For this week, we will try something new and preview both games at the same time. Why? Because writing previews on Friday nights for Saturday games has become difficult, that’s why.
Central Connecticut (2-4) at Bryant (3-3): Thursday at 7pm in Smithfield, RI.
Kenpom: CCSU 77, Bryant 76 (51%)
Bart Torvik: CCSU 78, Bryant 77 (52%)
LIU-Brooklyn (3-3) at Central Connecticut (2-4): Saturday at 1pm in New Britain, CT.
Kenpom: CCSU 78, LIU 76 (59%)
Bart Torvik: CCSU 80, LIU 76 (64%)
Now in his 1st season at Bryant, Jared Grasso was previously an assistant coach under Tim Cluess at Iona, and interviewed for the vacant CCSU position which ultimately went to Donyell Marshall back in 2016. Despite taking over a program that won just three games last season (2-16 in the NEC), Grasso has the Bulldogs sitting at 3-3 in league play after dispatching league favorite St. Francis U on Monday 76-67.
The Bulldogs have been led by Bash Townes, a 6’5” grab-and-go 4 who leads the team in scoring (15.7 ppg) and is 2nd in rebounding (4.8 rpg) in conference play. He’s really rounded out his game (and his body, as evidenced here) and has become a long-range threat (33%), as well as a guy who can do damage in the paint.
Another guy worth highlighting is freshman 6-man Joe Kasperzyk. The 6’1” guard is a Connecticut native (New Haven), and is almost a shoe-in for NEC All-Rookie Team. He’s 2nd on the team in scoring in NEC play at 14 ppg, and is also leading the team in assists (2.2 apg).
Bryant has a solid offense (currently middle of the pack in terms of efficiency), but have really struggled to defend. Their 1.08 PPP allowed is dead last in the NEC, and they’re allowing teams to shoot 55% on twos.
The defending champs lost Joel Hernandez to graduation, but returned a dynamic frontcourt in Julian Batts and Jashaun Agosto, one of the top wings in Raiquan Clark, and brought in one of the most talented newcomers in Ty Flowers, who came over from UMass.
However, the season has been mostly a mixed bag. There were some bad losses in the non-conference (the 17-point loss to Marist in Belfast sticks out), as well as some impressive wins (road wins at Fairfield and Fordham). NEC play has been more of the same; they're currently 3-3 with every game having been decided by single digits.
Derek Kellogg has his own New Haven product in senior forward Raiquan Clark. The 6'6" Clark leads the league in scoring in conference play at 24.8 ppg and is 4th in rebounding with 7.7 rpg.
Things to Watch
As has been well documented, Tyler Kohl attempted just two field goals in the loss to Robert Morris on Monday, and ultimately didn’t see the floor over the final seven minutes of a winnable game. There were times where Kohl looked passive, seemingly unwilling to shoot. What will happen this weekend? I’d guess all options are on the table; anywhere from not playing, to not starting, to balling out and averaging 30 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists. Rather than predict anything, I’ll sit here and hope for the latter.
Get the Offense Going
After a rough first week, CCSU scored 1.17 PPP at FDU and 1.13 PPP at Mount St. Mary’s, then put up 39 points in the first half against St. Francis University. Things were looking up!
Then, of course, they scored just 30 points in the 2nd half, and then put up a brutally bad 0.88 PPP against Robert Morris.
The issues always seem to change with this team; in a three-game losing streak to Oregon St., Wagner and Sacred Heart, Central shot just 10 for 59 from three (17%). In the loss to SFU, it was their inability finish in the paint (8 for 21 “at the rim"), and at Robert Morris it was turnovers (18, or 27% of possessions).
So what’s it going to take to turn this ship around? Ultimately, it’s about ball movement and knocking down shots. Can they get back to where they were in November, when they were one of the best shooting teams in the country? That seems like a long time ago now.
Defend the Interior
LIU Brooklyn is shooting just 28.4% from three in conference play, continuing a season long trend where their guards have had trouble matching what they did in seasons past. However, the Blackbirds have made a living on getting to the rim, shooting 56.5% on 2-pointers, which has resulted in a 51% eFG%, which ranks 3rd in the NEC. In fact, according to hoop-math, 43.8% of LIU's field goal attempts come "at the rim", which is the 26th highest in the country.
Raiquan Clark, who is putting up All-League numbers, is shooting 60% inside the arc, and has also gotten to the free throw line 57 times in six games (and is making 70% of his attempts), while UMass transfer Ty Flowers is shooting a cool 79% from inside.
The Matchup Problems
Both Bryant and LIU Brooklyn have guys that can cause matchup problems for NEC teams.
For Bryant it's Townes; he's just 6'5", but his rebounding ability allows Grasso to play five-out with a four-guard lineup of Joey Kasperzyk, Adam Grant, Byron Hawkins, and Taylor McHugh. Given CCSU's size, depending this kind of lineup may prove to be difficult.
On the flip side, the Blackbirds like to play big with Clark at the '3' and Ty Flowers at the '4'. Flowers has the ability to play inside and outside, as he's shooting 36% from three (he leads the team with 40 made 3's), and at 6'9" he can convert inside and has also been a good rebounder for Derek Kellogg.
I won’t sugarcoat things here; the Blue Devils are getting desperate. They’re currently tied with Fairleigh Dickinson for 8th place in the league, but looking deeper (and ignoring the 2OT CCSU victory in Teaneck) it appears FDU is primed for a big run while he Central Connecticut continues to struggle offensively.
Losing on Thursday in Smithfield, specifically, could put Central behind the 8-ball in terms of even making the NEC Tournament. Imaging thinking that back in November when this team seemed like a title contender?
We still are not in “must win” territory…let’s not overreact here…but we’re getting close.