Six games into the year, let's clean out the notebook on the Bryant Bulldogs 4-2 start to the 2020-21 season.
RESULTS TO DATE:
11/27 - L 85-84 @ Syracuse
12/1 - W 93-85 @ New Hampshire
12/5 - W 138-83 vs. Rhode Island College
12/8 - W 101-82 @ St. Francis Brooklyn
12/9 - L 93-91 @ St. Francis Brooklyn
12/12 - W 81-72 vs. Stony Brook
1. While we knew Bryant’s style of play would speed up in the Grasso era, we certainly did not expect them to climb the national ranks this quickly. As of Sunday, the Bulldogs are the only team in Division I to drop at least an 80-mark in each of their games this year (with a minimum of six). They’re averaging a whopping 98 points per game; with century-marks against St. Francis Brooklyn & Rhode Island College this past week alone, Bryant became the first NEC team since 2003 to score 100 points in back-to-back games. According to KenPom.com, the Bulldogs’ average of a bit over seven (7) seconds per possession stacks them up at second in the nation in offensive tempo. The Bulldogs came into the weekend with national rankings of 2nd in overall scoring, 17th in three-point field goal percentage, and 49th in assists per game, and show no signs of slowing down.
Take it from Jared Grasso, who very clearly said “no” when asked if he’d ever slow it down: “This is how we play…we get out and run. This is what I envisioned when I took the program over. We have guys that can play this style and are committed to it. For us, we’re comfortable when the game is fast.” And, from Peter Kiss, who loves this style of basketball: “It’s real fun. We just follow Coach Grasso’s lead – he’s got ultimate confidence in us, so I think all of our teammates take after him.”
2. So, what’s in the secret sauce? Look no further than practice. Said Grasso: “They share the ball, they like to push, and they practice this way every day. Our guys do this for two and a half hours, we scrimmage for sixty minutes…our practices are harder than games.” That, Grasso says, makes the NEC’s back-to-back, same-venue schedule “just another day at the office.” Said Grasso on Wednesday, “I’m proud of them because they come in and work, and they got themselves in the condition to play this way. These guys came here to have success, turn this program around, and prepare themselves to be professional basketball players. Those guys fit me, and I fit them; I love those kids. They’re getting out of this the work they put in.”
3. Every player on this Bryant roster embodies the culture Grasso has set forth. We knew Peter Kiss, one of the most high-profile transfers of Bryant’s Division I days, would be a player that would contribute, but little did we know he’d be the guy that the younger players try to embody. Kiss, quickly emerging as a leader, entered with the weekend 80th nationally in points scored, and highest on the team with 18.8ppg. “If you saw how hard Peter Kiss worked over the summer, you’ll understand why he’s playing well,” said Grasso. “I have my three captains, and I have Pete. He’s a tough, competitive, veteran guy. He’s like a captain for us – he has leadership ability, and he has toughness…and I love him. He wants to come be part of a championship team and do some special things here. These guys trust him and believe in him, because they know how hard he works and what he’s all about.” Kiss knows his guys rely on him, but it doesn’t shake him: “I’m never nervous out there. I’ve done this for 4 years now. We’re gonna be ready to play.”
4. Grasso’s comments on sharpshooter Chris Childs are eerily similar to that of Kiss. “If you saw the hours that Chris Childs puts in at the gym – coming at 10:00, 11:00 at night – you’ll understand why he’s playing the way he is.” Jared Grasso loves scorers, so it’s easy to see why he loves coaching Childs. One of the nation’s leading three-point scorers last year, has picked up right where he left off; the junior is shooting a whopping 59% over his last three games, and came into the weekend 10th nationally with 19 made three-pointers. It’s clear Chris Childs will be part of this game plan regardless of his minutes, but expect his utilization to increase as conference play moves on.
5. One thing is for sure – this Bryant Bulldogs team has no lack of shooters. Bryant’s three-point field goal percentage ranks them among the top twenty programs nationally; while Kiss and Childs are certainly knocking them down, they have help from a pair of sophomore captains. Mike Green III is fresh off a career-high 24-point game – 22 of them in the second half, and 9 of them from downtown. Charles Pride has proven to become one of the best two-way players in the league; he notched his second career double-double against St. Francis Brooklyn, and already ranks in the top-three contributors to Bryant’s scoring bottom-line with just over 15 points-per-game. Pride now leads the team in rebounds with 8.6ppg, something you just don’t see every day from a scrappy kid from upstate New York with a six-four frame and a chip on his shoulder.
6. Let’s talk about freshman Erickson Bans. A name Rhode Islanders should know, Bans scored 2,605 points at Shea High School in Pawtucket, the most in Rhode Island Interscholastic League history. Bans averaged a stunning 30.1 points per game during his 2019-20 senior campaign, and dished out 6 assists per game, too. Despite his success, the five-eleven Bans wasn’t a highly touted recruit out of high school; his only other offers came from Hofstra and Niagara, both of which didn’t aggressively pursue him. Bans made his debut against New Hampshire a few weeks ago – only seeing three minutes – but has since seen a steady uptick off the bench since dropping 14 points in only 9 minutes against Rhode Island College last week. Grasso may have found another gem here, calling Bans “the hardest player I’ve ever coached in my career.” Look for Bans to provide some toughness in these next couple of weeks, especially with back-to-back games becoming the norm in 2021.
7. However, Bryant has a sizeable hole in its game, and it’s their blatant lack of frontcourt presence. Sure, six-eight Hall Elisias loves throwing down alley-oops and swatting shots against forwards that are much larger than him, but his foul trouble has made him a liability in the games we’ve seen so far. With Melo Eggleston’s injury leaving him questionable for the foreseeable future, Bryant has to lean heavily on six-seven Luis Hurtado – who is listed as a guard – to provide some much-needed paint presence. Six-ten Nathaniel Stokes has provided decent-enough scoring to be the first big-man off the bench, but the Bulldogs need significantly more help when they play the forward-heavy teams like LIU, Mount St. Mary’s, and St. Francis (PA).
8. Although the Bulldogs won by 9 over Stony Brook on Saturday, they struggled to crack the zone. NEC coaches should be calling Geno Ford to thank him for giving them a game plan to beat Bryant – throw a forward-heavy 2-3 zone at the Bulldogs, and you just might get enough takeaways (and some luck) to slow them down. After the Seawolves switched back into man defense, Bryant climbed their way back into the game, as their athleticism & tempo proved to be way too much for Stony Brook to overcome. But if a team can play 40 minutes of impenetrable 2-3 zone, we could have some interesting ballgames on our hands.