NEC Ball Screen: The Quarterfinals
Yesterday the Northeast Conference announced its award winners. Let's remember; the coaches vote on these awards. And in my experience, basketball coaches (not just in the NEC) are terrible at voting on these things. Why? Because they're paid to coach their teams, not vote on awards.
With that said, I still have a few bones to pick:
If you just go by the numbers, Josh Cohen 100% deserved to be on one of the three teams. If you look at the advanced metrics, Cohen out-performed Raekwon Rogers, who made the NEC's 2nd team, in all of them. I know coaches aren't looking at those, but even if you look at traditional stats (this isn't a slight on Rogers; who I had on my 3rd team), Cohen clearly comes out ahead.
Anquan Hill winning the Rookie of the Year over Andre Snoddy is odd; Hill barely played prior to mid-January, and Snoddy led all rookies in minutes, scoring, and rebounding (and was also a very good defender). Does February only count for awards? That'd be nice to know ahead of time.
A few people brought up Hall Elisias being snubbed, and I just don't see it. If I were drafting a team, Elisias would 100% be one of the 15 (or 10?) guys I'd select. However, Elisias played just 40% of his team's available minutes, while all the 3rd teamers (except Elijah Ford) played at least 70% of their team's minutes (Tyler Thomas was at 85%). If you think Elisias was snubbed, you're telling me that Elisias was nearly 45-50% better than those guys when he played, and I just don't buy that. If he hadn't gotten hurt and missed so much time, he would have been there.
Alex Morales 100% deserved the Player of the Year award, no matter what you think the reasons were that he was selected over Peter Kiss. Those bringing up his scoring figures need to stop; it's called the Player of the Year, not the Scorer of the Year. This feels a lot like in 2013 when Miguel Cabrera won the American League's MVP over Mike Trout, with the argument being that he won the Triple Crown so he has to win the MVP. The Triple Crown is the Triple Crown, and Trout was the better baseball player. That was an injustice then, and it remains the case.
Do I think the narrative surrounding Kiss played a factor? I do, at least for a few coaches. But again; it didn't with me. I based my opinion primarily on advanced metrics, as well as what my eyes saw. If Wagner had finished 9-9 instead of 15-3, Kiss or Charles Pride would like have won. A 1-game difference, to me, is negligible.
OK, enough of that. Let's get to the games.
#9 Central Connecticut at #1 Bryant, 7pm
#7 St. Francis (PA) at #2 Wagner, 7pm
#6 Sacred Heart at #3 Long Island, 7pm
#5 St. Francis-Brooklyn at #4 Mount St. Mary's, 7pm
CCSU at BU
No NEC team played better than Bryant did in the month of February; they were 7-1 with a lone loss at LIU back on 2/12, and their 104.6 Adjusted OE was easily tops in the league. These two squared off in Smithfield just two weeks ago, and while it ended up a 14-point Bulldogs win, it was closer than that; CCSU cut the lead to three with just over 13 minutes remaining, and Bryant closed the game on a 6-0 run in the final minute. Blue Devils head coach Patrick Sellers has shown an ability to make defensive adjustments, however I'm not sure CCSU quite has the length and athleticism to truly keep this Bryant offense under wraps. Central Connecticut does have the shooters to stretch Bryant's zone defense (they made 34.6% of their three-point attempts in league play, and nearly 36% of their points have come from deep, which is the most in the conference), and Andre Snoddy is exactly the kind of point forward who can do damage if he can catch the ball at the free throw line. But don't forget; this is a young team that will certainly be going into a hostile environment.
SFU at WC
For the Red Flash, three key guys have gone down with injuries; point guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover has missed the last 4 games, Myles Thompson the last 7, and Ronell Giles missed 11 games, returned on 2/17 and went 0-7 from the floor in 18 minutes, and hasn't been seen since. Rob Krimmel has had to resort to playing his bigs, Josh Cohen and Mark Flagg, together more often and while the result has been more rim protection and offensive rebounding, SFU has struggled defending the perimeter thanks to a lack of quickness, and spacing has been an issue on the offensive end. As I've written about extensively, Wagner hasn't been the same since Elijah Ford went down, and if they aren't going to be able to make threes (just 23 for their last 83), Wednesday night could be a lot closer than many expect. However, one thing to note; according to Shot Quality, based on their shots taken, Wagner was expected to win all the league games they lost. Perhaps there's some positive regression due?
SHU at LIU
There may not be a hotter team in the Northeast Conference now than the Sharks. Since February 10th, LIU is 6-0 (including a 99-88 win over Bryant) and their Adjusted Efficiency Margin of +1.3 is tops in the league (Bryant's is -0.2 during that stretch). While the offense has continued to be good, it's the defense where Long Island has shined the brightest; over their last six games, they've held opponents to just 26% from deep and a 43.6% eFG%, and if you combine that with their league leading 72.3% defensive rebounding rate, it's really difficult to score against them. My big question coming into the season was; could Tre Wood be the guy at point guard? Well, the junior has improved as the season has gone on, and in league play he's got a 23.1% assist rate and has been really good defensively. On the Sacred Heart side, Tyler Thomas struggled for much of February but finished the regular season strong in scoring 31 points and adding 10 assists in the Pios two wins last week over Mount St. Mary's and St. Francis (PA). However, he's just 6 for his last 30 from deep, and Anthony Latina could use both Thomas and fellow All-NEC 3rd Teamer Aaron Clarke to get going from beyond the arc. These two teams split in the regular season, though SHU's win came when both Kyndall Davis and Alex Rivera were out due to covid. Long Island eked out a 79-75 win at the WRAC back on February 3rd, and Clarke had 14 points and 10 assists in that one.
SFC at MSMU
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup of the night; after winning six straight games, the Mount has lost 5 of their last 7 games, with their wins coming against St. Francis (PA) (by just 2 points) and Central Connecticut. It's been an up-and-down season for Dan Engelstad and his team, and while the defense has continued to be very good (they led the league by a country mile in Defensive Efficiency, and over this 7 game stretch their 100.8 Adjusted DE is tops in the NEC), however the offense has been solid at times, and dreadful at others. No NEC team uses the Pick-and-roll more than Mount St. Mary's (22% of the time), yet their 0.74 Shot Quality ppp ranks dead last as Jalen Benjamin is better as a "catch-and-shoot" 3P shooter than he is off the dribble or attacking the basket. When these two played in Emmitsburg just two weeks ago, the Mount managed just 0.83ppp thanks to 2 of 13 from downtown. However, Jalen Benjamin did not play in that one. The Terriers have really struggled to defend ball screens all season (they've allowed a league worst 0.87 SQppp), and their offense is really predicated on making mid-range jump shots. In fact, according to Shot Quality SFC's shot selection was the worst in the NEC. If Michael Cubbage and Patrick Emilien, both of whom are throw-backs with solid mid-range games, can get going, that offense can put up points especially since they rarely turn it over (16.7%, tops in the league). One thing worth noting; the Mount's Malik Jefferson has missed three of the last four games (he played 7 minutes in their loss to Sacred Heart last Thursday). and his absence has been more noticeable on the offensive side of the ball; with him on the floor, the Mount has put up 110.8 points/100 possessions in conference play. Without? Just 97.2. If he's a go tonight, that will put even more pressure on St. Francis-Brooklyn's thin front line.