NEC Reset: Thanksgiving Edition
It's been about two weeks since our last NEC Reset, and we're still working out the kinks on timing. Once conference play begins in January, it'll be easy to do this every Sunday or Monday night. In November though? There's so many games!
Now that we have all put words to the things that we are thankful for (I have an amazing wife and an awesome 7 year old son/sports buddy) and are adequately stuffed, let's take a twirl around the NEC with this week's tiered rankings.
TBDD NEC Rankings, Week 3(ish):
1. St. Francis University (1-3): KP 172; TR 160
Best Win: H-#335 Morgan St.
Worst Losses: A- #48 UCLA; A-#41 Buffalo
Such is life for a program like SFU, which has to effectively fund the entire athletic department via buy games.
The Red Flash have lost road games at Buffalo, North Carolina and UCLA, all teams that are currently in the AP Top 25. Oh, and things don't get much easier; Saturday they get Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
Given the difficult slate to date, it's tough to get a read on Rob Krimmel's crew. However, they've certainly done nothing to make me think they aren't head and shoulders above the rest of the league. And the computers certainly agree; both Kenpom and T-Rank have SFU greater than 50 spots ahead of the next closest NEC team.
Also of note; the one thing I was worried about with this SFU team was the frontcourt, but it appears Krimmel might have found some answers; Freshman Myles Thompson (6'6" 230 lbs.) has started all four games and has been solid, while Mark Flagg has shown improvement. Once Isaiah Blackmon is back to form, watch out.
2a. Fairleigh Dickinson (1-1): KP 255; TR 255
Best Win: A-#180 Princeton
Worst Loss: A- #108 Rutgers
The Knights opened up with a blowout loss at Rutgers, which was certainly disappointing, then beat two non-D1's. Getting a read on FDU was certainly difficult.
Then last week they went on the road and thoroughly dominated Princeton in the second half for a commanding 77-66 win for what is, to date, the best win for an NEC team this season. Darnell Edge was nails in that game; 28 points and 8 boards, and showing an improved ability to drive the ball. And Xzavier Malone-Key, a 6'4" sophomore wing who played sparingly as a freshman, has been a pleasant surprise, scoring in double figures in each of the four games.
2b. LIU Brooklyn (2-2): KP 280; TR 222
Best Wins: A-#253 Fairfield; H-#194 Brown
Worst Losses: A-#268 Milwaukee; N-#77 San Francisco
Yeah, I know it's a cop out suggesting FDU and LIU are tied but, if I had to put money on which team will finish 2nd in the NEC, I'd probably just flip a coin.
Just due to timing, I've watched LIU more than any other non-CCSU NEC team, and I'm just super impressed with this team. With that said, it was disappointing to see them give away a game at Milwaukee last week; they were up three with about one minute remaining, and per Kenpom had a 92.4% chance to win that game. But Milwaukee forced a couple of crucial turnovers in the final seconds and eventually won in overtime.
This team can really score it, especially given their ability to limit turnovers, as well as penchant for getting to the free throw line. Plus, they have shooters all over the floor.
Ty Flowers has been awesome so far. The 6'9" UMass transfer is averaging 15.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg, and is shooting a dynamite 44% from three. Matchup nightmare.
4. Central Connecticut St. (3-3): KP 247; TR 220
Best Wins: A- #210 Hartford; H- #292 UMass-Lowell
Worst Losses: N- #207 Austin Peay; A- #112 Loyola Marymount
Honest question; what has been more impressive, CCSU's wins, or their losses? Last week the Blue Devils dominated a bad Florida A&M team, only to take their foot off the gas in the 2nd half and make it somewhat interesting, which they also did at home against UMass-Lowell.
On the other hand, Central Connecticut went on the road to Loyola Marymount and were up 5 with under a minute left, and also pulled out a victory over OVC contender Austin Peay down in Jamaica. In fact, the Blue Devils have lost three games by a total of 10 points, and all three are rated in the top 207 according to Kenpom.
So while they remain #4 in my rankings, they've jumped into Tier 2. Why? Because this team, at least right now, is one of the best shooting teams in the nation. Their eFG% is 59%, which is 14th in the country, while they are shooting 45.6% from three (7th). Will they remain this hot all season? Probably not, but they've played six games and have been consistent throughout. Point guard remains a major question mark, but they'll be able to shoot themselves into games all season long. Plus, Tyler Kohl has easily been the league's MVP to date.
Oh, and BTW; the computers are buying them. T-Rank has them as the 2nd best team in the NEC, while Kenpom has them 3rd.
5. Robert Morris (2-2): KP 273; TR 224
Best Wins: A-#338 Stetson; H-#346 Mississippi Valley St.
Worst Losses: A-#182 Missouri St.; A-#55 USC
Robert Morris' resume is kind of unique right now in that there are no impressive wins, but no bad losses either. They were competitive in their loss at Missouri St., and took care of business against two teams rated in the bottom 20 in Division 1.
We all know that Josh Williams has been super impressive, making 15 three-pointers in a non-D1 win. However, even in his D1 games he's been very good; 41% from three and a 118.7 O-Rating.
Outside of Josh Williams, the Colonials are struggling offensively (though they did score 1.17 PPP against Stetson), though I firmly believe Koby Thomas can be the kind of high usage scorer RMU needs.
But, as I always say; Andy Toole will figure it out. Plus, at the end of the day the Colonials will have one of the best defensive teams in the league, and as such will be in almost every ballgame.
6. Wagner (1-3): KP 235; TR 239
Best Win: A-#253 Fairfield
Worst Losses: H- #218 NJIT; A-#292 UMass-Lowell
I can't quite figure out what Kenpom's infatuation with Wagner is all about. Sure, the Kenpom and T-Rank rankings are similar, but it's all about context; Kenpom has the Seahawks #2 in the NEC, while T-Rank has them #5. It's also worth noting that T-Rank has the NEC has the 25th rated conference, while Kenpom has it 29th.
Anyway; Bashir Mason's crew followed up a nice road win at Fairfield by giving away a home game against NJIT, which isn't a terrible loss, but showed some glaring weaknesses. Throw in a road loss to UMass-Lowell (a team that CCSU dominated and Sacred Heart played close), and they just haven't been very impressive.
As a team, they're really struggling to make shots; their eFG% of 43.5% is 314th nationally, though their offense has been buoyed by strong offensive rebounding (38.7%, 21st in the country). Romone Saunders has a 30.4% usage rate, and while he's been solid, I'm not sure that will play as they move into league games.
I do think, much like RMU, that Mason will have this team defending which will keep them in games. But they have to find more offense.
7. St. Francis Brooklyn (1-2): KP 314; TR 292
Best Win: A-#313 Lafayette
Worst Losses: A-#150 Richmond; A-#69 Boston College
Truthfully, the Terriers should probably be in their own tier, but that feels like too much work for me. Much like RMU, they're resume looks "fine"; no one expected them to beat Richmond or BC, while the Lafayette win was kind of "whatever".
Anecdotally, however, the emergence of Chauncey Hawkins is huge for this team; he scored a career-high 26 points against Lafayette, and also had 17 at Boston College. Teaming him with Glenn Sanabria and Jalen Jordan will make this team tough to defend. Plus, Glenn Braica has found some frontcourt depth with guys like Deniz Celen (6'8" 240 lbs.), Yaradyah Evans (6'6") and Rosel Hurley (6'5").
The Terriers have five winnable games in a row coming up; IUPUI, Presbyterian, NJIT, UMass-Lowell, and St. Peter's. Very interested to see how well they play against similar competition.
8. Sacred Heart (1-3): KP 317; TR 309
Best Win: N-#265 Army
Worst Losses: N-#292 UMass-Lowell; A-#194 Brown
Similar to Central Connecticut, the Pioneers have been arguably more impressive in their losses; they've been in every game thus far, losing by four to UMass-Lowell and by 5 at Brown. They could easily be 3-1.
However, they're not, and what's most troubling is their defense. Per Kenpom, their adjusted defensive efficiency (which yes, includes some of last season's data as well) is 110.7, which rates them in the bottom ten in the country They've yet to hold a D1 team to below 1.02 PPP, and allowed 1.25 PPP to UMass-Lowell and 1.36 PPP to Holy Cross.
The other issue is talented freshman Kareem Ozier, who is currently on a university imposed suspension. Is this a minor thing? Or will he miss significant time. It appears no one in the public knows the situation, and this could be a thing for the Pioneers.
On the plus side, they've really shot it; they currently have a 57.6% eFG% (25th in the country), and have done it by making two-pointers. There's a lot of young talent on this roster (Ozier, Aaron Clarke, Cam Parker), and Sean Hoehn is one of my favorite players in the league.
9. Bryant (1-3): KP 325; TR 322
Best Win: H-#230 St. Peter's
Worst Losses: A-#311 Navy; A-#237 Seattle
Another team that can score it but can't defend. Per Kenpom, the Bulldogs have the 5th lowest adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, and have allowed 82 points or more in three of their four games.
Unlike Sacred Heart, Jared Grasso's crew has struggled to get it going from outside; they're shooting just 23% from three. On the flip side, they've really limited turnovers despite Ikenna Ndugba remaining out with a shoulder injury.
There's talent on this roster, and they will win some games by outscoring their opponents. But they have to figure out how to get stops before they can really compete in league play.
10. Mount St. Mary's (0-5): KP 336; TR 332
Worst Losses: H-#337 North Carolina A&T; A-#140 Hofstra
Poor Dan Engelstad. Not only did he inherit a largely barren roster due to transfers, but his first four games were all on the road, as the Mount is forced to play a ton of buy games every year.
So it wasn't until last week that we got to see Mount St Mary's against a comparable team. And it wasn't pretty; a double digit loss at home to an NC A&T team that was also winless heading into that matchup.
With that said, this team has to be better than most predicted heading into the year; Jalen Gibbs, who received a waiver to be eligible immediately after transferring from Drake, has been really good; 16.8 ppg and 6 rpg. Vado Morse looks like he could be one of the best freshmen in the league, as has 6'9" Malik Jefferson.
But this team has struggled on both sides of the ball, and I can't really seem them competing for even an NEC Tournament berth. But fans should be excited about the future, and I think Engelstad will get this thing turned around quickly.