Central Connecticut St. (5-7) at St. Francis Brooklyn (6-6) Saturday 2/16, 4pm, NEC FrontRow
Kenpom: SFC 72-67 (67%)
Torvik: SFC 73-66 (76%)
The last time we saw the Seahawks, we were trying to figure out why the computers were so bullish on Wagner (they were the highest rated NEC team in Kenpom at #218). Then they went out and pounded CCSU 80-58 at Detrick Gym, vaulting them all the way to #200. For a while they looked like they might be the best team in the NEC; after losing to St. Francis Brooklyn in the team’s 2nd NEC game, they swept Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson out on Staten Island.
Then the inconsistency bug bit them. They’ve sandwiched some strong wins (beating SFU in Loretto and sweeping LIU-Brooklyn) with some surprising losses; a 70-56 home loss to Mount St. Mary’s, and a 71-64 loss to Bryant on Staten Island. What gives?
It ultimately comes down to the fact that, outside of Romone Saunders, Bashir Mason hasn’t found any consistent offensive weapons. The 6’3” senior is averaging 16.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 4.7 apg, and is well on his way to first team All-NEC honors. Elijah Davis is 2nd on the team in scoring with 11.8 ppg, followed by AJ Sumbry at 7.4 ppg.
However, it’s all about “Mone”…if a team can limit him offensively, the Wagner offense can be shut down. The Seahawks have the league’s worst offensive efficiency by far (96 points per 100 possessions, well below CCSU’s 99.5 points per 100 possessions, which is 9th), and don't have much shooting.
Where Mason has done well throughout his career is on the defensive end…and this season has been no exception. They rank 3rd in the league behind Sacred Heart and Robert Morris in defensive efficiency (98 points per 100 possessions), as they force a ton of turnovers (20.7%) and also limit teams to 31.4% from three. Additionally, they have plenty of rim protection in AJ Sumbry and Nigel Jackson, which limit opportunities inside.
About St. Francis-Brooklyn
The Terriers have been the definition of an average NEC team through 12 games; they are 6-6 in the league, and have both allowed and scored 99.9 points per 100 possessions, which puts them 7th offensively and 4th defensively.
However, St. Francis-Brooklyn is one of two teams (the other is FDU) with 4 of their final 6 games at home, which provides some optimism for a team that has an outside chance of sneaking into the all-important top 4. The home loss to Fairleigh Dickinson this past Saturday did hurt though.
It was only three weeks ago that SFC came to New Britain, with CCSU winning 78-72 thanks to one of those patented Tyler Kohl games (29 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists). The Terriers did hold a lead within the final 4 minutes (they were up 69-66 with 3:15 left), though couldn’t close the deal.
The Terriers are led by the 3-headed guard monster of Jalen Jordan (15.8 ppg), Glenn Sanabria (13.4 ppg), and Chauncey Hawkins (9.4 ppg), and the three combined for 45 points in the first matchup. However, it’s the development of 6’8” 234 lb. big Deniz Celen that has vaulted SFC into the top half of the league. The native of Turkey is averaging 10 points and 7 rebounds per game in league play, and has been one of the best offensive rebounders in the Northeast Conference (12.4% OR%). He’s shown an ability to step out and knock down shots from the perimeter (7 for 28), but has really done his work down low; his 63% FG% on two-pointers ranks 6th in the league.
Where SFC has struggled is from three; they’re shooting just 31.2% in conference play. Jalen Jordan (38%) has continued to be really good, as has Glenn Sanabria (35%). However, they have no other player who has made more than one three-pointer per game.
Things to Watch
The Big Lineup
In Saturday’s upset win at Robert Morris, Central Connecticut head coach Donyell Marshall rolled with the following lineup over the final six minutes; Ian Krishnan (6’2”), Tyler Kohl (6’5”), Jamir Coleman (6’7”), Joe Hugley (6’7”), and Deion Bute (6’9”). Despite those five players clearly being the five best players on CCSU’s roster, I don’t believe Marshall has opted to play all five together this season prior to that point. So what happened? The Blue Devils closed on a 20-11 run , ultimately winning 77-68.
Will Marshall continue to play around with this lineup? Sure, against the mostly guard-oriented NEC lineups, going big is difficult to do, specifically defensively, as there is a severe lack of quickness on the perimeter. But here’s the thing; it’s not like the alternatives provide more perimeter defense. Tyson Batiste has quick hands and a high energy level, but he’s not exactly a lock-down defender, while Kashaun Hicks is more of an offense-first player.
One thing that you might see if Marshall utilizes this lineup is an increased use of the zone defense (either 2-3 or the 1-2-1 they have used lately). And this weekend would be a nice weekend to do that, as St. Francis-Brooklyn and Wagner are the two worst three-point shooting teams in the Northeast Conference. Pack the middle and dare them to beat you from outside.
Either way, I'm a big fan of playing your best five no matter the positions.
Can Someone Step Up?
Why did Marshall go to the Big Lineup as described above? Because he’s struggled to find effective bench players, beyond the “best five” players of Kohl, Coleman, Bute, Krishnan and Hugley. Batiste, though limited offensively, brings a certain level of leadership and intangibles to the court, plus takes care of the basketball and will get a bucket here and there. He’s more than worthy of the ~20 mpg he’s gotten since he voluntarily moved out of the starting lineup.
But outside of those six? In conference play, the rest of the roster is averaging ~9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, and 1.7 apg. Kashaun Hicks has struggled since being inserted into the starting lineup, Karrington Wallace has had his moments, and Mike Underwood scored 14 points in the first half against Robert Morris on 1/21, but has scored just 7 points since then. Meanwhile, Thai Segwai hasn’t appeared in a game over the past two weeks.
Central's best six players are among the best in the NEC, but the Blue Devils are desperate to have someone else step up.
You want to shut down Wagner’s offense? Slow down Romone Saunders.
Saunders is to the Seahawks offense as Kohl is to Central’s; he leads the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists, and is well on his way to 1st team All-conference. But when he’s off, so is Wagner. Saunders has had an O-Rating > 118 six times this season, five of which Wagner won. In the five games Saunders has had an O-Rating below 100.0, Wagner is just 1-4.
Force him into a bad game, and CCSU likely leaves Staten Island with a ‘W’.
The Size of the Terriers
One theme for Central Connecticut this season has been their size; not just the bigs like Deion Bute and Joe Hugley, but their wings; Jamir Coleman, Tyler Kohl, Kashaun Hicks…the Blue Devils are built to throw a ton of size at opponents.
St. Francis-Brooklyn is probably the one team that can match CCSU inch for inch. Rosel Hurley (6’5”) and Yaya Evans (6’6”) have good size on the wings, while Celen (6’8” 234 lbs.), Cory Johnson (6’9” 270 lbs.) and Christian Rohlehr (6’9” 228 lbs.) offer plenty of height and bulk down low.
In the first matchup between these two teams, CCSU was just 9 for 21 at the rim, including five blocked shots for the Terriers, while SFC was 11 for 17 at the rim.
The Blue Devils come into this game as winners of three of their past four games, including a road win at first place Robert Morris. Things are looking up!
However, things won’t be easy over these final three weeks of the regular season, and the Blue Devils likely need to go 3-3 over their final six games in order to avoid tie-breaker hell. With three home games remaining, neither of the games this weekend fall anywhere close to “must win” territory. But getting at least one win would be a successful week.
By the way, if you are a Blue Devils fan and are watching the scoreboard, Robert Morris wins are your friend (CCSU owns a win against the Colonials), as are Bryant losses.