The floor general, playmaker, leader on the court, the point guard. Last season in the Northeast Conference, JoJo Cooper (Wagner), Junior Robinson (Mount St. Mary's) and Jamaal King (St. Francis U) led their teams to top 3 finishes, while National POY Jalen Brunson was the engine behind Villanova's national title run. It’s nearly impossible to win without good point guard play. And it’s the primary reason CCSU hasn’t finished with a winning record in conference play since 2014.
Malcolm McMillan got injured 1.5 games into the 2014-15 season, causing him to miss the remainder of the season (after which he transferred to Canisius), and since then CCSU hasn’t had a point guard who has had an O-Rating above 95.9 (Bowles last season). To put that into perspective, of the 60 NEC players who played at least 40% of their teams minutes in 2017-18, 46 of them had an O-Rating above 95.9. And Bowles’ 13.1% usage rate was the lowest of any player with an O-Rating below 101.6. (On the flip side, Junior Robinson had a 111.7 O-Rating with a 32.2% usage rate, while Jamaal King had a 105.8 O-Rating and a 30.3% usage rate.)
CCSU point guard O-Ratings and usage rates over the past five seasons:
Now to be fair, Cumberlander was playing out of position after being thrust into the role after McMillan's injury, and Eric Bowles was a good perimeter defender despite not providing much offense. But the point remains: the Blue Devils have not received much consistency at the point guard position since Malcolm McMillan left.
With the publication of the 2018-19 men’s basketball roster this past week, Central Connecticut State fans were thrown for a loop as redshirt freshman Eduardo Camacho was not among the names listed. The 6’1” point guard from Puerto Rico chose CCSU over NJIT and Towson, and was expected to step in immediately and see major minutes at the 1 in 2017-18. The fact that he redshirted his freshman year was confusing to many, and really threw a wrench in Marshall’s plans at the position. Now he’s gone without ever appearing in a Blue Devil uniform.
With Camacho gone, and Eric Bowles having transferred to D-II Virginia Union during the offseason, there are even more question marks surrounding the point guard position in 2018-19. So what’s next? Let’s take a look at Donyell Marshall’s options:
Option A: Tyson Batiste. The 6’2” junior doesn’t quite fit into the box of a prototypical point guard, but he’s crafty around the rim and a good passer, plus he’s long and can allow the Blue Devils to continue to utilize the inverted offense. He had a 21.6% assist rate as a freshman (8th in NEC play), and has had some big games: In the win over FDU last season, Batiste has 7 assists and 0 turnovers in just 11 minutes, and added 5 assists and 1 turnover in the win at Bryant (14 minutes). His biggest issue has been at the free throw line (just 3 for 18 last season). The fact that he’s shown himself to be a capable three-point shooter (23 for 60 in his career) leads one to believe that it’s more mental than physical, and that he’s capable of overcoming the problem, which appeared to cause him to become less aggressive in attacking the rim as the season wore on. If he can cure those ills, Batiste has the intangibles needed to lead a team; he’s the only player on the roster who has been in uniform for the first two years of the Donyell Marshall tenure, he’s a Dean’s List student, he’s proven himself to be a team leader, and he and Marshall seem to have a strong rapport.
Option B: The freshmen. Will Ellis and Thai Segwai were both lightly recruited, but both appear to be skilled players, with Ellis more of an all-around athlete while Segwai is a pass-first PG. While it’s unlikely either should be expected to be ready to start at the Division 1 level in November, who knows? Ellis wouldn’t be the first under-recruited Cheshire Academy product to start from Day 1 at CCSU (Austin Nehls did that just three seasons ago). But facts are facts, and at least one of them is going to be thrust into the rotation, ready or not.
Option C: Ian Krishnan. Sure, he’s a freshman like the guys above, but he’s on a different level. NERR had him ranked 57th in New England in his class (Ellis didn’t crack the Top 100), and had offers from a few D1 schools (Wagner being one of them). However, while Verbal Commits lists him as a point guard, I’m not sure that’s true. NERR described him as “A throwback style two-guard, Krishnan is a shooter first and foremost, but also brings that football like toughness with him to the basketball court.” That certainly doesn’t mean he can’t play the 1, but ideally a guy like this would play off the ball and knock down wide open jumpers as defenses key on that dominant frontcourt. I fully expect Krishnan to find himself getting starter level minutes on 11/6 at Hartford, but in a perfect world it won’t be at PG.
Option D: Tyler Kohl. Could Kohl handle PG duties? Absolutely! He can do pretty much anything on the court, including guard positions 1-4, distribute, and knock down outside shots. And Marshall certainly has the depth at the wing/4 to handle moving Kohl to the 1, with Kashaun Hicks, Jamir Coleman, Mike Underwood, and Chris Williams all capable of playing the 3 and/or small-ball 4, and of course Joe Hugley can more than handle either the 4 or 5. But with Kohl manning the point, there are concerns that the Blue Devil defense will be a little big and slow to handle the smaller lineups in the NEC. Plus, Kohl may or may not have had hand surgery that could impede him being ready for the early part of the season.
As we sit here in late August, the smart money is on Marshall choosing “Option E: All of the Above”, at least during non-conference play. And, really, that’s the right answer. There are many fans who put a lot of stock in the non-conference portion of the schedule, but it really is designed to help squads get ready for NEC play. It doesn’t matter who gets the majority of the playing time on November 6th, it’s January 3rd against Wagner that counts.
The best scenario for the Blue Devils is that one of Tyson Batiste, Will Ellis, or Thai Segwai separate themselves from the other two and can prove to be an above-average point guard in this league, allowing Krishnan and Kohl to play their natural positions. It would also allow the coaching staff to focus their recruiting efforts on other positions. It’s no secret that Marshall has been active in recruiting point guards: ’19 verbal commit Trey Tennyson is a combo-guard who is more than capable of handling the point; and he has no fewer than four outstanding offers to PG’s. Perhaps Marshall just wants to stockpile ball handlers, or perhaps he’s hedging his bets given the lack of experience on the current roster.
The good news is that the job description doesn’t require high usage; Tyler Kohl, Deion Bute and Joe Hugley (and perhaps Kashaun Hicks and Ian Krishnan) will likely shoulder the scoring load. Take care of the basketball, knock down open shots, and play strong perimeter defense are all that is needed for this team to finish in the top half of the NEC.