The Mid-Range Jumper: 12/16/19
Team of the Week: St. Francis-Brooklyn
The Terriers won a pair of close games at home last week, sneaking by Presbyterian 64-63, then knocking off NJIT 73-71. Neither team has been particularly impressive in the early going; PC is now 1-8 against D1 competition, while NJIT has just a pair of wins (at Cornell and at home against Wagner). SFC hasn't been terribly impressive in the non-conference (more on that in a bit), but they do have four wins, and that's got to count for something.
Others Worth Mentioning: Merrimack, Bryant
Best Win: Bryant 69, Fordham 61
One could argue that Bryant's win over the Rams last week was the league's second most impressive victory of the non-conference season (Merrimack's win at Northwestern is easily #1). Sure, Fordham is a weak Atlantic-10 team. However, the Rams are currently #227 at Kenpom, which is the 6th highest ranking of any team to lose to an NEC team. Add in the fact that it happened in the Bronx (the other non-Northwestern wins were either at home or at a neutral court), and Bryant deserves the praise.
Others Worth Mentioning: Merrimack 69, Army 60; St. Francis-Brooklyn 73, NJIT 71
Player of the Week: Juvaris Hayes, Merrimack
I like to give this award to a player who played multiple games in a week, but that proved difficult this week. Instead, why not give it to a guy who was really good in a win? The 6'0" do-everything point guard scored 14 points on 4 of 8 shooting (plus 6 of 7 from the free throw line), and added 8 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals while turning it over just twice in 39 minutes.
Others Worth Mentioning: Jahilil Jenkins, FDU; Unique McLean, SFC; Devin Jenson, MC; Jare'l Spellman, SHU
Freshman of the Week: Benson Lin, Bryant
Lin was the MVP of Bryant's win over Fordham; he had a team-high 15 points (3 of 6 from three), plus had 4 assists as he logged 36 minutes with Charles Pride out.
Others Worth Mentioning: Rob Higgins, Greg Outlaw
Storylines You Need To Know
St. Francis-Brooklyn currently has four wins against Division 1 competition, which trails only Bryant, Merrimack, and Saint Francis in the Northeast Conference. Not bad for a team picked near the bottom of the league! However, this is nothing new for Glenn Braica; last season the Terriers were 6-5 in non-league play. Despite the early season success, the computers aren't exactly buying in; SFC is currently #312 at Kenpom and #306 at Torvik (and #312 in the first iteration of the NET). What gives? Well, SFC has played the 301st most difficult schedule according to Kenpom, and three of those four wins were by two points or fewer (and at home). Their one road win, at Hartford, came with Hawks' star Malik Ellison still sidelined by injury. With all that said, I like teams who have shown the ability to win, so look for the Terriers to be a tough out during league play.
One of the early bright spots for Glenn Braica has been the play of freshman guard Rob Higgins. The 6'1" New Jersey native has largely been the first player off the bench, and has given the team some much-needed perimeter shooting; his 16 made three-pointers leads the team (33%), and he appears to have the green-light has he's taken a team-high 27% of the team's shots when he's on the floor. Plus, despite a reasonably-high usage rate (22.1%), he's turned it over just 10 times all season against 14 assists. Braica got himself a steal.
After Fairleigh Dickinson knocked off Quinnipiac 78-77 on December 3rd, I thought we were about to see the Knights take off; they were finally healthy (both Jahlil Jenkins and Xzavier Malone-Key missed time previously), and were getting to a portion of their schedule where there were some winnable games (after the trip to Rupp Arena, of course). Instead, things haven't gone well; FDU lost 86-70 at Saint Peter's, which had already fallen to Bryant and Wagner, then got hammered at home by Princeton 80-65. The issue is a defense that is currently ranked 339th in the nation thanks to an inability to rebound the basketball (they're allowing the 3rd highest offensive rebounding rate in the nation), and limit three-pointers (opponents are shooting 39.5%). Greg Herenda squads have generally been offense over defense, but not to this degree.
Cameron Parker has gotten better, folks. As a freshman, Parker put up staggering assist totals (6.9 apg), but his turnover rate of 39% was the highest in the NEC. This year, however, the 6'2" sophomore has dropped that turnover rate to a still-high 30%, and his assist rate has increased from 37.8% to 42.5% (9th nationally), and that excludes his 24 assists against Pine Manor. What's more, he's taking (and making) more three-pointers; he's 8-22 on the season after making 16 of his 42 attempts last year. Because of all of that, his O-Rating is up to 105.0, which is 7th highest among NEC Players with a usage rate above 21%. I'm sure Anthony Latina would like to see the turnovers come down a bit, but he's made strides since last season and is on track to be an All-NEC player this season.
This Week's Games To Watch
12/17: American at Mount St. Mary's (53% Win Expectancy)
Vado Morse hasn't been the same since he went down with a knee injury; he missed the Kentucky (loss) and Utah Valley (win) games, and in three games since he's just 4 for 23 from the field. The good news, however, is that Mount St. Mary's will have had ten days off since their loss to Loyola (MD), and hopefully Morse is back to his old self.
12/20: Delaware at Long Island (47% WE)
The Blue Hens currently sit at 9-2 with their only losses at George Washington and against Villanova, neither of which were blowouts. LIU, which has struggled defensively, will have to figure out how to stop 6'5" Nate Darling, who is shooting 43% from three and his an early candidate for CAA Player of the Year. This is just the second home game for LIU, and if they can a big-time performance from Ty Flowers, there's no reason the Sharks can't pull this one out.
12/21: Army at Wagner (41% WE)
The Seahawks have just one D1 win (an OT road win at Saint Peter's), and head to La Salle early in the week. Army, meanwhile, is 1-2 against the NEC with a win over FDU and losses to Merrimack and LIU. Bashir Mason has made his name on the defensive side of the ball, however Wagner is allowing a brutally bad 56.4% eFG%, while Army has shot the ball extremely well in the early going (52.3% eFG%, 74th nationally).
12/22: Saint Francis (46% WE) vs. William & Mary
This one will be played on a neutral court (Washington DC), and it's another opportunity for a top NEC team to snatch a win against a solid Colonial squad. Bill & Mary is 7-3 with losses to Oklahoma, Stanford, and Buffalo, and have a matchup nightmare in 6'10", 253lb. Nathan Knight. Knight can play both inside and on the perimeter (34% from three), and will give Mark Flagg and Ty Stewart fits. This will be two good offenses going up against two underwhelming D's, which could mean a high-scoring affair.
12/22: Sacred Heart (71% WE) at Holy Cross
The Pioneers will look to stay hot on the road at a Holy Cross team that has just one win on its ledger; 81-67 over Mercer. Road games can be tricky, however, especially during this time of year. The Crusaders have one of the worst defenses in the nation and allow a ton of three-pointers, so look for the Pios to put up a major point total.