The Mid-Range Jumper: Thanksgiving Edition
Welcome to the first Northeast Conference Weekly Recap of December. I'm now calling this the Mid-Range Jumper; it's not ideal, but sometimes it's the best you can get.
This was a light week on the ol' schedule; just 13 games featuring NEC teams facing Division 1 opponents.
Team of the Week: Mount St. Mary's
The Mount was the only team in the league to win two games, knocking off Utah Valley at home 64-61, then hammering Howard 73-56 on the road. No, neither opponent was super impressive; Utah Valley is currently 2-5 against D1 teams (though a win over UAB), while Howard is 0-9 and is ranked #346 in Kenpom.
However, the Dan Engelstad's bunch won both games largely without the services of Vado Morse; the 6'0" sophomore did not play against Utah Valley and logged just seven minutes versus Howard due to a knee contusion. The fact that he's returned is a good thing, but being able to win without him is important for a young team looking to find its legs.
Without their best offensive player, they instead did it with defense; neither opponent scored more than 0.89ppp and the Mount held Utah Valley and Howard to a combined 25-66 from inside the three-point arc. Stepping up offensively was Jalen Gibbs (19ppg) and Damian Chong Qui (16ppg and 4.5apg).
Win of the Week: Saint Francis 79, Saint Joseph's 63
The Red Flash played just one game, but that one was a big one; a blowout victory over an A-10 team with a win over UConn on its ledger. Sure, that UConn win is looking more and more like a fluke as the Hawks are just 2-6 with losses to Old Dominion, Loyola Chicago, Missouri St. and Towson. But yeah, when an NEC team gets a 'dub' over an A-10 school, it's notable.
Keith Braxton was an absolute stud in this one; 29 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, while Isaiah Blackmon logged a double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds). SFU held St. Joe's to a 37.3% eFG% (a season best), and scored 1.17ppp. That'll do.
Others Worth Mentioning: Mount St. Mary's 64, Utah Valley 61; Long Island 82, Cal Poly 69
Player of the Week: Raiquan Clark, Long Island
Keith Braxton had maybe the best single performance of the week, but if possible I like to give this award to a player who played in more than one game, and plus Raiquan Clark was really good in the Sharks split out in Las Vegas.
In a three-point loss to North Florida, Clark went for 25 points and 12 rebounds, then followed that up with 28/12 in LIU's win over Cal Poly. He shot a staggering 15-22 from the field (including 5-7 from three), and currently has a career-high 66.5% eFG%, which is tops in the NEC. Clark leads the league in scoring (21.9 ppg), is 9th in rebounding (7.4 rpg), and is also averaging about 1 block per contest.
Others Worth Mentioning: Keith Braxton, Jamir Coleman, Xzavier Malone-Key, Deniz Celen
Freshman of the Week: Greg Outlaw, Central Connecticut
The diamond in Donyell Marshall's recruiting class, Outlaw scored 16 points on 7-12 from the field, and also had two blocks and two steals.
The 6'4" wing from Chicago has had an up-and-down season so far, showing flashes of brilliance but struggling with shot selection; his eFG% is just 38%, and he's 1-7 from three. However, he may be the Blue Devils best perimeter defender, and will get an opportunity to shut down a variety of NEC wings once January rolls around.
Others Worth Mentioning: Rob Higgins, Brandon Rush, Dorian Jordan-Thomas
Lines of the Week:
1. Raiquan Clark, 11/29 vs. Cal Poly; 28 points (7-9 from the field), 12 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4 turnovers
2. Keith Braxton, 12/1 at St. Joseph's; 26 points (9-17 from the field), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover
3. Raiquan Clark, 11/28 vs. North Florida; 25 points (8-13 from the field), 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 5 turnovers
4. Deniz Celen, 11/30 at Saint Peter's; 21 points (7-10 from the field), 7 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 turnovers
5. Jamir Coleman; 12/1 at UMass-Lowell; 27 points (12-16 from the field), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers
The Saint Francis Red Flash have been, by almost all objective measures, the best team in the Northeast Conference since the start of the season. According to Bart Torvik, their average game score of 53.4 (out of 100) is easily tops in the league, they have the highest Kenpom rating (#197), and all four of their losses have come to teams rated inside the top 163 at Kenpom (including a two-point OT loss at Richmond). How've they done it? With an offense that currently has an Adjusted Efficiency rating of 102.0, which is 115th at Kenpom, thanks to a 38.3% 3P% and 77.8% FG%. SFU has five players currently averaging more than 1 made three-pointer per game (Meredith, Blackmon, Braxton, Thompson and Stewart), and all five are shooting better than 33.3% from beyond the arc.
Speaking of the Red Flash, it caught my eye that Randall Gaskins has started each of the past two games, logging 24 and 32 minutes, respectively. The 6'3" senior averaged nearly 21 mpg last season, but had seen the court sparingly through the team's first 5 games (9.6 mpg). Gaskins, who is known for his perimeter defense, averaged 7.5 points last week, making 5 of his 7 shots while turning it over just twice. His playing time largely came in favor of Ramiir Dixon-Conover, who has really struggled at the point; he's got a 33.3% eFG% and a league worst 52.5% turnover rate.
As mentioned earlier, with Vado Morse out for Mount St. Mary's, Damian Chong Qui has stepped up in a big way. The 5'8" sophomore and former walk-on averaged 16 points in the Mount's two wins last week, and has increased his O-Rating from 94.5 last season to 102.4 this year despite increased usage (17.3% to 19% this season). He's done it largely by improving his shot; he's 8 for 24 from three after shooting 27% from deep as a freshman, and he's 17-19 from the free throw line (just 70% in his first season). Engelstad has a good one.
St. Francis-Brooklyn currently sits at just 1-5 against D-1 competition, and has really struggled offensively. Sure, it makes sense as Glenn Braica was forced to replace both Glenn Sanabria and Jalen Jordan. However, I did not expect them to struggle on the defensive boards given that they brought back their entire front-line. The Terriers are currently allowing opponents to grab 35% of their offensive rebounding opportunities (just 28.5% last season), including 50% (!) in their loss to Saint Peter's last week. Unique McLean has done a great job on the boards for a guard, while Yaya Evans and Deniz Celen remain a strong rebounding frontcourt. I'd guess that this turns around in league play, as the numbers are somewhat skewed due to playing NC State and Fordham, while Saint Peter's is one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the nation.
Fairleigh Dickinson has struggled out of the gate, but none of it is Elyjah Williams' fault. The 6'7" junior has been tasked with trying to replace Mike Holloway, and so far so good; he's averaging 13.3 ppg and 6.5 rpg and is shooting 57% from the field, while also sitting at 3rd in the league in blocks at 2 per game. His efficiency numbers have come down a bit (that's what happens when your playing time increases nearly 30%) , and he's turning it over too much (3.7 per game), but he'll settle in.
Games to Watch:
12/2- Navy at Bryant (56% Win Expectancy)
The Bulldogs are on a two-game losing streak and played poorly in both, while Navy has won its last two over Cornell and Brown. Jared Grasso is still trying to figure out his rotation, especially with Bash Townes back in the mix.
12/3- Quinnipiac at Fairleigh Dickinson (65% WE)
On Tuesday, the Knights finally have their *home-opener against a Bobcats squad that got blown out by Sacred Heart last weekend. The big question is; is Jahlil Jenkins back? There's been no public word as to why he hasn't played in the last two games, but he's been sorely missed.
*Non D1 games do not exist on this site
12/4- Sacred Heart (50% WE) at UMass-Lowell
There's perhaps no NEC team hotter than the Pios, who come into this game having won 3 of 4 against D1 programs. The River Hawks, meanwhile, are 2-1 against the NEC with wins over LIU (away) and CCSU (home), and a 60-58 loss to Merrimack.
12/5- Saint Francis (43% WE) at UMBC
The Red Flash have two winnable games, but this one is the juiciest. Of course, this isn't the same Retrievers team that upset Virginia in March of '18; they currently have just two D1 wins and own losses to LSU, Eastern Michigan, and Nicholls St. However, a road game against a team expected to finish in the middle of the America East is a nice barometer for possibly the best team in the Northeast Conference.
12/7- Loyola (MD) at Mount St. Mary's (55% WE)
The Mount is riding a two-game winning streak, and one would think Vado Morse will be back for this one. The Greyhounds may be one of the best teams in the Patriot League, with wins over Chicago St., IUPUI, Fairfield and Binghamton.