NEW BRITAIN - Through two months, the winter season has been much more of a struggle for CCSU athletics than the autumn proved to be.
After the football team reached its highest national ranking ever and won the NEC, while the women’s soccer team won an NCAA Tournament game over fourth-seeded Rutgers, the men’s and women’s basketball teams both labored through rough non-conference schedules before reaching the NEC portion of their schedules on Thursday night.
Both teams won just one non-conference game, combining for a record of 2-22 heading into their NEC openers. Each group did win their final non-conference games, with the women’s team getting by in-state rival Harford in a 61-54 road win prior to the holidays and the men’s team cruised to an 89-55 win over Division-III Connecticut College on Sunday at home, but overall, the first half of the schedule was brutal for both teams.
The men’s team, under head coach Donyell Marshall, was expected to be in a period of transition, entering the new season with 11 underclassmen, one of the youngest overall teams in the country. Marshall has given significant playing time to his first-year players and wealth of underclassmen, and it has been a learning experience, to say the least. At the end of non-conference play, Marshall’s group ranked last in the NEC in scoring offense, averaging just 59.2 points per game, and last in scoring margin with a mark of -18.6. The next lowest mark, held by Wagner, is -7.8.
The men’s team has struggled offensively for a number of reasons, collective inexperience among them, but a more controllable factor has been its inefficiency at the foul line. Heading into NEC competition, the Blue Devils are dead last in the conference in free throw percentage, shooting just 60.3 percent from the charity stripe. They’re also last in field goal percentage, making shots from the floor at a clip of just 37.9 percent. CCSU could benefit from more time shared on the floor to create more open shots, but the shooting from the foul line is something that shouldn’t take much to improve upon, but it continues to hurt the team. Three of Marshall’s most-used freshmen in Greg Outlaw, Trey Tennyson and Myles Baker are all shooting less than 69 percent from the charity stripe.
If anything highlights the team’s overwhelming youth, it’s the group’s 133 total assists, compared to 203 turnovers. That 0.7 ratio is last in the conference and a mark Marshall would certainly like to see improved as his freshmen continue to grow accustomed to the collegiate level.
The women’s team, under head coach Beryl Piper, has had equal struggles in terms of wins and losses, but looking at the numbers, they might fare better against conference foes. The Blue Devils are ninth of 11 teams in scoring offense with 58 points per game, and eight in scoring defense, allowing 71.5 points per game. Of course, those aren’t appealing numbers, but don’t reflect a team that just won its first game of the season.
Unlike the men’s team, Piper’s group has been efficient from the free throw line, shooting 77.2 percent, but what’s really hampered the offense is the 3-point line. Through 11 non-conference games, the Blue Devils are shooting 27.8 percent from downtown, the worst mark in the NEC. They’ve been strong at defending the three, ranked second overall in the conference with an opponent 3-point percentage of just 26.9, but until they get some more triples of their own to fall, they will likely continue to struggle.
It’s been a rough road to conference competition for both CCSU basketball teams and after combining to go 9-27 in conference play last season, it may be another tough go in the NEC for both groups.