The Forecaster: Presidents' Day
While I'm considering Tuesday's games a part of Week 8, I didn't have the time to go through Friday/Sunday games yet, so we'll have a special edition of The Forecaster featuring one mammoth of a matchup.
All Point Spreads Per Kenpom
Tuesday's Games (2/18):
Mount St. Mary's (-1) at Wagner
Merrimack (-2) at Bryant
Robert Morris at Saint Francis (-5)
Fairleigh Dickinson (-6) at Central Connecticut
St. Francis-Brooklyn at Long Island (-7)
Tuesday's Game to Watch: RMU at SFU
Things to Watch:
1. The RMU Offense: Those of us who have followed the NEC over the past few years have grown accustomed to Andy Toole having one of the best defensive teams in the league year-in and year-out. And while the Colonials defense is rated #2 in the Northeast Conference in defensive efficiency this season, the Bobby Mo offense is no slouch (#3 in offensive efficiency). They've done it by shooting the ball well across the board, specifically in league play; they're third in 3P% (37.2%) and 3rd in 2P% (51%). Toole has taken advantage of an inside-out game that features some strong perimeter shooters (Josh Williams is shooting 42% from deep on the season, while his brother Jon is making 43% of his threes and Dante Treacy is shooting 38%), as well as bigs who can really finish inside like A.J. Bramah (56% on twos) and Yannis Mendy (55%). Saint Francis is allowing NEC opponents to shot a league-worst 51.9% on twos, so Bramah could be in for another huge game.
2. Josh Williams- Through his first 16 games, Josh Williams was well entrenched in the league POY conversation; he had a 116.4 O-Rating on 20.4% usage (the 2nd highest rating of any player with usage above 15.5%) on the strength of 45% from three. Since then? The 6'2" senior is shooting just 33.3% from deep, and his offensive rating is 100.4 (18.0% usage) in those 10 games. It obviously hasn't hurt the Colonials much- they're 7-3 over that time period- but if they want to get to the NCAA Tournament, they're going to need Josh Williams to get back to being the consistent three-point shooter he was for most of the season.
3. A.J. Bramah- Why hasn't Williams' "cool-down" affected Bobby Mo much? Because A.J. Bramah has emerged as a double-double machine. The 6'7" junior college transfer is averaging 16.1 ppg (4th) and 9.1 rpg (3rd) in conference play, and his eFG% is 3rd in the conference at 61.9%. It often can take junior college players time to get used to Division-1 basketball, and it appears that's just what happened in Bramah's case. Check it:
The difference is stark, and I had to verify it was, indeed, the same player. I do wonder if there's a single thing that has caused the improved performance, or if it was just a matter of getting comfortable. Whatever the reason, Bramah should be considered for the league's Player of the Year award, and will be on the short-list for NEC Pre-season POY next October (he and Ty Flowers, most likely).
4. Great offense vs. Great Defense- The Red Flash have the league's best offensive efficiency, and it's not even close; their 110.8 OE is light years ahead of Fairleigh Dickinson's 106.0 OE, which is 2nd in the NEC. The Colonials, meanwhile, have the league's 2nd best defense (allowing just 92.9 points per 100 possessions), and Andy Toole knows how to shut down an offense with the best of 'em. Here's the thing though; SFU is no one-trick pony. They don't take many three-pointers (their 28.4% 3P rate is lowest in the Northeast Conference), but they make them when they take them (38%), they convert inside (50.5% on twos, 4th in the league), they don't turn it over (17.7% turnover rate, 2nd), and they hammer the offensive glass (34.7%, 2nd). Rob Krimmel has two of the most talented offensive players in the league in Isaiah Blackmon and Keith Braxton, but he's also got a myriad of offensive options like stretchy-4's Myles Thompson and Tyler Stewart, bigs Mark Flagg and Deivydas Kuzavas, athletic wing Randall Gaskins, and even backup point guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover. This chess match will be fascinating.
5. Free Throw Disparity- The Red Flash have a rotation full of guys who convert at a high level at the free throw line; Braxton, Blackmon, and Stewart are shooting better than 81% from the charity stripe, while only Dixon-Conover and Flagg are below 74%. The same cannot be said for the Colonials; back-up guard Jalen Hawkins (79%) is the only RMU player making more than 73% of his free throw attempts, and high-usage forwards Bramah (67.5%) and Charles Bain (57.5%) have struggled from there, as has Yannis Mendy (57.1%). I tend to not look at team-wide FT% much- it's more about which players are at the line- and RMU's primary guards (the Williams' and Dante Treacy) have been solid (all shooting between 70% and 72.5%), but in a close ball-game this could come back to bite Andy Toole's club. It is, however, worth noting that Bramah has made his last 10 free throws, and as a team they made 15 of their 16 free throw attempts in their one-point loss to Fairleigh Dickinson.