NEC Mid-Range Jumper: Week 3
There was a lot happening this past week, but the thing that caught the headlines was some pushing and shoving (and apparently some punching) that marred a really competitive game between two of the top teams in the league on Saturday evening.
I watched that game live, and it was difficult to piece together what happened. However, ultimately Saint Francis' Isaiah Blackmon and Tyler Stewart were suspended for their actions, as was Sacred Heart's Koreem Ozier. Their poor decision making ultimately cost their teams, as both schools lost games on Monday at least partially due to those players' absences.
However, that wasn't the only thing to happen of note last week...
We have a new team atop the league standings, and they're not even eligible for the NEC (and NCAA) Tournament. However, Bobby Mo remains atop the standings as sorted by Efficiency Margin (and average Game Score), and it's not particularly close.
There appears to be some clear separation between the top 5 teams in the league (MC, RMU, SFU, MSMU, and LIU) and the rest, especially now that Sacred Heart is down a man (more on that down below).
Team of the Week: Merrimack
The Warriors went and did the (nearly) impossible last week; they knocked off three title contenders in Bryant, Robert Morris and Saint Francis, the latter two on the road, and are now 6-1 in the league and projected to finish with the best record (13-5) in the NEC, according to Kenpom.
Merrimack used their stifling 2-3 zone to hold their opponents to just 0.90 ppp last week, and got a ton of production out of 6'5" senior Idris Joyner. The Undersized 4-man averaged 17.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg, including 28 in the win over Red Flash on Monday. After starting out slowly during non-conference play, the New Jersey-native is averaging 15.5 ppg over his last 6 games, and has been able to use his girth (230 lbs.) to cause taller opponents trouble.
I know part of the narrative is becoming that the NE-10 is as good as (or possibly better than) the Northeast Conference, but I firmly believe that Merrimack being atop the league standings on January 22nd is more to do with Joe Gallo's brilliance and Juvaris Hayes' stardom than it is the weakness of the NEC. And yes, let's acknowledge that the Warriors knocked off Saint Francis when SFU was without leading scorer Isaiah Blackmon and significant rotation piece Ty Stewart. However, you can only play the games when they're scheduled, and it's not like Merrimack won in a nail-biter.
The Warriors are home for their next three, which include Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis-Brooklyn, and could put some space between themselves and the rest of the league. What a world.
Team Performance of the Week: Mount St. Mary's 59, St. Francis-Brooklyn 39
Here come Dan Engelstad's Mountaineers. On Monday, Mount St. Mary's won their third game in a row by stifling the Terriers on the defensive end; they allowed just 0.63 ppp (a season-best) thanks to SFC making just 3 of 27 from three for a dreadful 26.3% eFG%. On the offensive side of the ball, Damian Chong Qui continued a strong sophomore campaign by pouring in 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 5 assists, while Vado Morse (19 points) and Nana Opoku (17 points, 10 boards) did some heavy lifting.
The Mount currently has the 2nd best Efficiency Margin in NEC play (+9.2), and while they've had the 2nd easiest league slate to date, Engelstad has this team clicking at the right time just like he did last season (see Game Score trend line before, courtesy of Bart Torvik). They appear to be healthy and getting contributions from their entire starting 5, and look like the team that almost knocked off Georgetown back in November. They are certainly a team to watch.
Player of the Week: A.J. Bramah, Robert Morris
Robert Morris lost their first conference game of the year at home against Merrimack on Saturday, but it certainly wasn't A.J. Bramah's fault.
The 6'6" junior college transfer has been huge for Andy Toole as a "small-ball-4", coming off the bench to average 17.5 ppg and 12 rpg last week, including an 18-point, 20-rebound effort in the Colonials' win over Sacred Heart on Monday.
In league play, Bramah leads the NEC in Offensive Rating (147.2 on 20.3% usage), eFG% (78.3%), and Defensive Rebounding % (29.9%).
Others Worth Mentioning: Isaiah Blackmon, SFU; Idris Joyner, MC; Nana Opoku, MSMU; Unique McLean, SFC, E.J. Anosike, SHU
Freshman of the Week: Benson Lin, Bryant
If it feels like a Bryant freshman is winning this award every week, it's because it's largely true; between Charles Pride, Michael Green III, and Lin, Jared Grasso has three potential All-Rookie Teamers. This week it was Lin who led the way.
The 6'4" wing averaged 15.5 ppg, and was especially good in the loss at Merrimack; 19 points (4-8 from three) and 3 assists. While he struggled from three in the loss to Long Island (1 for 9), he did score 10 points and added 4 rebounds.
Others Worth Mentioning: Rob Higgins, SFC; Mikel Derring, MC; Devon Dunn, FDU; Jamir Reed, CCSU
Lines of the Week:
1. Unique McLean, SFC- 1/15 vs. LIU- 15 pts(2-5 from 3), 14 rbs, 6 asts, 3blks, 3stls, 0 TO
2. Kaleb Bishop, FDU- 1/15 vs. SFU- 22 pts (8-13 from the field), 12 rbs, 2 blks
3. A.J. Bramah, RMU 1/20 vs. SHU- 18 pts (9-9 from the field), 20 rbs, 2 blks
4. Keith Braxton, SFU 1/18 vs. SHU- 24 pts (9-16 from the field), 10 rbs, 3 asts, 2 stls
5. Idris Joyner, MC 1/20 vs. SFU- 28 pts (11-12 from the field), 4 stls, 3 rbs.
Individual Leaderboard of the Week: eFG% (Conference Games only, minimum 40% of minutes played)
1. A.J. Bramah, RMU- 78.3%
2. Josh Williams, RMU- 70.5%
3. Idris Joyner, MC- 69.2%
4. Julian Batts, LIU- 68.1%
5. Jon Williams, RMU- 67.9%
6. Yannis Mendy, RMU- 65%
7. Brandon Powell, FDU- 64.6%
8. Deniz Celen, SFC- 62%
9. Jashaun Agosto, LIU- 62%
10. Kinnon LaRose, SHU- 61.6%
Team Leaderboard of the Week: Bench Minutes (Full Season)
1. Central Connecticut, 38% (36th nationally)
2. Wagner, 33.8% (104th)
3. Saint Francis, 33.1% (123rd)
4. Merrimack, 32.2% (149th)
5. Bryant, 31.4% (165th)
6. St. Francis-Brooklyn, 30.8% (185th)
7. Robert Morris, 29.6% (233rd)
8. Fairleigh Dickinson, 25% (307th)
9. Sacred Heart, 23.9% (318th)
10. Mount St. Mary's, 23.6% (322nd)
11. Long Island, 22.7% (331st)
Other Stuff You Should Know:
Parker's Season Is Over: Sacred Heart's starting point guard, Cameron Parker, will miss the rest of the season with a broken left foot it was announced on Tuesday. The sophomore closed the season averaging 7.8 apg, to go along with 9.9 ppg and 4.9 rpg, and improved his turnover rate from 40.9% to 32.6%. It'll largely fall on the shoulders of fellow sophomore Aaron Clarke to pick up Parker's slack. The 6'1" lefty is the only other Pio rotation player (outside of Parker) with an assist rate north of 8.5%, and has been a jack-of-all trades who can make plays, shoot it (31% from three, 82% from the FT line), and play solid perimeter defense. Also watch for sophomore Chaylyn Martin to get more run as a backup.
Bryant Fading: I like to use Bart Torvik's Game Scores trend line to get an idea as to whether a team is getting better or not at this point in the season. However, not everyone likes graphs, so let's illustrate it another way:
Bryant Average Game Score (Per Bart Torvik)
The NEC's best defense in November and December, the Bulldogs now have the 8th-ranked Defensive Efficiency in league play (103.7 points per 100 possessions), and have been bad in multiple areas; they're allowing opponents to shoot 53% on twos, they're struggling on the defensive boards (34.4% opponents OR%), and they aren't forcing turnovers (17.4%, 9th).
Of course, it goes without saying that not having Hall Elisias healthy over the past four games (he did play 17 minutes against the Mount on 1/11, but has not suited up for the last two) has been a major issue given that he leads the nation in block percentage (18.1%). However, Elisias hasn't been the only loss; 6'9" Mikail Simmons missed the Mount and Merrimack games, and played just 4 minutes against LIU, while point guard Ikenna Ndugba has been beat up, and 6'5" forward SaBastian Townes is being worked back into the rotation.
If Bryant can get healthy, they can certainly get on a roll. But they're running out of time to get back into the league title race.
Brandon Powell: Fairleigh Dickinson is currently sitting at just 2-4 in the league, but they've been surprisingly good offensively through six league games; their 105.5 points per 100 possessions is good for third in the NEC. Part of that improvement has been wing Brandon Powell. The sophomore, who we discussed in our season preview as being a guy to watch, has been on fire in January; he's shooting 46% from three (64.6% eFG%, 7th in the league), and has been solid defensively. The Knights could potentially return their entire roster with the exception of Kaleb Bishop in 2020-21, and Powell should be a part of that.
Robert Morris Does More Than Shoot: We all know that Robert Morris has been (by far) the league's most impressive team in January, even with their home loss to Merrimack last week. Ryan Peters talked about their hot shooting last week, but to me it's more than that. Andy Toole has gone with a two-PG approach, and it's resulted in a lot of sharing; they are currently 1st in the league in Assist rate (66.5%), in Assist/TO ratio (1:4, SFC is 2nd at 1:1), and are averaging 18.8 assist sper game (Bryant is 2nd at 14.0). Both Dante Treacy (33.5%, 3rd) and Jon Williams (22.7%, 8th) are in the top 10 in the league in assist rate, while Josh Williams is at a solid 16.7%. Their guards are good at finding the open man, which helps explains the hot shooting.
McLean on the Boards: St. Francis-Brooklyn's Unique McLean had a reputation as a ridiculous athlete coming in as a grad transfer from UMass, but I doubt many people expected this; despite being listed at just 6'2", McLean is currently 3rd in rebounds at 9.8 rpg in league play. He's currently 6th in DR% (24.6%) and 12th in OR% (9.3%), and is a big reason why SFC has been the best defensive rebounding team in the league by a wide margin (opponents are grabbing offensive rebounds at a 21.6% clip, with SFU 2nd at 25.4%).