Replacing High Volume Scorers Like Elijah Long, Quincy McKnight and Nisre Zouzoua

Over the past 10 days, two noteworthy All-NEC first teamers—Elijah Long and Quincy McKnight—decided to go elsewhere to finish their collegiate careers. Though they haven’t signed with a new program as of this posting, the general consensus is that both players will up-transfer.

How high they go is still yet to be determined, although my expectation is they’ll end up in a conference in the upper third of KenPom. I believe their skill set and talents justify each player being scooped up by a noteworthy program.

Where they inevitably end up and deciding if it was a good decision isn’t the point of this post; instead it’s to determine if their departures cripple their respective programs in the short term. Throw in Nisre Zouzoua’s decision to leave Bryant, and you have three high volume guys who all were in the top five of the league in possession rate last season.

(Quick fun fact: For the first time in the KenPom era dating back to 2002, the NEC’s top seven players in possession rate will not be returning for the following season.)

Before diving into each individual situation though, here’s a brief history of the NEC’s attempt to replace volume scorers. KenPom considers heavy usage players (a.k.a. high volume players) as those who consume at least 28% of the team’s possessions in a given season. Utilizing this distinction, I present to you the last 14 high volume players (since 2010) who left their team after posting a possession rate north of 28% in their final year.

Player Team (Yr) %Poss ORtg KenPom +/- NEC Wins Following Yr
Jaytornah Wisseh LIU (2010) 30.1% 100.2 +161 +7
Devin Sweetney SFU (2010) 30.6% 101.5 +37 -2
Lamar Trice MSM (2011) 29.4% 90.3 -45 -3
Velton Jones RMU (2013) 28.5% 103.3 -31 +1
Shane Gibson SHU (2013) 30.6% 106.4 -31 -5
Jamal Olasewere LIU (2013) 31.0% 104.8 -127 -11
Kyle Vinales CCSU (2014) 28.7% 99.6 -39 -4
Julian Norfleet MSM (2014) 28.9% 109.7 -18 -1
Sidney Sanders FDU (2014) 33.9% 108.2 -37 -3
Marcquise Reed RMU (2015) 28.5% 104.1 -119 -7
Faronte Drakeford CCSU (2015) 28.1% 90.8 -7 E
Rodney Pryor RMU (2016) 29.4% 100.9 +37 +2
Chris Hooper SFBK (2016) 29.5% 102.1 -62 -9
Cane Broome SHU (2016) 30.0% 104.0 -1 -4

 

That is an interesting and accomplished group of high volume guys. Of the group, only three teams had a better conference record the following season, as LIU Brooklyn improved substantially by winning the NEC championship once Wisseh left. I’m pretty sure Jason Brickman, Julian Boyd and Olasewere had something to do with that.

The two other improvements, both nominal, belong to Robert Morris, yet I’d chalk up those more as statistical variation. These days the difference between one or two conference wins is fairly narrow. In 2014 when the Colonials improved by a win, Robert Morris benefited from a monster senior season from Karvel Anderson (129.0 offensive rating!!) to help temper the loss of the immortal Velton Jones. The 2017 Colonial club improved by two wins after Pryor’s transfer to Georgetown, mainly due to a resurgent defensive effort that finished in the top 100 of the country.

As for the other examples, the transition wasn’t pretty. 10 of 11 teams posted a worse KenPom rating and the same finished with fewer NEC wins a year later. Nearly half (6 of 14) dropped significantly, at least four conference wins off their total the previous season. The quick moral of the story: replacing high volume scorers is hard for the following reasons:

  1. There are many vacated possessions someone else has to take on. If you don’t have another skilled, high volume player ready to take over those possessions, then you’re likely going to struggle.
  2. Several players must step up seamlessly for the transition to work. Player A may have been comfortable as a role player, but he’s now forced to become one of the team’s best scoring options. The result is more shot attempts that aren’t efficient takes, leading to plummeting shooting percentages. Elijah Minnie circa 2016, Brandon Peel circa 2015, and E.J. Reed circa 2014 come to mind as recent examples. None of them thrived when given a bigger role.
  3. A high volume player can carry a team in individual games, which can help maintain a reasonable floor for your offense. Through better athleticism and savvy, they are typically the best option to create their own opportunities and make difficult shots, as opposed to their teammates.

Which brings us to our departing trio. Let dive into each situation separately to predict how each team will adapt.

Elijah Long, formerly of Mount St. Mary’s

  • Offensive Profile – 96.2 offensive rating, 28.1% possession rate, 51.7% true shooting %
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Junior Robinson, Jonah Antonio, Greg Alexander, Chris Wray, Ryan Gomes
  • Best Candidates to Take on More Possessions: Robinson, Alexander, Antonio, TBD

All the NEC coaches I talked to said Josh Nebo and Long’s departure are the biggest blows to their respective teams. Regarding Long, the sophomore point guard pretty much did it all, leading the NEC in assist rate (30.1%) while finishing in the top 10 in 3-point shooting (39.7%), fouls drawn (5.3 fouls per 40 minutes), and steal rate (3.4%). Along with Julian Norfleet, Long was the quintessential scoring floor general that Jamion Christian coveted. He’s versatile, creative and unafraid of the big moment.

He wasn’t the most efficient shooter, but his impact on both ends of the floor was invaluable to what the Mount was trying to accomplish. Along with Junior Robinson, Long essentially gave the Mount a two-headed combo guard monster that played together 75% of the time. Does Long’s transfer ruin a backcourt dynamic that led the program to 17 conference wins?

Honestly, I had two paragraphs written up yesterday about how Miles Wilson would absorb more possessions and likely thrive with a higher profile role. Now, that plan must be abandoned with Wilson’s announcement last night that he’ll be transferring before his sophomore season.

This isn’t Christian’s first go-around replacing star talent. Norfleet, Rashad Whack, Shivaughn Wiggins and BK Ashe all left (the latter two prematurely), yet the Mount has always finished at least two games over .500 in the regular season of Christian’s tenure. Despite the most recent defections, I’d still bet on Christian getting close to that mark in year six, but this may be his most challenging season yet in Emmitsburg. There’s likely nowhere to go but down from a 14-4 regular season, given the loss of Long, Wilson, and Mawdo Sallah.

With the currently constructed roster, Robinson is the most logical candidate to see an increase in usage. It’s really too bad regarding Wilson: his size, perimeter skills (36.3% 3PT) and ability to slash to the rim (60.4% on 2s near the rim) had no match for most NEC competition. Now, a lot will depend on Robinson handling the ball a majority of the time. That’s something he’s been accustomed to in the past. As a sophomore, the 5-foot-5 guard had a 27.1% possession rate with a respectable offensive rating. I’d expect better efficiency in his fourth season.

It remains to be seen if senior Greg Alexander has the chops for more possessions. A whooping 84% of his shots came from behind the arc and 93% of his makes were assisted. He doesn’t seem like a great candidate to see his possession rate rise from a low usage of 14.1% last season; in a season sample he has yet to demonstrate he’s a shot creator.

Christian will rely a ton on Robinson with several inexperienced pieces behind him. After Robinson and Alexander, players like Jonah Antonio, whose outside shooting has received rave reviews, will need to step up. And perhaps Christian has another recruiting gem up his sleeve in the mold of Long. He’ll certainly need it given the Mount’s questionable depth in the backcourt.

Quincy McKnight, formerly of Sacred Heart

  • Offensive Profile – 92.5 offensive rating, 33.1% possession rate, 52.3% true shooting %
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Cha Cha Tucker, Sean Hoehn, De’von Barnett, Joe Lopez, Mario Matasovic
  • Best Candidates to Take on More Possessions: Unknown

Quincy McKnight (right) should have plenty of suitors as he tries to up-transfer. (Photo Credit: Associated Press/Rick Scuteri)

Anthony Latina has now dealt with two high profile players leaving the program after their sophomore season. Cane Broome did it prior to last season, whereas McKnight needed more than a month after Sacred Heart’s season ended before asking for a release from his scholarship.

On paper McKnight has the weakest statistical profile of these guards; he led the nation in turnovers and still isn’t a great mid-range and outside shooter. Despite those weaknesses and a mediocre 92.9 offensive rating in league play, however, McKnight’s impact shouldn’t be understated.

He absorbed a tremendous amount of defensive attention in the absence of Broome, yet he developed into a prolific scorer by posting 20 or more points in 14 of 32 games. In the contests where he was dubbed the KenPom MVP, Sacred Heart was 7-0. Additionally, he did a reasonable job keeping his teammates involved (less than Long but more than Zouzoua) with a 20.6% assist rate and he drew a staggering 7.1 fouls per 40 minutes. He was a very difficult player to contain at the low mid-major level, even though opponents were well aware of his pedestrian 31.7% shooting percentage on 2-point and 3-point jumpers.

So where does Sacred Heart go from here? First of all, much of the scoring will now be funneled into the frontcourt where the Pioneers three best players reside. Joe Lopez, Mario Matasovic and De’von Barnett may very well comprise the best frontcourt in the NEC, but unless this group is the second coming of Boyd/Olasewere, the Pioneers need productive guard play to succeed. And that’s really the biggest question mark heading into next season: Are there enough shot creators to make up for McKnight, who particularly excelled at getting to the rim?

Senior point guard Cha Cha Tucker is coming off a mildly disappointing junior campaign, yet the staff believes his senior season will bring more improvement. If he could give the Pioneers a Phil Gaetano senior year kind of contribution (99.6 offensive rating, 30.6% assist rate, 37.6% 3PT) and put Sacred Heart’s bigs in a position to score, then that would be a big boost. Sean Hoehn, while not the most athletic guard in the league, illustrated why he was so important to the Pioneers bottom line last season. In league play:

  • In 8 wins, Hoehn averaged 11.5 ppg, shot 48.8% from 3PT and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.53.
  • In 11 losses, Hoehn averaged 5.5 ppg, shot 23.8% from 3P and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.07.

Hoehn clearly needs to make outside shots, but he’s not the type of player to regularly generate looks off the dribble.

Latina could look to senior Chris Robinson and incoming freshman Alex Watson to suck up possessions as well. Watson, a 6-foot-3 combo guard from Georgia who has drawn comparisons to Bryant’s Adam Grant, excites the Pioneer staff. Latina will likely need an All-NEC rookie team type of season from Watson and improvement from Hoehn/Tucker for Sacred Heart to reasonably complete for the NEC championship. It could happen, but the margin of error is far more narrow without the talents of McKnight.

Nisre Zouzoua, formerly of Bryant

  • Offensive Profile: 106.7 offensive rating, 26.7% possession rate, 54.1% true shooting %
  • Projected Starting Lineup: Ikenna Ndugba, Adam Grant, Bosko Kostur, Bash Townes, Marcel Pettway
  • Best Candidate(s) to Take on More Possessions: Ndugba, Grant, TBD

Of the three transfers mentioned, Zouzoua was the most efficient player, posting good shooting percentages of 46.0% 2PT/36.2% 3PT/76.9% FT while sporting a minuscule turnover rate of 11.5%. While his possession rate doesn’t quite qualify as a high volume guy under KenPom’s definition, he was close enough to analyze here after hoisting more than 31% of Bryant’s shots when he was on the floor.

Overall, his offensive profile is pristine and he appears to be the best offensive player of the group, yet there’s likely a reason why Zouzoua’s recent recruitment has stalled to the point where his camp is releasing highlight videos of him on Twitter. It’s been more than seven weeks and there have been no official visits to high major schools. Taking a chance on a 6-foot-1 shooting guard with limited point guard skills (9.8% career assist rate) doesn’t seem to be a risk a high-major wants to take.

Nevertheless, the undersized 2-guard had two tremendous seasons at Bryant that’ll surely be missed. Adam Grant’s freshman profile (100.5 offensive rating, 50.7% true shooting %) wasn’t far off Zouzoua’s rookie numbers; therefore is it fair to expect Grant to improve at the level Zouzoua did?

No, but I guess anything is possible. The median outcome likely puts Grant as a 14-16 ppg scorer with Ndugba showing progress in year two. Honestly though, that may not be enough to make Bryant a top three contender. The Bryant staff may be looking at the graduate route for an additional player to help bolster the backcourt, so it remains to be seen how the program will completely replace Zouzoua.

As currently constructed though, Bryant will need a few career years out of guys like Marcel Pettway, Grant and Bosko Kostur to improve upon a 9-9 regular season.

Update (May 2 at 3:22 PM): Zouzoua has reportedly signed with Nevada. He will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules.

Update (May 3 at 2:30 PM): Long has reportedly signed with Texas. He will have two years of eligibility left after sitting out the 2017-18 season per NCAA transfer rules.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

9 thoughts on “Replacing High Volume Scorers Like Elijah Long, Quincy McKnight and Nisre Zouzoua

  1. Mike R

    One guy that Bryant might look to for help on the scoring side is Hunter Ware. Ware averaged 12.7 points in 15-16 before losing his starting gig to Grant in 16-17. If Bryant can’t find help in the graduate transfer or normal recruiting venues (they just had a couple top guard targets commit elsewhere), then Ware might get some extended run. He didn’t fit next to Zouzoua and Grant that well, but with Zouzoua gone, his efficiency might increase. Ndugba showed some potential towards the end of the year, and I’m hoping he can keep that momentum. Kostur and Pettway are certainly keys, as you’ve pointed out. Both need to have years that put them in consideration of an all NEC team at the end of the year. Couple big unknowns for the Bulldogs are: 1. what will they get out of the two guys they red-shirted last year in Brandon Carroll and Monty Urmilevicius, and 2. who can they recruit on the wing to join the team this coming season.

  2. Mount88

    As a Mount fan I hate to see Long and Wilson go as if they stayed together I think they could have had a few special years ahead of them as a team. Long is leaning toward Texas, Pitt and GW with Texas at the top of the list. Texas is guard heavy right now and have two 4 star guards coming this Fall. GW is not that much of a step-up as the Mount has beaten them the last two times they met. I think Pitt would be a more logical choice for him. Wilson has some huge potential (he also had some horrible games), however, when he mentioned to the Baltimore Sun that Kentucky is on his short list I had to chuckle – he is good but not that good. They are also losing Maudo Sallah and Randy Miller to transfer. I hope that player/coach relations are not the cause, however, I do not think that is the case with Jamien Christian – seems like a real players coach. I guess these kids just don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond anymore and are willing to possibly give up playing time to go to a higher level – if you are good the NBA will find you no matter what school you go to.

    1. JMO

      I don’t know Mount88. Something is brewing at MSM because players AND coaches have left that place in droves the last 2 years. Makes one wonder what’s going on behind closed doors.

  3. Steve

    To much is being made out about the transfers. These players had to establish themselves as top players in the NEC. It didn’t happen over night. So there will be more players to establish themselves in the conference. Also the NEC teams receive players just like they lose them. Also each year the players have to deal with winning coaches looking or being offered to upgrade to stronger programs. And just so you do know. Not all these players are looking to leave for better themselves. They are leaving cause it’s not the right fit. Also because they don’t have strong relationships with their coaches. College basketball isn’t easy for these kids. They go through a lot. You only see the good side to. But you want see their hurt until the season is over. Then you start the speculations. I wish all the kids the best no matter what choices they make or how it turns out for them. But most of all I hope they can get themselves in a position where they can be comfortable. And feel they are treated fairly. As well as being respected as a person

  4. Mount88

    It’s official that Elijah Long has signed with Texas and according to Evan Daniels “Mount St. Mary’s transfer Miles Wilson was just offered by Penn State. Has talked to Kentucky, NC State, UVA, Miami & UMass today.

  5. Steve

    Talk about loyalty. Makes you wonder how close Smart and Christian were. Never seen a coach take a player who transferred from a former member of their coaching staff.

  6. FDU40

    When a player is an All NEC Star that looks like a perfect fit to me. Also I find it hard to believe that an ALL NEC Player is having a problem with his Coach. FDU has now Earl Potts Transfering. This is amazing to me,because a school is going to have to gives Potts 2 years of scholarships to play one year. The amazing thing to me is that NEC stars are going to top Schools like Cincinnatti,Clemson,,Georgetown,Texas etc and yet the NEC is ranked near the bottom in conference rating. I believe that in the long run most of these upward transfers will regret making the move.

  7. MSM62

    Well, just a few days later and here we are. Long at Texas, I’m guessing because Coach Christian gave a good word to Shaka Smart. And in comes J West IV. Wilson gone and in steps Donald Carey, also 6’5″ but a PG who can assist and score. So much for Junior having to do it all!

    …and did I forget to mention four other good signings as well as Antonio and Vukelich?

    The comments about coaches leaving? All those who left got good opportunities and were supported by Coach Christian. They are remain as good friends to MSM and they all support each other.

    Locker room problems? Only someone with no understanding of the culture at the Mount could even imply as much. Notice nearly every Christian recruit is just that (as opposed to JC transfers,
    etc.). Now compare that to several NEC rosters and, get the difference?

    I for one will miss Wilson and Long. I will follow how they play wherever they end up and I will be surprised if their stats are better than 40% of what they did at MSM. Sallah is the other loss. Nice person but some major flaws in his game. He is immediately eligible at UNCW, so the results of his transfer we can see this coming year.

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