By Kyle Kandetzki – Assistant Sports Editor This is “The Scouting Report”, an online feature from The Hofstra Chronicle where we go in-depth on the Pride’s upcoming opponent. Stats and insight will be provided to help Hofstra fans know what to expect with each coming matchup.
Tonight Pride basketball enters the month of December, where they will only get to play at home twice. Hofstra is coming off a depleting loss to USF, but showed resurgence against Jackson State a few days later in Mississippi. Hofstra takes on the Norfolk State Spartans tonight at the Mack at 7 p.m. The team will be vying for their fifth win of 2014-15.
THE BASIC INFORMATION: Norfolk State University is located in Norfolk, Virginia, an hour and a half east of Richmond. The school of about 7,000’s team name is the Spartans, and their basketball team plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). They will be sporting green and gold jerseys in tonight’s game.
HISTORY: Hofstra fans might be asking themselves, ‘Where have I heard this school name before?’ and the answer most likely traces back a few seasons ago to NSU’s one and only NCAA Tournament appearance. The Spartans entered as a 15 seed playing almighty Missouri and knocked them out in the first round (skip to 14:30 for the moment of victory).
Besides that, there is not much to say about Norfolk State. They have only been a Division I program for over a decade, and have only made one National Invitational Tournament bid.
LAST YEAR: NSU’s campaign last year wasn’t too impressive, finishing 4th in the MEAC and having an overall 19-11 record. But it was enough to land them in a lesser postseason tournament, the CIT. They would be eliminated in the first round of play.
THIS YEAR: The Spartans sit at 4-3 thus far, riding off of two straight victories at the Barclays Center Classic. NSU may be coming off a bit of momentum tonight, as they used a 17-0 run against Saint Peter’s to win their previous game in Brooklyn. Two of Norfolk’s losses came to premier basketball programs, 9th ranked Virginia, and the SEC’s Vanderbilt.
THE COACH: NSU’s coach is Robert Jones, who is in his second year at the helm of the program. As mentioned before, Jones went 19-11 in his first season. This is Jones’ 8th season as a part of the NSU regime, as he was previously an assistant. He became the head of the team after the former head coach resigned in 2013.
Jones formerly coached at D-III programs, and has a tie to New York as he coached at St. Mary’s High in Manhasset for three years.
LOSSES: A common theme of teams Hofstra has played in their out-of-conference is how teams are all looking for new scoring options after most of theirs departed last season. This is especially true for Norfolk State, and even the school’s preview knows it. Directly from NSU’s website is this stat: “Of the 2,428 points NSU scored as a team last year, a total of 1,896 of those points, or 78.1 percent of the team's overall production, was scored by last year's now-departed, seven-player senior class.”
Of that senior class was a trio of top scorers, led by Pendarvis Williams who scored 15.6 PPG and shot nearly 50% from the field along with earning All-MEAC 2nd team honors. Joining him in the backcourt and the All-MEAC 2nd team was Malcolm Hawkins who added 15.5 PPG.
To add height, defense, and strong inside play to go along with Williams and Hawkins was seven-foot center Brandon Goode. Goode was an all-conference defensive player of the week three times, while adding 11 PPG, 7 rebounds per games, and 2.6 blocks per game.
CURRENT ROSTER: NSU hasn’t been without help in returning their roster to somewhat of a formidable team. Their two transfers coming from Division I programs have made an immediate impact this year.
Coming from Fordham is Jeffrey Short, a 6’4” guard who has led the team in scoring so far with 16.1 PPG. His season has been highlighted by 20 points in NSU’s comeback last week, and 28 points versus Boston University.
Speaking of BU, coming out of Boston is transfer guard Malik Thomas. Thomas has added 13.4 points along with six boards per game. Thomas is coming off of a poor performance, though, after shooting 1-for-7 in Brooklyn.
Outside of DI talent, Norfolk’s third best scorer is also a transfer, but from Garden City Community College. No, not our Garden City, but Kansas, and he is guard D’Shon Taylor. Taylor has tacked on 11.4 PPG, including four straight games with 14+ points.
Representing returning talent on the Spartans is RaShid Gaston. The junior forward is the top returning scorer, and is the fourth best scorer so far with 11.4 PPG and leads the team in rebounds with 6.8 per game.
WEAKNESSES: Following those four players…the contributions are non-existent. The 5th best scorer only has 2.7 PPG. This squad is completely dependent on these four, with only Gaston proving to be a completely efficient player (57% from the field).
This also means the team has little room for error, and even less room for rotation. This is a feeling familiar to Hofstra fans from last season, when options were very few, meaning the same few guys would be on the court at any given time. The Spartans have plenty of players, just not very many good options.
New players essentially run this team this season, with six seniors that either make little contributions, or are redshirting for various reasons. One would expect the eldest class to make the most contributions, but they aren’t. This is bad for team chemistry and leadership, but good in the sense that when this large senior class leaves, the bulk of the talent will return.
THE MATCHUP: It seems as though NSU’s starting five has been strong, but once they need rest, the team will fall apart. Hofstra has great depth that should overmatch this team. The Pride should look to go on scoring runs once backup players like Malik Gray, Jamel Fuentes, Jordan Butler and more hit the court. Hofstra’s superior roster will handle them easily.
It’s hard to tell how good a team can be at it’s best by early season out-of-conference games, but what is noticeable from their results are low point totals. Hofstra averages near 79, while NSU rounds to about 63. This includes less than 45 points twice. The only notable result they have so far is a ten-point loss to Vandy. A loss is still a loss, but being in the neighborhood of an SEC is somewhat notable.
On paper, this should be Hofstra’s game for the taking as long as NSU’s scoring attack doesn’t break out. But even then, the Spartan defense will need to improve from its early season results.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Casual fans will opt to look at the best player on this Hofstra team as the one who leads the team in scoring most often, and in that case it would be Juan’ya Green. Green is certainly an explosive player, but my criterion is a bit different, in that it should be an efficient, consistent player. And under that definition, you have to look at Ameen Tanksley as this team’s top performer thus far.
Tanksley has only led the Pride in one game, but is one of the most consistent players with a 52% field goal percentage. He has scored 12+ points in every game, and has shot over 60% twice. Not only that but he adds 6 boards per game, and was named CAA Player of the Week. No one doubts Green’s ability to completely take over a game, but Tanksley has shown up game in and game out.
After the late collapse against USF, a 30-point win at Jackson State may calm nerves of fans and players alike for the Pride. But where many problems were improved in their last game, one has hurt them all year long: free throws. I talk a lot about how certain stats don’t mean as much early in the year, with some teams playing easy opponents. But no matter what team you play, free throws stay the same. The Pride is shooting 64.6% from the charity stripe, 275th in all of Division I basketball. Free throws made the Stony Brook game close when it didn’t need to be, and Hofstra received 20 more free throws than USF, but only hitting 60% of them equaled a loss. This is a very promising team, but Hofstra can’t keep drawing fouls so often if they can’t hit those shots.
Other questions to ponder:
Is Brian Bernardi going to keep his hot shooting going, which he wasn’t able to do after his huge game vs. Jacksonville?
How much is this leg injury still affecting Gustys? He was given just 14 minutes v. JSU.
For that matter, how far away are we from Moussa Kone’s return?
Can fans keep the Mack loud, even on a Tuesday night?
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS Pride Green (19.8 PPG, 6.5 APG) Nichols (6.5 PPG) Bernardi (10.8 PPG, 2-6 on Sunday) Tanksley (14.5 PPG, 6 RPG) Gustys (6.8 RPG, only played 7 minutes on Sunday)
Spartans Taylor (11.4 PPG) Short (16.1 PPG) Thomas (13.4 PPG, 6 RPG) Fuentes (2.3 PPG, 20% FG) Gaston (11.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG)
NEXT UP: @ Appalachian State (12/7)