While CCSU is not mathematically eliminated from the NEC Tournament, it would take a minor miracle to get the Blue Devils into the "little dance". In order to advance, Central needs the following to happen:
1) Win both games this weekend.
2) Bryant lose both games this weekend.
3) Have Fairleigh Dickinson or Robert Morris (or both) tie or overtake St. Francis University for first place.
So for all intents and purposes, this will be our final CCSU preview of the year. Thanks for reading this season.
Central Connecticut St. (5-11) at LIU-Brooklyn (7-9)
Kenpom: LIU 78-72 (71%)
Torvik: LIU 80-72 (76%)
Fairleigh Dickinson (10-6) at Central Connecticut St. (5-11)
Kenpom: FDU 76-75 (54%)
Torvik: FDU 77-76 (55%)
The NEC’s defending champions have been as up-and-down as it gets this season; in conference play, they’ve yet to win or lose more than three in a row, and haven’t won back-to-back games since January 12th and 19th (home games against Robert Morris and Fairleigh Dickinson). Coming into the season, the Blackbirds were expected to be challengers for the league title given the return of three starters (Julian Batts, Jashaun Agosto, and Raiquan Clark), as well as getting 6’9” stretch-4 Ty Flowers eligible. However, it has not come to fruition.
While Clark, the 6’6” senior combo-forward, has played like a POY candidate (19.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 2.1 apg in conference play), they’ve needed him to shoulder a huge load offensively (32.6% usage rate, which is the highest in the NEC) as there really isn’t another player on the roster who can make plays offensively.
That's mostly because the junior backcourt of Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts, both three-year starters, haven’t quite taken the next jump as one may have predicted prior to the season. Agosto in particular has seen his numbers drop across the board, and is shooting just 24% from three after knocking down 36.5% as a freshman and 32% last season. His O-Rating in league play is all the way down to 85.8 at 20.1% usage (was 110.7 last year at 18.7% usage). In fact, his 37.4% eFG% is 2nd lowest of any player who has played at least 40% of his teams minutes (64 players).
Batts, meanwhile, has also seen his numbers come down. After shooting 42% from three has a sophomore (121.7 O-Rating at 16.3% usage), the 5’11” combo-guard has a 98.8 O-Rating at 17.9% usage, and has seen his turnovers increase from 1.7 TO per 40 minutes to 2.8.
Luckily for Derek Kellogg, Ty Flower’s adjustment to the NEC has been seamless. After playing 13.4 mpg as a freshman at UMass (under Kellogg), the sophomore from Waterbury is averaging 13.8 ppg and 6.3 rpg, and is shooting 36% from three, as well as chipping in 1.8 blocks per game. He’s a matchup nightmare given his ability to play on the perimeter. Eral Penn and Julius Van Sauers have formed a very good 1-2 punch at the ‘5’, and Raul Frias (42.4% from three) has been really good off the bench.
The thing that’s perhaps doomed this team has been the lack of depth. Kellogg has been playing largely a 7-man rotation, with no one else averaging more than 7 mpg.
About Fairleigh Dickinson
Man, a lot has changed since the last time we saw FDU. Back on January 10th, CCSU beat the Knights 103-96 in double overtime gem, dropping them to 1-2 in NEC play. Fairleigh Dickinson would go on to lose the next two games, to Wagner and LIU-Brooklyn, to fall all the way to 1-4. However, since then they’ve righted the ship, winning 9 of 11 to jump into a tie for 2nd place with Robert Morris at 10-6.
FDU is led by perhaps the best backcourt in the league; sophomore PG Jahlil Jenkins and senior 2-guard Darnell Edge. Jenkins, a 5’10” speed demon, is 3rd on the team in scoring at 13.6 ppg and is 3rd in the league in assists at 5.3 apg, while also being a very good perimeter defender. Jenkins has improved his jump shot (29% from three last year, 39% this season), and his 118.1 O-Rating is 3rd among players with at last a 19% usage rate.
The senior Edge has always been a knock down shooter his entire career, but he’s taken it to new heights this season, to the tune of 47 for 85 from behind the arc. Yes, that’s 55% from three. In fact, as a team FDU leads the league in 3P shooting at 41.9%, as Edge, Jenkins, and Kaleb Bishop (45.2%) have all been very good from three, while Xzavier Malone-Key (30.2%) can knock down shots as well. That has opened up the lane for 6’8” big man Mike Holloway Jr., who is scoring 14.3 points a night and grabbing 5.8 rpg.
Partially because of the spacing and versatility of their offensive players, FDU leads the league in efficiency (110.8 points per 100 possessions), as well as eFG% (55.7%). Any issues they’ve had have been on the defensive end, as they’re allowing 105.8 points per 100 possessions, which is 4th highest (i.e. worst) in the league. They’ve especially struggled on the defensive boards, allowing opponents to grab a league high 33.4% of their misses.
Greg Herenda is another coach that has been hurt by a lack of depth, as he’s effectively playing a 6-man rotation. However, given the versatility of guys like Elyjah Williams, Kaleb Bishop and Malone-Key, he’s been able to make it work.
Things to watch
By now everyone should be aware the Central's two leading scorers, Tyler Kohl and Joe Hugley, are suspended indefinitely. If not, you can read about it here and here.
It's no secret that Central's offense flowed through Tyler Kohl given his 31.5% usage rate. But he wasn't exactly efficient this season (39.3% eFG%), and the way he dominated the ball led to a lack of ball movement and offensive flow in general.
In Saturday's loss to Sacred Heart, there was significantly more ball movement, and I'm very interested to see how different the offense looks given a week of preparation.
One of those offensive options is Kashaun Hicks, who stepped up in Kohl's absence to pour in 12 points and grab 9 rebounds.
Hicks has been enigmatic throughout his two-year career, showing flashes on occasion though largely being inconsistent while also frustrating Donyell Marshall with a perceived lack of hustle.
Outside of Jamir Coleman, Hicks is probably the only player on the current roster than can go get a bucket when you need one. It would be great to see him put together back-to-back good performances.
I know I’ve beaten this horse to death, but for once I’m not talking about CCSU’s shot selection.
LIU-Brooklyn is taking just 13% of their shots from the mid-range, which is the 5th lowest number in the nation. Their offense, instead, is predicated on getting to the rim (57% of field goal attempts), and kicking out to open three-point shooters (42.4%).
Fairleigh Dickinson isn’t much different; just 19.8% of their field goal attempts are of the two-point jumper variety.
It’ll be fun to watch how these teams go about getting shots, essentially ignoring the mid-range. That’s how offense’s should be run in 2019.
I can't sit here and play cheerleader ("Guys, we're still in this! We can do it!"). Given the suspensions of Kohl and Hugley, the likelihood of winning just one of these two games, let alone both, are incredibly small.
With that said, to me next season starts Thursday night. I don't care if they win or lose, but I want to see the kind of effort we saw on Saturday in the home loss to Sacred Heart. Let's build on something.