After going just 3-29 in his first season as head coach in 2016-17, Jay Joyner went heavy in the transfer market and it paid off; the Aggies finished finishing 11-5 in the MEAC (20-15 overall) last season. Unfortunately, 4 of the top 6 scorers on last year’s roster are no longer there; leading scorer and rebounder Femi Olujobi is currently in the rotation at DePaul, while three others graduated.
However, instead of undertaking a rebuilding year, Joyner dipped into the transfer market yet again, which will likely keep them competitive in the MEAC as they were picked 5th in the league by the coaches and 4th by Blue Ribbon. The two leading scorers on this year’s club, Terry Harris and Quavius Copeland, are both D1 transfers, coming in from Eastern Michigan and Middle Tennessee St., respectively.
It’s difficult to gauge if Joyner’s team is set to build upon what they did last season; as a MEAC school, its non-conference schedule is littered with road games against high major competition. The Aggies started the season with five straight losses, including road games at Wake Forest, Maryland, and Marshall, as well as a tough home game against a good UNC Greensboro squad. Their strength of schedule, per Kenpom, is currently the 42nd most difficult.
However, NCA&T’s most recent game is probably the most important outcome to look at; a 74-60 win on the road at fellow Northeast Conference program Mount St. Mary’s. The Aggies held the Mount to just 0.92 PPP, including 6 of 22 from three, erasing a three point halftime deficit to win going away. Sure, Mount St. Mary’s is in a rebuilding year and is currently winless, but road wins are tough to come by.
Joyner has played with a deep bench thus far, with 12 players appearing in all six games this season, and is led by the aforementioned Harris and Copeland, both of whom are averaging slightly over 10 ppg. Harris, a stretchy-4, is currently shooting 45% from three and 93% from the foul line, while Copeland is shooting 39% from three and 9 of 10 from the foul line. In fact, as a team, the Aggies have really shot the ball well despite the stiff competition, to the tune of 37.8% from three (73rd nationally) and 71.4% from the free throw line (121st).
Where they’ve struggled is defensively, with their adjusted defensive efficiency checking in at 112.7, 349th out of 353 D1 teams. Opponents have an eFG% of 54.8% (teams average 1.10 points per shot attempt), and are 56.9% on their 2-pointers.
The one guy who should present a problem down low is 6’8” Ibrahim Sylla, a grad transfer from Northern Colorado. Sylla is shooting 68% from the field (all twos), and also has 4 blocked shots on the year. Though fouling has been an issue for him, he did manage to play 36 minutes in the win over the Mount, scoring 14 points, grabbing 9 boards, and committing only three fouls.
In the backcourt, Joyner does have a pair of players who were part of the rotation last season; namely Kam Langley and Milik Gantz. Gantz is more of a scoring wing (6.3 ppg), while Langley is a pass-first point guard who is averaging 6 apg in just 25.8 minutes per.
Also worth mentioning; the Blue Devils beat the Aggies 72-59 at Detrick Gym almost one year ago to the day. However, both teams are significantly different than they were a year ago, especially North Carolina A&T.
Player to Watch: Kameron Langley
For a program that has been forced to rely upon a significant number of transfers, having a 4-year point guard is pretty important. That’s what Jay Joyner hopes that Kameron Langley will become.
The 6’2” sophomore started 33 games last season as a freshman, averaging 7.4 ppg and 5.1 apg while shooting 36% from three. His 115.4 O-Rating in MEAC play was 17th highest and his 58.8% eFG% was 7th. Not bad for a guy who was largely under-recruited, though he did have a few offers (Maryland Eastern Shore, Kent St., Denver, and Marshall). Ultimately he chose to stay home, as he’s from Greensboro.
Honestly, when a team schedules like NCA&T does, it’s difficult to learn much from the stats; most of their games have been blowouts against higher level competition, and as such guys typically struggle, as well as play fewer minutes. However, it appears that Langley is looking to become more of a floor leader this season, as his assist rate is all the way up to 42.9%, which is 10th nationally, and he’s averaging a cool 6 assists per game. His 2.4 A/TO ratio is an improvement over last season’s 2.2 A/TO, and it will likely improve once they get into league play.
Shooting-wise, however, he’s not really looked for his shot yet; he’s just 0 for 2 from three (was 15 for 41 last season), and is 1 for 9 on two-point jumpers. But don’t leave him open, because he can make you pay.
Langley may not score a ton of points Thursday night, but he has the ability to affect the game in other ways. Stopping his dribble penetration will be important, something the Blue Devils have struggled with at times this year.
Things to Watch
Second Half Struggles
So far this season, Central Connecticut is outscoring its opponents by 51 points in the first half, and have trailed just twice at halftime (at Hartford by 4 points, and at Georgetown by 11).
The second half? CCSU is has been even through seven games. However, if you exclude the first game of the season, the Blue Devils have been minus 11 in second halves this year. Their last four games:
UMass-Lowell: Led by 17 at halftime, won by 12.
Austin Peay: Tied at halftime, lost by 2.
Florida A&M: Led by 19 at halftime, won by 14.
Loyola Marymount: Led by 3 at half, lost by 2.
Pine Manor: Led by 27 at half, won by 29.
Now this is where you tell me it's a small sample size, and I would normally agree. Except this was a problem last season as well!
In 2017-18, CCSU was outscored by 47 points in the first half on aggregate, yet the second halves were even worse; minus 77! That's a 64% difference.
I won't pretend to know what's the root cause of this, but it is absolutely a problem. Lack of halftime adjustments? Players getting tired? I have no idea.
This is an area I will likely do more research on, as I'm curious to see if the problem is offensive, defensive, or both. More to come...
Points in the Paint
As a team, the NCA&T Aggies are allowing opponents to shoot 56.9% on two-pointers, which ranks in the bottom 35 in Division 1, and are also one of the worst teams in the country at defensive rebounding. Oh, and they are blocking just 5.3% of their opponents shot, good for 52nd lowest in the country.
And here comes 6’9” Deion Bute (assuming he’s back after missing the Pine Manor game), 6’7” Jamir Coleman, 6’7” Joe Hugley, and 6’5” Tyler Kohl.
Sure, Jay Joyner does have some size at his disposal; Sylla is 6’8”, Ronald Jackson is 6’8”, D’Andre Johnson is 6’10” and Nelson Nweke is 6’9”. And part of the teams struggles defensively have been due to playing some high level teams. But even last week, Mount St. Mary’s was able to rebound ~31% of their misses, and were 13 for 21 at the rim.
Expect the game plan to be to get the ball to the rim as much as possible right from the opening tip. While NCA&T has some bigs, they don’t have the size at the 3 and 4 positions to contend with Coleman, Kohl, and Hicks, which means a sagging defense and probably a lot of double-teams. Which will leave some shooters wide open.
When you allow a severely undersized Division 3 team to rebound 38% of their misses, it’s officially time to sound the alarm.
Sure Deion Bute didn’t play in the win over Pine Manor, but rebounding has been a consistent (and surprising) issue for this year’s Blue Devils; their 65.8% defensive rebounding percentage is in the bottom 50 in Division 1. What’s the problem? From the outside looking in, it appears boxing out is the main cause; guys are trying to outjump their opponents rather getting into good position. Whatever the problem is, it has to get ironed out in a hurry.
NCA&T doesn’t have a ton of size, but the guys they do have are very good offensive rebounders. Ibrahim Sylla has a 14.4% OR%, while backup big Ronald Jackson checks in at 14.8%. If those two are creating second chance opportunities for their shooters (the best three is one taken after an offensive board), it could be a long night.
North Carolina A&T certainly isn’t as bad as their record indicates – they were up on Greensboro at halftime 39-38, were within 9 points at the half at Wake Forest, and outscored Maryland in the second half 34-33. In fact, all five of their losses came against teams rated #140 or higher at Kenpom.
While the Blue Devils are deservedly favored, this is by no means an “easy win”. For starters, road games are always difficult, plus the computer algorithms are likely underselling a team like NCA&T, which has had a ton of roster turnover but has a bunch of D1 transfers playing major minutes.
With that said, it’s difficult to bet against this Blue Devil team the way they are playing. In fact, at least based on Kenpom projections, CCSU has beaten the spread in each of its six Division 1 games this season, and only the Austin Peay loss was even close (they lost were two, with APSU projected to win by three).
I do worry about the teams issues with closing out games, especially after jumping out to big leads. It’d be nice to see this team keep its foot on the gas for 40 minutes.
P.S. Dear CCSU Athletic Department- Please do not schedule home-and-homes with MEAC schools in the future. At least, not until they have some sort of video streaming of their games. Sincerely, TBDD