Looking back at a bad day all around for the CCSU men's basketball team Saturday

I'll have more on the Central women playing in Texas and what the Shelton Mickell news means to Central in the big picture a little later, but for now let's focus on a depressing afternoon in West Hartford after Central's surprising 80-77 loss to the Hawks.

First the good news. With this group, the Blue Devils are never out of a game which is reasonably close. As Kyle Vinales started shooting Central back into this one late, a colleague of mine decided he could score 6 points in a possession. I turned to him and said if he pulls this one off, they're going to start telling Kyle Vinales stories like they tell "Johnny Football" tales in Texas.

But while I was one more 3-pointer away from starting a Kyle Basketball story about the time I saw him beat a rival on the road, the key point here is he never should have had to. Not on this day. Both he and coach Howie Dickenman were honest about their team's lack of intensity in this one.

I chalked it up to a team which knew it had beaten its rival by 30-something last year but forgot that most of the team which did that was gone. This team is capable of doing something similar, but needed to do more than just get off the bus.

Central just got outworked in this one. You can live with Hartford shooting the lights out and Central struggling a bit, but the way the Hawks were flying around getting rebounds and loose balls was the disappointing thing. Central just didn't want this one as much as the Hawks did, and it showed. Hartford wanted payback, and Central wanted to go back to sleep.

Things like allowing an offensive rebound to the one guy from the other team in the lane on a free throw with the game in the balance can't happen.

If you're a Central fan, you hope this is just a wake up call and a game which is just a footnote in the story of the season. Whatever it ends up being, let's document it for the record with a quick game of man-to-man.

Joe Efese
He struggled with his shot, but did well on the glass. He couldn't do much about Mark Nwakamma, but I feel like a lot of people in the America East won't, either. And actually, with the exception of points scored, he played him pretty evenly. And part of that is Central has someone else who does the scoring.

Adonis Burbage 
Shooters go through cycles, so I wouldn't worry about Burbage long term. Still, you'd like to see him do a bit more in the other phases of the game while his shot isn't falling. He usually does, so I'll just chalk this up to a bad day.

Kyle Vinales
There's only so much you can ask the young man to do. He struggled at times, but ended up better than 50 percent from the floor and darn near stuck a couple of threes late which would have gotten Central back into it. 32 points and only 3 turnovers in 40 minutes is still a heck of a day. As Howie Dickenman pointed out after the game, which I hadn't given much thought to this year, Vinales is on a pace to smash Ken Horton's all-time scoring record at CCSU. Smash it.

Malcolm McMillan 
Just as impressive is what the point guard is doing. I can't stress enough how hard it its to play 40 minutes and commit one turnover while being the main ball-handler, and do it while playing defense the whole time. This effort wasn't great on defense, but generally speaking he's a tough defender. Also, his offense as he promised before the year, is steadily improving. This backcourt has a chance to be special by next season, and it's darn good now. That is, if they don't collapse from exhaustion.

Matt Hunter

A fantastic all-around effort. Six big free throws down the stretch to keep Central alive, 8-of-9 overall, 22 points, 12 rebounds, three steals and a block in 35 minutes. And, to me most important, just two turnovers. Really a strong showing.

Terrell Allen 
Strong work on the glass in 19 minutes and provided some energy on a night when it was needed. He's in charge of doing a lot of the dirty work inside, and he does a good job of it on most nights.

Brandon Peel
He had two nice putbacks and probably deserves more than the five minutes or so he's been getting of late, but I'm not sure which of the bigs you'd sit to get him in. If only he played guard.

CCSU men's basketball wins third straight in dramatic fashion, this time in OT

First, your stat of the night. Take out Central's big win over Brown and the Blue Devils have played four other games this year. In those four games, the total point differential is four points. CCSU lost by one and by three and won by seven and tonight's 1-point overtime win over UMBC in Baltimore.

I think one thing is clear about this team. Their games are not going to be boring.

Another interesting character trait has emerged: The Blue Devils are showing some guts. Or maybe it's poise. Whatever you want to call it, Central has overcome adversity of late in a way it didn't during the first two games of the season, when the Blue Devils let leads get away and didn't execute late. During this streak, however, they have answered challenges with big shots and even bigger defensive plays.

Tonight's adversity was provided by a UMBC team better than its record, which pulled in front of Central numerous times. In each instance, however, the Blue Devils stormed back, including being down four late in regulation and five in overtime. The extra session itself came from adversity, since the Blue Devils never should have been there.Joe Efese missed a bunny at the buzzer which would have won it. Then, Central was down five in overtime. The Blue Devils were tough mentally and physically, however, and found a way to get it done.

Let's break down how it got done by playing man-to-man

Adonis Burbage
He shot the ball poorly, but made a big one late in regulation as Central made a rally to keep the game alive. Also, he had zero turnovers in 43 minutes. You'd like to see him do some more little things like grab rebounds when his shot is off, but he avoided big mistakes other than missed shots and almost went the distance in an overtime game.

Joe Efese
For his sake, you have to be happy Central won this one so the focus can be on how good Efese was before the missed layup; He had four blocks and six rebounds while continuing to shoot well. His foul issues started to creep back in, however. That's something which he must avoid going forward.

Kyle Vinales
It wasn't quite Jake Taylor, but "KV3" got up 26 shots, making just 11. Here's what makes the kid tough, however. He has no memory or conscience of any kind when it comes to shooting. After struggling all night, he had five points in 46 seconds during the rally in regulation, then scored five in a row in overtime to erase a 5-point hole with under a minute to go. Oh, and two free throws down one with five seconds left in OT to win the game aren't bad, either.
He'll shoot the Blue Devils into some holes this year, but he'll shoot his team back out of most of them.
By the way, I'm totally ok with "KV3" catching on as his nickname since that's what I write in my notes whenever he hits a three. Someday I'll post a shot of my notes from a game. It will be my highest-viewed blog since the scientific community will get involved to decipher the writing.

Malcolm McMillan
No turnovers in 41 minutes is a heck of a night for a point guard. Everything else is gravy. Seven rebounds, four assists and two steals is some tasty gravy for the men in blue.

Matt Hunter
He's this close. Most of his line is wonderful. 11-of-20 shooting. Eight rebounds made him tough inside, and four steals show him again to be a defensive presence. He's averaging more than three steals a game. The problem is he has given almost all of them back with 22 turnovers. He had six Tuesday night. If the game slows down for him just a little bit, Central will be in business. In the meantime, if he does everything else this well, CCSU will take a couple of miscues.

Terrell Allen
A solid, stat-stuffing night of minute-eating. He was like me at the McDonald counter. He got one of each.

Brandon Peel
He was good on the glass but struggled with turnovers. He'll be up and down a bit, but the ups will be higher than the downs are low.

Next up, a return to West Hartford Saturday, this time to play the Hawks themselves, who lost to La Salle.

Handing out some congratulations for teams around the NEC

First, hats off to the Central women's volleyball team for making it all the way to the NEC final and giving unbeaten LIU all it could handle.

And congratulations to the Blackbirds, who ran the NEC table and deserve the shot in the NCAAs.

We're also about to find out where Wagner is going in the FCS football tournament. There's some talk about Albany as an at-large, but I don't see it. There just aren't enough spots yet.

As for basketball, Sacred Heart beats Stony Brook and Central beats La Salle. Then Quinnipiac puts forth an all-time performance against a UConn team which, while not great, is better than people realize with everything going on around the program.

Tom Moore makes his team believe and manages to make a bunch of guys play together, allowing him to used his depth well. That was evidenced by four Bobcats being in double-figures Sunday. Don't be too quick to take this as Quinnipiac's statement as the NEC's best (just think of every time a 14 beats a 3 in the NCAAs), but do take it as a sign the Bobcats are good and the NEC is underrated.

I can't help think of how much a win would have helped the NEC's RPI, but QU still deserves congratulations.

What a weekend.

CCSU men's basketball picks up big victory at La Salle

Central would have been fighting Sacred Heart for the honor of best NEC win of the day before Quinnipiac went and made all the other results of the night insignificant in comparison without even winning. The talk of the NEC being on the way up was confirmed Sunday, a day the league badly needed after a bad start to the season which featured missed opportunities to win big games.

The Blue Devils didn't miss their chance Sunday, heading down to Philly and coming back with a big win over La Salle. Not only was it a win over an A-10 school, but it was further evidence that the Blue Devils are no longer a one-man show. Kyle Vinales was good, but it was everyone else pitching in, especially late, which made this one so nice for Central.

If you consider Central should have at least split the first two games, having leads in the second half of each and the ball in the air at the end of both for either the win or a tie, the Blue Devils have to be thrilled with where they stand considering how many questions they had coming into the year.

You can't get too excited about Game 4 of the regular season when there's 25 to go, but you're allowed to enjoy this one if you're a CCSU fan. Let's look at who made it possible by playing man-to-man.

Adonis Burbage
Let's see, 7-of-8, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range, five boards, two assists and only one turnover while playing the entire 40 minutes. Not a bad night. At some point, someone is going to start guarding him a little more closely, which will only free up others.

Joe Efese
Foul trouble was all that kept him from a big night. Five rebounds in 28 minutes isn't bad, and his shooting percentages have been fantastic. Most importantly, he has handled himself beautifully through an incredibly difficult time of late.

Kyle Vinales
The good: 23 points, 3 assists and 2 turnovers. The bad: He's still making some hurried decisions late in games, though he is clearly starting to minimize them, which is a great sign. It's going to be fun to watch him grow up as the year goes on. The other bad sign: He's consistently playing 40 minutes. Howie Dickenman has to find a way to get him a couple of minutes of rest here and there. Maybe the last minute of the half or 2 minutes on each side of a TV timeout. I'm not saying he needs to play 25 minutes, but 35 would be a nice change.

Malcolm McMillan
His best overall game as a Blue Devil. He did a little bit of everything, including nailing a late jumper which sealed the win. His three steals and two blocks were indicative of his defensive work, and he didn't have a turnover in 38 minutes. Just a wonderful performance.

Matt Hunter
Did the light go on Sunday afternoon? Hunter had just one turnover in 34 minutes on offense and was his usual strong defensive self, getting three steals and a block. If he can bottle that effort, he doesn't have to make a lot of shots to be effective.

Terrell Allen 
Not a lot of stats to speak of, but he ate up some minutes so the starters didn't have to play all 200 themselves.

Brandon Peel
See Terrell Allen.

A few things to cover ahead of a big day for CCSU athletics

I'll wrap up the whole weekend tonight, but wanted to put a couple of things on your radar for now.
First, the men start in a few minutes. You can find my preview online or on twitter, which, thanks to Brad Carroll, is on the right side of the blog. I watched him do all that coding himself.

Also in that box, a good read if I do say so myself on the Central women, who have come a long way in the eyes of Jen Rizzotti, who knows a lot about this stuff.

Third, the CCSU volleyball team looks to slay some demons and win the NEC title when they take on LIU in Brooklyn. It's a tough task, but the prize is a bid in the NCAAs and the team's first NEC title.

The game is free on NEC Front Row.

CCSU women have big game with Jen Rizzotti's Hartford Hakws tonight

This could be a really interesting for the Blue Devils. The women are playing really well and are still looking to build their program the way Rizzotti has in Hartford. (There's a LONG way to go, don't get too excited).
As I said before the year, I think the Blue Devils were way too low in the NEC preseason poll, and if they can win this one they'd be able to fly themselves down to Texas without the benefit of a plane.
This is kind of a free one for Central. If the Devils win, it's big. If they lose, no harm done.
If the last time Hartford came in is any indication, this could be a fun game with lots of people in the stands and a great atmosphere.

CCSU men's basketball breakdown after the Blue Devils' first win of the season

I don't mean this to sound like "oh I'm a great writer," but I think I summed up last night's win over Brown in the lead to my story.

For a half, Central dominated without Kyle Vinales much offensively, which was a great sign for a number of reasons. Not only did it give the team a little confidence, which it might need on a night when Vinales is struggling or hurt or in foul trouble, but it helped Vinales know he doesn't have to be the man for 40 minutes.

When they needed him to be, however, he was.
Last night, 20 minutes was fine, and the three or so in which he single-handedly took the game over were special. His comment after the game about letting the game come to him was rather telling I think. That understanding will be key to the Blue Devils' season. Vinales told me the other night during the women's game he was trying not to press as much. Last night he picked his spots, and in the process put forth a masterpiece.

I know Central gave up more than 64 last night, but the defense wasn't bad. Brown knocked down too many open shots, but a lot of them were covered as well. The defense didn't hit 77.7, but I still think it's a good defense.

Now, let's dig a little deeper by playing our own man-to-man.

Adonis Burbage 
The quintessential Burbage night. 4-of-6, 3-of-4 from three and four rebounds. As long as he fills the other stats on nights when he's not scoring, he'll be a big factor. I admit I was wrong about starting Terrell Allen over him. Allen likes his role off the bench and Burbage is thriving.

Kyle Vinales
What else can you say? In the first half when other players were hot, he had 4 assists and allowed himself to slip into the background a bit. Then, when his teammates were starting to falter, he took off his jersey to reveal his Superman costume, scored 10 in a row and won the game. As impressive as his streak was, his management of the game was even better. It's one game, but if he has figured all this out in three games, Central is about to go on an upswing.

Malcolm McMillan
Seven assists, one turnover, six rebounds, 37 minutes. Those numbers make his offense irrelevant really. If he scores on top of all that, great. If not, that's fine, too. He's a point guard. You young readers might not remember an era when the point guard wasn't asked to score 20 points a night.

Joe Efese
He's making his shots, which is a good sign. Eventually he'll need to rebound more, but I'm not going to say a single negative word about him right now considering the fact that he's on the floor at all despite all that's going on in his life. As I wrote last week, the kid is an inspiration.

Matt Hunter
If he makes a bit higher percentage of his 2-point shots, he'll be a star. Of course he has to cut down on the turnovers, we've talked about that before. But six rebounds and six assists to go with 17 points despite the other issues is an impressive night.

Erik Raliegh
Great to see him get in the game. He's another good story. Someday he might be able to help.

Terrell Allen
The team's new 3-point shooter. Ok, probably not, but he'll now have the confidence to take a couple here and there. The key will be not to overdo it. I don't think he will. More important, he talked last night about enjoying his role off the bench, which is more important than you think If he likes the role, he'll be more effective.

Brandon Peel 
A little bit of everything last night. He's become a nice piece off the bench who can help add to a thing big-man rotation. That will be big since Central doesn't have a lot of numbers. De'Angelo Speech's return is still a ways off, so the Blue Devils need him to be the seventh man.

CCSU basketball teams collecting donations for Operation Christmas Child

If you're coming to the women's game tonight or the men on Thursday bring crayons, coloring books, toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs), socks, hats or small toys such as bouncy balls, playing cards, toy cars, stuffed animals, etch a sketch, school supplies to support a good cause. 

Here's full details from CCSU's web site. 


CCSU men's basketball drops another heartbreaker at St. Peter's in the final seconds

It's only two games. That's what the Blue Devils and their fans have to tell themselves after the first three days of the season.

While no team wants to be 0-2, there are plenty of things to like about the Central men so far. There are also some troubling signs. Monday night's 64-61 loss to St. Peter's showed a little of each.

On the plus side, Central's defense has a chance to be pretty good. The Blue Devils also seem to have found a rotation early this season, and it will eventually get stronger with the addition of De'Angelo Speech. Also, with Kyle Vinales, Central will never be out of a game, as he can get hot at any moment.

The other players are mostly young guys who will continue to improve, and this feels like a team that is going to be pulling for one another, which can only help. The Blue Devils are a Vinales miss from two overtime games in two tries, so they have certainly been competitive.

With all that said, there are things you have to worry about. First, that rotation I mentioned is awfully short. I covered a team which won the NEC by basically playing six guys, and it was a special group for sure. There was, however, a reason it was special. You don't have to play all 13 guys, but 7 might be pushing it, especially with how much Central is going to run. Vinales and Malcolm McMillan each played 40 minutes tonight. That's scary, especially with McMillan's leg issues last year.

Secondly, living by the 3-point shot is fine if you make them. Lots of teams have won games taking a bunch of threes. Not that many have won when shooting 22.2 percent from three as Central did Monday. Central got to the line a little more Monday, which helps mitigate bad shooting nights, but the shots have to start falling.

With the big picture covered, let's dig a little deeper into what went right (and wrong) Monday by playing man-to-man.

Adonis Burbage
I'm still very high on him, but this wasn't a great night. He struggled with his shot and committed a couple of turnovers, which weren't balanced with many steals this time. There were also three fouls. On the bright side, he had his usual one of everything on the stat sheet. An off night. He'll be a factor for this team for sure. 

Joe Efese
He wasn't as good as he was the other night, but he did some good things. He's making his free throws and is being aggressive offensively. He also threw in a block and an assist. If Central is going to get things straightened out, however, Efese is going to have to be a big part of the solution in the rebounding department. Four in one night just isn't going to cut it. 

Kyle Vinales
He spent quite a bit of his night at the foul line, which was great to see if you're a CCSU fan. Being able to score 24 points on a night where you shoot 7-for-17 overall and 2-for-9 from three is an impressive thing. Central has to find a way to get him a couple of minutes off per half, however, or his legs are going to be gone by January. When his shot starts to fall more consistently, watch out. He's going to put up some numbers. 

Malcolm McMillan
I like that he has become more confident with his shot and his offense as a whole. He had some nice drives against Fairfield and has worked hard on his shot. In order to become the total package point guard he has the potential to become, however, he must do better than 1-for-7. I know three of those were threes, and he doesn't have to score 10 points a game. He does, however, have to be a bit of a threat to make defenses play him. More important for an old-school true point guard, he has to be better than even in the Ast-TO ratio. 

Matt Hunter
He continued to be a stat-stuffer Monday night, the problem is not all the stats were positive. Six turnovers in particular stands out as a problem. Defensively he continues to be a force, recording two steals and two blocks. But if he's going to be the second option, he must start scoring the ball more efficiently. If he can cut down on the turnovers, make a few more shots and keep doing everything else he has been doing with his defense and energy, he can be a star. 

Terrell Allen
He was missing for too long the other night, and he did well with his new-found minutes Monday, scoring 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting and grabbing three rebounds while blocking two shots. I have a feeling his minutes are only going to go up from here. He's going to be a big part of Central's frontcourt this season, especially if he keeps playing like that. It will be interesting to see if Howie Dickenman chooses to spread the floor with Burbage more or go a bit "bigger" and play Allen more at the four. 

Brandon Peel
Speaking of guys who are earning more minutes at the four, I really believe Peel is going to be a bruiser for Central for a long time. He had six rebounds (four offensive) in 22 minutes Monday and had two steals while making two of his three shots. I probably spoke too soon before I compared him to Dave Simmons since it has only been two games, but he seems to be on his way to being that type of player. Other than a couple more fouls than you'd like to see, I have nothing bad to say about him so far. 

CCSU now plays at home Thursday night. I'm looking forward to seeing what this team does at Detrick Gym. This team has a chance to be a fun, scrappy group. 

Fire the engines as we go Man-To-Man after CCSU basketball falls to Fairfield

Ok, forget the reasons/excuses about where I've been, let's get this blog fired up again.

Big thanks to Brad Carroll for the redesign, so now that it's hoops season again it's time to put it to use.

Let me start with some quick thoughts, now that I've seen the team a couple of times. I'll have more after this week hopefully, but here's some quick thoughts.

First, Central's defense was outstanding Saturday night. As Howie Dickenman said after the game, if the Blue Devils defend like that, they'll win a lot of games.

The new offense was what you'd expect: fluid at times and not so at others. Central, as promised, got into its running game whenever possible. Kyle Vinales is going to score a ton of points this year but he has to remember not to force things. There are other players who look they can take the burden off him, and he needs to remember that and not get too wild.

Let's take one last look at the opener before tonight's Game 2 with a game of man-to-man.

Adonis Burbage
Nobody leaves Adonis Burbage in a corner! Ok, bad movie reference, but the point is valid. He was left open in the corner and made Faifield pay with a bunch of threes. Also took one from the top at the start of a break. Not my favorite shot, but it shows a confidence he didn't have a year ago. He also had three steals and did his usual little things. He has a chance to be a real contributor. Think Shane Battier. (No, he's not that good, I'm just trying to give you a style comparison.)

Joe Efese
Less than a week after his return to the team after losing his sister, Efese was fantastic. As aggressive as I can remember him, Defensively he was very good, and if he can be near 10 and 10 that would be a huge boost for this team. Whatever he does from this point out, that inspired effort was great to watch. Also, three offensive rebounds.

Kyle Vinales
The sophomore is going to be a star, but he must make sure he doesn't overdo it. There's a difference between confidence and overaggressiveness. To be fair, there were only 4 or 5 shots out of his 23 which were bad ones, but that's the battle Vinales will have with himself all year. Getting to know him and watching him play last year, I don't think he's the kind of kid who just wants to shoot at the detriment of the team. He'll find a balance.

Malcolm McMillan
A steadying force who MUST stay out of foul trouble. He's too valuable to the team. That strikes me as his only big flaw right now, especially since his offense seems to have improved. If he can just score enough to keep the defense honest, it's a game-changer.

Matt Hunter
Something clicked for him with about 10 minutes left, and he emerged as the second option. he's a great athlete who will be a big part of the running game. His baseline drives will be a trademark if the Fairfield game is any indication, but he has to read when to drive and when to understand there are too many people in the way. That will come, too. His defense was very good as well, and he got in the rebounding battle. If he makes his shots, he could be a big player.

Khalen Cumberlander
Made two free throws late, a big deal for a freshman. Not enough of a sample size for a great read, but he showed poise and speed.

Terrell Allen
I wanted to see more of him since I think his energy can help inside, but Hunter kind of ate into his minutes a bit, as did the last man on the list.

Brandon Peel
Seven strong minutes in which he showed flashes of David Simmons.