Hawks coach John Gallagher entered last season on the hot seat, only to be rewarded with a contract extension after Hartford finished 3rd in the America East Conference (11-5). The Hawks have one of the most experienced teams in Division 1; all five likely starts are seniors, and they lost just two rotational players off last season's squad (big man Hassan Attia and Jack Hobbs). Therefore, it’s no surprise that Hartford was almost unanimously picked 2nd in the America East behind Vermont, and have a real shot at capturing the conference championship.
Gallagher’s team is led by the three-headed monster of PG JR Lynch, wing Jason Dunne, and forward John Carroll. The latter two were named to the pre-season All-AE first team, while Lynch (along with Carroll) made the Blue Ribbon All-Conference team. All three averaged double figures in points last season, led by Carroll (15.2 ppg), and all have different skill sets and can beat you in a variety of ways.
In order to replace Attia, Gallagher brought in Eddie Davis, a 6’7” grad transfer from Southern Mississippi. Davis started 20 games for the G’Eagles, averaging 5 ppg and 2.1 rpg.
Player to Watch: John Carroll
9-14 from the field, 7 for 11 from the free throw line, 26 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists. That was John Carroll’s line in 2017-18’s season opening win against these very Blue Devils. The now-senior was unstoppable, getting whatever he wanted at the rim, while also stretching out the defense (2 for 4 from the mid-range, 1 for 2 from three). The 6’8” big from Dublin never truly slowed down, garnering America East All-Conference 2nd team after averaging 13.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg in conference play.
Carroll had the highest usage rate of any Hawks player at 24.7%, with the offense generally running through him from the low block, and his O-Rating of 108.5 was solid given that amount of usage (only six America East players had higher O-Ratings with > 25% usage). While Carroll does most of his work down low (59% FG% at the rim), he also showed the ability to step out and knock down perimeter shots last season (19 for 62), which wasn’t there previously. The knock on him offensively is his penchant for falling in love with the mid-range; 33% of his shots came of the 2-point jumper variety, and he only made 38% of them. If the Blue Devil defense can keep him out of the paint, it will go a long way towards winning this game.
Things to Watch:
CCSU Point Guards:
Tyson Batiste got the start in the Blue Devils exhibition win over Arcadia University, and performed adequately; 8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover. But most importantly, he was 4 for 4 from the foul line. Considering he was just 3 for 18 last season, that’s obviously quite an improvement, as his foul shooting issues caused him to become gun shy last season when it came to trying to take the ball to the basket, and shooting in general.
Against Arcadia, Batiste and freshman backup Thai Segwai combined for 6 assists and just 1 turnover in 49 minutes, while the other point guard on the roster, Will Ellis, did not see the floor. They will have to play similarly against the experienced backcourt of the Hawks, specifically JR Lynch, who had a 2.4% steal rate (9th in the AE).
Last year, CCSU grabbed 32% of their offensive rebounding opportunities in conference play (4th in the NEC), while Hartford struggled on the defensive boards: 72%, 6th in the America East. However, against a much smaller opponent last Saturday, the Blue Devils only rebounded ~26% of their misses, with Deion Bute failing to grab an offensive rebound in 25 minutes.
In the exhibition game against Arcadia, Deion Bute picked up four fouls in 25 minutes, while Joe Hugley had four fouls in just 10 minutes, continuing a trend of foul proneness from the two big men.
The Hawks frontcourt will be difficult enough to deal with, so if a guy like freshman Karrington Wallace is forced to see major minutes trying to stop Carroll and Davis, it could end up being a major problem.
You may not like it, but Hartford being a 10-11 point favorite in this game is completely reasonable. The Hawks return the bulk of their productivity from a season ago, and this year represents the best team in the history of Hartford basketball. And as we all know, when an America East school gets into the tourney, all bets are off.
In the 2017-18 season opener, the Blue Devils were able to stay in the game on the strength of their shooting; they were 11 of 21 from three, which is notable in that it was the the most three pointers they made all season (they also made 11 in the penultimate regular season game against Wagner).
CCSU will have to shoot the lights out, and generally play better than it did in its exhibition game, to pull this out on Tuesday.