In the pre-season, the Red Flash were undoubtedly expected to be the class of the Northeast Conference; they returned every rotation player from a team that finished 12-6 last season, were getting Isaiah Blackmon, who was 5th in the nation in 3P shooting 2 seasons ago (49.6%) before missing last season with a knee injury, back, and were unanimously chosen as the pre-season title favorite. In fact, if you had nailed me down on a win prediction for SFU back in October, I would have guessed they finish 15-3 in NEC play.
Yet, here we are in the middle of January, and Rob Krimmel’s ballclub is 2-2 in NEC play (including a blowout home loss to FDU), has just four non-D1 wins, and has dropped almost 100 spots in Kenpom since the start of the season. So what gives?
I won’t pretend to know anything about the SFU locker room, but the numbers reflect a difficulty in keeping so many talented offensive players happy; SFU’s assist rate was solid last season at 48%, however this season their 41.3% assist rate ranks 346th out of 353 D1 teams. Essentially, there’s a lot of one-on-one action on offense, with guys looking to get their shots up, and it’s resulting in horrible shooting numbers; their 30.5% 3P% is down from 37.1% last year (which ranked 77th) and their shooting 44.6% on 2-pointers compared to 51.2% last year (125th). Take a look at the individual eFG% figures (D1 average is ~50%):
Keith Braxton: 2018-52.1%; 2019- 46.3%
Jamaal King: 2018-53.6%; 2019- 46.9%
Isaiah Blackmon: 2017: 56.8%; 2019- 43.9%
Andre Wolford: 2018- 66.8%; 2019- 41.8%
Coming into the year, I thought there was an argument to be made that any of those four players could end up being first-team all NEC. However, as things stand today I’m not sure anyone other than Braxton has even a shot. Braxton has been really good, as he leads the league in rebounding despite being listed at 6’5”. He’s been much less efficient offensively this season and is shooting just 24.5% from three (though he’s 4 of 13 in league play). but is coming off back-to-back 16-point performances.
Last season, Jamaal King led the league in scoring at 18.2 ppg, yet this year he’s down to 14.4 ppg, with his shooting marks down quite a bit. However, he’s still capable of big games; he scored 25 against Mount St. Mary’s, and had 26 in a loss at Delaware, and is shooting very well from the perimeter (8 for 18 in NEC play). However, he’s really struggled in the mid-range, seeing his shooting percentage on such shots drop from 45% last year to 32% this season.
Blackmon started slow, but has come on strong over the past month or so, and is shooting 35.1% from three and has been the most efficient of the backcourt players, however Andre Wolford has really struggled from the perimeter; 22 of 77 overall and 5 of 17 in league play. For a guy who shot 49% last season, that’s quite the shock.
Where they’ve been better is in the frontcourt; Krimmel brought in Luidgy Laporal (JUCO) and Myles Thompson (freshman) to give the team some toughness and rebounding, which both have done. Thompson is an undersized 4 with an ability to stretch the floor (32% from three), while Laporal takes up space inside.
Things to Watch
Unlike last season, Rob Krimmel hasn’t been forced to play his “small lineup” with Keith Braxton at the 4 given the presence of Myles Thompson, as well as the 5-man combination of Laporal and Mark Flagg. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t; in fact, his team typically plays ~50% of the game with a 4-guard lineup, which means a ton of quickness.
Donyell Marshall prefers to play with two bigs; Deion Bute or Joe Hugley at the 5, and Jamir Coleman or Karrington Wallace (or Hugley) at the 4. However, in the win over Mount St. Mary’s, Marshall played Kohl at the 4 for a long stretch which coincided with CCSU’s comeback. Coleman does have the quickness to guard on the perimeter, but has consistently gotten lost on the defensive end. Don’t be surprised to see Marshall go small again on Saturday at times.
Defending the 3
I know we just got done talking about SFU’s struggles shooting the basketball, but make no mistake; this is a very dangerous offensive team. They’ve been better since they got into league play (33.3%), and have guys all over the floor who have the ability to get hot from outside.
CCSU is allowing teams to shoot 37.1% from three in conference play (36.1% overall), and gave up 10 three-pointers on Saturday to Mount St. Mary’s in the first half. Staying home on 3P shooters and not giving up open shots has to be the priority.
Share the Basketball
This might be a “thing to watch” for the remainder of the season. In CCSU’s two NEC wins, they scored 1.15 PPP and assisted on 58% of their made field goals. In their losses? 0.83 PPP, with assists on just 36% of made field goals. Ball movement is a thing, folks.
Last week Tyler Kohl had 19 assists in two games, and he’s the facilitator but it’s not all him; in both wins the Blue Devils consistently made the extra pass to the open man, and it paid off in a big way. Taking mid-range jumpers off the dribble is not good offense. Penetrating and finding an open shooter or cutter is good offense.
The Size Advantage
When Marshall plays his starting lineup (Kohl at the 3, Coleman at the 4, and Bute at the 5), the Blue Devils will have a distinct size advantage down low. Laporal is 6’9” 240, but is not much of a rim protector (he has just 3 blocks on the season), and while backup big Mark Flagg has done been a solid shot-blocker, the rest of the roster is pretty undersized.
Late in the game at Mount St. Mary’s, due to the Mountaineers frontcourt being decimated due to foul trouble, the Blue Devils pounded the ball inside and either got easy bucks or trips to the charity stripe. I’d love to see Marshall get the inside game going early, consistently getting the ball inside to Bute, as well as having Kohl post-up whoever is guarding him.
This week I had SFU as #2 in my NEC Rankings, and I just feel like it’s only a matter of time before the talent rises to the top and this team figures it out. But there’s also the possibility that, for whatever reason, the team never realizes its potential. This year’s version of the Red Flash kind of reminds me of 2010-11 Blue Devils, which finished 11-7 in league play despite have three all-league caliber guys in Ken Horton, Robby Ptacek, and Shemik Thompson.
With all that said, remember last season? Even though SFU was one of the top teams in the league, Central Connecticut matched up quite well with them; the Blue Devils hung on for a 72-68 win at Detrick Gym after being up by as many as 16-points, then gave the Red Flash all they could handle in an overtime loss in Loretto.
Saturday begins a 6-game stretch in which the Blue Devils will be favored in every game. Time to move up in the standings.