NEC Forecaster: Week 2
Well, week 1 was umm...interesting, huh? I covered a lot of it in my Mid-Ranger Jumper on Monday, but it's worth nailing the point home; a number of teams of teams played great in one game, and laid a total egg in their other. Case in point:
Wagner- Blew out Mount St. Mary's on the road 66-47, then lost to Sacred Heart 81-74 at home;
Mount St. Mary's- Bounced back from the Wagner game by beating LIU in double-overtime;
Merrimack- Knocked off Sacred Heart in Fairfield, then fell to Robert Morris 69-58 at home;
Bryant- Beat SFU 67-63, then loses to FDU at home;
Fairleigh Dickinson- Before taking care of Bryant, the Knights got throttled by St. Francis-Brooklyn.
Hell, even Robert Morris struggled with Central Connecticut longer than they should have before winning at Merrimack. The only team I'd make an argument for playing well in both of its games last week is Saint Francis; losing on the road to Bryant by four points is nothing to sneeze at, and they turned around and crushed CCSU by 24 and it wasn't even that close (they led by as many as 33).
Can the cream start rising to the top in Week 2?
Thursday's Games (All point spreads are courtesy of Kenpom):
Sacred Heart (-4) at Fairleigh Dickinson
Mount St. Mary's at Merrimack (-4)
St. Francis-Brooklyn at Robert Morris (-7)
Wagner at Saint Francis (-11)
Central Connecticut at Long Island (-18)
Wagner at Robert Morris (-5)
Fairleigh Dickinson at Long Island (-7)
Merrimack (-8) at Central Connecticut
Mount St. Mary's at Bryant (-8)
St. Francis-Brooklyn at Saint Francis (-11)
Thursday's Game to Watch: SHU at FDU
Things to Watch:
1. SHU on the Offensive Boards- The Pioneers have been one of the best offensive teams in the NEC since the start of the season (SFU is first with a 103.2 Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Rating while SHU is 2nd at 102.1, and no other NEC team is better than 98.0), but the thing they do best is crash the offensive boards. As a team they're grabbing missed chances at a 34.1% clip, 35th highest nationally, which is due to their imposing frontcourt of E.J. Anosike and Jare'l Spellman. The 6'6" Anosike is 3rd in the NEC with a 12.5% OR%, while Spellman is 6th (10.6%). Kinnon LaRose, who is listed at just 6'3", is also in the top 20 (6.8%, 17th).
Fairleigh Dickinson, meanwhile, has really struggled on the defensive boards, allowing opponents to grab 35.3% of their missed shots (342nd in the country). This has been a problem for Greg Herenda's teams since he took over at FDU; they've never been better than 332nd in the country (2017).
2- FDU no longer forces turnovers- The Knights inability to rebound defensively has historically been mitigated by an ability to force turnovers (20.2% last season, 71st nationally, and better than 19.3% in each of the past six seasons). This season, however, the Knights or only forcing turnovers on 18.2% of their defensive possessions, which is below the D1 average (19.6%), and a big reason why FDU has the 338th ranked defense in the country. Sacred Heart hasn't exactly made a living out of taking care of the basketball; they turned it over on 28.5% of their possessions in their loss to Merrimack, and 21.4% at Wagner (20.8% on the season). Maybe Greg Herenda's crew can get back to their thieving ways and get some transition points in this one.
3. The PG battle- Coming into the season, SHU's Cameron Parker and FDU's Jahlil Jenkins were widely considered to be two of the best point guards in the league, and neither has done anything this season to suggest otherwise. Jenkins, a junior, has become more of a scorer for FDU, increasing his points per game from 13.6 last season to 15.3 this year, though his assists per game have dropped from 4.5 to 2.9. He's taking care of the ball better (14.1% turnover rate), but has struggled from three (28.3%, 3 for 12 last week). Meanwhile, Parker has continued to put up incredible assist totals; he's tied with Michigan's Zavier Simpson for the national lead in assists with 124, and is 3rd in the country in apg (8.3). While turnovers were a major issue last week (15 in the two games), on the season he's cut his turnover rate by nearly 17% from last season, and has looked to score it a bit more (10.6 ppg compared to 6.1 ppg last season). It'll be a treat to watch these two go at it on Thursday.
4. Can FDU knock down shots?- FDU is currently making just 29.3% of their 3-pointers on the season, which is 312th nationally, as multiple players have seen their production from long-range take a dip. Xzavier Malone-Key shot 35.2% from three a season ago, but is at just 30.6% while Jenkins (33% last season, 28.3% this season), and Kaleb Bishop (42.5% last season, 29.7% this season) have also seen similar declines. Sure, the extend three-point line has something to do with it, but those are sharper drops that one would expect. Luckily freshman Devon Dunn, who made 5 of his 12 three-pointers before missing seven games due to injury, is back in the fold (0 pts in 10 mins against Bryant), while sophomore Brandon Powell is coming off his highest-scoring game (13 points on 3-6 from three). The Pios are only allowing teams to shoot it at a 30.3% clip from deep, so it may be asking a lot, but it'd be nice to see the Knights shooters start to get that mojo back.
Saturday's Game to Watch: WC at RMU
Things to Watch:
1. The Defenses- This game features two coaches in Wagner's Bashir Mason and Robert Morris' Andrew Toole who have made their careers as defensive-minded guys. However, this season neither teams defense has been nearly as good as it has in years past. Wagner's 318th ranked defense is their worst in the Kenpom era (which dates back to 1997), while Robert Morris is 285th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which would be their worst since 2007 when Mark Schmidt's squad finished 310th. One wouldn't expect a Wagner-Robert Morris game to be a shootout, but we may have a shootout.
2. Two high-scoring wings- Wagner's Curtis Cobb, who transferred in from UMass prior to the season, currently sits third in the NEC in scoring at 17.5 ppg, while the Colonials' Josh Williams is 10th at 14.5 ppg. However, they do it in different ways; Cobb is a straight-up scorer who will shoot it from deep (36%) but also likes to take the ball to the rack, and is relied upon to carry a heavy burden offensively (25% usage). Josh Williams, on the other hand, is more of a shooter (he's made a league-high 48 threes and is shooting 41% on the season), and his offense comes more in the flow of the offense (20.4% usage). Both are fun to watch, and it'll be a treat to have them on the floor at the same time.
3. Bobby Mo from deep- Josh Williams isn't the only shooter on this Colonials ball-club; Josh's brother Jon is knocking down 43% of his threes, Dante Treacy is shooting at a 38.5% clip, Sayveon McEwen (33%) and Jalen Hawkins (32%) have been solid, while Charles Bain is only making 23% of his attempts but has made 11 from deep. As a team, RMU's 36.6% 3P% is 51st nationally, while Wagner has really struggled in defending the perimeter allowing opponents to shoot 37.5% from deep. Don't be surprised if Andrew Toole's group stays hot from outside in this one (22 for 46 in their two wins last week).
4. Turnovers- The Seahawks are coming off two very solid offensive performances that saw them score 1.08 PPP at Mount St. Mary's and 1.13 PPP against Sacred Heart. While they haven't been a good shooting team so far this season (45.3% eFG%, 311th nationally), they've been exceptional at taking care of the basketball, coughing it up on just 18.4% of their possessions. JUCO transfer Alex Morales, who at 6'6" has taken over point guard duties, has a 31.8% assist rate and a 19% turnover rate, while Chase Freeman and Will Martinez provide ball handling abilities as well. While Robert Morris has struggled in most areas defensively this season, they're still forcing turnovers at a 20.8% clip. If Wagner can continue to take care of the basketball, that'll go a long way to stealing a road victory on Saturday.