Peruse the current Northeast Conference basketball standings and you’ll find an unfamiliar team near the top. The Bryant Bulldogs, in their first season as a full-time Division I program, have turned some heads by winning six of their first ten games. It doesn’t sound like much, until you realize the Bulldogs have already tripled their win total from all of last season, when they finished at the bottom of the conference with an unsightly 2-28 record. Continue reading
With most teams having played at least one quarter of their schedule (crazy, huh?), I felt this was a perfect time to give you ten players that have really surprised and/or impressed me this season. In the first part, John and I list our top five surprises of the NEC thus far, who we feel truly have the potential to end up on an all-conference team in March. For part two, I decided to give you the five best non-conference players I’ve seen live so far in the 13 games I’ve attended. Enjoy!
Rashad Whack, Mount St. Mary’s – Everybody knew about Whack’s ability to knock down the long-range jumper, but not everyone could have envisioned Whack being the key ingredient in Jamion Christian’s MAYHEM attack. Through seven games, the George Mason transfer not only leads the team in three-pointers made and points per game, but he also is tops in rebounds and steals (6.4% steal rate, best in the NEC) as well. His off-the-ball skills and play have been pleasant surprises and for that credit must be given to the coach Christian replaced, Robert Burke. Christian inherited quite a player in Whack, who absolutely has the potential to crack a NEC all-conference team.
Stephon Mosley, St. Francis (PA) – Go ahead, it’s OK. You can admit this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Stephon Mosley. Admittedly, I knew little about the freshman, as he was a late signee for Rob Krimmel’s team. But shockingly in the early going, Mosley is leading all NEC freshmen in efficiency rating, rebounds and minutes per game. The 6’6″ power forward, along with notable recruit Ronnie Drinnon, have spearheaded the youth movement in Loretto, as Krimmel has clearly moved forward with his young players, rather than utilizing veterans like Anthony Ervin, Tony Peters, and Storm Stanley. If Mosley continues his 10 points and 4.5 rebounds per game production, he’ll easily crack the NEC All-Rookie Team at season’s end.
Matthew Hunter, Central Connecticut – The immediate impact this accomplished junior college transfer could provide was well-known, thanks to Howie Dickenman’s constant praise in the preseason. We knew Hunter would be a stat-filler, but we didn’t realize that he’d be in the top four of the conference in points, rebounds, and steals per game. Hunter showcased his skills in Indiana recently, when he famously dropped 40 points in a losing effort at Assembly Hall. It was a performance that surely opened coach’s eyes, and shows that merely shutting down Kyle Vinales will not restrict the Blue Devils efficient offense. There’s officially a bona fide one-two punch in New Britain, so sit back and enjoy the ride for the next two seasons. Vinales and Hunter will put up some mind-blowing numbers together.
Kevin Douglas, St. Francis Brooklyn – Last season Douglas was on the bench behind Stefan Perunicic for SFC. Now that he’s in the rotation on a consistent basis, Douglas is tearing it up. He’s already attempted more threes this season than he did during his entire freshman campaign and he’s making a ridiculous 41% of them. That’s not sustainable, but the sophomore’s low turnover rate and ability to attack the rim look like they weren’t flukes last season. The two biggest criticisms of Douglas thus far this season is that he could be shooting even more and that his defense is a work in progress. Still, he’s provided an excellent scoring threat on the wing for the Terriers.
Dyami Starks, Bryant – In the preseason, Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea was so high on Starks, he called him one of the best shooters he has ever coached. So far, Starks hasn’t disappointed, hitting 27 three-pointers (37% three-point percentage) and dropping double-digit points in seven of nine games. Starks ability to make the long-range jumper has added a much-needed dimension to the Bulldogs’ offense, so much so that Bryant can no longer be considered a pushover. We’re incredibly bullish on Starks to continue his impressive production, mainly because O’Shea has been blown away with Columbia transfer’s work ethic. Enjoy Bulldog fans, since you have the next three years to witness the soon to be best shooter in Bryant’s young history.
And now for some players that really impressed me in the live games I’ve seen so far this season…
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh – Well, duh?! It’s not terribly imaginative for me to put a
potential likely All-American here, but his insertion onto my list is due to the “wow” factor. When I saw Lehigh smoke Sacred Heart on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it wasn’t that McCollum scored 26 super efficient points. It was the way he scored, which was seemed so easy, so effortless. He scored in the post, in the lane, behind the arc, and yet he hardly broke a sweat doing it. He was by far and away the best player on that court and this is coming from an unapologetic supporter of Shane Gibson. As Patriot League expert Kevin Doyle said at the game, a player of McCollum’s caliber belongs in the Big East, not in the outdated Pitt Center whipping up on the hapless Pioneers. As far as mid-major players are concerned, he is the most transcendent talent I have ever witnessed.
Tilman Dunbar, Navy – You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why Navy has already doubled their win total from a season ago. It’s the lightning quick, surprisingly mature freshman Tilman Dunbar who has helped lead the Midshipmen out of a couple of abysmal seasons into a team that could legitimately finish the upper half of the Patriot League. Dunbar possesses a terrific handle, an explosive first step, and adept court vision, yet it’s his poise that may be his most impressive talent. The diminutive point guard carries himself like an upperclassman. Dunbar’s undeniable talent will be fun to watch for Midshipmen fans the next four seasons, but in the meantime, he’ll continue to only improve under the tutelage of head coach Ed DeChellis. You can basically hand him the Patriot League Rookie of the Year trophy right now.
Ryan Cook, UMBC – I didn’t see UMBC play last season (which probably was a good thing), but a number of articles raved about the play of forward Chase Plummer. So you could imagine my surprise when I saw it was guard Ryan Cook, and not Plummer, that made the Retrievers tick. Not to pick on Plummer, but Cook – a former walk-on – has easily been the most efficient player for Aki Thomas’ UMBC club in the early going. The athletic Cook is a do all guard who can score a variety of ways. In addition to leading the America East in scoring, the 6’2 senior is eighth in the conference in rebounds per game. Forecasting ahead, expect Cook to continue to have an expanded role in the Retrievers’ offense. It’s probably the most optimal way UMBC can claw back to respectability in the America East this season.
Stephen Lumpkins, American – You won’t find American upperclassman Steve Lumpkins on any stat sheets last season, because he was playing minor league baseball. After the failed stint, Lumpkins came back to utilize his final season of eligibility, and it’s a good thing for the Eagles he did. Without his fantastic interior production, American would really struggle this season. It’s been a disappointing start to the season already in Washington D.C., yet Lumpkins at least gives the Eagles a little hope heading into conference play. His efficient, fluid play around the rim demands double teams and should leave American’s bevy of long-range shooters open on the outside. So far, Lumpkins is holding up his end of the bargain, as he’s averaging 15.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. That’s not too shabby for someone who completely missed the previous season.
Billy Baron, Canisius – When Canisius hired the former long time URI coach Jim Baron this offseason, they were essentially adding a top-notch transfer as well, in the form of Baron’s son, Billy. As a result, the Golden Griffens have exceeded expectations in the early going and have finally caught MAAC fans attention with their quick 2-0 start in the conference. Baron – the young one – is a huge reason for Canisius’ success, having posted averages of 17.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. He’s fresh off a MAAC Player of the Week award, after torching conference foe Marist with a fantastic effort. Throw in backcourt mate Harold Washington, and you have a dynamic scoring duo that can seemingly make the right decision time and time again for a contending club in Canisius.
Most fans would admit that when a Bryant/Navy non-conference battle in Annapolis was set this past offseason, it likely wasn’t a game at the top of anybody’s lists. After all, these were two basketball programs that struggled to merely stay competitive last season. Continue reading
Coming into tonight, any NEC fan could have made the logical argument that the conference would finish a perfect 6-0 on the night. After all, you had four home favorites and two slight underdogs on the road. There were no elite opponents on the schedule, just middle of the road mid-major teams that the NEC should feast on. Well, two teams took advantage. The other four? Let’s delve into that, shall we?
Holy Cross 83, Sacred Heart 78
For a game that had only one tie and zero lead changes, it was a surprisingly entertaining game in the second half. Holy Cross built up a 17 point lead by riding the hot hand of Justin Burrell who had 20 points in the first half. Despite their typically lousy start, the Pioneers chipped away with the help of Shane Gibson and freshman De’Aires Tate (10 points, six rebounds in 15 minutes). After a spirited comeback tied the game at 72 apiece, Holy Cross drilled a three and sunk their free throws late to hold for the victory. Offensively, the Pioneers were OK but the defense was once again porous, as they allowed the Crusaders to shoot 52.7% from the floor. Tonight was the seventh time in seven games Sacred Heart has trailed at the half. That isn’t a recipe for success, I reckon.
Yale 64, Bryant 62
This one surprised me a bit, as Bryant was riding a four game winning streak into a home matchup against the 2-6 Yale Bulldogs. But ten Yale Bulldogs scored in the game, while the Bryant offensive attack was the exact opposite of balanced. Dyami Starks and Alex Francis did their part, combining for 41 points on 30 shots, but only three other Bulldogs put up a crooked number. Bryant had their opportunities to pull ahead late, but they missed three free throws in the final two minutes before Justin Sears hit the game winning layup at the buzzer. Heartbreak city in Smithfield.
Quinnipiac 67, Colgate 56
It was the same old story for the Bobcats tonight: They dominated the boards (+12 rebounding margin), held Colgate to 37.0% shooting, and hit a far from impressive percentage of their twos, threes, and free throws. Classic Tom Moore basketball, everybody! It was enough for the win, however, mainly because Quinnipiac got to the line 38 times, and made 25 of those. Anytime you can outscore a team by 15 points at the charity stripe, that’s a good thing. Also a good thing: Ike Azotam and Jamee Jackson each had a double double.
Navy 85, Monmouth 66
Wait, what?!?! In the biggest upset of the night, the Patriot League continued to own the Northeast Conference in a stunner at the MAC. Monmouth struggling on the offensive end is far from surprising, but the fact that the Midshipmen scored 53 points in the second half on Monmouth’s defense is, well stunning. One of the best teams at turning their opponents over, Monmouth only forced 11 Navy turnovers and allowed the Midshipmen to shoot 57.1% from the field. The lopsided win broke Navy’s 18 game road losing streak and snapped Monmouth four game winning streak. Senior Jeese Steele’s struggles continued as he only scored three points on eight shots. He’s now shooting less than 30% for the season.
Albany 77, St. Francis Brooklyn 73
In a wild game in up-state New York, Albany continued its winning ways with another home win over a NEC opponent. The Great Danes hit 11 of 17 three-pointers and jumped out to a ridiculous 18-0 lead from the opening tip. To Glenn Braica’s credit, St. Francis fought back and even held a brief one point lead in the second half. But Albany senior Mike Black was too much, scoring 21 points in the victory. The Terriers were out-rebounded by 11, gave up 1.17 points per possession, and were outscored at the free throw line, 20-6. Travis Nicholas, Ben Mockford, and Jalen Cannon scored 51 of St. Francis’ 73 points. Looking ahead, it may get worse before it gets better with Boston College, Stony Brook, and St. Johns on the immediate schedule.
Central Connecticut 87, New Hampshire 84
After falling behind and trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half, Howie Dickenman’s resilient bunch came up big once again late. Five Blue Devils scored in double digits, led of course by the nation’s leading scorer, Kyle Vinales. The sophomore had 27 points on 18 shots to go along with seven assists and three steals in, wouldn’t you know it, 40 minutes of play. The victory gives Central Connecticut a winning record at 4-3, before they head to Assembly Hall to face the #1 team in the land, the Indiana Hoosiers. This contest will surely test the Blue Devils’ lack of depth, especially when they’ll be forced to guard players like Christian Watford, Cody Zeller, and Yogi Ferrell.
It was a short week thanks to the holiday weekend, but there’s plenty to talk about in our third edition of the NEC’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. There have been plenty of surprises and disappointments in the early going, which you’ll find out rather quickly since FDU and Bryant headline our The Good section! Let’s begin… Continue reading
“Mama said there would be days like this,” The Shirelles so wisely said back in 1961. The NEC might be vastly improved and looking to move up in the conference pecking order, but in eight important games on an early Monday night in the season the league couldn’t get out of its own way while going 0-8, including a number of winnable games. Let’s run through the carnage.
Four years. 119 games. 99 losses. That’s all it took for head coach Tim O’Shea to finally feel that his Bryant Bulldogs were prepared to legitimately compete at the Division I level. Continue reading
Head Coach: Tim O’Shea, 5th year (20-99)
Last Season: 2-28 (1-17 NEC), ineligible for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 10th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Agressively improving
Key Players Lost: Ben Altit (5.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.2 bpg)
Incoming Players: Curtis Oakley (F), Shane McLaughlin (PG), Andrew Scocca (PF/C)
Previous Posts: Bryant Recruiting Recap, Tim O’Shea’s Bulldogs Ready to Make a Move
PG: Frankie Dobbs (13.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.6 apg, 81.8% FT)
G: Dyami Starks (transfer, sat out last season)
G: Corey Maynard (11.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.1 spg)
F: Alex Francis (17.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.5 apg, 51.2% FG)
F: Claybrin McMath (4.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
Key Reserves: Joe O’Shea (G), Raphael Jordan (G), Vlad Kondratvey (PF/C), Curtis Oakley (F), Shane McLaughlin (PG), Andrew Scocca (PF/C)
- Transition Over – After undergoing an arduous four year Division I transition period, Bryant is finally eligible to participate in the NEC postseason, should they qualify. The transition period made it nearly impossible for Tim O’Shea to recruit, but finally the Bulldogs can boast a lineup stocked with capable DI players. Of course, with two transfers and three freshmen added to the roster, it will take time to mesh all of the pieces together. The question of how quickly remains to be seen.
- Defend, Defend, Defend – Last season, the Bulldogs gave up a conference worst 1.10 points per possession. Whether it was the lack of depth or limited frontcourt options that served as the culprit to their lousy defense, O’Shea must find a way to prevent the opponent from scoring the basketball.
- The New Guys – If there’s one thing to be optimistic about, it’s the additions of transfers Dyami Starks (Columbia) and Joe O’Shea (Holy Cross). Both had notable high school careers, were moderately recruited, but then wasted away on the bench of their respective university when new coaches came in to replace the old coaches that originally recruited them. Now in Smithfield, look for Starks and O’Shea to have an immediate impact.
Lineup Analysis: The years of serving as the NEC’s doormat should end shortly, if not already. For the first time in five seasons, O’Shea has a roster full of competent DI players, which will allow Bryant to comfortably play 8-9 guys every game night. It all starts with the upperclassman trio of Alex Francis, Frankie Dobbs, and Corey Maynard. Francis and Dobbs had an all-conference type of performance last season, which hardly went noticed due to Bryant’s shortcomings as a team. Now with more depth in place, expect the talented trio to get the respect they deserve. Joining them is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks, whom O’Shea expects will start right away. Both Starks and Joe O’Shea, the head coach’s nephew, have the ability to drain the perimeter jumper and add another dimension to Bryant’s offense that was seriously lacking last season. Much of the team’s depth will rely on the development of freshmen Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca. Of the three, McLaughlin has the most promise early on, as he projects as the first guard off the bench backing up Dobbs and Starks. Oakley is an undersized forward who could have difficultly creating his own shot, but at least has the versatility and range to pull defenders out of the paint. Clay McMath, Vlad Kondratvey, and Andrew Scocca will patrol the paint, now that Ben Altit has left the team to serve for his native country of Israel. How this rotation merges is anyone’s guess, yet one thing is for certain, this is the most talented and athletic roster O’Shea has had the pleasure of working with since taking the Bryant job.
“When I took this job we targeted year five as a year we really wanted to come out of the gate and be as competitive as possible. It’s one of the reasons we sat some transfers out last year. As you might imagine it’s been very difficult to have no possibility of a postseason, especially in recruiting those early years. Who’s going to take a legitimate Division I offer where you can compete for a postseason where here you can’t. This is a big deal for us to get this postseason ban off our back.”
– O’Shea, on how difficult it’s been to lead Bryant into Division I basketball
Ryan – It may take some time for all of the pieces to fit, but when they do, the Bulldogs have the potential to pull off a major upset or two in the NEC. Bryant should take a step forward this season, but realistically the Bulldogs are probably at least a year away before they’re ready to join the middle of the pack in the NEC and become annual playoff participants.
John – The early season schedule is absolutely brutal, but if the Bulldogs can survive that, they might be the surprise team in the NEC this season. I think they were picked way too low. Dobbs and Francis are all-conference caliber players and, if coach O’Shea can continue to build around those two, it should make for a competitive season in the NEC.
There’s a dirty little secret in the NEC. The 12-team league means that not everyone plays two games against every opponent each season. The unbalanced schedule makes it extra important to look at the path teams will take through the league when predicting the final standings.