#NECMBB Thoughts: The Top 6th-Men and St. Francis Brooklyn’s 3-Point Defense

Chauncey Hawkins

For some players, the glory lies in being part of the starting five. You’re introduced to the crowd. You’re on the floor for the opening tip. You’re part of the group that sets the energy/tempo of the game. You simply can’t beat that adrenaline rush.

But for others, when they are inserted into the game isn’t critical; rather, they yearn to be part of the most critical moments. Because when a coach trusts you enough to play in the final five minutes of the game, that’s when the lights shine the brightest more often than not.

In the Northeast Conference, there have been plenty of primetime performers (sorry to steal your term, Ron!) coming off the bench this season.

I’d like to highlight my “starting five” of these outstanding sixth-men, as they’ve provided stability and spark to their respective second units in the early going. Let’s begin with one of the best two-way players in the NEC!

 

Isaiah Blackmon, Saint Francis U – Rob Krimmel has been careful easing Blackmon into action, and with good reason. The dynamic talent is a year removed from knee surgery, but you wouldn’t know that of late. In his last five games, four of which he came off the bench, Blackmon has averaged 15.2 ppg while shooting 56.3% from the field. Additionally, his elite athleticism appears to be back – he’s been a menace on the offensive glass by grabbing 9.2% of his team’s misses when he’s on the floor. It’s fair to assume Blackmon is rounding into form as the NEC conference season rapidly approaches. It speaks to the program’s depth that Blackmon, who’s started 30 times in his collegiate career and was part of the NEC’s preseason first team in 2017, can serve as an explosive six-man on a team rife with expectations.

 

Joe Hugley, Central Connecticut – When looking at Hugley’s advanced numbers at first glance, it’s hard to believe the junior hasn’t even played in half of the Blue Devils available minutes. But that’s the role Donyell Marshall has tasked Hugley with, partly because Hugley reminds the head coach of himself in the latter half of his NBA career. And so far, Hugley has bought in, scoring in double digits in seven of his last eight games. He’s registered a block in six straight, while corralling at least six boards in 5 of 10 contents. In terms of efficiency, the Maryland native easily possesses the highest offensive rating (118.3) of any NEC player that has a possession rate north of 20%. Hugley’s scoring acumen and energy level clearly has been an asset off the bench, six weeks in.

 

Kaleb Bishop, Fairleigh Dickinson – While the junior is still rounding into form with respect to his scoring, Bishop has registered career highs in offensive rebounding rate (11.8%), defensive rebounding rate (23.7%), and block rate (4.0%) as a junior. Off the bench, the 6-foot-8 forward has grabbed at least six rebounds in eight of tencontests. With the insertion of sophomore Elyjah Williams, Greg Herenda now can afford to make athletic Bishop part of his second unit to serve as the four or five.

 

Malik Petteway, Robert Morris – With an injury riddled junior year behind him, Petteway has provided productive bench play similar in the way that Billy Giles did as a junior during the 2015-16 season. Of course, Petteway and Giles are different power forwards, but there are similarities in their ability to rebound, score efficiently around the rim and providing some rim-protecting capabilities. For Petteway, it’s his defensive acumen and physical presence that affords Robert Morris a proven bruiser down low. His block rate (5.3%, 3rd in the NEC) and defensive rebounding rate (19.5%, 9th in the NEC) are evidence of that.

 

Chauncy Hawkins, St. Francis Brooklyn – Like many freshman, Hawkins needed time to adapt to the rigors and speed of Division I, but once he did, he was off and running. The freshman posted a respectable 98.0 offensive rating in league play last year, so a production boost in 2018-19 shouldn’t come as a surprise. Hawkins has poured at least 16 points in six contests, four of those resulting in Terrier wins. He may not be on the floor at the opening tip, yet Hawkins has provided St. Francis Brooklyn with the necessary pop and versatility off the bench. It’s safe to expect the trio of Hawkins, Glenn Sanabria and Jalen Jordan – the best offensive lineup St. Francis can boast according to Glenn Braica – will play together, especially late in the 2nd half. According to KenPom, that has already happened at least 26% of the time in the Terriers available minutes over the past five games.

 

Speaking of Hawkins, I’ve been fascinated with one key tenet of St. Francis Brooklyn’s philosophy: restricting their opponent’s 3-point attempts.

In the age of the 3-point shot and its increasing use, some programs are making a concerted effort to suppress the opponent’s attempts from behind the arc. The philosophy was a staple of Mount Mayhem under Christian – one of the key attributes is that you take a lot more 3s than your opponent. Makes sense, right? If you are going to lose, why not lose because your opponent made a high percentage of deep 2s, traditionally the least efficient shot in college basketball?

Glenn Braica has excelled at this in recent years and he’s at it again with his 2018-19 Terriers.

Season Opponent 3PA/FGA

(DI Rank)

Opponent’s 3PT%
2018-19 30.6% (14) 30.7% (62)
2017-18 31.7% (20) 34.1% (122)
2016-17 27.3% (4) 36.0% (231)
2015-16 25.4% (2) 33.1% (91)
2014-15 26.5% (8) 36.7% (282)

 

As Ken Pomeroy has demonstrated in the past, it’s much easier to limit a team’s 3-point attempts than to affect their accuracy from behind the arc. Braica’s teams have certainly done the former, finishing in the country’s top 20 over the past five seasons. Despite the Terriers tenacious defense along the perimeter, sometimes their opponents have made a high percentage of their 3-point attempts (see 2016-17 and 2014-15 as an example). But at the very least, it helps when those made 3s aren’t as frequent due to your defense’s suppression techniques.

Is applying this philosophy merely a defensive mindset or does having length, particularly athletic length, and lateral quickness help as well?

In all honesty, Braica doesn’t have an answer nor is he specifically instructing his players to suppress 3-point attempts. The suppression is merely an aftereffect of the Terriers razor sharp focus on defense in practice sessions. Play hard, apply ball pressure, fight through screens and deny passing lanes – all of those fundamentals lead to a tenacious defensive effort that, guess what, limits the number of 3-point attempts their opponent takes. It’s really not rocket science, nor does it require recruiting a certain type of athlete. It appears to be a coaching thing and the Terrier players have clearly bought in.

Right now, a majority of the NEC programs haven’t shot the 3-ball well. While much of that is likely due to the elevated competition, St. Francis Brooklyn may have the upper hand come conference play in limiting their opponents 3-point production. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out starting in January!

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