Thoughts on CCSU: After the UMass-Lowell loss
On Sunday, Central Connecticut State put together its best 40-minutes of basketball. No, it wasn't a good 40-minutes of basketball; they lost 73-71 at UMass-Lowell, which was just 2-5 against D1 teams coming into the game with a win over LIU and a loss to Merrimack. Was it a step in the right direction? Many will look at the score and say yes, but I'm not so sure.
1. Here's the thing about CCSU's loss on Sunday; the only reason they were even in that game was because Jamir Coleman shot the ball out of his mind; 12-16 from the field, including 11-13 from two (3-5 from the mid-range), and he got to the rim 8 times. Is that sustainable? Coleman had a 143 O-Rating on 29% usage on Sunday. Before that, his best O-Rating with a usage rate north of 25% was 125 last February in a loss to Wagner, where he scored 18 points on 6-11 shooting. What's more, Coleman had struggled through his team's first five games with an eFG% of 35.5%. What's more likely; i) Coleman is going to become a league POY candidate going forward; or ii) this game was an outlier? I'd lean Option B here.
2. Don't take the previous paragraph to mean that I don't think Jamir Coleman is a good player; quite the contrary, I think he has the ability to be one of the league's best players, which is why I get so frustrated with his play at times. He's 6'7", has a nice looking jump shot, and can jump out of the gym. But too often he disappears; he scored just 1 point at Arizona St., 2 points at UMass, and 5 in the season-opening loss to Hartford. Plus, he's blocked exactly zero shots this season, yet had a perfect opportunity late in the game yesterday to affect the game on the defensive end. With the clock under 10 seconds, Lowell's Obadiah Noel drove past Myles Baker for a layup, however Jamir Coleman rotated over and had a chance to make a play, but simply...didn't. I'm not sure if the fact that he had 4 fouls came into play there, but he's got to do something. Noel is just a 61% free throw shooter on the season, so there's at least a chance he misses both if Coleman ends up fouling him there.
3. OK, so how bad has the offense been? According to Kenpom, CCSU has the 347th rated offense according to Adjusted Efficiency (86.1 points per 100 possessions). And per Sports-Reference, Central Connecticut has a raw offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 75.7, which is third lowest in Division 1. Why? My eyes tell me there are three major issues with the offense: i) there’s a severe lack of ball and player movement on the offensive end; guys are catching the ball and not doing much with it. ii) When CCSU players drive, they’re largely doing it to create their own shot, rather than make a play for someone else. And iii) Poor shot selection.
The first two are difficult to quantify, however the third is not. So far this season, the Blue Devils are taking 27.7% of their shots from the mid-range, which isn’t crazy high (it’s the 146th highest, so fairly close to average). However, not all mid-range shots are created equally; an elbow jumper or an 8 foot baby-hook is not the same as a 15-foot runner or a 21-foot jumper off the dribble. So how can we quantify the poor shot selection? Because the Blue Devils are making just 25.6% of their “long twos” according to Bart Torvik, which ranks 338th (and that's after they made 7 of 17 from the mid-range against UMass-Lowell). Anecdotally, there have been plenty of examples of poor mid-range shots, specifically early in the shot clock, and it’s not just one or two players. Myles Baker (10.3%) and Jamir Reed (14.3%) are the only CCSU players taking less than 20% of their shots from the mid-range, and no one is shooting better than 40%. These are largely wasted offensive trips, and is contributing to the opponents transition offense.
4. The usual caveat: playing sports at the Division 1 level is hard, and all these players are incredibly good at basketball. With that said; the point guard situation at CCSU remains a major issue. Zach Newkirk, a sophomore Junior College transfer, has had a very rough start to his D1 career to say the least; his 57.8 O-Rating is 18th lowest in the entire nation, and that's at a minuscule 13.3% usage. Despite playing 25mpg, he's averaging just 1.8 assists per game, and he's got 14 assists against 20 turnovers. His eFG% of 41.1% is bolstered by making 5 of 12 from three, though his jump shot is kind of awkward and he's likely not a 43% three-point shooter going forward, and he's just 1 for 4 from the charity stripe.
What are the alternatives? Trey Tennyson, who has been the primary backup to Newkirk, has really struggled at the point; he's a natural scoring guard who is playing out of position, and he's got just 5 assists and 13 turnovers to go along with a 33.9% eFG%. Against UMass-Lowell, he played 10 minutes and was 0-2 from the field, 0-2 from the free throw line, had 1 assist and two bad fouls in the backcourt with UML in the bonus. Sure, he can shoot it (5 for 12 from three), but my eyes tell me he's struggling with the speed of the college game right now.
I understand that Marshall and his staff see these guys in practice every day, so they know their strengths and weaknesses much more than I do, but I wonder if it makes sense to give Thai Segwai more minutes at the 1. Yes, he struggled as a freshman last season, but is he better than Newkirk? Peep this:
Segwai was much better last season than Newkirk has been this year, though in much less playing time, and anecdotally he seems more willing to use the dribble to get into the lane and make a play. Am I suggesting Segwai should suddenly be a 30mpg guy? No, and I get that Marshall is still trying out different lineups. But I'd love to see Segwai get a bit more run with the first team, while also rolling with a combination of Baker and Reed as co-point guards; neither guy is a true '1', but a lineup of Baker, Reed, Outlaw, Coleman, and Wallace (when healthy) would give the team plenty of ball handling, shooting, and perimeter defense.
5. Greg Outlaw, the reigning NEC Rookie of the Week, has tremendous potential. He's a freak athlete with an ability to finish at the rim and defend the perimeter, and he's a solid ball handler as well (the only CCSU player with a positive Assist/Turnover ratio). But he's a freshman, and he plays like one. His shot selection is questionable at best; the mid-range jumpers and runners need to stop (he's made just 5 of his 28 'long twos'), and on Sunday he committed two fouls about 50 feet from the basket. His jump shot also needs work; he's got plenty of lift on his shot, but from my vantage point it's too flat. If he could become a ~30% three-point shooter (he's just 1 for 7 this season) and focus on finishing at the rim in transition and on straight line drives to the hoop, he could find himself on the NEC All-Rookie team.
6. The rest of the newcomers have each had bright spots, but also need a lot of development. Myles Baker has a nice looking jump shot (36% from three), but he's just 4 for 16 at the rim and has 18 turnovers in seven games...Jamir Reed is shooting 31% from three and is tied for the team lead with 15 assists, but I'd love to see him be more aggressive offensively...Xavier Wilson had his best game of the season on Sunday (4 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 0 turnovers), but on the season he's just 3 for 13 from three and 1-8 from the free throw line, and his 12.6% defensive rebounding rate is significantly below the other bigs on the roster...Ayangma has been the team's 2nd best rebounder (behind Wallace), and also has a team-high 48.9% eFG%. However, he's not a '5' defensively, and his jump shot his inconsistent.
7. It’s certainly easier said than done, but I would love to see Marshall go all-in on three-point shooting. So far, Central is shooting 32.9% from three, which is essentially average (D-1 average is 33.0%). However, just 32.7% of their shots come from deep, which is well below the average of 37.5%. Given that they really haven’t had success getting the ball inside (they’re shooting just 45.7% at the rim, 8th worst in the nation), and they have a bunch of competent shooters, why not just go with the bombs away approach from the outside? Marshall could roll with a lineup of Baker (36%), Reed (31%), Outlaw, Coleman (34% last season) and Ayangma (40%), spread out the defense, and continually look to penetrate and kick the ball out. No, C.J. Jones wouldn’t like it, and it’s probably not the best way to try and win an NEC Championship, but it could result in more success offensively than what they’ve seen so far this season.
8. What will the rotation look like when Ian Krishnan (academically ineligible) and Karrington Wallace (injury) return? Personally, I'd entrench Jamir Reed and Myles Baker as my primary point guards going forward, with something like this:
PG: Reed/Baker (30 mins total), Newkirk/Segwai (10 mins total)
Wing: Outlaw (30), Krishnan (30), Reed/Baker (20 mins total)
Big: Coleman (30), Wallace (20), Ayangma (20), Wilson (10)