It’s hard to believe the season is already half over; the Blue Devils have played 17 games and have, hopefully, 19 remaining (3 NEC Tourney games, a PIG, and a 1st round matchup with other Blue Devils). Here are a bunch of random thoughts and observations.
1. After all the freaking out last week (myself included), CCSU currently sits at 2-2 in NEC play and is right in the thick of things. It’s strange how we got here, but before conference play started, Kenpom projected CCSU to be exactly 2-2; they just lost a game they were supposed to win (Wagner), and won a game they were supposed to lose (Fairleigh Dickinson). I probably would have signed for a 2-2 start, and that’s exactly what we got. Blue Devils fans should be feeling pretty good right now. So no, this team does not “stink”.
2. These next three weeks are HUGE. Check out the Kenpom projections below for the next six games:
No, that doesn’t mean Kenpom projects them to win all six games. In fact, those odds add up to going 4-2 over the next six games. 4-2 would be fine, but 5-1 probably puts the Blue Devils in the driver’s seat to get a home game (and perhaps more). Remember, the magic number is 11 wins, which means they’d need to win 9 more; and Kenpom has them projected to be favorites in exactly nine more games. If Central is sitting at 7-3 three weeks from now, let’s start getting Detrick Gym ready for a home playoff game.
3. It might be recency bias, but Tyler Kohl may be the most important player to a Blue Devil team since Corsley Edwards in the 2001-02 season. I've watched every team since that season (no, I'm not young), and we've had some really good players cycle through New Britain; Ron Robinson, Javier Mojica, Ken Horton, Kyle Vinales just to name a few. But if I were building a team and could choose any current or former Blue Devil player, I think it would be Kohl, and it's because of his passing ability. Yeah, he can score and rebound and is a good defender, but at 6'5" he's possibly the best passer I've seen in a CCSU uniform (though Malcolm MacMillan was pretty damn good too).
4. One of my favorite things about Donyell Marshall is his willingness to go (what seems like) completely random at times. In Thursday’s win over Fairleigh Dickinson, Marshall went to a “big” lineup with both Joe Hugley and Deion Bute on the floor at the same time for almost the entirety of the overtime periods. Then on Saturday, he played most of the second half with a “small” lineup with Kohl at the 4 and Hicks at the 3. In fact, for about 5 minutes he had a lineup of Segwai, Krishnan, Hicks, Kohl and Hugley on the floor, which I think is the first time he’s used that lineup all season. Plus, he went with a hybrid match-up 1-1-3 (?) zone defense, with Segwai and Krishnan both extending out along the perimeter to try and limit Mount St. Mary’s 3P shooting. A lot of coaches simply stay with their lineup because it’s the lineup, but Marshall is willing to try different things and sticks with what works.
5. Speaking of lineups, Marshall has utilized just five different starting lineups this season, 4 of which were necessitated by injury (Coleman missed the Georgetown game, Bute didn’t play against Pine Manor, Kohl was sick at NCA&T and he was in the concussion protocol against Wagner). However, the starting lineup of Batiste, Krishnan, Kohl, Coleman and Bute has started 13 of the 17 games, and every game where all five starters were healthy/available. Last season, Marshall used 12 different lineups, and no lineup more than 16 times.
6. Last week the coaching staff offered scholarships to a pair of Junior College players; David Kachelries of Mineral Area College and Brian Tolefree from Neosho County Community College. I’ve seen some negative chatter about JUCO guys and I’ll say this; recruiting at this level is about identifying market inefficiencies in order to get high-major talent to mid-major programs. Sometimes it means bringing in a kid overlooked because of his size (say, like this guy), sometimes its hiring an assistant coach who has a supremely talented kid (or a head coach, like this guy) or brother (like this guy)*, and sometimes it’s bringing in a kid with a questionable background. Yes, I wish we had Tyler Kohl for four years instead of just two, but overall Marshall has built this roster on the backs of JUCO guys; of the minutes played this season, 48% have come from players who came to CCSU from a Junior College (4 players), while 52% came directly from high school/prep school (10 players). It’s no secret the coaching staff has struggled with recruiting/developing/retaining high school guys; Batiste and Hicks are the only rotation players from the initial recruiting class, both freshman from last season’s class left the program, and Krishnan is really the only freshman who has made a significant impact on this year’s team (Wallace played just 5 minutes in the wins last week, while Segwai has played more out of necessity than readiness). Is that a coincidence? Could be…I’m not saying “Marshall can’t recruit or develop” high school kids…but it’s obvious the JUCO guys (Kohl, Bute, Hugley, and Coleman) have made more of an impact on the program.
*By the way, I am not suggesting Marshall hired assistant coach Aaron Ross because he wanted to recruit his brother. As far as I'm aware it was a complete coincidence. But hiring relatives/coaches of highly talented prospects is a common practice in college basketball.
7. One of the players offered last week, David Kachelries, is exactly the type of player CCSU needs on its roster next year; a true combo-guard who can create for himself and others, run the point and play off the ball. Kachelries played his freshman season at NJIT, choosing them over a host of Patriot League and Ivy League schools, and is currently averaging 12.5 ppg and 7.6 apg at Mineral Area College (where Kohl played), shooting 41% from three. Will CCSU get him? I have no idea- if suddenly some A-10 schools come calling, probably not. But a guy like that. Outside of Kohl, the Blue Devils don’t really have a guy who can just go make a play. Krishnan is largely a jump shooter at this stage in his development (he’s shooting just 44% on two-pointers and is averaging 1.4 apg), Coleman is a finisher but doesn’t make plays for others, and Joe Hugley has just one assist this season. Even Tyson Batiste, who has been solid, is averaging just 3 apg…which is fine, but is less than what one would expect from a point guard. Getting a true play-maker will be key.
8. Speaking of next season’s recruiting class, Marshall has two spots for next season due to the graduations of Kohl and Bute, and one of those scholarships is already taken up by wing Trey Tennyson. Tennyson is having a huge season for Mansfield Legacy High School down in Arlington, Texas (check this, and this), and will certainly compete for minutes on the wing opposite Ian Krishnan. He’s listed as a point guard according to Verbal Commits, but he’s definitely more of a wing/scorer (FWIW Krishnan was also listed as a PG) with solid size for an NEC 2/3 (6’4”). On paper it feels like the last scholarship should go to a big to replace Deion Bute, but I’d rather the staff focus on adding to the backcourt as I described above. Of course, I’d put money that another scholarship opens up somehow, though I never like to speculate on such things.