Central turned it over 16 times (20%), which isn’t terrible, but when you’re playing a Division 3 team, it’s not what you want. Sure, some of those turnovers were late when the game was all but over, but they will need to learn to take better care of the basketball against Hartford next Tuesday night. Additionally, while I thought the defensive intensity was there, there were times where players seemed lost defensively, and it led to open Coast Guard three-pointers. Sure, that’s expected when you have ten newcomers, but better teams will execute when you make those kinds of mistakes.

7. A thing I did notice but can’t quantify; it appeared CCSU took significantly fewer mid-ranger jump shots than in years past. Sure, there were a few; Tennyson knocked down one as I mumbled “no”, as did Xavier Wilson the first time down the court. But their scoring output was as follows:

Points in the Paint: 52 (50%)

Three-Pointers: 36 (35%)

Free Throws: 8 (8%)

Other Two-Pointers : 8 (8%)

I would venture to guess that the Blue Devils took somewhere between 10 and 15 mid-range jumpers, which would amount to between 14% and 20%, which is significantly lower than where they were last year. Sure, against more athletic defenses they may have to settle more often, but I’d be willing to bet that the coaching staff is stressing more three-pointers and more shots at the rim.

8. Perhaps the most underrated thing about last night was the 27 assists on 42 field goals; that’s a high percentage! Plus, they came from multiple players; Baker (4), Newkirk (4), Reed (4), Outlaw (3), Tennyson (3), Coleman (2), Wallace (2), Segwai (2), Ayangma (2), Wilson (1). This is an unselfish team, with multiple players who can (and are willing to) create for others.

9. So what does this all mean for this season? I have a difficult time drawing grand conclusions from one blowout win over a Division 3 team, but I will say this; I do not believe CCSU will finish 11th in the Northeast Conference (though I picked them there and will not change that). Will they make the NEC Tournament? Ehhhhh…I could see them having a similar season to Mount St. Mary’s last season; the Mount, with a ton of underclassmen, finished 1-10 against D1 teams in the non-conference, then were 2-9 in the NEC on February 9th. However, they won 4 of their final 7 games, were a tough out in February, and appear to be heading in the right direction. I’m not sure there’s a player on the CCSU roster as talented as Vado Morse, but I think this freshman class is, overall, just as good as, if not better than, what Dan Engelstad had last season.

10. Long term, however, I’m fully on board. A lot can happen in two years, but no one will convince me that a rotation of Newkirk, Krishnan, Baker, Wilson, Wallace, Tennyson, Outlaw, and Reed (plus the inevitable JUCO big) won’t be a contender in two years. Sure, Marshall’s contract will be up soon, and we’re in an era where NEC stars tend to up-transfer with a high frequency, but we’ve got something to build on.

11. Detrick Gym thoughts: The new video screen is really nice, and it’s located on the GA side. I sat at mid-court on the opposite side and had a difficult time reading it, though students will love it. Additionally, there appears to be a new sound system located on the ceiling at center court, and while the VIP section is a work in progress, it looks like it will be really nice. A definite improvement all around.

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