NEC Ball Screen: 1/27/22
After tonight we will be halfway through the league sked. Wild! Next week we start talking about seeding for the NEC Tournament, which might be one of my favorite past-times.
Today's Games: (All games available via NEC FrontRow)
St. Francis (PA) at Wagner, 7pm
Merrimack at Bryant, 7pm
Mount St. Mary's at Fairleigh Dickinson, 7pm
Long Island at Central Connecticut, 7pm
St. Francis-Brooklyn at Sacred Heart, 7pm
SFU at WC
When these two matched up in Loretto on the opening night of the NEC schedule, Wagner pulled out a 72-64 victory thanks, in large part, to being able to get to the rim with frequency (18 for 27) and outscoring SFU 48-28 in the paint. A few things about that game from the Red Flash side; while Myles Thompson didn't play, Ronell Giles did, and he scored 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting. Plus; SFU was able to make 8 of 17 from beyond the arc, which is well above their season average of 31.8% (and Wagner has held opponents to 31% from 3). SFU's defensive resurgence in NEC play has had a lot to do with getting out on shooters, but we all know that the 3-ball is not Wagner's game. If the Red Flash can protect the rim and go nuts from deep (I'm looking at you, Maxwell Land) they've got a shot. Otherwise, Wagner should roll in this one.
MC at BU
This is a match-up from just last weekend, in which Bryant rolled Merrimack 79-63 up in North Andover. The Warriors have lost 4-straight, which represents the longest NEC losing streak of MC's D1 era, and they've just not defended like Joe Gallo teams do (last week they gave up 1.32 PPP to Bryant). While Jordan Minor is one of the league's best shot-blockers, as a team Merrimack has not protected the rim nearly as well as they did last year; according to Shot Quality, 39% of opponents shots are coming at the rim (2nd highest in the league), and opponents are getting good looks there (1.22 SQPPP, 7th). Part of that is the schedule...they've already played the league's 4 best teams and have yet to play FDU, SFC, or Sacred Heart, none of which will kill you with size...but at the same time, they've only played 1 road game in league play (at CCSU), I can't help but wonder if NEC coaches are starting to figure this zone out. Bryant is able to put guys like Peter Kiss or Charles Pride in the middle and let them go make a play, and last weekend the Bulldogs grabbed 51.4% of their misses. As long as Bryant doesn't run into turnover issues (just 10 last time these two played) or the Warriors get hot again from 3, I don't see Merrimack being able to beat the league's hottest team.
MSMU at FDU
Greg Herenda has his young team playing well despite the 1-14 overall record. According to Torvik, FDU's average Game Score of 24 (in NEC play) is 7th in the league, ahead of SFU, SFC, and CCSU. Brandon Rush has played better of late as his usage rate has come down a bit, freshman big Anquan Hill broke out in a big way last weekend, and they've got enough shooting to surprise. The big question for Fairleigh Dickinson is; will Mikey Square play? He missed the home game against LIU on Sunday and has been, at least according to the metrics, the Knights' best player. The Mount is rolling right now having won 5 of their last 6 dating back to 12/18 as Dan Engelstad's rotation has really fallen into place. One cause for concern; FDU runs a ball-screen heavy offense, and the Mount has really struggled in defending the Pick-and-roll (0.89 SQPPP, which is last in the league).
LIU at CCSU
Back when these teams played each other down on Long Island it really became a track meet; the game featured 71 possessions, which is how LIU wants to play. However, at least early on in Patrick Sellers' tenure as CCSU head coach, the Blue Devils have generally preferred to slow things down. Thanks to the frenetic pace, the Sharks outscored the Blue Devils 34-22 in the paint, and 26-10 on fast breaks. Central Connecticut is one of the smallest teams in D1 (#353 according to Kenpom), while the Sharks boast one of the largest frontlines in the NEC. While LIU hasn't shot it particularly well overall in NEC play (their 49.1% eFG% is 8th in the league), they don't turn it over and their 34.4% offensive rebounding rate is 2nd. Believe it or not, CCSU has rebounded well defensively (especially their guards), and if they can find an answer offensively (hello, Davonte Sweatman), then the Blue Devils could pull out an upset here. Note: CCSU updated their Spectator Policy to allow students and season-ticket holders to attend the game. Detrick Gym should have some noise tonight.
SFC at SHU
Two teams heading in the wrong direction; Sacred Heart has lost two straight, and in the calendar year 2022 the Pios' only two victories were at home against FDU and CCSU. St. Francis-Brooklyn is just 2-6 in league play, and have lost 4 out of 5 which includes a 2-point win at FDU. The problem? Neither team has defended; Sacred Heart is allowing 113.4 points/100 possessions in conference play, while SFC is 9th at 108.9. The issue for the Terriers has been protecting the rim; they've allowed a league-worst 56.1% on 2-pointers. Luckily for Glenn Braica, Sacred Heart gets a lot of its offense from the outside (37.6% from three). However, SFC will have to figure out how to defend Aaron Clarke in ball screen situations. Both teams could use this one.
NEC Worst Bets
Season Record: 28-34
My "leans" are recorded below. I'll0 post any official bets to my Twitter feed.
1) CCSU (+7.5) vs. LIU
Long Island probably wins the game, but I think Patrick Sellers makes enough adjustments from the last time these two played in order to keep this close. A home team giving up 7.5 points? Nah.
2) Bryant (-7.5) vs. Merrimack
I really don't like the way Merrimack is defending, and Bryant best the Warriors by 16-points just last weekend on the road.
3) FDU (+5.5) vs. Mount St. Mary's
I know FDU is just 1-4 in actual NEC games played, but they haven't played like a team that's destined for the 8/9 playoff game. If Mikey Square returns tonight, I'd jump on FDU at this number. Unfortunately I won't be around when lineups are posted.
4) SHU (-2.5) vs. SFC
This is just a gut call, as I trust Anthony Latina to get this team out of its funk. Tyler Thomas has a big game at home tonight.