This was supposed to be the best week of the calendar. Better than Thanksgiving, better than Christmas, better than the 4th of July, better than your planned summer vacation. We are supposed to be watching the greatest sporting event there is, not watching Netflix and home-schooling our children.
Yes, this is obviously about more than basketball. For some people it's about life and death, and for the rest of us it's about humanity. Canceling sports was the right thing to do, as is social distancing, and I'm glad we're doing our part to help try to limit this virus. But that doesn't mean it can't hurt. On the contrary; it hurts a lot.
What do I do when I'm stressed out? I watch sports. Since that's obviously not an option, I figured I'd write. While the next college basketball season is about 8 months away (hopefully!), it's never too early to take stock of where we are. Here are some thoughts on the Blue Devils to help us pass the time:
1. I think it's pretty clear by now that Donyell Marshall is returning; if the CCSU administration did a 180 and fired him now it should be considered gross negligence. Even if the decision-makers were leaning toward pulling the trigger, given the COVID19 situation it'd be nearly impossible to interview and hire a new coach, then get that coach out on the recruiting trail after the majority of the roster announces its intention to leave (which is what would happen if Marshall weren't retained). Marshall returning for a 5th season makes plenty of sense, and means that he'll likely bring back the majority of last season's rotation; 86% of minutes, 84% of points, and 75% of rebounds are set to return in 2020-21, and no other NEC program can say that. Combine that with the natural progression that comes with going from a freshman to a sophomore for guys like Jamir Reed, Greg Outlaw, Myles Baker, Xavier Wilson, and Trey Tennyson, plus a full-season of Ian Krishnan and some much needed reinforcements, and the Blue Devils have a real shot to make a good-sized jump.
2. Speaking of other programs, the league should be wide-open next year. Robert Morris and Fairleigh Dickinson should probably be considered the front-runners at this point, with Long Island and Bryant not far behind. But after that? Merrimack loses three starters including Juvaris Hayes, Saint Francis graduates two All-NEC 1st Teamers in Isaiah Blackmon and Keith Braxton, Sacred Heart is losing E.J. Anosike and Cam Parker to transfer and graduate Kinnon LaRose and Jare'l Sellman, Mount St. Mary's just took a hit with Vado Morse transferring, and both St. Francis-Brooklyn and Wagner are essentially rebuilding. The league will undoubtedly be down next season after a really strong 2019-20 campaign, and there's no reason CCSU can't finish around .500, especially with the right additions. I'm not projecting it yet (it's much too early for that), but it's within the realm of possibility.
3. On Monday, Donyell Marshall and his staff received a commitment from 6'0" point guard Nigel Scantlebury. The lefty played two seasons for Bill Beilein at Niagara County CC and will have two years of eligibility remaining. Baba Diallo ran the lead on the recruitment.
There's video of Scantlebury out there on the inter-webs, and one thing is clear; he's quick. Despite his size (he's listed at 6'0", but that seems generous), he's able to create space with the dribble and doesn't appear to be intimidated by bigger defenders. I'd think he'll be comfortable in transition, and has shown the ability to knock down open perimeter shots.
It's no secret CCSU has struggled to find a solid lead guard since Malcolm MacMillan left us for Canisius after the 2014-15 season, and Zach Newkirk wasn't the answer last season; he finished with a 45.5% eFG% and a 90.6 O-Rating on a tiny 12.8% usage rate, though he did improve as the season went on and he's a very good perimeter defender. Is Scantlebury better than that? I figured I'd compare their JUCO stats to get a better idea. But first, a couple of things you need to keep in mind: Newkirk played just one season at Brunswick CC, while Scantlebury played two years at Niagara CCC. Plus, Brunswick CC is a Division 1 NJCAA program, while Niagara is D2 (though they finished 24-6 last season). So it's not exactly apples to apples.
As a freshman, Scantlebury really struggled to take care of the basketball, and while he shot the ball well (there were just 5 non-bigs with an eFG% of 55% or better in the NEC last season), Newkirk was clearly better as a play-maker in their freshman seasons.
However, the first thing that jumps out is the improvement Scantlebury made from year 1 to year 2, specifically when it comes to getting others involved and limiting turnovers. A 2.6 A:TO ratio is very strong (only Wagner's Chase Freeman had an A:TO ratio better than 2.3 among NEC players), as is a 54.7% eFG% and a 35% 3P%. Last season there were just ten players in the NEC that could match those numbers, including just three point guards (Julian Batts and Jashaun Agosto from LIU, and Dante Treacy from RMU). No, I'm not suggesting Scantlebury will put up those kinds of numbers in the Northeast Conference in 2020-21, but he should represent an improvement at the point guard position, and will give the Blue Devils a lead guard who can keep the defense honest offensively.
When Nigel Scantlebury received a Division I scholarship offer from Central Connecticut State assistant Baba Diallo, Scantlebury didn’t quite believe his ears. Following a January win, Scantlebury spoke with Diallo, who told the former Greece Athena star about how CCSU wanted to build its team around him. (emphasis mine)
My first reaction was "a 6'0" PG with no other D1 offers is NOT going to come in and become CCSU's best player, especially with a talented group of freshmen returning". However, after digging more into it, there's something to this.
Kenpom defines a "major contributor" as someone who carries a usage rate greater than 24%. Last season in the NEC, there were 15 such players (who played at least 40% of available minutes), or a little more than one per team. This makes sense, right? Each team needs a "go-to guy", someone who can go make a play when the shot-clock is winding down, etc.
CCSU had three "major contributors"; Jamir Coleman, Greg Outlaw, and Myles Baker. However, when you sort by Offensive Rating, Jamir Coleman ranked 12th (87.3), Greg Outlaw 13th (87.0) and Myles Baker 15th (81.5). No, they weren't bad players, but they were ill-equipped to handle that kind of offensive burden; Coleman due to the fact that his jumper was inconsistent and he couldn't make plays for others (a low 8.5% assist rate), and Outlaw and Baker due to inexperience (Bryant's Michael Green III was the only other freshman on this list, and he was 11th with a 90.3 O-Rating).
Again, take the numbers with a grain of salt, but Scantlebury took 296 shots last season at Niagara CCC, while no CCSU player took more than 243 (Outlaw), plus he had 159 assists (Jamir Reed led the team with 55). While I don't have the data to calculate his usage rate in 2019-20, I'd be willing to bet it was greater than 24% (and honestly, probably north of 30%). This is a guy who is used to having the ball in his hands and making plays. I kind of doubt he'll be taking 10 shots per game next season like he did at the JUCO level, but he should certainly take some of the load off guys like Outlaw and Baker while allowing them to do what they do best (Baker- shoot, and Outlaw- get to the rim). Plus, having a guy who can get downhill and into the paint via the dribble will only help guys like Ian Krishnan, Jamir Reed, and Trey Tennyson, all of whom shot better than 35% from deep.
Many people will bring up the fact that he had no other Division 1 offers, and while that's true, most D1 programs aren't looking for a high usage junior college point guard because most teams either already have a high usage guy, or they're looking to rebuild with freshmen. CCSU is in that middle ground where they have a strong nucleus of young players but need a guy like Scantlebury. Who knows if he's the right guy (we won't know until January), but on paper he fills a need in more ways than one.
5. I've heard from a reliable source that Javen Udofia has already left the team, which means Marshall and his staff have one more scholarship to work with (as of now). I'd fully expect them to use that spot on a big man, likely going the junior college or grad transfer route. There are currently 17 players in the grad transfer market who are 6'6" or taller (at least according to Bart Torvik). One guy who jumps out at me is 6'8" Arnaldo Toro, who is leaving George Washington. Toro has a career 13.6% OR%, 21.8% DR%, and a 3.3% block rate. He didn't play a ton as a RS Junior, appearing in 24 games while playing just 34% of available minutes. The native of Puerto Rico would fill a need, and Marshall does have a relationship with GW coach Jamion Christian.
Getting a guy who has an ability to be a strong defender and rim protector could immediately push CCSU into the upper half of the NEC. Central Connecticut has plenty of frontcourt depth in Xavier Wilson, Karrington Wallace, and Stephane Ayangma, all of whom offer different skill-sets.
6. Should we expect another scholarship to open up? I'd imagine there's a reasonable chance, but it's more likely it would come from someone at the bottom of the roster as opposed to a returning rotation player. And if that happened, I'd expect CCSU to go after another playmaker. Newkirk led the team with a 14.3% assist rate, and that was just 26th in the Northeast Conference. Marshall could use another guy who can make plays for others, whether that's as a backup to Scantlebury, or someone who can play alongside the newest Blue Devil (or start over him).
Last week CCSU was connected to DePaul grad transfer Devin Gage, a 6'2" combo-guard who is a career 27.8% three-point shooter and has a 20.7% assist rate. He would certainly fill a need, though he may be a bit out of our league (ESPN's Jeff Borzello had him ranked as the 17th best immediately eligible grad transfer as of 3/19). Marshall's connection to DePaul head coach Dave Leitao, via UConn, could be helpful, however.
According to Verbal Commits, JUCO point guards Tre Mitchell (Avondale, AZ/Phoneix College) and Dev Ostrowski East Lyme, CT/Miami Dade College) are on CCSU's radar as well, though both offers have been out there for quite awhile (June of 2019 for Ostrowski, January 2020 for Mitchell).
Edit: About an hour after I posted this, Verbal Commits tweeted that Thai Segwai has entered the transfer portal. The point guard from England played 24.2% of available minutes as a freshman, but that dropped to just 8.3% as asophomore (in 17 games). He really struggled with turnovers (41.6% turnover rate), and had a 30.9% eFG% in two seasons. He was a late addition to the 2018 recruiting class when Eduardo Camacho left the team, and wasn't likely to see much of the court next season with Scantelbury coming in.
7. Rapid Fire Thoughts: Every time I look at Verbal Commits, I squint my eyes and hope that Ian Krishnan hasn't announced he's leaving. I have no reason to think he will transfer, but given the state of college basketball where most good sophomores from mid-major schools leave for "greener pastures", it wouldn't shock me...J.J. over at CCSUFans has started looking at next season's potential schedule, with rumors that UConn may be on it. That's a game that should be played every four years. Other tentative games are vs. Dartmouth, at Hartford, at Maine, vs. UMass-Lowell, and at New Hampshire. I would expect a home game against a D2/D3 opponent as well...It's been a rough month for NEC transfers, with E.J. Anosike, Cam Parker, Vado Morse, and Ike Ndugba announcing their intentions to transfer...As of now the NEC is returning 8 of the top 10 in assist rate (Martinez-Wagner, Treacy-RMU, Chong Qui-Mount, Green-Bryant, Jon Wiliams-RMU, Morales-Wagner, Jenkins-FDU, and Jackson Jr.-LIU). A lot of good point guards in this league.