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Thoughts on CCSU: 0-2 Start

The good news: Central Connecticut played two games last week! The bad news: they lost both. Central lost their opener at UConn 102-75, though it was a lot closer than the final score indicated, then lost to Army at Mohegan Sun's Bubbleville 79-57 in a game that didn't even feel that close. Is the start disappointing? Sure, a bit. In the first 20 minutes of their season, the Blue Devils looked like a team that could compete for an NEC title. CCSU faded in the 2nd half against the Huskies, then had a difficult time on both sides of the ball in the loss to the Black Knights.

I have lots of thoughts, and we'll start with the positive first.

1) The Huskies, which were picked to finish 4th in the Big East this season, were 26-point favorites in this one, yet CCSU kept it close in the first half, holding a 31-30 lead with about 6:30 left before halftime. How? With some hot shooting! On the game, CCSU made 8 of 17 from behind the 3-point arc (57.7% eFG%), and got some really good games from Myles Baker (17 points on 7-11 shooting), Jamir Reed (14 points on 4-5 shooting), and Karrington Wallace (14 points on 2-3 from the field and 8 for 8 from the charity stripe). Even Zach Newkirk got into the act, knocking down three mid-range jumpers. Finding guys who can compliment Ian Krishnan as scorers would be a major step in the right direction.

2) This is where we talk about shot selection; it wasn't bad! According to Shot Quality, CCSU's shot quality through the first two games was about "average". A quick little chart for your viewing pleasure:

The Blue Devils, at least through two games, are taking a higher percentage from their shots from "close range", or from behind the three-point line. That's a good thing! Now, the 25% share of mid-range shots is still too high (average last season was ~23%), but not all two-point jumpers are created equally. I can live with Karrington Wallace baby hooks in the paint, Zach Newkirk is 4-4 from the mid-range on the season (D1 players should be able to knock down elbow jumpers with ease), and almost any shot taken by Ian Krishnan is a good shot in my book (except maybe 18-footers off the dribble).

Were things perfect? No. There were plenty of instances where Blue Devils took bad shots that had me yelling at my screen (Xavier Wilson, Greg Outlaw, and Wallace were the primary culprits), but it's been an improvement for sure.

3) So what happened against Army? Well, on the offensive end CCSU just missed shots. It's tough to win games when you shoot 3 of 24 from three. Is it just one of those games? Probably. Central players missed some good looks, and how often will Ian Krishnan shoot 1 for 7 from deep? In fact, Krishnan, Reed, Tre Mitchell, Nigel Scantlebury, and Tre Mitchell have all shot better than 30% from three in college (Scantlebury and Mitchell at the JUCO level), yet those guys combined for 2 for 17. Blame the Mohegan Sun rims. I'm not worried about those guys' three-point shooting.

4) OK, let's get to the other side of the ball. CCSU's defense through two games can be described by one word: horrendous. Should we cut them some slack given the offensive options UConn has? The Huskies managed to score a whopping 1.37 PPP on opening night, though Hartford (CCSU's next opponent) held the Huskies to a respectable 1.07 PPP this past Friday. And who knows, maybe Army will run the table in the Patriot League, but allowing the Black Knights to score nearly 1.11 PPP is not ideal.

Through two games, CCSU has allowed their opponents to make 25-61 (41%), and that continues a concerning trend; in each of the past two seasons, the Blue Devils have allowed the most made three-pointers in the Northeast Conference. Last season, CCSU allowed opponents to make nearly 37% of their three-point attempts, which was 323rd nationally. After Army shot nearly 50% from three, I re-watched the game to try and find out why.

In my opinion, CCSU "over-helps" defensively, which is something I noticed last season; any time an opponent attempts to penetrate, an additional defender leaves his man to stop said penetration. We all learned this in grade school basketball; STOP THE BALL. However, in today's day and age where three-point shooting has become more and more prevalent (and more and more efficient), over-helping is often times the wrong play. Many of those who have researched this subject (like here) have concluded that, unless the driver is elite at getting to the rim or the man you're guarding is a poor shooter, it's better to live with a driving attempt than an open three.

In re-watching the Army game, I was surprised at how often, and how quickly, CCSU defenders were willing to leave their man to help on a potential drive.

Take this example here:

Josh Caldwell, #0, attempts to drive left toward the baseline. Now Caldwell is certainly more of a "slasher" than a shooter, and he was 55-94 at the rim last season. However, Greg Outlaw is one of CCSU's best perimeter defenders (maybe the best?). Baker, who is guarding Tucker Blackwell, sags toward the hoop.

Caldwell got nowhere as Outlaw beat him to the baseline, but Baker is now so far out of position that Blackwell is wide open.

Tucker Blackwell, who is a 37.2% career three-point shooter, missed this wide-open opportunity, but "process over results" people! Maybe this was miscommunication and Ayangma was supposed to come out on the shooter, but I'd rather live with Caldwell trying to take Outlaw 1-on-1 than have Blackwell get a fantastic look like this.

Later in the game, there was another instance of this sort of thing involving Baker:

Baker is guarding #13 Lonnie Grayson, who is a career 34.8% three-point shooter and probably Army's best offensive player.

Perhaps worried that 6'9" freshman Charlie Peterson was going to drive by Karrington Wallace, Baker sagged toward the middle.

If I'm Army head coach Jimmy Allen, the last thing I'd want is my freshman big putting the ball on the floor and trying to make a play from 18 feet away. Instead, Grayson gets a wide-open three pointer, as Newkirk was slow to get out to him (he made it).

I'm not trying to pick on Myles Baker here, as there were examples of other players doing similar things.

Here, Greg Outlaw drops toward the paint as Jalen Rucker penetrates past Newkirk. Ayangma and Krishnan are also in the paint.

Rucker is essentially triple-teamed, leaving Blackwell wide-open for another three-pointer.

Of course, if Blackwell didn't want the shot (he made it), he could have passed it to #24 Jared Cross, who was also wide-open on the back-side.

Another thing that CCSU does a lot of is double-teaming (or triple-teaming) the post. Here's an example of that:

Xavier Wilson, CCSU's 2nd best rim-protector, is guarding the big, while Mitchell and Baker drop to help. This is exactly what Army wanted; they don't take turn-around 12 footers. Get the defense to help off of their shooters, and go to work- it's what they did all afternoon.

The pass comes out to Cross, #24, and the CCSU defense is now all out of whack.

Army eventually swings it to that man, Lonnie Grayson again, who is wide-open for a three as Baker tries to come from the right block to the left wing to close-out.

There were plenty more examples of open Black Knight three-pointers due to Blue Devil defenders over-helping. If I'm an opponent scouting Central, I tell my guys to attempt to penetrate via the dribble every chance they get with the expectation that it will get me a wide-open three-point attempt.

It's also worth noting that the Army program is one of the more analytically-driven programs around (just 18% of their shots were from the mid-range, they finished 12th nationally in 2P% last season at 55%, and their 52.9% eFG% was 36th in the country), and assistant coach Zak Boisvert has been a regular on analytically-minded basketball podcasts such as Basketball Immersion and Solving Basketball. They want open threes (and shots at the rim), and have no interest in settling for two-point jumpers.

OK, I think I've identified a problem, but what's the solution? Well, for starters; doubling the post, unless there's a dominant big man is probably not efficient. I'll live with a 12-foot, well-guarded turn around jumper 7 days a week and twice on Sunday.

In regards to containing dribble penetration, Hoop Vision's Jordan Sperber has done a bunch of work on this in regards to "stunting", or a defender showing like they are coming to help, but then being able to recover back out onto their man. Here are a couple of examples:

Michigan St:


Marshall and each member of his staff have infinitely more basketball knowledge than I do, but it just feels like the CCSU defense has been too willing to help off shooters which has led to them giving up a lot of three-pointers. All I know is this; if they're going to lead the league in allowed three-pointers again, then they won't have an efficient defense. And if they can't be efficient defensively, they will have to have one of the league's most efficient offenses in order to get into the top 4 of the NEC.

5) In my season preview, I said that CCSU needed to see an improvement at the point guard position if they were going to make any sort of jump up the standings. Through two games, it's been Nigel Scantlebury as the clear starter, with Zach Newkirk as the back-up. Tre Mitchell has played a bit of lead guard, but generally he's been a wing.

Neither have been impressive from a statistical stand-point. Scantlebury's 25.3% usage is 6th highest in the NEC currently, and shows that he's got the ball in his hands with high frequency. The good: he's shifty and is the first CCSU point guard that I can remember who has the ability to get into the paint via the dribble and find shooters, and also finish in different ways; he's made a righty-floater, a lefty fall-away, and he's also shown a nifty spin to finish at the rim. He's got 6 assists through two games, and just looks comfortable out there. The bad? 7 turnovers in two games, and he's 0-3 from three, 5-12 from two. There's been sloppy play, some poor shot selection, and times where he's been out of control. However, I like what I've seen so far, and it's clear that the offense sees a clear drop-off when Scantlebury is taken out of the game.

As for Newkirk; Marshall stated in the pre-season how much better Newkirk has gotten, but through two games it seems like more of the same. He is 4 for 4 on mid-range jumpers (two of which were ill-advised) and 1 for 4 from three. That's fine; the problem is just two assists and four turnovers in 40 minutes. If there's some legitimately improved shooting there, that'd be great! But CCSU needs more play-making from Newkirk if he's going to spend half the game running the point.

6) Last week I wrote about Ian Krishnan, and how I really thought he was primed to have a huge season. So far he's 1 for 9 from downtown, and 4 for 18 overall (25% eFG%). Am I worried? Not a bit.

Krishnan has missed some really good looks (and also missed some not-so-great looks). However, it's such a small sample size at this point, that unless there's some injury there that we don't know about, I wouldn't be surprised to see him go 5 for 7 from deep on Friday at Hartford.

One aspect of Krishnan's game that I really like so far; he's gotten to the free throw line 8 times in 2 games (making 7). One of them was on a three-point attempt, but he's making a concerted effort to get to the rim (4 of his 18 field goal attempts). Again; Krishnan doesn't need to become a slasher, but if he can utilize the bounce more than he did in his first two seasons, it will keep the defense honest and get him more looks from three.

7) We're only two games in, but the depth chart has come into focus. Scantlebury is the clear #1 point guard, with Newkirk as the back-up. Krishnan leads the team in minutes (duh), while Tre Mitchell (49% of minutes, 2 starts), Baker (49% of minutes), and Outlaw (17 minutes against Army after missing the UConn game due to injury) are taking turns on the wing, with Jamir Reed also seeing time there.

What I've noticed up front is Marshall prefers to pair Ayangma and Wilson together, while bringing in Reed and Wallace off the bench at the same time. This makes sense; Ayangma and Reed provide some shooting, while Wilson and Wallace provide rim-protection.

I do wonder that, as the season goes on and they get into conference play, if the rotation will tighten up a bit. I know Marshall likes to go deep into the bench regularly, but in my opinion, playing guys like Scantlebury, Krishnan, and Reed more than 30 minutes per game would probably be best.

8) Karrington Wallace has been extreme-Karrington Wallace through two games. The 6'7" junior has been CCSU's most efficient offensive player, putting up a 54.5% eFG% while shooting 8 for 8 from the free throw line. He's also taken some questionable shots, like this one:

There were only 10 seconds left on the shot clock, but a 15-foot, well defended, jump shot is not efficient. That shot goes in, what, 30% of the time? He took a similar jumper against UConn as well but was bailed out by a foul.

I like when Wallace is able to get into the lane and use that little lefty baby-hook he's got. And of course he's solid around the rim. But these jump shots have me yelling at the screen.

Defensively, Wallace already has 3 blocks (an 8.2% rate, which is superb) but just 5 rebounds, including a 5.9% DR%, which is not superb, and he committed 4 fouls in just 20 minutes against UConn. Again, small sample size applies here, but CCSU needs him to be better on the boards.

9) Other interesting trends which may or may not mean anything;

Jamir Reed is 7 for 11 from the field, including 3 for 4 at the rim and 4 for 7 from three (just 1 mid-range attempt), and also has a 19.5% defensive rebounding rate. That'll play as a hybrid wing/4, and it's surprising to me that he's only averaging 26 minutes per game. I'd roll him out there for 35 a night.

Myles Baker was awesome against UConn; 7 of 11 from the field (2 of 3 from deep) for 17 points in 27 minutes. Then he put up a goose-egg against Army in 12 minutes, missing all three of his field goal attempts to go along with 2 turnovers. Consistency was an issue for Baker last season, but if he could be "instant offense" off the bench, that'd be huge.

Greg Outlaw made his presence felt in his first game back from injury. We've yet to see the improved jump shot (he was 0 for 2 from three and 0-2 from the foul line), but he was active in getting to the rim (5 for 7), and had a couple of offensive boards and put-backs. It's tough to play him a ton if he's not going to knock down perimeter shots (I'm a firm believer that you can't have two non-shooters on the floor at the same time in this era of basketball), but his athleticism and ability to defend is tough to leave on the bench.

The Blue Devils have definitely looked to push the tempo a bit more, especially when Scantlebury is in the game. After two games, their adjusted tempo is 73 possessions per 40 minutes, which is up significantly from last season (69.6). Is it real? Maybe! Neither UConn nor Army were above 70 possessions/40 minutes last season, so it's not like it was the result of playing an uptempo team.

10) As I mentioned earlier, CCSU will travel to Hartford to take on the Hawks on Friday at 6pm on ESPN3. UHart is 0-2 with losses to UConn (69-57) and Villanova (87-53), and take on Fairfield today (Wednesday). John Gallagher returns the majority of his rotation from a year ago, including point guard Moses Flowers, wing Traci Carter, and 6'9" stretch-4 Hunter Marks. Hartford should be a factor in the America East. Kenpom has Central as 7-point underdogs, with a 27% chance of winning.

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