Northeast Conference Pre-Season Rankings; An Aggregation
Many of the college basketball publications have been released, with pre-season rankings of all 32 conferences available to the public. Rather than giving you my NEC rankings, I figured it’d make more sense to aggregate all of the published rankings into one composite NEC poll.
Included in the average rankings below are the following publications: Athlon, Blue Ribbon, Lindy’s, Mid-Major Madness, and Street & Smith’s, as well as Nelson Castillo's personal rankings. While this could be considered a work in progress with some other reputable sources yet to be released (Kenpom hasn’t flipped over to 2018-19, and Matt Norlander over at CBS has yet to publish his annual ranking of all 353 teams), it’s clear where the tiers are in the Northeast Conference.
It’s worth noting that some are better than others; no one has covered the NEC better than John Templon (Mid-Major Madness), Ryan Peters (Blue Ribbon), and Nelson Castillo over the past few years. But in order to remain unbiased, each publication is weighted the same.
Tier 1: The Unanimous Pick
1. St. Francis PA (1)- No shocker here. The Red Flash are, arguably, the most complete team the NEC has seen in years. Rob Krimmel has, legitimately, four potential All-league players in Keith Braxton, Jamaal King, Isaiah Blackman, and Andre Wolford. If they can shore up their interior defense…they ranked 8th in the NEC in 2P% defense, allowing 51.8%...and get some big wins in the non-conference (that season opener at Buffalo is a doozy), they could make a run at a 14-seed. Bart Torvik’s site, which is great by the way, has the Red Flash at 50.3% chance to win the auto-bid. That’s heavy favorite territory.
Tier 2: Normally Would Be Good Enough But Maybe Not This Year
2. Fairleigh Dickinson (2.5)- I’ve been hyping up FDU as the 2nd best team in the NEC since the spring, and the majority of pundits are in agreement (4 of the 6 included in this exercise). That frontcourt of Mike Holloway and Kaleb Bishop will be nauseating for opponents, and Jahlil Jenkins and Darnell Edge are as good as anyone in the backcourt. Only Athlon has FDU behind LIU (4th), while John Templon is the only other expert to pick FDU outside of the top 2 (he had FDU 3rd, but more on that later).
3. Long Island (3.2)- The team currently known as the Blackbirds, at least for one more season, has the unenviable task of replacing Joel Hernandez’ usage and leadership. However, that backcourt of Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts is talented and versatile, while Raiquan Clark is back. Can Tyrn Flowers be a difference maker? He was a highly touted prospect when he committed to UMass two years ago, and I’m interested to see how he can perform in the NEC, perhaps as a small ball 5. Five of the six publications had LIU ranked 3rd.
Tier 3: Great Coaches Get It Done
4. Wagner (4.5)- The Seahawks rankings are all over the place. John Templon, whom I respect as much as anyone when it comes to college hoops, ranked them 2nd (as did Athlon), while Ryan Peters has them 8th. So what gives? Templon cites Bashir Mason’s history as a head coach as one of the primary reasons for his high ranking, and he’s not wrong; Mason has only finished below .500 once in his six seasons at the helm. However, replacing PG JoJo Cooper and stud shooter Blake Francis is a lot to ask. I lean toward Peters’ ranking (Castillo split the difference and ranked Wagner 5th), but the evolution of Chase Freeman from backup to primary ball-handler will be something to keep an eye on. But any team that can lean on a guy like Romone Saunders will be competitive.
5. Robert Morris (5.0)- Andy Toole always figures it out, that might me my new motto. No one has been bitten by the transfer bug as much as Toole has at RMU; Dachon Burke (Nebraska) this past season, Isaiah Still (Iona) the year before that, Rodney Prior (Georgetown) and Elijah Minnie (Eastern Michigan) after 2016, and Marcquise Reed (Clemson) after 2015. And yet, RMU has only finished below .500 once during Toole’s tenure (8-10 in 2015-16). So who will be the guy this year? Josh Williams is eligible after transferring from Akron a year ago, and Koby Thomas, last year’s NEC ROY, could be primed to be the team’s leading scorer. Plus, we all know they will defend. Lindy’s was the lowest on the Colonials (6th), while Peters and Castillo both picked them 4th. To me, they are the clear #4.
Tier 4: There’s Talent But Major Questions
t6. Central Connecticut St. (6.7)- It’s difficult to pick a team to finish above .500 when its point guard situation looks like CCSU’s; a junior who played just 37% of the team’s minutes and really struggled from the free throw line, and two freshmen. Which is why every publication has CCSU between 6th and 8th. Does any team have more upside than the Blue Devils though? Tyler Kohl, Deion Bute, and Joe Hugley form as good of a 1-2-3 punch as any team in the league, and if any of the PGs can step up to be even average, this team could be battling for a home playoff game when it’s all said and done.
t6. Bryant (6.7)- At what point do the Bulldogs become overrated? They have an exciting new young coach in Jared Grasso, and a lot of returning talent in Ikenna Ndugba, Adam Grant and Bash Townes. Plus, Grasso brought in a couple of transfers in Byron Hawkins and Juan Cardenas. But here’s the thing; Bryant had a 120.7 adjusted defensive efficiency last season, good for 350th out of 351 D1 teams. A ton of lip service has been paid to the fact that, often times, defense comes down to effort. Was previous Head Coach Tim O’Shea unable to properly motivate the players to guard? If Grasso can get this team to perform average defensively, then Bryant will be above .500 (and Grasso will deserve the Coach of the Year award). But I’ll need to see it first.
8. St. Francis Brooklyn (6.8)- I can’t help but feel for Glenn Braica; his team finished 10-8 last year and was primed to return almost the entire rotation. Then Rasheem Dunn bolts for greener pastures, and the Terriers are once again looking up at the rest of the league. Glenn Sanabria is as good as anyone in the NEC, but there are a lot of question marks in the rotation. Lindy’s, perhaps confusingly, ranked SFC 4th, with the rest of the publications slotting them either 7th or 8th.
Tier 5: The Rebuilders
9. Sacred Heart (9.2)- Sean Hoehn is really good, and more than one publication has Kareem Ozier as the NEC ROY, but Anthony Latina lost a ton off last season’s 5-13 squad. The Pioneers will be relying on newcomers at a number of spots.
10. Mount St. Mary’s (9.8)- The Mount lost every member of its rotation from a year ago, as well as head coach Jamion Christian. There’s reason to believe Dan Engelstad will get this program back to where it was under Christian, but it’s difficult to see it happening this season. The roster will likely be one of the youngest in all of Division 1. Six of the seven pundits picked them 10th. It could be a long season in Emmitsburg.