Since I last wrote a CCSU-centric blog post, Donyell Marshall has added two players to the 2020-21 roster; one Junior College transfer and one Division 1 transfer. Let's break down what he's getting, and a bunch of other stuff.
1. On March 30th, Donyell Marshall got his 2nd commitment of the off-season from Lamar "Tre" Mitchell, a 6'3" point guard from Arizona. Mitchell played two seasons at Phoenix College, averaging 20 ppg, 3.5 apg, and 3.3 apg in 2019-20. Mitchell is long for a lead guard, and has shown the ability to score at all three levels (33.3% from three last season), finish with both hands around the rim, and push the ball in transition.
Digging deeper into his JUCO numbers, here is what jumps out at me:
1) 33.3% from three (44-132) this past season, which is an improvement on his 27.3% as a freshman.
2) 150 assists (5.6 apg, 30.4% assist rate) to 71 turnovers as a freshman (2:1 A/TO ratio). While the assists per game dropped quite a bit (down to 3.5), he still posted a strong assist rate as a sophomore (25.7%).
3) 81.6% from the free throw line on 151 attempts (nearly 6 per game)
4) Just 48.8% eFG% last season thanks to shooting 48% on twos.
I'm hoping that Mitchell's low eFG% is more due to his team being over-reliant on him for offense and not because of poor shot selection. I think that could be the case as Mitchell took a ton of shots. Can he come in and blend those two seasons as a guy who makes plays for others (~4 apg, 25% assist rate) while being an average three-point shooter (31%) and getting to the free throw line? If so, he could be a major pick-up.
2. Given that the team leader in assists (Jamir Reed) averaged just 1.8 per game, it was imperative that Marshall brought in at least one point guard who could really drive the offense as both a scorer and a facilitator. It appears he's checked that box twice.
Are Mitchell and/or Scantlebury enough to vault CCSU up the standings? Let's take a look at what the NEC point guards looked like statistically last year (returners are highlighted in yellow), then compare Scantlebury and Mitchell.
While I'm not going to try and figure out Scantlebury or Mitchell's O-Ratings or usage rates, both players' JUCO numbers compare favorably to other point guards around the league.
Obviously the big question will be; how do those numbers translate to the Northeast Conference? I've not done an analysis of JUCO stats and how they carry over, but I would expect a dip in most numbers. However, even if assist rates drop a bit, turnovers increase, and eFG% comes down, both could certainly be average-ish point guards.
3. This week, Marshall received a commitment from Fairfield graduate transfer Wassef Methnani, a 6'8" 210 lb. big originally from Tunisia. In three years at Fairfield (including playing this past season for Jay Young, who was a finalist for the CCSU job four years ago), Methnani was the first big off the bench averaging 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 14.3 mpg. So what are we getting in Methnani?
He's a skilled big who was inconsistent at Fairfield but has shown the ability to do a variety of things including knock down perimeter shots; he's a career 32.5% three-point shooter (41 for 126). However, what jumps out at me are three numbers;
Career Defensive Rebounding Rate- 20.3% (Stephane Ayangma is the leading returner at 19.7%)
Career Block Rate- 5.7% (Karrington Wallace was at 5.9% last season, Xavier Wilson at 5.5%)
Career Fouling Rate- 7.4 Fouls per 40 minutes (6.1 last season).
I had written a month ago that I thought Marshall needed a big who could combine the rim protecting ability of Wallace/Wilson with the rebounding ability of Ayangma, and it appears he's gone and done it. However, Methnani's going to have to figure out how to stay on the floor; there wasn't a single rotation player in the Northeast Conference who averaged more than 6 fouls per 40 minutes. If he can get that rate down to even 5.5 fouls/40 minutes, he could be a 25 minute per game guy. But at last season's fouling rate, the coaching staff couldn't expect him to play more than 15-20 minutes per night, and that's on the high side.
Offensively, Methnani's numbers at Fairfield weren't great; he had a turnover rate of 29.3% last season (just three players in the NEC, including Zach Newkirk, had a higher turnover rate last season), and his eFG% was just 44%. Like many CCSU players, Wethnani had a mid-range problem; he made just 4 of his 25 two-point jumpers. However, he converted a high rate in the paint (60.3%), and showed an ability to put the ball on the floor a bit. That all added up to a 79.7 O-Rating on 23.5% usage (87.1/24.6% for his career).
If he can be comfortable filling a role as a rebounder/rim protector who can knock down an open three and convert in the paint, he'll be a huge addition to this team.
4. So who will be the starting point guard in November? I won't even begin to guess that at this point. Scantlebury put up better offensive rates last season, but Mitchell is probably the player more likely to put up big numbers if asked.
I'll suggest that the player who shows more of an ability to blend in with the team; the one making plays for others, taking better shots, and playing better defense, will log more minutes. But I wouldn't be shocked to see both Scantlebury and Mitchell on the floor together, similar to how Long Island's Derek Kellogg played both Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts (and/or Jermaine Jackson, Jr.) last season, or the way Andy Toole utilized Dante Treacy and Jon Williams.
Also, for what it's worth, Mitchell averaged 2 steals per game last season, while Scantlebury was at 1.5. Does that mean Mitchell is the superior defender? Hardly; but given his size and quickness, I wouldn't be surprised if Mitchell is a solid-to-good perimeter defender. But that's just an assumption at this point.
5. As for the frontline, Marshall has significant depth there for the first time in his tenure as CCSU coach, with four players who provide different skill sets. With Scantlebury and Mitchell in the fold, as well as sophomores Jamir Reed, Myles Baker, and Greg Outlaw, Central has plenty of scoring in the backcourt and on the wings. What Marshall will need out of his bigs will be, first and foremost, rebounding and defense. Let's take a look at the four big men statistically:
Methnani is clearly the one man on the roster who can combine rebounding with rim protection. Wilson and Wallace are good shot blockers, though struggled rebounding the basketball (specifically Wilson), while Ayangma is a very good rebounder who doesn't provide much rim protection.
Again, Methnani has the best combination of an ability to stretch the defense and convert in the paint, while Wallace (in the paint, getting to the foul line) and Ayangma (perimeter shooting) are more one-dimensional. Wilson has the potential to be a stretchy-big if he can find some consistency with his jump shot, and improved in the paint as the season went on.
I talk more about a potential depth chart down below, but clearly Marshall has options, and will be able to utilize different players depending on the opponent and who else is on the floor.
6. Man, I can't tell you how disappointed I was when I saw that Trey Tennyson had entered the Transfer Portal. Tennyson had an up-and-down freshman season; he struggled with decision making, but really showed an ability to knock down shots from the perimeter (42.6%), plus he has the length and athleticism to guard 1-3. While he clearly would have been behind Krishnan, Reed, Baker, and Outlaw on the depth chart, all it would have taken is one injury before Tennyson is seeing significant minutes.
I'll never pretend to know a kid's situation; Tennyson is from Texas, and perhaps he just wanted to get closer to home. But if his goal was to be a significant contributor to a D1 basketball program, transferring is probably the worst thing he could have done. But I do hope it works out for him.
As for Thai Segwai; he was brought in late in the summer of 2018 after Eduardo Camacho left school, and he probably wasn't a Division 1 player. However, he's super quick and a strong perimeter defender, and hopefully he finds a home at the Division 2 level.
7. So what could a rotation look like?
Point Guard- I talked a lot about the point guard position above, and I think Zach Newkirk will still have a role as a ~10 mpg guy who comes in and plays strong defense.
Wings- In conference play last season, Ian Krishnan played 71% of available minutes, Jamir Reed 68% of available minutes, Greg Outlaw 49%, and Myles Baker 45%. I'd expect to see a similar minutes distribution next season, especially given that Krishnan (45% 3P%) and Reed (38%) are the teams best three-point shooters. I also see Reed getting a bit of time at the 4 and either Scantlebury/Mitchell spending some time on the wing as well.
Bigs- This is where Marshall is going to have to work some magic. I'm a firm believer than in 2020, you can't succeed offensively with fewer than 4 guys who can stretch the floor at one time, and certainly not three. Which means it'll be difficult to play Karrington Wallace or Xavier Wilson while Greg Outlaw or Zach Newkirk is on the floor, for example. I'd expect Methnani to lead the bigs with ~50% of available minutes, with Ayangma, Wallace and Wilson still seeing plenty of action depending on the situation. Olamuyiwa should settle in as the emergency big.
8. How bad is this league going to be next season? Just four players who earned All-Conference honors last season are returning; A.J. Bramah (Robert Morris, 2nd team), Ty Flowers (LIU, 2nd team), Damian Chong Qui (Mount St. Mary's, 3rd team), and Chauncey Hawkins (St. Francis-Brooklyn, 3rd team).
Going down last season's standings, it's equally depressing:
1. Merrimack- Loses its top 3 scorers, including 1st teamer Juvaris Hayes.
2. Saint Francis- Gone are the last two NEC Players of the Year (Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon)
3. Robert Morris- Josh Williams graduates, as does big Yannis Mendy.
4. Sacred Heart- Anthony Latina lost his entire starting lineup (at least, prior to Parker's injury), as E.J. Anosike, Cameron Parker, and Koreem Ozier have transferred, while Jare'l Spellman and Kinnon LaRose graduated.
6. Long Island- Raiquan Clark (1st team) and their starting backcourt (Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts) graduated.
7. Bryant- Adam Grant (2nd team), Juan Cardenas, Bash Towns, Ikenna Ndugba, and Patrick Harding are all gone.
8. St. Francis-Brooklyn- Deniz Celen (3rd team) graduated.
9. Mount St. Mary's- Vado Morse, the 2018-19 Rookie of the Year, has transferred, as have Omar Habwe and Brandon Leftwich.
10. Wagner- Curtis Cobb graduated, and they lost two role players (Ty Nesby and Dorian Jordan-Thomas) to transfer.
After a strong 2019-20, which saw the NEC sneak up to #27 in Kenpom's conference rankings, the upcoming season could be a bad one for the league.
9. So where should Central stack up?
It's obviously much too early to say for certain, as there will still be more player movement into and out of the league, but I'm comfortable with breaking the league up into tiers.
Tier 1- Robert Morris and Fairleigh Dickinson.
RMU returns five significant rotation players from an NEC Championship team, including a star in A.J. Bramah and one of the best point guards in the league in Dante Treacy. Plus, last I checked Andy Toole is still their coach. As for FDU, Jahlil Jenkins is back (and probably MY pre-season POY), plus they have five other players who had significant playing time last season, including starters Xzavier Malone-Key and Elyjah Williams, both seniors.
Tier 2- Long Island, Bryant, Mount St. Mary's, and St. Francis-Brooklyn.
LIU brings back major pieces in Ty Flowers and Jermaine Jackson, Jr., and can go 7 deep with players who have significant D1 experience, plus a really strong freshman class. Bryant is very similar; the three stud freshmen from last year (Michael Green III, Charles Pride, and Benson Lin), plus Hall Elisias, two strong JUCO transfers (Chris Childs, Darius Guinn), and a former Top-100 recruit who transferred in from Arkansas St. (Melo Eggleston). The Mount returns 4 starters, including Damian Chong-Qui, all of whom will be juniors or seniors. St. Francis-Brooklyn could be sneaky; they return a strong backcourt in Chauncey Hawkins, Unique McLean, and Rob Higgins, plus they have experience with incoming transfer Travis Atson (Quinnipiac), plus a couple of strong JUCO bigs.
Tier 3- Everyone else?
I'd think that, if I had to rank teams right now, I'd slot Central Connecticut in at #7, perhaps in a tier by themselves. On one hand, they were very bad last season, but on the other hand they return everyone and filled the necessary holes. Want an interesting nugget? Of all teams in the Northeast Conference as currently constituted, CCSU's roster has the most combined collegiate points including other Division 1 schools, as well as Junior College.
Tre Mitchell scored 849 points at Phoenix College, while Nigel Scantlebury had 651 in two seasons at Niagara CCC. Ian Krishnan has 610 points at CCSU, Stephane Ayangma 481 in three seasons (2 JUCO years), and Wassef Methnani 480 in three years at Fairfield.
What does it mean? On the surface, not much. However, it tells a story of a roster that is experienced and talented enough to score the ball. Combine that with the fact that CCSU is returning 79% of last season's minutes, which is 2nd to Fairleigh Dickinson (81%), and there's quite a bit of experience and continuity. How many schools can claim they have 11 players with significant collegiate experience? Not many.
I went back over the past four seasons looking at every NEC teams continuity and experience data (per Kenpom), and what I found was interesting: Of the 40 teams I looked at (10 teams per season, excluding Merrimack this past season since Kenpom didn't track their continuity), the best 10 teams averaged 166th nationally in experience and 130th in continuity. The worst 10 teams? 246th in experience and 214th in continuity. Is it statistically significant? Probably not (2016-17 Mount St. Mary's finished well below those averages and yet won the league at 14-4), but bringing back almost your entire rotation and adding experienced pieces should be a good thing.
10. Could CCSU get into the Top 4 of the league? Of course, anything is possible, and every year there's at least a few surprises (who saw Merrimack winning the regular season title?).
There are obviously a lot of things that will have to happen for CCSU to end up close to 11-7 or 12-6, which is historically where a team needs to finish to earn a home game in the NEC Quarterfinals. No, we're not going to go over all of those things today.
However, the first thing that jumps out at me is this; someone on this roster has to develop into an All-NEC 1st Team caliber player, and at least one other player has to be a top 15 level player in this league.
In looking over Bart Torvik's projections (Bart's website is awesome, but you should still take his projections with a giant grain of salt), Ian Krishnan is projected to be the 3rd most valuable player in this league according to PORPAGATU!. The projection has Krishnan improving upon his O-Rating quite a bit; from a solid 104.1 (19.8% usage) to 109.1 (20.1% usage). Is that realistic? I don't see why not; Krishnan showed a major improvement from his freshman to sophomore seasons (I'll look at that more in depth this summer). If he can improve on his FG% inside the arc (or just take fewer two-point jumpers), and become a more willing/able passer, the sky is the limit for him.
To me, the trickier proposition is who else can step up and potentially end up on one of the NEC's All-Conference teams? Given the talent, I'd guess Greg Outlaw is that guy, though Jamir Reed is in that conversation, as is Myles Baker as well as the new point guards. The point is; Marshall has a ton of depth with legitimate Division 1 players, but to make a run toward the top of the standings he will need more than that.
11. The CCSU coaching staff still has one open scholarship remaining. In a perfect world, Marshall would bring in another grad transfer, specifically a shooter. Getting another player who could knock down shots off the bench would be huge for this group. However, don't be surprised if the Blue Devils go into 2020-21 with only 12 scholarship players. There's a lot of financial concern across the globe (obviously), and that's certainly trickling down into colleges and universities across the country. CCSU was already in "penny pinching" mode, so I'd expect them to save money wherever possible and wouldn't be surprised to hear that even more sports will be cut. But let's remember; this isn't just a CCSU problem. These sorts of issues are happening across the landscape, and it's already evidenced by the fact that fewer head coaching changes were made as schools were apprehensive to pay large buy-outs.
12. Last Friday it was announced that CCSU will participate in a Multi-Team Event with Rutgers, Holy Cross, and Miami (Ohio). It's essentially a Round-Robin, with Rutgers hosting games against all three, while Miami (Ohio) gets home games against Holy Cross and CCSU. Yes, Central Connecticut is on the road for all three games. We all want home games, but CCSU needs the money that comes with playing these types of games on the road.
13. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch the Zoom call Tom Pincince held with the three studs from 2006-07; Javier Mojica, Obie Nwadike, and Tristan Blackwood, as well as Bruce Biel. Not only was it great for nostalgia-sake, but it was an awesome conversation with some great stories, and Tom did a great job moderating. I'm sure many people reading this remember that 2007 team, but for those of you who don't; that team was perhaps the most fun CCSU team of all time. That roster had (probably) the three best players in the league and their rotation only went about 7 deep. Those three guys all had O-Ratings north of 110 and usage rates above 24%; to put that into context, there was just one player in the entire league last season who fit that criteria (Isaiah Blackmon). Blackwood made 122 three-pointers (39%), Mojica had a 52.6% eFG%, and Obie Nwadike got to the free throw line 251 times (and made 76.1% of them), plus he had a ridiculous 15.3% OR% despite being listed at just 6'4". Go check it out.