This is the eighth of 10 NEC previews before the season starts. You can find links to the first seven at the bottom of this post.
Head Coach: Tim O’Shea, 7th season (67-125)
Last Season: 18-14, 10-6 (NEC), Lost in NEC tournament first round to SFU, 55-54
NEC Preseason Poll: 6th out of 10 teams
State of Program: Contender
Starters Returning: 3
Key Loss(es): Alex Francis (18.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 57.7% 2PT), Corey Maynard (13.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.3 apg, 82.6% FT)
Incoming Players: Hunter Ware (G), Zach Chionuma (G), Angus “Gus” Riley (PF), Blake McBride (SG)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Shane McLaughin (4.0 ppg, 2.6 apg, 63% EFG)
SG: Dyami Starks (18.8 ppg, 36.8% 3PT, 86.0% FT)
F: Joe O’Shea (9.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 56.1% 2PT, 114.8 ORtg)
PF: Dan Garvin (6.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 50.9% 2PT, 7.0% block rate)
PF: Gus Riley (freshman)
Key Reserves: Hunter Ware (G), Zach Chionuma (G), Ellis Williams (PF), Curtis Oakley (F)
It’s a question Big Apple Buckets seemingly asks Tim O’Shea each preseason, and every time the long-time head coach gives the same answer. Is this the deepest team Bryant has ever had in its Division I history?
“This is the deepest team we’ve had,” O’Shea answered at NEC Social Media Day a couple of weeks ago. “We lost two good players but in terms of being able to play 8 or 9 (players), we could. And if we had an injury, I think we can handle an injury a lot better than we handled it before.”
In their past two seasons, Bryant has won 37 games, 22 of those victories from inside the conference. The Bulldogs have graduated two terrific all-conference contributors, Alex Francis and Corey Maynard, and yet, O’Shea truly believes his blossoming program is in the best shape it’s ever been.
Much of that belief derives from the exceptional talent entering the Smithfield, Rhode Island campus. Two freshmen, Hunter Ware and Gus Riley, and one transfer, Zach Chionuma are slotted into O’Shea’s short rotation building critical depth around the Bulldogs’ upperclassmen.
Ware and Riley have been highlighted as Big Apple Buckets top impact freshmen, and with good reason. Ware’s toughness and ability to score, along with the pedigree, makes him a realistic candidate as the next NEC Rookie of the Year. Gus Riley, however, is the major surprise of the group. The 6’8” stretch forward from New Zealand has impressed the coaching staff, so much so, that Riley will likely be in Bryant’s starting lineup at UConn on November 14.
“Gus Riley is a kid that can really shoot the ball,” O’Shea said. “He’s perfect for that position for this team. He can pass the ball, shoot it, he knows how to play, he makes the other guys click. He’s a real difference maker.”
Riley will be slotted alongside one of the more intriguing talents in the conference, Daniel Garvin. The athletic forward was coming into his own as a freshman, averaging 7.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 1.9 bpg in his last 13 contests before falling ill with mononucleosis and missing a month of the season. If he stayed healthy, the NEC Rookie of the Year award was absolutely within his reach. Now back to full strength, Garvin will attempt to replace the production lost from the graduation of Francis.
In the backcourt, the Bulldogs are deeper and more athletic with the additions of Ware and Chionuma, formerly of Boston University. Chionuma scored a team high 17 points in Bryant’s exhibition victory over St. Francis Xavier, while Ware scored 12 points and dished out four assists without committing a single turnover. Their insertion into the lineup not only builds backcourt depth around Dyami Starks and Shane McLaughlin, but also adds defensive toughness and versatility.
Last season, Bryant struggled to defend the perimeter, allowing NEC opponents to shoot 38.1% from behind the arc. Their average at best turnover rate (18.5%) and steal rate (8.7%) on defense didn’t do enough to generate easy baskets in transition. The latest infusion of talent has O’Shea hopeful that Bryant will emerge as an above average defense.
Under O’Shea’s system, though, it all comes down to putting the ball in the basket, something the Bulldogs have excelled at in recent years. Last season, they led the conference at 1.11 points per possession, thanks to a league leading effective field goal percentage of 53.7%.
“I think this is a group that can really play offensively — especially that starting five we have — move the ball exceptionally well and really know how to play,” O’Shea Said. “It’s been a fun group to coach so far. The energy in practice has been really good.”
The offense is built around the team’s lone two seniors, Starks and Joe O’Shea. Starks finished third in scoring last season (18.8 ppg) behind two all-conference first team recipients, Karvel Anderson and Sidney Sanders, Jr. Now as the highest returning scorer, the fifth year senior will be aiming to add a NEC championship to his impressive resume.
O’Shea, the coach’s nephew, serves as the ultimate glue guy for this roster. While he may not possess an elite skill, he does everything well. Last season he was nationally ranked, according to KenPom, in effective field goal percentage (54.2%), offensive rating (114.8) and turnover rate (13.7%). As one of the leaders of this team, it’s also fair to expect an uptick in O’Shea’s scoring.
Collectively, the Bulldogs have a chance to achieve the next goal of a NEC championship. Tim O’Shea echoed that sentiment.
“I like our chances. I think this team has a better chance, going into it at this point, to win the whole things than maybe a year ago. I believe that, I really do.
Starks, a selection to the NEC’s preseason all-conference team wholeheartedly agrees, “I think that collectively, we are going to surprise a lot of people.”
Ryan — Since Bryant made that miraculous run two seasons ago from 2 to 19 victories, I believe in O’Shea and the direction he’s taking the program. Alex Francis was a stud offensively, but he was a slight liability elsewhere which is why I feel Bryant will be fine without him eventually. If the underclassmen play well, I have no doubt the Bulldogs will land the NEC top four once again. In my estimation, they are a legit contender as currently constructed. (15 wins, 11-7 NEC)
John — Bryant looks like a real contender to me. There are some questions about the underclassmen and how they’re going to replace Alex Francis, but it seems doable given the talent that’s on hand. The non-conference schedule is particularly difficult, which might hold down the Bulldogs’ overall win total, but I think they’ll be just fine when NEC play rolls around. (13 wins, 10-8 NEC)