The Bryant Bulldogs have been off to a promising start, going into their game against New Hampshire sitting at 4-3, with the losses coming at an average of 7 points. Unfortunately, last Tuesday night was no different. After battling back from 14 down with a little over 13 minutes to go in the 2nd half, Bryant couldn't muster up enough energy in OT to take down the Wildcats. While some might be concerned about this group after some tough losses, I believe it is exactly what the doctor ordered for this team. In the season preview, we discussed the big three of Adam Grant, Ikenna Ndugba, and SaBastian Townes. However, in the early season, the Bulldogs have found a trio of freshmen who are poised to make an impact on this league. Charles Pride, Benson Lin, and Michael Green, have proven to be another example of Coach Grasso's impressive recruiting ability. This Bryant team plays fast, they play hard, and they are really fun to watch.
1. The Bulldogs offense starts with Adam Grant, who had 29 points against the Wildcats. The senior guard has a knack for scoring at all three levels, and he does it by moving well without the ball (especially using Iverson Cuts). Grant, who is a 36% three-point shooter in his career (37% as a senior) knocked down perhaps the game’s biggest shot, making a three-pointer while getting fouled with Bryant down 12 with just over 13 minutes remaining. Ultimately the Bulldogs would come all the way back and take the lead late in the second half. Grant played 43 of the 45 minutes, and seemed to do everything Jared Grasso needed. He did have 5 turnovers against New Hampshire, including a couple of crucial ones late in the game, but he’s really developed his ball handling and ability to create his own shot, and will be difficult to stop going forward.
2. Most teams who have an elite scorer such as Grant, do not always match with depth. This Bryant team might be the deepest team outside of Sacred Heart this year. With Ndugba still battling an injury, and SaBastian Townes in limited minutes, it cannot be understated how well everyone else has stepped up. Freshman Charles Pride is pouring in 12 ppg, to go along with 5 rpg. Michael Green is at 9 ppg with 4 apg, and Benson Lin is at 7 ppg. Green, Pride and Lin all at UNH, but they are more than capable of having big nights. Charles Pride was coming off a 25 point outing at Drexel, where he was 11-17 from the floor. Having a legitimate rotation of 7 scorers is something that is going to be really tough to compete with, especially the style in which Coach Grasso has this team playing. The rotation is really capped off with Sophomore Patrick Harding. Harding has been averaging 12.3 rpg, and 4 offensive rebounds per game. It is a luxury to have a big man who finishes off each defensive possession, and can also battle on the offensive glass. He has allowed Bryant to get 31% of their misses. If this unit can come together with the right blend of leadership and ability, I believe Bryant will turn some heads in the NEC.
3. The Bryant Bulldogs are a fun team to watch. They play fast, they are relentless defensively and they battle every possession. Last Tuesday was no exception in a game that had 87 possessions. Bryant is in the top 30, according to KenPom, when it comes to tempo and are tied with LIU for 2nd in the NEC (SHU is 1st at 74.7 possessions per game). With this many possessions, the ball is flying around and getting into the right hands. Bryant is assisting on almost half of their field goals made. With the guards constantly moving offensively, it is difficult for teams to switch and keep up with their pace. New Hampshire was successful for most of the night, but the Bulldogs were able to get going in the 2nd half. Once the game gets to the pace that Coach Grasso and his team would like, it seems almost impossible to maintain for their opponents. Controlling possession is something that every team playing Bryant will need to really focus on. Taking care of the ball, and keeping Harding and Co. off the offensive glass. A bright spot last night was the return of Ndugba who missed the Drexel game. In limited minutes off the bench, he finished with 16 points, 2 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals before eventually fouling out. If this team can consistently get a third scorer night in and night out, watch out.
4. While all the praise thus far has been about Bryant's offense, it was their tenacity on defense that was able to get them back in the game against New Hampshire. Going with a 1-2-1-1 press, back into man, the Bulldogs were able to cause chaos and panic forcing New Hampshire into 22 turnovers on the night. They were also successful at doubling the post with the weakside guard. Sending him flying over and creating numerous bad passes out of the post. This is another area where the guard play was huge because they were flying in and out of rotations and able to step into the passing lanes picking up 12 steals in the game. The Bulldogs have been a solid defensive team, primarily in the way they are able to cause turnovers and stuff the steal column of the stat sheet. Bryant has moved up in the rankings for me, and I could easily see them making a run come March. Coach Grasso has these young men playing at a high level, and while these might be losses on the schedule, they will be valuable lessons come NEC time.