Summer School: College of Charleston

Two weeks ago, the Golden State Warriors brought Oakland its first NBA Championship in 40 years. The man who brought the Warriors that 1975 NBA Championship? Ricky Barry.

For worse or for worse, Barry’s greatness is lost on most millenials. We ’90s babies are limited to admiring his stats on BR, and gawking at his YouTube highlights. We’re more familiar with Jackie Moon that college kid who honors his father by shooting “granny-style” free throws.

Basketball goes full circle, and it brings us back to CAA Hoops.

We’ve made it almost halfway through the offseason, and I’m here to make the trek to November slightly more tolerable.

After Damion Lee and Four McGlynn’s initial fireworks, hoops life went into a multi-week lull. There were (thankfully) no coaching changes, and the total number of transfers paled in comparison to years’ past.

But things have ramped up in June.

  • Marcus Thornton, the ’14-’15 CAA Player of the Year and William & Mary’s all-time leading scorer, was selected 45th overall in the NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. It’s gratifying to see four-year studs get picked ahead of guys whose career peaks came in the McDonald’s All-American Game, and the pot’s sweetened when the guy is one of our own.
  • Elijah Bryant, the ’14-’15 Freshman of the Year, announced he’s transferring from Elon.

These are the precursors to another fascinating season that will be just as wild and erratic as the last.

Lace up, everyone. We’re officially counting down to November.

***

College of Charleston (9-24, 3-15)

On September 2nd, 2014, the College of Charleston men’s basketball program, coming off its second losing season in 23 years as a D-I team, hired its fourth head coach since January 2012.

I hope Earl Grant got some rest that Labor Day Weekend, because the first-time head coach had his work cut out for him.

Grant had 10-and-a-half weeks to get his new squad, one whose previous coach was let go amid allegations of verbal abuse, ready for a November 14th Season Opener.

Compare that to the surprising UNCW team that eventually ended Charleston’s season. By the time March rolled around, UNCW rookie head man Kevin Keatts’d (hired March 27th, 2014) had nearly twice as much time to develop his Seahawks as Grant’d had with his Cougars.

It goes without saying, but is still worth reiterating: Grant coached the ‘14-‘15 season under severely unfavorable circumstances. The tragic death of sophomore guard Chad Cooke, the previously stormy offseason, a demanding nonconference schedule, and an ill-timed injury to senior Anthony Stitt combined to create an everlasting uphill battle.

A promising 5-4 start dissipated into a 9-24 finish, and the College’s first ever 20-loss season.

Despite the fact that the Cougars have gone 23-42 overall and 9-25 in league play during their first two CAA seasons, there are reasons to believe that Grant can be the man to turn things around. The program’s prosperous hoops history is not lost on the Charleston native, who recognizes that losing seasons are uncommon occurrences in Chucktown.

So what can we expect in ’15-’16? Charleston finished the season as KenPom’s 50th youngest team, and graduated its two most experienced players (Stitt and Adjehi Baru). With the number of new players matching the number of returnees (six), this year’s youthful team will have a much different look.

Led by a trio of experienced juniors, the backcourt will be Grant’s rock.

When we watched Canyon Barry and Joe Chealey in their first collegiate action at KFC Yum!, we saw glaring potential that was over the hills and far away (totals of 18 points, 14 turnovers). After combining to tally nearly 25 points per game as sophomores, it’s time for these guys to cash in on the extensive experience they’ve gained the last two seasons.

The other junior guard is 6’5” transfer Payton Hulsey, who started eight games as a freshman at Western Kentucky before going JUCO. Hulsey’s JUCO coach praised him for a versatility evident in his line (9.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.5 steals per game).

Three underclassmen guards have the skills to threaten the hierarchy of seniority.

Grant offered Marquise Pointer while still at Clemson, and eventually beat out Wichita State, Louisiana Tech, and Ole’ Dirty for the guard’s services. Pointer is a crafty passer, and while his path to immediate playing time is a bit jumbled, he’s the lead guard of the future and will learn a lot from the veterans.

6’3” guard Grant Riller’s high school tapes are full of high-elevation jams, and the chatter in Charleston indicates he’s a step faster than his new teammates. Riller averaged 28.1 points per game and was Player of the Year in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association — honors he garnered over LSU-bound Burger Boy Antonio Blakeney. Riller will have a chance to prove he earned it when LSU visits TD Arena in November.

From January 10th onward, sophomore Cameron Johnson started every game but Senior Day. Johnson hit the second-most 3-pointers (35) on the team, and with more slashers on this year’s club, he’ll be needed to space the floor.

Grant told Andrew Miller he’d like to keep his guards around 26-27 minutes per game. Rostering six capable guards will enhance practice competition and allow for more breathers. It’ll also be interesting to see if the added depth will entice Grant to quicken Charleston’s snail’s pace from a season ago.

The frontcourt is less settled, but there are some intriguing options.

Charleston’s lone senior is a newcomer. 6’8” Winthrop transfer James Bourne brings 51 career starts and a much-needed big body to the Cougar frontcourt. Those attributes might make him an early season starter.

Sophomore Donovan Gilmore started 21 games last season. If he’s bulked up enough to handle more minutes this season, he’ll be a good bet to start. Despite starting 15 fewer games, sophomore forward Evan Bailey actually logged more minutes than Gilmore, and could be in for an expanded role if he shoots the rock with consistency. I’m interested to see if junior Terrance O’Donohue improves upon his dozen minutes per outing.

The other newbies are freshmen. 6’10” redshirt Nick Harris has a chance to carve out immediate playing time. 6’7” power forward Jarrell Brantley was a late signee, and brings a college-ready body and winner’s mentality to the Cougar frontcourt.

The frontcourt is light on experience, which is part of the reason I think we’ll see Grant play stretches with Barry/Hulsey/Bailey at the four (expect small-ball lineups to be prominent throughout the CAA all season).

While it’s difficult to predict how the rotation will shake out, it’s abundantly clear that this team is in desperate need of some bucket getters. Grant comes from a defensively strong Clemson program (Brad Brownell, y’all), but isn’t in position to sit a player who can provide instant offense.

So if Riller can come in and fill it up on Day One, he’ll play.

Grant has a revamped roster, and the benefit of coaching his guys up over the offseason. The team defense should make a jump, and with a little regression to the mean (KenPom’s 26th unluckiest team had 13 single-digit losses), it’s easy to see where this team can make strides. With just one senior on the roster, this year is about bettering the team for a ’16-’17 season in which it could make noise.

Despite the roster upheaval, it would be optimistic peg this team higher than about eighth place in the 10-team CAA. Still, it’s a fresh rotation with dudes who don’t know their limitations together. They will be a pain to play, and have enough talent to beat any team in the league when the shots are falling.

At the very least, this team should be competitive enough to get King Kresse writing again.

Husky Magic

You know about The Great Wall in front of Northeastern. Any team that downs Larrañaga, Duke, and North Carolina in consecutive days is special, and Notre Dame is no exception. And while Northeastern’s task will be extremely trying, the Huskies can make things interesting if they play just their game. 14 seeds win these games 15% of the time, a stat that’s been affirmed three times in the past five years.

Here’s what we know about Notre Dame: Mike Brey’s team boasts one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Fighting Irish scores 1.22 points per possession, trailing only Wisconsin in adjusted offensive efficiency. The staples of this excellence come in the form of a nation-leading 58.6% effective field goal percentage and a 14.4% turnover rate, good for third in D-I. Notre Dame is 18-0 when scoring at least 1.18 points per possession.

Now, the roll call.

Senior Jerian Grant spearheads the offense. The All-American guard has rebounded from a season curtailed by academic shortcomings to average 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game. He’s a big strong guard who’s an absolute force in the lane. Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, and V.J. Beachem can absolutely stroke it from three, with the first pair scoring over 11 points per game.

Zach Auguste is Notre Dame’s skillfully efficient center, and if you watched any Notre Dame games over the last three weeks, you’re probably familiar with the undersized big man frosh Bonzie Colson. 

This is the part where I tell you how I think Northeastern can keep pace with the Irish.

Notre Dame is largely average defensively, and such disparities between offense and defense can be a death sentence in March. The Irish do a decent job defending the three-point line. Last Friday, the Irish let Jahlil Okafor do whatever he wanted in the paint, but refused to relinquish open outside shots to Quinn, Tyus, and Co.

Northeastern doesn’t have any future NBA Lotto picks, but I’d expect Mike Brey to once again sell out to guard the perimeter against a Northeastern team that’s shot 38.8% (24th in D-I) from three this season.

So I’m thinking this will be a Reggie Spencer game, because Northeastern needs to attack the heart of a Notre Dame defense that frequently plays small lineups featuring the 6’5” Connaughton at the four. Perhaps if Northeastern’s bigs can get things flowing towards the hoop, they can get a few early fouls on Auguste, and get into a shallow Notre Dame bench.

I say a shallow Notre Dame bench because (like Northeastern) Notre Dame is bottom five in D-I in percentage of minutes played by bench players. Okay, so we might need to send Lucas Goodwin to a data center to find what Litos wrote about the (in)significance of that same subject once upon a time. And given how good Vasturia is and how well Colson has played, you could say Notre Dame has an advantage here.

But we saw how well Spencer, Caleb Donnelly, and Devon Begley played in Baltimore. If that trio can carry some of that success to Pittsburgh, Northeastern might have an advantage here.

To summarize: I want to see Northeastern attacking the lane, crashing the boards, and forcing Mike Brey to rely on his depth-less frontcourt. These things are all much easier said than done — many have tried and failed this season. There’s a reason the Fighting Irish is 29-5.

But Bill Coen has dragged this team on holiday roadies to New Orleans, San Juan, and California over the past 18 months, and it’s all been in preparation for this exact moment. The game won’t be too big for a Northeastern squad playing with house money.

And for a Notre Dame program that’s only won two Tournament games since a 2003 Sweet 16 run, there’s a bit of pressure to perform.

Can the CAA force another high-powered Notre Dame team into the wrong side of a rockfight like it did in 2010?

The head and the heart disagree, but you’ve got to keep the faith.

Northeastern 70, Notre Dame 68

NU Territory

I spent the first few moments of the CAA Championship sitting in traffic. It’s not uncommon for me to miss the beginning of 7:00 games, as I routinely find myself stuck in the I-66/Route 7 merge around that time.

But this past Monday’s commute was more enjoyable than most. After Chad Dukes instructed listening ears to roll out the trashcans, the Westwood One broadcast switched to a certain Baltimore venue that I had visited less than 24 hours before. Suddenly, I wasn’t so worried about being stuck in traffic.

I hit my exit as starting fives were announced, and the game tipped off when I was just one turn away from my house. But stoplights kept me from pushing the gas pedal.

And all that short while, Northeastern was pressing its pedal to the floor.

Northeastern went up two, then four, and had taken a 10-0 lead just two minutes and 15 seconds into the game.

And all the while I was still sitting in my car.

Of course, there’s nothing damning about falling 10 points behind in the first three minutes of a college basketball game. That’s like heading into the bottom of the first inning in a 2-0 hole. But going into the weekend, the big question concerned which Northeastern would show up: the team that picked up the CAA’s best pair of road wins at Richmond and Florida State, or the team that was stomped out at UMass the day before Thanksgiving.

The consistently promising group that flashed major potential in Puerto Rico last year, or the guys who couldn’t make big free throws in nearly every game thereafter.

The squad that so easily dispatched of William & Mary and Hofstra in the regular season, or the the one that looked uninspired against Delaware and Elon.

When you saw the Huskies show up in full force like they did on Monday, you weren’t the least bit surprised to witness them guide the program to its first-ever CAA Championship and its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991 just two hours later.

It wasn’t quite so cut and dry — William & Mary had moments where it knotted the game up. And despite an abysmal showing for most of the second half, William & Mary still made a late 16-0 charge to make things interesting in the final 90 seconds.

But the Huskies set the tone early, and never trailed.

Quincy Ford delivered his best game on the season’s biggest stage, and reminded us of something we may have forgotten during his redshirt year: that he’s one of the league’s most uniquely talented players.

Scott Eatherton continued to prove that less is more, having sacrificed his formerly voluminous and gaudy numbers for efficiency and subsequent championships.

Juniors David Walker and Zach Stahl, who got small but sour tastes of championship life in their freshman years, had spectacular moments throughout the weekend.

Caleb Donnelly tied a career-high with 13 points, capping off a spectacularly productive weekend in which he averaged nine points per game on 72.7% shooting and hit 7-of-10 from downtown.

Ford’s championship blowup notwithstanding, the Huskies’ success hasn’t come on the back of individual dominant performances. It’s about balance, and having four guys in double figures on the reg.

Phil Kasiecki vividly recounted Northeastern’s path to its first conference championship in Coen’s ninth year at the helm.

I only feel qualified to speak of NU’s more recent history.

But this is something we could see coming. Northeastern flashed this potential in ’12-’13. The Huskies had to find new lynchpins in ’13-’14 after Jon Lee and Joel Smith graduated. Then seniors Lee and Smith had declared themselves “the head(s)” of the program, but were quick to render Ford as “the neck.”

Last year was a growing year, but the signs of future success were present. With Eatherton finally eligible after transferring in from St. Francis (PA) and Reggie Spencer already in tow, Coen had assembled his best frontcourt to date.

Thus, I’ve been mentally preparing to write this article for 16 months, after watching Eatherton and Spencer take it to Georgetown in San Juan. We lauded Coen’s willingness to push his team to outside of its comfort zones then, and notice how it’s paying off now.

We’re a day away from finding out whether the Huskies will be going to Seattle or Charlotte, or Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, or Louisville. Coen and the Huskies have done their jobs, and are now at the whims of the Selection Committee.

If they floor it like they did Monday Night, they’ll be ready to make moves wherever they end up.

W&M, Northeastern to Tango

It took 90 conference games to set the table for Baltimore, and eight fallen chefs to prepare the feast.

Tonight, Northeastern and William & Mary get to eat the entrée. We know only one of them will be invited for dessert.

In the clashes that determined who would cook and who would dine, we saw a paradigm of the passion that goes into the prep work, and the validation of our adoration for college basketball.

The Tribe’s last two quests for an NCAA Tournament berth ended when Marcus Thornton’s 3-pointers rimmed out. On Sunday afternoon, it was the three-point shot he didn’t take that allowed William & Mary to give it another go.

Thornton passed up a well-contested jumper and kicked the ball to Daniel Dixon. The sophomore guard with the gimpy hamstring coolly knocked down a corner 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left to complete William & Mary’s electrifying 92-91 double overtime victory.

We hear coaches say it all the time, but these close games always comes down to someone making a winning play. For a contest with two overtimes, nine ties, and 12 lead changes, that certainly held true.

On Sunday afternoon, Dixon hit the biggest shot of his life to do just that.

The nonpartisan can’t help but lament for the Pride, just as they would’ve felt for the Tribe had Dixon’s shot missed the mark.

We feel for Juan’ya Green and Brian Bernardi, who were largely magnificent in their abilities to quell the pro-Tribe crowd with big shot after big shot.

We feel for seniors Moussa Kone and Dion Nesmith, just as we feel for Freddie Jackson, Adjehi Baru, and every other player whose NCAA Tournament dreams perished in Baltimore.

And tonight, we’ll be feeling for Thornton or Scott Eatherton, just how we felt for Britt, Beasthoven, Boatner, and Gaillard 364 days ago.

It’s difficult to crystallize such an exhilarating event with words. There’s a reason why guys like Dave Fairbank get paid to do it.

As for me, I’ll let the video and this graph speak for itself.

runs

Northeastern’s 78-71 win against UNCW didn’t come down to last-second heroics, but the game wasn’t lacking in star performances.

Craig Ponder made several big plays throughout the game, and Jordon Talley still got the rim at will. Bill Coen will have summer nightmares when he realizes he’s got to face that kid for three more seasons.

But the Huskies didn’t let Addison Spruill and Freddie Jackson get anything easy, and Scott Eatherton and David Walker spearheaded a Husky offense that scored 1.2 points per possession while committing just two turnovers in the second half.

Again and again, NU role players Devon Begley, Caleb Donnelly, and Reggie Spencer interjected with timely buckets to spur the squad along. The Husky bench tallied 33 points, and helped alleviate Quincy Ford and Zach Stahl’s struggles.

The tumultuous weekend left us with a Monday might rubber match between Northeastern and William & Mary. The cool thing about the new-look CAA is that most of these schools haven’t danced for many years. Northeastern hasn’t boogied since 1991. None of the players on the team were alive then.

And you know William & Mary’s been taking dancing lessons for the past decade in preparation.

Hope everyone left room for dessert.

Northeastern-UNCW Halftime

Devon Begley and David Walker hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of an 8-0 run that allowed Northeastern to take a 33-30 lead into halftime.

Northeastern shot 52% (13-of-25) in the first half, but UNCW hung tough by pairing defensive turnovers with timely three-point shooting from Freddie Jackson and Dylan Sherwood. UNCW shot 31.6% on two-point attempts, as Addison Spruill’s mid-range game wasn’t quite there.

Scott Eatherton began to assert himself as the game wore on, and posted a game-high 11 points in the first half. Northeastern held a 14-point advantage for points in the paint. UNCW hasn’t had much success getting good drives toward the hoop.

We’re about an hour from finding out who will battle William & Mary for a chance to dance.

W&M-Hofstra Halftime

William & Mary got off to an auspicious start, as Marcus Thornton and Omar Prewitt used a series of cuts and three-point bombs to build a 21-11 lead less than 10 minutes into the game.

At that point, the W&M offense got sloppy, leading to several runouts for Hofstra. Juan’ya Green (11 points) and Rokas Gustys led Hofstra on a 15-1 run that turned the 10-point deficit into a four-point advantage.

The last five minutes of the half was The Marcus Thornton Show. The CAA Player of the Year banged home a trio of treys to put William & Mary back on top.

Thornton and Prewitt combined for 27 points, and helped the Tribe build its 35-32 halftime lead.

For Hofstra to keep this one close, it needs to recommit to getting the ball inside. The Tribe had no answer for Moussa Kone in the early going. Kone played just six minutes due to foul trouble, but kept the Pride in the game when nothing else was working.

William & Mary shot 50% from the field, and 41.7% from three. Hofstra was just 3-of-13 from downtown in the first half, and has to avoid trying to match the Tribe shot for shot.

Northeastern 67, Delaware 64

Eight and a half hours after the first game got going, Northeastern and Delaware gave the crowd the competitive game it so desperately sought.

The Huskies prevailed in the 67-64 tug of war. Monté Ross said it had the atmosphere of a championship game — a sentiment that’s confirmed by this graph.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 10.35.24 PM

We know that basketball is a game of runs, and what made this one fun was that individual players took their turns dominating for two and three minutes at a time.

It started with Northeastern swingman Quincy Ford, who scored nine of Northeastern’s first 14 points. Then teammate Zach Stahl got rolling, battling for position and converting several looks within five feet of the bucket. The two Huskies were tied for the team-high 11 points at halftime.

For the Blue Hens, the first half of the game was The Kory Holden Show. Perhaps he went extra hard to prove himself as CAA ROY Elijah Bryant’s equal. Holden knocked down a bevy of runners and 3-pointers en route to 16 first-half points.

Both teams shot 54.5% in the first half, and a late David Walker 3-pointer gave Northeastern a 35-31 lead at the intermission.

After Ford hit a 3-pointer on Northeastern’s first possession of the second half, Northeastern had it’s biggest lead of the game. Then, it was Cazmon Hayes’ turn to make a personal run as the Delaware sophomore, who committed two fouls and three turnovers in six first-half minutes, scored nine consecutive points in a 9-2 run that knotted the game at 40.

From there, it was more of the same. Northeastern ended a five-minute scoreless drought with seven points in 57 seconds. That gave the Huskies their largest lead (52-44), but Delaware’s Maurice Jeffers and Marvin King-Davis provided the counterpunch. Northeastern rallied to within one with 2:52 to play.

Delaware had a chance to take the lead, but a question five-second call on Holden gave the ball back to Northeastern. Holden kept Delaware within one possession, but Walker hit four free throws in the final 14 seconds.

Chivarsky Corbett’s potential game-tying 3-pointer was no good, and Northeastern got revenge against the team that knocked it out of last year’s CAA Tournament.

Northeastern shot 54.8% on the game, with Walker (17), Ford (16), and Stahl (13) scoring in double figures.

Holden finished with 20 points, which was the highest individual mark of Saturday’s CAA quarterfinals. Kyle Anderson (11) and Jeffers (10) also finished in double figures.

Northeastern will hope the third time’s the charm when it matches up with UNCW tomorrow at 5:00.