Outlook: What is perceived to be a strong recruiting class should bolster the athleticism, depth and versatility of the Blue Devils, making them a pesky opponent that has middle of the pack upside in a conference besieged by turnover.
Last year: 6-23 (4-14 NEC)
Who’s in: Eduardo Camacho (G); Talek Williams (F); Tyler Kohl (G/F); Joe Hugley (F); Deion Bute (C)
Who’s out: Khalen Cumberlander (G); Kevin Seymour (PG); Tidell Pierre (PF); Tafari Whittingham (PF)
Key Non-Conference Games: Hartford (11-10-2017); at Boston College (12-17-2017)
When an accomplished program such as Central Connecticut State (CCSU) goes through a long lasting rut, loyal Blue Devil fans will get antsy. Second year head coach Donyell Marshall is elbow deep in a laborious rebuild and last season ended in more disappointment. The Blue Devils missed the NEC tournament and failed to crack the 6-win barrier for an unbelievable third time in a row, once considered unheard of given Howie Dickenman’s success in his first decade as the program’s coach.
Season number two is always one of the most pivotal recruiting classes for a new regime and Marshall is hopeful this class will emerge as one of the league’s better ones of 2017. The beleaguered fans aren’t necessarily expecting Marshall to deliver a league championship for the upcoming campaign; rather, all they likely want to see is progress. Can the team finally qualify for the NEC tournament? Will the latest squad inject some life into the once boisterous Detrick Gymnasium? If things break right, can Marshall’s program actually break into the middle of the pack as a dangerous lower seed?
For starters, Marshall and his staff brought in an impressive array of talent, athleticism and sharpshooting into a 5-man recruiting class. In order to better balance the roster for the future, Marshall felt it was prudent to add three junior college transfers, each of whom adding an interesting and unique skill set.
Junior Tyler Kohl, the brother of CCSU assistant Anthony Ross, profiles as a versatile mid-major wing—think Miles Wilson, Isaiah Still or even Iona’s Deyshonee Much—who can score anywhere on the floor and will be a matchup problem for the opposition’s smaller lineups. Junior Deion Bute gives the Blue Devils a big who’ll provide an impact around the rim, especially with his rebounding. Sophomore Joe Hugley, once a Robert Morris commit who prematurely left Moon Township, is a stretch four that can, in the coaching staff’s words, shoot the bejesus out of the ball. He also is skilled around the rim at 6-7.
Throw in freshmen point guard Eduardo Camacho and the uber-athletic and defensively stoic Talek Williams, both intriguing prospects in their own right, and you have a roster littered with upside, albeit inexperienced potential. While it’s far from a perfect science, one wild guess at the Blue Devils future depth chart may shake out as the following (players in italics are viewed as part of the rotation):
- PG: Eric Bowles, Camacho
- G: Austin Nehls, Tyson Batiste
- F: Kohl, Kashaun Hicks, Williams
- PF: Mustafa Jones, Hugley
- C: Bute, Harrison Key
Others: Chris Williams, Shakaris Laney
With offensive firepower and versatility as the two major things the Blue Devils lacked last season, Marshall sure did his best to address them. CCSU finished 335th nationally in offensive efficiency, scoring just 92.9 points per 100 possessions, while struggling to impose their will around the paint as evident by a 44.6% two-point field goal percentage.
The Blue Devils showed an ability to drain outside jumpers, yet Austin Nehls returns as the lone dominant three-point threat after making 37.0% of his 184 long-distance attempts. Because of few options last season, CCSU has the lowest 3PTA/FGA (26.0%) in the conference and attempted the highest percentage of 2-point jumpers (26.9%). When you’re shooting so poorly inside the arc, the above percentages won’t ever lead to an efficient offensive attack.
Now, Camacho, Hicks, Kohl, Hugley and another year of maturity out of Tyson Batiste, who’s leadership has been lauded, gives Marshall several more options for spacing the floor, which in turn should free up real estate for their big men. The trio of Mustafa Jones, Hugley and Bute has the potential to improve the team’s interior scoring. All together, the more athletic roster can generate easier looks out in transition, something the Blue Devils pretty much avoided last season.
All in all, Marshall is hopeful this newfound depth gives him the flexibility to implement versatile lineups, which will in part make the team more competitive. Whether that comes to fruition is anyone’s guess, yet Blue Devils fans have a right to be excited for the first time in several seasons.
An interesting non-conference schedule, littered with winnable games (Brown, Hartford, Coppin State) and games against mediocre Power-6 teams (Rutgers, DePaul, Boston College) will serve as a litmus test early on. There’s at least a respectable chance CCSU can match their highest non-conference win total in four years, when they won four games during the 2013-14 season.
Remember, it’s all about baby steps.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride. Ryan wrote all ten NEC previews as well as the Iona, Manhattan and St. Peter’s preview for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Reserve your copy of the college basketball “bible” here.