Since our last episode of the Bryant Notebook, the Bulldogs swept Central Connecticut, cruising to two easy victories over the Blue Devils to open 2021. They’ll travel to Loretto, Pennsylvania this week for a marquee matchup against the St. Francis Red Flash. Let's clean out the notebook and dive in.
RESULTS TO DATE (7-2 Overall, 3-1 NEC)
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
12/16 - W 74-62 vs. Wagner *
12/17 - W 81-75 vs. Wagner *
12/21 - W 93-88 @ UMass
1/7 - W 93-68 vs. Central Connecticut *
1/8 - W 76-64 vs. Central Connecticut *
* denotes conference opponent
1. Bryant is still nationally ranked in plenty of categories. In our last edition of the Bryant Notebook, we stood up on the soapbox and called attention the national presence the ‘Dawgs have been attracting in recent weeks. Of note, they’re still scoring more than 90 points per game (91.4 for those keeping track at home). The only teams that are scoring more per contest? No. 1 Gonzaga (96.1), The Citadel (92.8), and No. 5 Iowa (91.9). Let that sink in – Bryant is scoring nearly as much per game as the fifth-best AND best teams in the nation. Anarchy!
This week, the Bulldogs came in at No. 25 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. That’s largely due to their marks as 9th nationally in three-point field goal percentage (40.9%), 17th in three-point buckets per game (10.3), 28th in field goal percentage (49.1%), and 3rd in tempo (76.8%).
This is, without question, Bryant’s best start to a season in Division I program history. But they’ve received higher marks than #25 in this poll before – they reached the 17 spot in 2013 after starting the season 7-4. If the ‘Dawgs can keep winning, expect them to eclipse that mark.
“To be completely honest, we came here to win an NCAA tournament,” says Peter Kiss, when asked about the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major ranking. “That’s not what we came here for. We came here to put Bryant basketball on the map.” This shouldn’t shock you.
2. Get the brooms out – Central Connecticut becomes the latest sweep victim. Defeating the Blue Devils may not seem like a major accolade to the naked eye, but when considering that CCSU actually plays with quite a bit of offensive urgency (and success, for that matter), it becomes a bit more of a feather-in-the-cap for the Bulldogs. Central Connecticut entered the 2-game set in Smithfield shooting a scalding-hot 50% from the field, and 44.9% from beyond-the-arc…second only to Bryant. CCSU averaged 72.5 possessions per 40 minutes, which ranked in the top ¼ of all Division I programs playing this year. CCSU’s issues, however, have come defensively so far. With the exception of an outlier 78-59 victory over St. Francis Brooklyn in December (the second game of a back-to-back), the Blue Devils came into Smithfield allowing just over 86 points per game. Bryant showed exactly what they could do when opposing a leaky defense and keeping their high-octane offensive effort – they dropped 93 in the Thursday afternoon opener, and a “lowly” 76 the next day. It was a total team effort, with the usual suspects leading the way.
3. Speaking of usual suspects, Peter Kiss became the first player in Bryant history to record a triple-double. Seems like a bizarre statistic for the casual basketball fan, but when considering that there have been only eleven (yes, 11) NEC players before Kiss that have recorded one, it’s quite the accomplishment. Kiss recorded a 12-point, 13-rebound, and 10-assist mark in the first game against Central Connecticut last week – impressive for a 6’5” combo guard. He becomes the 8th player in the NCAA this year to record a triple-double; just the 7th against a Division I opponent. Kiss is the first NEC player to rack up double digits in three categories since CCSU’s Tyler Kohl did it against Fairleigh Dickinson in 2019.
But if you ask Peter Kiss, “I just kinda passed them the ball.” Kiss is proving himself to be all-in on this Bryant culture of teamwork and sharing the rock.
“Everybody on the team probably shouldn’t be at Bryant, to be completely honest,” he told us on Tuesday. “From the [scholarship] players to the walk-ons, everybody’s ultra-talented. And then Grasso gets the most out of guys, which makes it even better. Everybody plays with their own role, but everyone has the freedom to succeed. We have as much confidence in me driving the ball as we do with Joe Moon or Kai Kostmayer.”
4. Mike Green III was named the Lou Henson National Player of the Week on December 28th. This is not a typo – Mike Green was the NATIONAL player of the week. Yes, the entire USA. Green’s 33-point performance against UMass, the effort that earned him the award, was the first time a Bulldog scored 30 points in a single game since Bryant great Adam Grant, one of the best shooters in NEC history, scored 33 against Sacred Heart in 2019. Green, one of the clear leaders on this team, posted a heartfelt and motivational message on his Instagram after winning the NEC Rookie of the Year – it’s hard not to understand what’s driving him. “Same schools in the same league as Bryant telling me I’m too small or schools telling me to go do a prep year then I’ll be ready for college basketball land they’ll offer me. STAY THE COURSE…I refuse to let y’all forget about me again, men lie women lie numbers don’t…to be continued…”
Really hard not to love the kid and his drive.
5. One thing is clear – this is what Grasso wanted to do all along. Jared Grasso loves how this team is playing, how quick they are, and the culture they’re establishing. But we’re fooling ourselves if we think Jared Grasso didn’t have this planned from the start. We spoke to Jared on Tuesday, and he gave us the most detailed account yet of his process on how to rebuild the Bryant program.
“When I recruit guys, I’m very honest from the jump,” he divulged. “I tell them what we’re about, I tell them what our program is about, and I tell them how hard we’re going to work. One of my questions to them is, ‘do you want to be a professional basketball player?’ Everyone’s answer, for the most part, is ‘yes.’ And then I answer, ‘well, I’m going to push you to the level that it takes to be a professional basketball player. I’m going to hold you accountable for certain things.’ I’ve never lied to them since the very beginning. I’ve always said I’m going to be demanding, I’m going to work you really hard, and these are the things that I believe it takes to become a championship program. I hope that my honesty and living up to what I said when I recruited them will lead to them doing what they said they would do. And I’ll tell guys when they don’t. It was convenient for you to say you wanted to be a pro or be a good teammate when things were great. Well now, they’re hard – you still have to live up to that end of the bargain, not just when it’s convenient to say it. It’s all the time. So if we’ve lost a couple of games or I’m not happy with certain things, I still have to get to the office and watch video at 6am and make sure you guys are prepared to play. So I hold myself to the same standard that I hold you guys to. That has to become the culture of our program – that these guys wanna work hard and wanna be pushed.”
It’s mainly the culture that he’s most impressed with, and the drive to get better and perfect their craft. “After the second CCSU game, I looked out from the office an hour after the game was over,” recalled Grasso. “We had 7 guys in there working out. Some of them were guys that had played major minutes – Peter Kiss, Chris Childs, Charles Pride, Mike Green – these are guys that just played two 40-minute games. Where most guys wanna get back in their rooms, take an ice bath, and go to bed, these guys are in the gym getting shots up. That’s a credit to them – I didn’t make them do that. I think they just understand that we have a chance to do some special things – I believe you just have to put a certain amount of time into basketball. They hold themselves to the standard I try to push, and hopefully they’ll continue to. That’s why I’ve enjoyed this team thus far; because of their work ethic, because of their competitiveness, and because when we’ve had some adversity, they’ve all bounced back and cared about each other enough to fight, prepare, work, and do the right things.”
Take it from Peter Kiss, too: “He recruits dudes that he can really connect with and make better. I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, and we’ve got a chip on our shoulders, so I think that meshes really well together. Grasso’s a confident dude – that rubs off on all of us. I don’t know what else to say…he’s a special dude! That’s the one thing you get out of this…Grasso, man.”
Should we put that on his Hall of Fame plaque?
6. Bryant’s progress will be pushed to its limit this week against the St. Francis Red Flash.
“Every game is important. Winning games is hard, winning league games is harder, and winning road league games is hardest.” – Jared Grasso
If you’ve followed the NEC over the years, you know Bryant’s lack of success against St. Francis U. Grasso’s memories of the Red Flash are certainly not fond; the Bulldogs have not won at St. Francis since 2013, and as Grasso told us on Tuesday, “My junior year in college was my last victory in Loretto, Pennsylvania,” all the way back in 2001 when he was a guard at Quinnipiac.
St. Francis and Bryant could certainly be classified as a rivalry in the NEC to this point. In just over 11 years, the Red Flash hold a 14-10 advantage over the Bulldogs, and have won 8 of the last 11 meetings. In each of Bryant’s last 3 appearances in the NEC tournament, St. Francis ended the ‘Dawgs hopes in Loretto.
“We have to be prepared for a really well-coached team in a tough environment in a place we haven’t won,” notes Grasso. “None of the guys in this program have won there.”
“They’ve had a very difficult schedule, and the COVID pause probably set them back a little bit,” said Grasso. The Red Flash opened their season with its lone victory of the year – an 80-70 barnburner at Pitt, which resulted in only the 6th victory of an NEC team over an ACC opponent. Saint Francis has lost every game since, but they came at the strength of UMBC, Virginia, and Liberty in non-conference play.
“I think they have very good young talent in addition to some veteran returners,” said Grasso. “It’s going to be challenging. Rob (Krimmel) is a really good coach. Their teams are always good offensively. I’ve probably done less with scouting this year with COVID – I’ve made it more about ourselves. I’ve watched 4 or 5 of their games, but I’m not giving as much to my guys…we play the way we play, and we wanna be really good at what we do.”
We asked Grasso of his thoughts on the double-headers, as well. “The way I’m coaching is that I’m preparing to win a game on Thursday,” he said. “Once that game ends on Thursday, we start preparing for Friday’s game. I don’t look at it as a back-to-back series. I don’t know that there’s a proper way to prepare for two games.”
“We’re just gonna be focused on today,” said Peter Kiss.