NEC Ball Screen: 2/17/21
Just 4 games left for each team with some major seeding implications in each matchup.
Today's Games (All games can be seen on NEC FrontRow unless otherwise noted):
Wagner at Sacred Heart, 7pm, ESPN3 and SNY
Central Connecticut at Bryant, 7pm
St. Francis-Brooklyn at Mount St. Mary's, 7pm
Long Island at St. Francis (PA), 7pm
Fairleigh Dickinson at Merrimack, 7pm
WC at SHU
Did Wagner's home loss to Merrimack on Saturday reveal cracks in the armor, or was it an example of how difficult it is to win a game in which you shoot 1 for 20 from three? Could it have been that facing the Merrimack defense without Elijah Ford was destined to be problematic? Could it be all of the above? I had surmised last week that not having Ford in the middle of the zone could present difficulty for the Seahawks, however make just 2 or 3 more three-pointers and Wagner wins that game. On Thursday night, Wagner gets a Pios team that is hurting; Sacred Heart has lost 7 of 8, with the lone victory in overtime over St. Francis-Brooklyn, and it's been the defense that has been the primary culprit. On Tuesday night, the SHU defenders regularly allowed Merrimack ball-handlers into the paint and had no chance of stopping Jordan Minor. Given the way Wagner can penetrate, and the lack of rim SHU rim protection, Wagner should have quite a bit of success in the paint.
CCSU at BU
It was only 1.5 months ago when an under-manned Central Connecticut team, playing without Nigel Scantlebury, Tre Mitchell, and Jayden Brown, nearly knocked off Bryant in Detrick Gym, ultimately losing 80-76. Of course, that was before Peter Kiss and Charles Pride decided to go nuclear on the Northeast Conference, as the two scored a total of 25 points (Kiss was just 4 for 18 from the field with 5 turnovers). I think we would all agree that it'd be unlikely that any team will limit those two to under 30 points (or maybe 40) for the rest of the season. However, on Saturday I think we saw one of the road maps to being able to knock off Bryant; get Greg Calixte in foul trouble. With Hall Elisias out, Calixte is the lone scholarship big man on the Bulldogs roster, and there's a significant drop off when he comes out of the game. Can CCSU get that done? According to Shot Quality, CCSU is 8th in league in getting to the rim, and last at finishing at the rim; in other words, they don't put much pressure on opposing rim protectors. It will be interesting to see if they look to establish Jayden Brown early (CCSU is 8th in frequency of utilizing Post-ups). Another concern, if I'm on that CCSU staff; the Blue Devils "non steal turnover rate" of 10.7% is the most in the league. In other words; plenty of unforced miscues.
SFC at MSMU
Not to be a dramatic, but the most important aspect of Thursday night is; what does Mount St. Mary's' starting 5 look like? As I noted in my Mid-Range Jumper, Jalen Benjamin missed most of the 2nd half with what appeared to be a right knee injury. I've heard or seen nothing out of the Mountaineers' camp regarding Benjamin, but perhaps no one is more important to their offense than Dan Engelstad's combo guard. If he were out, what might the rotation look like? I'd expect to see Deandre Thomas and Dakota Leffew man the guard positions, with Jaylin Gibson and Josh Reaves also seeing an uptick in minutes. Neither Thomas nor Leffew are true point guards, but they are both capable ball-handlers who can make plays for others (Thomas has a 17.6% assist rate, while Leffew is at 17.1%). I also wonder if we see more of Elijah Elliott? The D2 transfer from Oklahoma Christian has played sparingly this season, but is a combo guard who is comfortable with the ball in his hands. As for St. Francis-Brooklyn; is Michael Cubbage back? Cubbage missed Saturday's game at CCSU, and while the Terriers were able to win that one, the Mount defense is a completely different animal.
LIU at SFU
The Sharks are coming off their best win of the season; a 99-88 victory over Bryant. However, despite winning 3 of their last 5, LIU hasn't been super impressive or consistent; over at Torvik, their average "Game Score" is just 28.7 since the OT loss to Wagner, which includes a loss at CCSU and three wins by 5 points or less against teams under .500 in the league (FDU, SHU, SFC). Since January 27th, as a team they're shooting just 42.3% from inside the arc. While the "big 3" of Isaac Kante, Ty Flowers, and Eral Penn are all making better than 53% from two over that span, no other rotation player is making better than 48% from two and their eFG%s are dreadful; Kyndall Davis (43%), Tre Wood (29.8%), Quion Burns (26.5%) and Alex Rivera (23.9%) have all struggled to make shots. The issue of an opposing defense is; can you stop three guys? Because of injuries to Ronell Giles and Myles Thompson, Rob Krimmel has been forced to pair Mark Flagg and Josh Cohen together frequently with mixed results; offensively they've actually been better (99.4 Adjusted OE compared to 95.6 when only one is on the floor. However, that lack of mobility has hurt them defensively, as they've had a 114.2 Adjusted DE when they are on the floor together. That kind of size may be helpful in protecting the rim on Thursday night, but can they keep guys like Ty Flowers and Eral Penn in front of them?
FDU at MC
After losing 6 straight, Merrimack has now won 3 out of 4, and last week held Wagner and Sacred Heart to a combined 4 for 40 from three. Is that a sustainable thing? I mean, probably not, but also Devin Jensen has played in two of the past three games and Merrimack is a different team with him on the floor; according to Hoop Explorer, their Adjusted DE is 95.3 with him and 110.6 without him. That's a massive difference that isn't really a small sample size. His experience playing on the bottom of that zone is paramount to limiting good looks, especially from three. Where we've seen the Warriors struggle is with teams that can throw very good 4/5 combos at you. Well; FDU should be able to play Mikey Square and Anquan Hill together tonight, and while both are young, both have the talent and ability to make plays inside. Another note; Fairleigh Dickinson is very good on "catch and shoot" 3s, especially Brandon Rush, Devon Dunn, and Oscar Berry. Merrimack will have to respect that range.
NEC Worst Bets
I watched maybe 3 NFL games all season, bet on the Super Bowl, and won (Cincy +4.5). I watch nearly every NEC game, write about the league 3 times per week, and last Saturday I went 0 and 4. What?!
Season Record: 35-45
Below are my "leans". I'll post official bets to my Twitter feed.
1) Wagner -8 at Sacred Heart
Sacred Heart is free-falling, as they've fallen 42 spots at Kenpom since January 21st. Wagner misses Elijah Ford, but I don't think they will on Thursday night.
2) St. Francis-Brooklyn +6.5 at Mount St. Mary's
Is the possibility of Jalen Benjamin missing this one already baked into the line? Kenpom sees the Mount as an 8-pt favorite, though without their lead guard I'd make this line closer to 3. If he's out I'd jump on the Terriers.
3) Fairleigh Dickinson +7 at Merrimack
Merrimack can't continue to hold teams to 10% from three. Don't forget; CCSU won in North Andover just 1.5 weeks ago.