NEC Ball Screen: 2/19/22
In case you missed it, both Wagner and Bryant have clinched top-2 seeds in the NEC Tournament (they play each other 1 week from today), while LIU has clinched a home quarterfinal game.
Today's Games (All games can be seen on NEC FrontRow):
Central Connecticut at Wagner, 1pm
Fairleigh Dickinson at Bryant, 1pm
Sacred Heart at Merrimack, 3pm
Long Island at Mount St. Mary's, 4pm
St. Francis-Brooklyn at St. Francis (PA), 4pm
CCSU at WC
This is all about Wagner, right? The Seahawks are clinging to a 1-game lead over Bryant with three to play, and the early returns without Elijah Ford have been...ok? It's just three games, so *small sample size* applies, but since Ford went out Wagner's Adjusted OE of 98.3 points/100 possessions is 4th in the league, while the Adj. DE is also 4th (they were 2nd in Adj. OE and 1st in Adj. DE prior to that point). On Thursday, Wagner actually trailed Sacred Heart 43-37 in the 2nd half, and were ultimately bailed out by a dominating performance from Will Martinez (25 points on 17 field goal attempts, plus 7 boards). I'd like to see Raekwon Rogers get going; the Wagner big had a dominant stretch during which he scored in double-figures in 9 consecutive games from December 20th through January 27th. However, over his last 6 games he's averaging just 7 ppg, and the last time these two played he scored just 4 points in 8 minutes while battling foul trouble. One thing to watch; Patrick Sellers has shown a penchant for making adjustments, and I wonder if he'll steal Anthony Latina's play-book from Thursday night and go zone more often that he likes. Getting back on defense and forcing Wagner to become a jump-shooting team may be the best way to keep this one close.
FDU at BU
Fairleigh Dickinson is allowing the 2nd most points per possession in the NEC (106.9 in league play), while Bryant's offense is the best in the league (110.3 pts/100 poss.). In other words; the Bulldogs should put up a lot of points in this one. Greg Herenda has recently started leaning more on his first-year guys; on Thursday night, Herenda started Oscar Berry, Anquan Hill, Sebastien Lamaute, and Ansley Almonor alongside sophomore Mikey Square, while juniors Brandon Rush and Devon Dunn combined to play just 29 minutes. In fact, Rush, a guy many thought would be one of the top 15 players in the NEC this season, has averaged just 13.3 minutes per game over the last three games, and has gone scoreless in back-to-back games for the first time since February 2020.
SHU at MC
This is the 2nd time these two are playing this week, as Merrimack won on Tuesday at the Pitt Center 70-63, holding the Pios to just 3 of 20 from distance. After a rough January, the Warriors have now won 3 in a row, 4 of 5, and may be playing their best basketball of the season. Over their last five games they've held every opponent below 0.99ppp while Jordan Minor has gone nuclear; 22 points and 10.4 boards per game. On Tuesday SHU couldn't buy a perimeter bucket against this Merrimack zone, and what kept them in the game was their free throw shooting (16 of 17). Did you know that Sacred Heart is tops in the league in free throw shooting (75.8%)?
LIU at Mount
Potentially the game of the day. The Mount's Jalen Benjamin did not play on Thursday night after injuring his right knee last Saturday, and while I've heard that he's "day-to-day", on Thursday night he did not look like a man who was nearing a return. Mount St. Mary's had a late lead against St. Francis-Brooklyn before the proverbial crap hit the fan with around 5 minutes left to play. While Deandre Thomas and Dakota Leffew are capable ball-handlers, neither will be mistaken for Benjamin, and as a team they struggled with turnovers when the Terriers turned up the pressure on defense. What's more; with Benjamin out, Dan Engelstad really doesn't have anyone in the rotation capable of creating his own shot efficiently or consistently. Freshman Jaylin Gibson saw the largest uptick in minutes on Thursday night (29), and while he's largely been a "3&D" guy in his first season, he is capable of being more versatile offensively despite just 5 points on 5 field goal attempts against St. Francis-Brooklyn. Ultimately, the Mount needs more from Deandre Thomas (4 for 12 from the field, 4 assists and 4 turnovers) and Dakota Leffew (2 for 10 from the field, 1 assist and 3 turnovers) if they are going to whether the storm with Benjamin out. Remember; the Mount is still battling for a home quarterfinal game.
SFC at SFU
Ronell Giles returned on Thursday night after a 10-game absence due to an injury, and while he was clearly rusty (0 for 7 from the field), the fact that he's back is a great sign for the SFU program. Unfortunately, Myles Thompson and Ramiir Dixon-Conover were both out. Who ever expected a starting 5 of Zahree Harrison, Max Land, Brad McCabe, Mark Flagg and Josh Cohen? The Terriers have won 2-straight and, given Jalen Benjamin's injury, has an outside shot of a top-4 seed in the NEC Tournament. Can that SFU squad defend a Terriers team that has so many offensive options? Rob Higgins was nails on Thursday (27 points including 8 of 10 from the charity stripe), while Michael Cubbage and Patrick Emilien can get their own shots.
NEC Worst Bets
I didn't make any bets on Thursday night but I did go 2-1 on my "leans". That counts, right? Nope!
Season Record: 35-45
Below are my "leans". I'll post official bets to my Twitter feed.
1) Central Connecticut +15.5 at Wagner
The lines have clearly adjusted for life post-Elijah Ford; Kenpom has this one Wagner -19! Are the Seahawks significantly better than CCSU even without Ford? Yes. Are they 15.5 points better? I'm not convinced. Remember; Pat Sellers made an adjustment a few weeks ago in New Britain and held Wagner to just 3 field goals in the 2nd half. Of course; even if the Blue Devils are able to slow down the Seahawks, can they score enough?
2) Merrimack -5.5 vs. Sacred Heart
I know the Pios played well at home against Wagner on Thursday night but I need to see it on more than one night. Merrimack looks to have figured things out and is finishing the season strong.
3) St. Francis-Brooklyn +1 at St. Francis (PA)
The Terriers have been pretty Jekyll/Hide, but this Red Flash team is in a tailspin right now given how many injuries Rob Krimmel has had to deal with. Unless RDC is back (he missed Thursday's game), I don't see SFU pulling this one off.
4) Long Island +1 at Mount St. Mary's
Can the Mount handle LIU's pressure defense without Jalen Benjamin? After what I saw over the last 5 minutes on Thursday night, I'm not so sure. Plus; if Malik Jefferson isn't available it will really hurt the Mount's ability to defend the interior. Of course I've been burned by LIU plenty of times before.
5) Bryant -16 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson
FDU is scary to bet on or against. Maybe today is the day Brandon Rush scores 30 in 34 minutes? I'll probably stay away from this one, but if Greg Herenda continues to lean on his first-year guys I don't see them being able to compete in Smithfield.