Before conference play started, I went through the schedule in an attempt to identify which games CCSU needed to win in order to finish in the top 4 in the NEC, which would give them a home quarterfinal game. At the time, there was every reason to believe Central Connecticut was one of the top 4 teams in the league (and perhaps better than that). Unfortunately, things have not gone according to plan. Central is just 4-6 in the league, which doesn’t look so bad, but dig a bit deeper and it’s easy to become even more pessimistic than the record indicates:
They are currently tied for 8th place with Wagner, who beat Central’s brains in on opening night 80-58. Sure, Tyler Kohl was out due to being in concussion protocol, but he wouldn’t have made up that 22-point difference.
CCSU has played six home games against just four road games, and head out on the dreaded western Pennsylvania trip this week. Both Robert Morris and Saint Francis University are among the best teams in the conference.
According to Kenpom and Bart Torvik, Central will be favored in just one game the rest of the way; 2/21 against Mount St. Mary’s at Detrick Gym.
All that means that the goal (at least in my book) has gone from finishing in the top 4 to just qualifying for the NEC Tournament. “But we’re only three games out of first place!” Yes, contrarian inside my brain, that is true. However, in order to finish with 12-6 (which would likely win the league outright), CCSU would have to win every one of their remaining eight games. Even to finish in the top 4, the Blue Devils would need to go at least 6-2 over their final eight games. Doable, I guess, but not likely given how the team has played over the past two months or so.
According to Bart Torvik’s WinMatrix, here are the likelihoods of CCSU’s final win totals, sorted by highest odds:
Conclusion: it’s an uphill battle.
Onto the map!
Who to Root Against
First off, the Blue Devils likely need a bit of help.
LIU-Brooklyn: While Central is tied with LIU-Brooklyn for 8th place, the Blackbirds have been a bit better than their 4-6 record, as their Efficiency Margin is -0.8 points per 100 possessions (while Central’s is -6.3 points per 100 possessions). Plus, they’ve only played four home games thus far and are projected by both Kenpom and Bart Torvik to finish 8-10. LIU has two big home games this week against Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. Lose one (or both) of those games, and we’ll start talking about LIU-Brooklyn as in danger of missing the NEC Tournament. But for now, I’m operating under the assumption that they finish no lower than 7th place.
Bryant: Jared Grasso has the Bulldogs at 5-5 and in a tie for 5th place. However, BU has feasted on an easy early-season conference schedule; six of their first eight games were at home. In fact, like Central, Bryant is only projected to be favored in one more game the rest of the season (when Mount St. Mary's visits Smithfield), and are projected to finish 7-11 by both Kenpom and Bart Torvik. BU's next four games are a gauntlet: at Robert Morris, at St. Francis U., at Sacred Heart, at Fairleigh Dickinson. CCSU fans really need Bryant to lose all four.
So what must Central do?
*Note: all win percentages are per Kenpom
The Must Win
2/21 vs. Mount St. Mary’s (74%)
The Mount is just 2-8 in the league right now, and Central already owns a 77-68 win in Emmitsburg. There’s nothing else left to be said.
The Other Home Games
2/23 vs. Sacred Heart (47%)
3/2 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (50%)
Central is just 2-4 at Detrick Gym so far in league play, so it’s not exactly like they’ve protected their home turf. With that said, home games should theoretically be easier than road games, and the Blue Devils already beat FDU once (103-96 in double overtime). Sweeping FDU would do wonders for tie-breaker purposes, if you believe (like I do) that the Knights will finish in 2nd place.
Steal a Road game
2/14 at Wagner (36%)
Throw out the blowout loss to the Seahawks on January 3rd; Tyler Kohl was out, and Wagner scored 1.14 PPP, which remains their 2nd best offensive output in 12 conference games. Simply put, the Seahawks have been mighty inconsistent (they lost at home to both Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s), and can be silenced offensively if you are able to shut down Romone Saunders.
The Wild Card
2/9 at Robert Morris (28%)
It’s still early, but Robert Morris is currently in first place at 7-3, and are projected by Kenpom to finish 12-6 and win the league outright. They’ve also beat the team projected to finish 2nd (Sacred Heart) at home (the rematch is 2/28), and have split with the projected 3rd place team Fairleigh Dickinson.
Though Kenpom gives CCSU just a 28% chance of winning at RMU, if they were able to pull off the upset it could give them a leg up in any tie-breaker scenario.
2/7 at St. Francis U. (32%)
2/16 at St. Francis-Brooklyn (29%)
2/28 at LIU—Brooklyn (32%)
Lose any of the games previously discussed (except at Robert Morris), and Central Connecticut will have to go on the road and win a game in which they will be at least five point underdogs. Not impossible, but not likely.
The good news is, Donyell Marshall and company still control their own destiny. But they’ve put themselves in a position where they have to win some difficult games, and on the road no less. Even if they get swept this week to fall to 4-8 (which is likely), they just need to win four of their final eight games. It’s doable. Beat Robert Morris (or even SFU) and things get that much easier.