NEC Preview: Week 1
Hey guys, IT’S FINALLY HERE!!! You can turn on ESPN+ at noon on Tuesday and watch COLLEGE BASKETBALL, if that's your jam. That game will feature Central Arkansas at Baylor, and of course the Champions Classic is Tuesday night. But really, I don’t care about any of that; we get some hot NEC action tomorrow night, and that's what I'm into. Bryant and CCSU are both at home in winnable season-openers, while St. Francis Brooklyn, LIU, Saint Francis, Sacred Heart, and Wagner are all in action against D1 opponents, while FDU hosts FDU-Florham. And you can watch any, and all, of them if you want to.
As we’ve talked about, we’ll be doing things a bit differently this season. Up first, our Week 1 preview, in which we’ll discuss some notable games and storylines to watch, as well as update you on where the stand according to the computers (Kenpom, BartTorvik, NET). It’s the first week of the season, so let’s get to it!
Games 2 Watch:
11/5- Brown at Bryant, 7pm, NEC FrontRow
This is the first of two winnable home games for Bryant this week (they also host Cornell on 11/10). Brown was picked 5th in the Ivy League after the school’s first 20-win season, though they did lose perhaps their best player in wing Desmond Cambridge, who transferred to Nevada during the offseason, as well as 6’5” wing Obi Okolie to graduation. They do return 6’5” forward Tamenang Choh (12.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), who was 2nd team All-Ivy last season, as well as 6’6” senior forward Joshua Howard (son of Juwan Howard, who chipped in 8 ppg and 6 rpg).
With Bryant, it’s all about that defense; can they improve on their 115.1 Adj. Defensive Efficiency (343rd in the nation)? The return of Ikenna Ndugba should help, though they finished 350th in adjusted defensive efficiency in 2017-18 with him at Point Guard. Brown struggled offensively last season even with Cambridge and Okolie (99.6 O-Rating, 269th nationally), so it’s a nice opportunity for that Bryant defense to get some stops. Also keep an eye on that tempo; last year these two teams played to 75 possessions (Brown won 84-60).
11/5- Hartford at Central Connecticut, 7pm, NEC FrontRow
The Blue Devils are undoubtedly young; however they looked impressive in their 104-64 exhibition win over Coast Guard last week. Their season opener, against a Hartford squad that is essentially replacing its entire rotation, represents their only real opportunity to avoid starting out 0-4, as their next three games are roadies at St. John’s, Arizona St., and UMass. Can the young guns do it against Division 1 competition? And will Ian Krishnan be back after missing the exhibition game?
The Hawks lost their top 8 scorers, but John Gallagher brought in two high level grad-transfers in Malik Ellison (6’6” wing from Pittsburgh) and Traci Carter (6’1” guard from La Salle), as well as a bevy of talented freshmen, including 6’2” guard Moses Flowers and 5’9” point guard P.J. Henry. From the outside, it looks like this is a rebuilding year for the Hawks, but Gallagher likes this team (as he told Jared Kotler recently).
11/6- Merrimack at Maine, 7pm, ESPN3
The Warriors get a crack at their first win as a Division 1 program as they take on the Black Bears, who were picked 8th out of 9 America East Teams in the pre-season poll. Merrimack plays a distinct style (pressure zone defense), and have a potential star in junior point guard Juvaris Hayes. Can that combination work at the D-1 level? There are plenty of people who think it can, and this will be the first test. They had no problems with Maine-Fort Kent last Thursday.
Maine has really struggled over the past decade, and hasn’t finished higher than #332 in Kenpom since 2013. This season will likely be no different, though they do return a preseason 1st team All-America East big Andrew Fleming. The 6’8” senior averaged 13.8 ppg and 7 rpg last season, and could give the small Merrimack front line fits. For what it’s worth, Kenpom has Merrimack as a 1 point favorite.
11/7- UMass-Lowell at Long Island, 7pm, NEC FrontRow
The Sharks, fresh off being picked as the pre-season title favorite by the NEC coaches, get their first home game against UMass-Lowell, which was picked to finish 5th in the America East. LIU opens on the road against Rhode Island, and while a win is certainly possible, this game will tell us more about if that backcourt of Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts can bounce back, and how the new guys (Jermaine Jackson Jr., Virshon Cotton, Jack Ballantyne) can integrate into a rotation that returns almost everyone from last season except Eral Penn, who will be sidelined this season with an injury.
The River Hawks typically play a large number of NEC teams, and this season is no different (LIU, Merrimack, CCSU, Sacred Heart, and St. Francis-Brooklyn). What makes this game more interesting, is that Alex Rivera, who averaged 9.2 ppg as a freshman for UML before transferring to LIU during this past off-season (he’s sitting out this season, per transfer rules). However, Head Coach Jim Duquette does bring back some talent; 6’5” senior wing Christian Lutete averaged 18.7 ppg and 7.6 rpg last season (and shot nearly 40% from three), while junior wing Obadiah Noel (14.6 ppg) and senior big Josh Gantz (10.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg) will be a handful.
11/7- RMU at Marshall
Unfortunately this is the one NEC game this week that won’t be streamed live (at least as far as I know), but via the box score (and hopefully first-hand accounts) we’ll get to find out how Andy Toole will utilize the JUCO triumvirate of DJ Russell, AJ Bramah, and Jalen Hawkins. We know the defense will be there, but can the Colonials score? Don’t take too much away from this one if the Colonials struggle; it’s an early November game on the road against a Conference USA opponent, after all. But one would expect Bobby Mo to keep it close.
The Thundering Hurd won 23 games last season (11-7 in league play), but are likely in for a rebuilding year, having been picked 11th out of 14 teams in the preseason poll. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni lost his two top scorers (Jon Elmore and CJ. Burks), though they do return starters Jarrod West (5’11” point guard) and 6’5” sophomore Taevion Kinsey, as well as 6’9” Iran Bennett, who missed the entire conference season last year due to a leg injury.