3P Leaders: Dee Barnes (36.7%); Morse (33.3%); Chong-Qui (28.9%)
Only Win: A-#197 American
Worst Losses: H-#326 Bryant; H-#311 North Carolina A&T; A-#318 Morgan St.
Of the 353 Division 1 basketball teams in the country, the Mount has the 2nd least experienced squad. Literally every player on the roster is either a freshman or a sophomore, with only Jalen Gibbs and Omar Habwe having any semblance of D1 experience prior to this season. Talk about a rebuild. Welcome to your new gig, Dan Engelstad!
So yeah, if you’re a Mount St. Mary’s student/alumni/fan, you might look at the 0-3 NEC record or the 1-13 record against D1 opponents and shudder. But you’ve had a good run recently; Jamion Christian took MSMU to the NCAA Tournament twice in his six seasons, and had an overall NEC record of 67-39, finishing above .500 in every season.
But here’s the thing; Engelstad’s young bunch has not been overmatched, despite the ugly record. According to Kenpom, the Mount played the 21st most difficult non-conference schedule in America, with road games at North Carolina St., Maryland, St. John’s, Minnesota, and a good Hofstra team. Their lone win, a roadie over American, was one of the more impressive non-conference wins for any NEC squad (American is currently rated #197, which is higher than any NEC team). And the NEC schedule makers didn't do them any favors, sending to western Pennsylvania in Week 1.
During the pre-season, the program received a major lift when transfer Jalen Gibbs was ruled eligible immediately. The 6’3” wing, who played sparingly as a freshman at Drake, is one of the most experienced players on the team, and is also one of the few guys capable of scoring the ball at all three levels. He’s certainly not been very efficient (his 86.5 O-Rating is 54th out of 61 qualified players), and he’s shooting just 26% from three, but he’s probably being asked to do too much out of necessity. While he’s struggled so far in conference play (just 10 for 30 from the field, including 2 for 14 from three), he’s capable of big games; he dropped 24 points at NC State, 21 at Hofstra, and 30 against non-D1 Wilson College. He’s also rebounded the ball well for a guard (5 rpg).
Perhaps one of the front-runners for league ROY is Gibbs’ backcourt mate Vado Morse, who has won the NEC Rookie of the Week award three times. The combo-guard has also been utilized quite a bit (23.7% usage rate), though he’s been a bit more efficient than Gibbs thanks to his 32% 3P% against D1 teams, and is averaging 15.7 ppg in three conference games (50% eFG%). Of course, Morse isn’t the only ROY candidate on this team; 6’9” freshman Malik Jefferson is been quite a find. His offensive game needs work, but he’s been deadly around the basket so far in conference play (7 for 9 from the field), and is 2nd in the NEC with a 15.1% offensive rebounding rate (5th in DR rate). He’s been foul prone (fouling out in 3 games), but has really held his own against some quality bigs.
Through three NEC games, the Mount has done a tremendous job in limiting turnovers; their 17.8% turnover rate is the 2nd lowest in the NEC, and they’ve also been able to convert on two-pointers at a 52.2% clip, third highest. However, they’ve struggled from three (25.7%) and are also shooting 58.1% from the charity stripe (64.2% overall, which is 318th nationally).
Defensively, they have the 2nd worst defensive efficiency in conference play, though part of that is their schedule; they played two of the better offensive teams, St. Francis U. and Bryant. On the season, the Mount has actually been solid defensively, holding some high major teams to reasonable outputs.
Things to Watch
Kohl At the Rim
Tyler Kohl is coming off one of his most complete games of his season; the triple double made all the headlines, but one of the things I noticed most about Kohl (besides getting his teammates more involved offensively) was that he converted at the rim (3 out of 5 attempts). The most Tyler Kohl-move is him getting into the lane, up-faking (perhaps twice), and either making a layup or dishing to a teammate. It felt like he did that 5 times per game last season. This year? Not so much.
Coming into the game at FDU on Thursday, Kohl was just 30 for 62 at the rim (48%) after converting 60.5% of his attempts at the rim last season. CCSU’s star has been much better as a jump shooter this season than he was last year, which is why his eFG% has improved from 47.2% to 48% despite the struggles inside. But I’d like to see him work to get his inside game going early on Saturday.
Get Coleman Going
Looking at Jamir Coleman’s game log, what sticks out like a sore thumb is that he’s been consistently inconsistent. Since scoring 19 points against Florida A&M on 11/18, his point totals are as follows: 9, 9, 2, 21, 11, 16, 7, 20, 4. Down the stretch and in overtime on Thursday night, Coleman found himself largely on the bench as Marshall rode with two bigs (Bute and Hugley) to counteract FDU’s length. However, make no mistake about it, Coleman is super important to what Marshall likes to do as he provides versatility on both sides of the ball.
On the season, about 35% of Coleman’s shots are of the mid-range variety, and he’s converting at just a 35% clip, yet he’s making 64% of his shots at the rim (and shooting 81% from the free throw line). If he could settle for two-point jumpers less frequently and utilize his athletic ability to get the rim a bit more, I think his offensive profile would skyrocket.
Share the Ball
Against FDU on Thursday, CCSU assisted on 56% of their made field goals, which is well above their season average of 45.5% (and above the D1 average of 52.2%).
It’s no coincidence that the increased ball movement and extra passes resulted in a number of open looks. Yes, they were 13 of 29 from three, but they also made 58% of their two-pointers. I’m sure the coaching staff would like to see that continue; fewer pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock, and more dribble penetration and ball movement.
It’d be easy to look at the Mount’s 1-13 record against D1 teams and assume this will be an easy game, but it 100% will not be. Mount St. Mary’s had a 2-point lead early in the second half in Loretto against pre-season (and 2-1) St. Francis University, and held a 7-point lead before losing by just three at Robert Morris, the only current undefeated team in the Northeast Conference. They’ve had trouble closing out close games, a sign of a young team, but they haven’t been blown out by a mid-major since 11/21 when they lost by 14 at home to North Carolina A&T.
This is a classic trap game; CCSU’s coming off a huge double OT win on the road at FDU, and will be favored in their next six games, which include five home games and a road game at Bryant. Which means this game is as “must win” as it gets if CCSU wants to challenge for a regular season title. Have to avoid a let-down and go get this one.