I've got mail!

From Matt M., our most consistent e-mailer. (The gauntlet has been thrown down Blue! You too JJ, pick it up!)

Q: Matt...I've been watching CCSU for the last ten seasons and I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable basketball guy. I've never seen a better performance than last night. What's more, I've never seen a more dominant stretch of basketball than these last three games. Not the Corsley teams, not the Javy/Blackwood team, nothing. It was obvious that Horton, Ptacek and Thompson were the three best players on the floor last night. I was stunned and amazed. I'm now convinced that the only team that can beat CCSU is CCSU.
Can you provide insight to any conscious style changes by Howie? The Pressure D is obvious, but they are attacking the paint unlike ever before on offense and the kick outs are really doing wonders. I still think Shemik is the MVP of this squad...he's doing EVERYTHING.

A: I can confirm Matt is a pretty knowledgeable hoops fan.
To your first statement Matt, I've begun the process of asking around about a more dominant performance. The only one in my time covering the team (I go back to 2005) that comes close is in 07-08, when they beat Delaware on a Saturday afternoon in a blizzard. It was 50-18 at half.
This, coming against a better team in front of a packed house, I'd say was more impressive.
As to a better stretch? Non-league you might be right. But Central won 12 straight league games in 2007. That was pretty impressive, too.
I agree with the other statements except for CCSU is the only team that can beat CCSU. Can they beat everyone left on their schedule? Yes. But Quinnipiac, LIU, Robert Morris and SFNY are all going to have something to say about that as well. Plus, Central is going to have to play a road game again at some point. League road games are not easy.
Central is not going to win its next 19 games. I'll make that bold prediction right now. (By the way, I'm 0-for-3 on bold predictions so far this season, so maybe they will.) But can Central set itself up to win 3 games in March? Yes.
Therein lies the key. I do believe that Central would be close to a lock if it gets the 1-seed and plays 3 tourney games at Detrick. It's going to take at least 15 NEC wins to get the 1-seed. That means CCSU must got 14-2 in the league the rest of the way. That's NOT easy.
I'm not saying Central can't win the league if it's the 2 or 3, but getting the 1 makes things much easier.
As to the strategic differences. I think you're seeing more sets this year. The weave is still there, but Central branches out a bit more at times. More importantly, the pressure defense is creating more fast break chances, and you don't need to call a play when you have a run out or a 2-on-1.
I think having the Joe Efeses and Chris Baskervilles of the world playing well and letting Ken Horton float outside is another key. The reason Central has more drive-and-kicks this year is that there are more people to kick it to now that Horton is back and Shemik Thompson has found his form.
Last year, you could sag back and dare this team to shoot threes. Heck, you could do that up until the first week of December. The Devils are still far from a great shooting team from long range, but they are starting to get good enough at it to draw defenders. That's all it takes. You don't have to be a great 3-point shooting team, just good enough to make it a weapon. It's like the long pass in football. You don't have to do it every play, just enough to make a safety think you might do it.
Howie Dickenman has HEAVILY stressed the pull-up jumper this year as well. Just watch Ptacek, as it's his favorite shot. Up fake, one dribble to get the defender off his feet, stop and shoot. He and Shemik are very good at it. Where they take the shot is also key. Getting to 16 feet or so, right around the elbow, is especially useful. If you can get by your man and get to that spot, then make a big come out and contest your shot, you can then dump it down low. Ken Horton has done this repeatedly during this streak. Get to the foul line, draw the defense up, dump it to the block.
There will still be times when Central can't do some of these things. Slow it down against this team and make them work for shots, that's the scouting report I'd guess. That's why I thought the stretch and the end of the half was so huge. UMass told Central to beat it in the half court and the Devils did just that.
If they can do that AND still utilize the press, then yes, they will be the only team on the schedule that cane beat them. But that's a big if.
There's 16 to go.

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