Well folks, we’ve finally made it.
After a grueling 9 months of life without college basketball as we know it, we are mere days away from the season tipping off. In normal circumstances, Rhode Islanders would be in for a treat; the Bryant Bulldogs tipping off at 1pm in Smithfield and a 2pm tipoff in Friartown seems like a surefire day off of work (and possibly concluding with a burger and a few pints at The Abbey on Admiral Street). But in 2020, fans will be substituted out for cardboard cutouts and artificial crowd noise.
Nonetheless, Jared Grasso has one simple message: “They tell me to play, I’ll be there.”
Let’s break down what you need to know for Bryant’s faceoff with Stony Brook on Wednesday.
WHEN: Wednesday 11/25, 1:00pm
WHERE: Chace Athletic Center - Smithfield, RI
HOW TO WATCH: NEC Front Row (Jon Wallach)
Reviewing the Bulldogs
We broke down what to expect from the Bulldogs in our NEC Season Preview last week, and sure enough, we’re high on them. Many Bryant haters call to mind that there’s been no real track record of postseason success over the past few years, but when considering that this is the same program that finished 3-28 just three years ago, you’ll appreciate just how far they’ve come in Jared Grasso’s two seasons at the helm. Sure, the Bulldogs will have to replace one of its best players in program history in Adam Grant, but they find themselves well-positioned to make up some of the points he brought.
After two and a half years, we know Jared Grasso’s recruiting game: he loves nothing more than finding raw talent with sky-high athletic potential, and taking a bet on his ability to develop them from great athletes to great basketball players. No Bulldog on the 2020-21 roster embodies Grasso’s recruiting style more than reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Michael Green III, who will look to marshal the floor this year. Green was one of the most highly-utilized players in the Bryant offense a season ago, so we should see similar numbers this year from the sophomore point guard. Green’s kryptonite in his rookie campaign was his above-average turnover ratio, but we can more than likely chalk up the mistakes to his progressive understanding of Grasso’s system. Bottom line: it shouldn’t be an issue in 2020-21, as Green positions himself to have a breakout sophomore go-around.
Reigning NEC Rookie of the Year Michael Green III (left) looks to lead the Bryant offense in 2020-21. PIC: Bryant Athletics
Mike Green will be complemented by three newcomers in the lineup that should be immediate impact players. The most prized of them all appears to be six-five swing guard Peter Kiss; the redshirt junior’s court presence and athleticism seem to fill a desperate need for the Bulldogs to bridge the front & backcourts. While Kiss was new to Bryant this year, he found a new companion in JUCO transfer Chris Childs, who we ran a feature on a few months ago. Despite being limited to the workout facilities available to them over the summer, Kiss & Childs worked out frequently in New York City area and instantly built a bond - Childs said the chemistry is “great” between the two newcomers. Chris Childs is a product of Indian Hills Community College, the same JUCO that produced CJ Bruton of the Portland Trailblazers and Cory Hightower of the San Antonio Spurs. He beat Tyon Grant-Foster, who - barring a significant strategy change - will start for Kansas this year, for his conference’s Player of the Year nod, and for good reason. Childs hit 45% of his three-pointers last year, so adding him into the mix with the legitimate offensive threats of Green & Kiss will be lethal for opposing defenses.
The frontcourt will be anchored by senior Hall Elisias, who also came from a JUCO last year; his immediate impact was a nice surprise for NEC experts, but was almost expected from Grasso & the rest of the Bulldogs. Elisias is a post-scoring threat, an elite shot blocker, and an above-average athlete for his six-eight frame. He’ll more than likely be joined by one of Melo Eggleston or Nathaniel Stokes to create a “two-forward” lineup as opposed to the traditional forward-forward-center approach. Eggleston, who has experience at both Arkansas State and Wake Forest, should get the nod to start the year; he’s an above-average rebounder for his size, and his shooting ability warrants him consideration to fill in the 3-guard role if needed. The six-nine Stokes, while injured some of last year, proved himself to be a surprisingly dangerous threat from long-range, and can function as a versatile sixth-or-seventh man if he can improve on defense this year.
Speaking of sixth men, let’s not forget Charles Pride, who will most certainly begin his sophomore campaign as the first man off the bench. Pride, the product of upstate New York, will prove himself to be a lethal two-way threat after a solid freshman year. An above-average rebounder (5th in the conference in offensive rebounding last year), Pride fears none of the strongest & most hard-nosed paint defenders in the league, and gets to the basket with ease. He’s another one of Grasso’s most prized assets.
Scouting the Seawolves
Stony Brook, to be quite candid, surprised many with its success last year. The Seawolves finished second in the America East, only behind the perennial powerhouse that is the Vermont Catamounts. After squeaking out a three-point win over #7 Albany in the quarterfinal, the ‘Wolves were upset by #3 Hartford on their home court. But, with all things considered, Geno Ford’s first year at the helm for Stony Brook was an impressive one.
Unfortunately, Stony Brook fell victim to the transfer bug; the five players that made up most of the scoring for the Seawolves sought greener pastures at other schools for the upcoming season. Most notable, Elijah Olaniyi will play for Jim Laranagga at Miami, and Makale Foreman will compete for a starting role at California - both should be immediately eligible for the season. Olaniyi and Foreman, along with the other three transfers, were responsible for nearly 78% of Stony Brook’s scoring last year, 65% of its rebounds, and 68% of its assists. “Re-recruiting” his major offensive contributors was not necessarily one the many obstacles Geno Ford envisioned he’d face, but in 2020-21, the Seawolves will have major holes to fill.
Stony Brook’s clear strength last year was its defense; the ‘Wolves ranked 9th in the nation in defending its opponents looks from the paint & mid-range. In large part, their six-nine utility forward Mouhamadou (“Mo”) Gueye led the defensive effort. He blocked 9% of the shots his adversaries took last year, which placed him 37th nationally in the blocking department. He’ll look to add onto a surprisingly-low mark of 7.0 points-per-game in 2019-20 and be a role model for the relatively youthful group.
And, guess what? Mo Gueye has some professional street cred, too. Here’s a comment from one source on Gueye’s development over the summer: “If he has a good year (in 2020-21), he could be a mid-to-high second round pick in the NBA Draft.” Only time will tell just how draft-ready Mo Gueye will be - but if he can develop his mid-range shot a bit more this year, this claim is certainly not a far cry away from the truth.
Senior Mouhamadou "Mo" Gueye will look to build his case as a late-round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. PIC: Stony Brook Athletics
Lucky enough, Geno Ford seemed to have some success in rebuilding the roster via the transfer market this offseason. Stony Brook looks to round out its starting lineup with three transfers - guard Tykei Greene from Manhattan, forward Frankie Policelli from Dayton, and Juan Felix Rodriguez from Monroe College (JUCO). They’ll look to stabilize an offense led by Gueye and sophomore guard Tyler Stephenson-Moore, who Ford says will benefit from a larger role in the offensive scheme this year.
KEYS TO THE GAME:
Bryant: Lock down the opposing guards. I’m taking a bet that Elisias and Eggleston - and the host of forwards that Grasso has in his artillery - will be able to lock down Mo Gueye and Frankie Policelli. You’ll likely see Mike Green matched up against Juan Felix Rodriguez, Chris Childs against Tykei Greene, and Peter Kiss against Tyler Stephenson-Moore…but it’ll take every player on the roster to produce a high-quality defensive effort. To start the year in the win column, look for Bryant’s bench players to play a crucial role in applying healthy pressure to the Stony Brook backcourt.
Stony Brook - Get everyone involved in the offense. If it’s just Mo Gueye and Tyler Stephenson-Moore doing the scoring, it’s going to be a long season for the Seawolves. Geno Ford needs to ensure that everyone he’s putting out on the court is contributing and taking/making shots - and if they’re not, get them off the court. Bryant has historically been a program that will not rack up a ton of points against their opponents - the Bulldogs scored 80 points in only 3 of their 14 wins against Division I opponents last year. So, if Stony Brook is setting the scoring tempo & pace of play, it’s a surefire recipe for success.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Mo Gueye vs. Hall Elisas
I’m licking my chops to see some of the best blockers & defenders go about their business. Both Elisias and Gueye were JUCO transfers that became immediate assets to their teams, particularly defensively. Gueye is poised to pick up right where he left off; many would consider the Bryant Bulldogs an undersized group, so Gueye’s six-nine frame should be enough to cause problems. Elisias, though, is no stranger to beating guys who are bigger than him in the paint. Expect him to continue the trend of being an elite alley-oop threat - check out these two highlights of him hammering it down versus Maryland and St. Francis Brooklyn last year.