For the first 20 minutes against Florida A&M on Sunday night, the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils looked like world beaters. They went into the halftime break with a commanding 46-27 lead, which had gotten as high as 23 points just a few minutes earlier, and were shooting 65% from the field and had just 6 turnovers. What’s more; FAMU leading scorer Justin Ravenel was completely shut down; 0 for 1 from the field.
The the second half began and, well, the wheels almost fell off this thing. CCSU turned it over six sixteen times in the final 20 minutes and committed 18 fouls as the Rattlers cut the lead to nine with 2:30 remaining. Fortunately, some clutch free throw shooting clinched this game. But it’s hard to imagine Donyell Marshall was thrilled in the locker room afterwards.
The Blue Devils’ shooting won this game; a season high 73.8% eFG% to go along with an uber-high 76.2 free throw rate. The only reason this game was even close was that 29% turnover rate, which is bad even for a CCSU program that has consistently struggled in this category.
On the flip side, FAMU couldn’t buy a bucket; their 40.3% eFG% was the worst of their season to date.
At which point does this hot shooting from the field cease being a small sample size, and start becoming part of the DNA of this team? I’m going to suggest right about...now. The Blue Devils’ 73.8% eFG% Sunday night wasn't only a season high, but it’s the highest of the Donyell Marshall era (and perhaps ever?).
CCSU was a ridiculous 22 of 28 on two-pointers, and a very good 6 for 14 from three. It was as if they couldn’t miss. Only Tyler Kohl missed more than three shots (he was 5 for 9 from the field). Jamir Coleman was 7 for 9, Deion Bute was 4 for 4, Ian Krishnan 4 for 7, Batiste 2 for 3, Hicks 2 for 3, Hugley 2 for 5, and Segwai was 1 for 2.
Central Connecticut now has a 59% eFG% on the season, which is good for 29th highest in the country; they're shooting 45% from three (16th), and 55% from 2 (86th). Oh, and their 74% FT% is 73rd highest. This team can put the ball in the basket!
Donyell Marshall has shot makers all over the floor; we all know how good Kohl and Krishnan has been, but they are certainly not the only guys who have been really good through five games. The Division 1 average eFG% is ~50%, so keep that in mind when you see these numbers:
-Deion Bute- 74.1%.
-Jamir Coleman- 72.0%
-Ian Krishnan- 70.4%
-Tyson Batiste- 66.7%
-Kashaun Hicks- 56.2%
-Karrington Wallace- 53.1%
-Tyler Kohl- 50.6%
-Joe Hugley- 50%
You want to double Tyler Kohl? Go right ahead! Dude’s averaging 5.6 apg, and it’s not hard to see why.
But what good is having the ability to make shots when you give the ball to the other team frequently?
The second half of Sunday night’s game was an absolute clinic on how to almost give a game away. I said it before but it’s worth repeating; 16 TURNOVERS IN ONE HALF. And it wasn’t just one guy; Kohl and Coleman each turned it over five times, Hicks had 4 giveaways, and Krishnan, Batiste and Hugley each had two. And there were all different kinds; there were lazy passes, cross court giveaways, pick-pockets, and just fumbling the basketball.
How much of it was “we’re up twenty so let’s take our foot off the gas”? Probably some, but this isn’t new. In four out of five games this season, CCSU’s turnover rate has been above 19.9% (D1 average this season is 19.3%), and it seems to be contagious across the roster.
CCSU had no answer for the Rattlers’ full court press last night, and that’s a major problem that needs to be addressed going forward.
I know Tyler Kohl put up the stats last night, but the freshman guard was my MVP. No, it wasn’t Krishnan’s most dynamic offensive game; 13 points on 4 of 7 shooting (1 for 4 from three), plus four clutch free throws. But he literally locked down Florida A&M’s best offensive player, Justin Ravenel. The senior sharp-shooter was 1 for 14 from the floor after coming into the game 17 for 26 on the season. And sure, he did get to the line 14 times (including a couple of fouls on three-point attempts), but I thought the refereeing in this game was questionable at best (more on that below). The fact is, Krishnan might be as good of a defender as he is a shooter/scorer. There’s so much Tristan Blackwood in Ian Krishnan.
So, at what point does Marshall just roll with Kohl as the primary point guard? Look, I do not like being overly critical of individual players; I understand how much work these guys put into their craft. But for about 5 minutes in the first half yesterday, Marshall went with a lineup of Kohl, Krishnan, Hicks, Coleman and Bute, and the lead just kept growing.
My affinity for Tyson Batiste is well documented; he’s a really good student, hard worker, and team leader. But while he’s been solid shooting the ball; 7 for 11 on two-pointers and 2 for 4 from three, he’s got a 27.6% turnover rate and he’s struggled at times defensively. Plus, and it really pains me to say it, but the free throw issues are back; after going 4 for 4 in the exhibition game, he’s now just 1 for 7 on the season.
Meanwhile, Thai Segwai a 10% assist rate against a 39% turnover rate, and is just 2 for 11 from the field. Yes, he’s a strong perimeter defender, and he’s knocked down his free throws (3 for 4 on the year), but he’s got a 58.0 O-Rating on the season.
Kohl can certainly handle point guard duties; he’s got a 30% assist rate, a 15% turnover rate, and the ball ends up in his hands anyway. Plus, inserting Hicks at the 3 still gives the lineup ample shooting (especially if/when Hugley comes in for Bute at the 5), and they don’t sacrifice athletically, as Coleman can pretty much defend 1-5, and Hicks is athletic enough to guard wings.
Both Batiste and Segwai will (and should) remain in the rotation; but don’t be shocked if their current combined 37 mpg becomes more like 27 mpg come conference play.
-OK, so let’s finally mention Tyler Kohl’s line; 20 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists (5 turnovers). He’s currently averaging 21.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg and 5.6 apg. Before the season began, I predicted he’d average 20/10/5, and I still believe that will happen. It’s hard to see him not winning NEC POY at this point in the year.
-Defensive rebounding continues to be an issue. FAMU had 13 offensive rebounds (29%), which isn’t absurdly high (D1 average is ~29%), but for a team as undersized as the Rattlers were Sunday night, it’s certainly a cause for concern. At one point in the second half, Florida A&M was playing volleyball at the rim, and there was nothing the Blue Devils could do about it. To me, this is more concerning than the turnover problem because it’s new. Last year CCSU was the 2nd best defensive rebounding team in the NEC. Is Jamir Coleman the problem? The data says he’s been solid on the boards, but maybe he’s not blocking out well. Or is it the guards? Rebounding is a team thing, and it’s difficult to tell from my vantage point. But it’s got to be addressed.
-How good has Donyell Marshall and staff been at identifying JUCO guys? Bute and Hugley have been great (Kohl doesn’t count), and Jamir Coleman has been tremendous! His athleticism is rare in the Northeast Conference; 6’7” and can create his own shot off the dribble, block shots, and jump out of the gym. He’s turning it over too much (2.5 per game), but he’s 6 for 9 from three, has a 72% eFG%, and leads the team with an 8% block rate.
-Deion Bute has quietly been better this year than he was in his first season, especially on a rate basis. He’s been much more efficient offensively (74.1% eFG% compared to 60% last season), he’s rebounding the ball better, his turnovers are down, and his block rate is up. He’s also fouling a bit less, though that’s still an issue. Sure, his minutes are down given the depth, and he’s struggled a bit from the free throw line (though was 6 for 7 last night). Marshall is relying on him a bit less (his usage is down to 19.5% from 22.5% last season), which has allowed him to pick his spots better.
-While it’s not showing up in the numbers (yet), anecdotally I like the strides that Kashaun Hicks has made since last season. As a RS freshman, too often he tried to get offense off the bounce, rather than letting the game come to him. This season, it seems that he’s content with often times being the 4th option offensively, and he’s moving off the ball a bit better. It’s not showing up in his O-Rating (86.5% this year compared to 85.9% a season ago), but he’s just 2 of 7 from three, and that’ll improve. He’s too good of a shooter to be shooting below 30%.
-It’s become clear that the rotation is 9-players deep, with a steep drop-off after that; Mike Underwood has played just 12 minutes, Will Ellis 6, Chris Williams 1, and Harrison Kay and Donyell Marshall Jr. have yet to see the floor. What’s perhaps even more interesting, is that last season through five games, Donyell Marshall had four different starting lineups? This season? Just two, and that was because Jamir Coleman missed the Georgetown game with a hamstring injury.
-Was it me, or was the officiating really poor in this one? I’ve never been a “the refs are screwing my team” guy, and I’m not saying that here. But both teams had 25 fouls apiece, and there were multiple times where replays showed a questionable foul call, yet the whistle blew. There was one play in the 1st half where FAMU got out on a fast break, Tyson Batiste defended without even touching the guy and he was called for a foul. I’m sure it happened the other way as well. It actually paid off; CCSU shot 84% from the line, while FAMU shot shut 72%. But yeah, no one tuned in to watch the officials.
-Unlike Marshall, FAMU head coach Robert McCallum has had three different starting lineups through four games, with 8 different players starting at least once. You’d think after having some success against Campbell (they were up 15 in the first half before eventually losing by 7), he’d go with the same lineup. He certainly knows his team better than I do, but I’d have to think some continuity would be helpful.
-The Rattlers certainly do play hard, huh? They have a ton of guards who are quick, and they will certainly force a lot of turnovers in the MEAC. MJ Randolph was pretty impressive for a freshman, and will be a pain in the neck for conference opponents.
-FAMU was 8 for 25 from the mid-range. That’s what happens when you have no size up front. Two-point jump shots are the devil.
Central Connecticut flies from Jamaica to Los Angeles to take on the fighting Hank Gathers’ of Loyola Marymount on Wednesday night at 10pm. The Lions are undefeated thus far, with a road win over UNLV and a win over Georgetown in Jamaica.