“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.
Instead of just spouting off Ryan P. and I’s projected NEC standings we’re doing a little different. This is the third part of an email conversation between the two of us over the course of a couple weeks. Hopefully you’ll get some more insight into why we picked each team to finish where we did. For part 1 of the conversation, click here. For part 2, click here.
Practice has officially started. Both Quinnipiac and Wagner held events last night, while Monmouth had people over to watch practice at the MAC.
Every season, the NEC produces players that generally come out of nowhere, or elevate themselves from a typical role player to a program cornerstone. Players like Scott Eatherton and Jason Brickman, for example, elevated their game last season to become valuable contributors for their respective teams.
Since taking on a full NEC schedule for the 2009-10 season, the Bryant Bulldogs have struggled mightily to compete with their conference foes – or any Division I foes for that matter – as they fully transitioned into DI basketball. The Bulldogs managed a meager nine victories versus NEC opponents in the past three seasons. It was, for the lack of a better phrase, a brutal stretch of basketball.
In fairness, there wasn’t much head coach Tim O’Shea could do, since most DI recruits were turned off by the prospect of not playing postseason basketball. Bryant, after all, needed to serve out their DI probationary period, as per NCAA rules, forcing the team to operate by a very thin margin last season. Thus, when Bryant’s third leading scorer, Corey Maynard, missed a majority of the conference season due to a foot injury, it led to a 2-28 debacle of a season.
The days of the Bryant Bulldogs serving as the NEC’s punching bag, however, may soon be over. All along, O’Shea was targeting this upcoming season when he signed his eight year contract in June of 2008.
“When I took the job, I initially targeted year five as a year where we could really hopefully make a move,” said O’Shea. “And I feel confident that, despite what we went through last year, that we’ll be able to (become competitive).”
With Bryant now fully integrated as a NEC school eligible for postseason play, fans have reason for optimism. For starters, Bryant is equipped with a very solid core of upperclassmen, led by junior Alex Francis and fifth year senior Frankie Dobbs. One glimpse at their statistics last season (Francis: 17.0 ppg/7.4 rpg, Dobbs: 13.4 ppg/3.5 rpg/4.6 apg/1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio) would probably generate a double take. Those numbers would have easily pushed both players into serious All-NEC second team consideration, if Bryant hadn’t finished last season ranked 333rd overall in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.
Nevertheless, O’Shea believes his team is in a much better position to compete with this year’s crop of incoming players.
“This is the first year I feel confident that when I look at my top 8 guys, they’re all legitimately DI players,” said an optimistic O’Shea.
Several newcomers are expected to significantly enhance Bryant’s offensive firepower and depth, yet perhaps the most important player of the bunch is Columbia transfer Dyami Starks. The explosive scorer begins his Bryant tenure with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
“Truthfully, I think (Starks) has the potential to be an All-Conference player in the NEC,” said O’Shea. “He averaged 25 (points per game) against some pretty good teams over in Europe. He can really score. That’s something we didn’t have (last season); we had nobody in the perimeter that could score like him.”
Originally projected by some to be an All-Ivy League Rookie Team candidate, Starks fell out of Columbia’s rotation early, despite scoring double-digit points in five of his first seven games as a freshman. Now with an offseason under his belt to refine his game, O’Shea believes Stark’s strong work ethic and undeniable talent will open some eyes within the NEC. Just how talented is he?
“In all my years of coaching, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve seen and I’m talking guys like Preston Murphy, Cuttino Mobley, Troy Bell,” said O’Shea. “I’m not saying he’s the athlete some of those guys are, but in terms of shooting the ball, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve been around.”
Another transfer who will play significant minutes at the “3” is the coach’s nephew, Joe O’Shea. Listed at 6-foot-5, O’Shea should present match-up issues with his length, high basketball IQ, and excellent shooting range.
“He can really stroke it,” said O’Shea. “What he gives us is one of the things we really lacked last year; we weren’t a good three-point shooting team and here’s a kid that can really make threes.”
With a top 5 of Francis, Dobbs, Maynard, Starks, and O’Shea firmly in place, Bryant will look to their freshmen newcomers to bolster the team’s bench. Curtis Oakley, Shane McLaughlin, and Andrew Scocca are all expected to compete for minutes right away.
Oakley profiles as a bulky wing, who can really shoot it from the perimeter. Oakley’s excellent body control and assortment of ball fakes and post moves should accelerate his development. McLaughlin brings a mental toughness to the team, and will be looked apon to backup Dobbs, Starks, and O’Shea most of the time. And finally, Andrew Scocca gives O’Shea a big body in the middle that Bryant so desperately needs. All in all, it’s a freshmen recruiting class O’Shea is really pleased with.
“We’ve really increased our basketball IQ, in terms of adding guys that know how to play, and that includes our freshmen,” said O’Shea. “These are guys that will get minutes for us this year and I think are pretty good players.”
O’Shea will look to employ a small lineup much of the time, unfortunately due to the unexpected departure of 6-foot-10 Israeli Ben Altit. Altit, who averaged 5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, left Bryant recently to serve in the Israeli armed forces. Typically, college students are granted deferments from serving, but with the recent political unrest in the Middle East, all deferments were waived immediately by the Israel government, thereby forcing Altit to defend the homeland, rather than DI big men. Hopefully, Altit will be safe and return to Bryant sometime down the road.
Even without Altit patrolling the middle, the new additions give Bryant a much improved roster. O’Shea seems to agree. “You’re going to see a very different Bryant team this year, very different in terms of talent, in terms of basketball IQ, and the ability to shoot the three.”
“It’s amazing in basketball, 1 or 2 good players can totally transform a team from where we were a year ago to a team that’s now a hard out every night, and that’s exactly what we’ll be. If it all comes together, it’s going to be an interesting year for us.”
The rest of the NEC should certainly take notice. In a league applauded for its recent improvement at the top of the conference, it’s the young team in the bottom tier that’s ready to play with the big boys. It’s going to be an interesting year for the Bryant Bulldogs indeed.
Conference realignment has officially reached the point where it is impacting the mid-major schools on the east coast and the main driver seems to be the Patriot League. Yes, the league better known for its academic and the excellent John Feinstein book “The Last Amateurs” is making waves with expansion.