NEC Ball Screen: Title-Game Tuesday
With all due respect to Derek Kellogg, Dan Engelstad, and their respective programs, Wagner at Bryant is what we all needed, right? The NEC gets to show off their best two teams in, at least in 2022, the best atmosphere in the Northeast Conference.
I didn't get to watch the semifinal games in real-time due to some youth sports commitments, but I did want to drop a few observations that I had. First Bryant-Mount St. Mary's:
In a losing effort, Dan Engelstad showed why he's one of the better mid-major coaches out there. His defensive game-plan nearly worked to perfection, as putting Nana Opoku and Mezie Offurum on Charles Pride and Peter Kiss, respectively, really caused them frustration at times.
I can't help but wonder how the game may have ended had Jalen Benjamin not gone out with a scary looking injury with 3:40 left and the Mount clinging to a 2-point lead. I'm not suggesting the outcome ends up different...we'll never know...but Benjamin is incredibly important to that team. Luckily he walked off under his own power, and I'd assume/hope it's not a long-term thing.
With Bryant's offense held somewhat in check (1.08ppp is still a very solid number), they defended very well and Hall Elisias appears to be fully healthy.
The Chace Athletic Center came across very well on TV. It appeared to really be rocking.
Could the Bulldogs be the type of team that could pull an upset in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament? If they end up with a 16, which is where they currently are over at Bracket Matrix, then all bets are off. But as a 15? They shoot the 3 and they have an elite rim protector. That could cause a #2 some problems.
I thought the refs did a tremendous job of keeping the "chippiness" at a minimum, and not overreacting with technical fouls.
I really feel like Long Island had a great chance to win this game...I felt great with LIU +7...but it was never going to happen if they couldn't make 3s. Shooting 3 of 19 is just so tough to come back from.
Ty Flowers did everything he could though. 24 points on 20 field goal attempts.
Even without Elijah Ford, if guys like DeLonnie Hunt (3 of 5), Zaire Williams (2-3) and Nigel Jackson (2-4) are going to make 3s, they will be tough to beat.
I can't get enough of Bashir Mason wearing Ford's jersey.
Now to the title game preview:
#2 Wagner at #1 Bryant
This season: Wagner won 84-81 in Overtime on Staten Island on 1/6, Bryant won 78-70 in Smithfield on 2/26.
Things to Watch:
Will Wagner make 3s? This feels like the lazy way out yet...this is the single, most important aspect of this game, right? On the season the Seahawks are making just 29.2% of their 3s (348th nationally), and just 29.8% of their shots come from deep (337th nationally). However, I'm not sure that tells the complete story; in their run through the quarters and semis, WC shot 46% from deep, with over 37% of their shots coming from beyond the arc. Clearly with Elijah Ford out of the lineup, Bashir Mason has made the 3-ball a larger part of the offense. DeLonnie Hunt is shooting just 31.6% from three on the year, but he made 35% as a freshman and is 11 for his last 18, Zaire Williams has made 5 of his last 9 from deep (27.8% on the year), and both Nigel Jackson (4 for 7 since returning from injury) and Jahbril Price-Noel (2 for 4 in the NECT) are bigs who can stretch the D. If Bryant's zone defense has to honor the perimeter shot, it creates room for guys like Alex Morales and Will Martinez to get into the middle and make things happen.
Will another Bulldog Step Up? We all know that Peter Kiss and Charles Pride are going to get theirs. Even though the Mount did well to contain Bryant's high-scoring duo they scored 40 points between them. In that game, Luis Hurtado (14 points) and Hall Elisias (13 points, 9 of 10 from the free throw line) were huge offensively as Adham Eleeda managed just 1 for 4 from deep, while Greg Calixte, Tyler Brelsford, and Erickson Bans combined for 0 points in 23 minutes off the bench. Wagner can't shut down everyone, but they will do whatever they can do to slow down Pride and Kiss. Other guys need to be able to knock down open shots.
Can Mason slow down the stars? It feels so easy to suggest that all you need to do is slow down Peter Kiss and Charles Pride, but that's a huge undertaking. During the Mount St. Mary's-Bryant semifinal game, Joe DeSantis (NEC color analyst and former Quinnipiac head coach) noted that many teams have a stud defensive player who can guard the opponents best player, but very few have two. The Mount was able to throw a ton of size at those two, and while Wagner isn't anywhere close to small, they don't have the same type of options, especially without Ford. Alex Morales, the league's Defensive Player of the Year (in addition to overall POY) is a good option to guard either guy, and freshman Zaire Williams has some nice size (6'4" 190 lbs.) and athleticism. When these two teams played a little over a week ago, Peter Kiss had 23 points but missed all six of his 3P shots, while Pride scored 20 on 15 shots. Bashir Mason has shown an ability to devise good game-plans, especially on the defensive side, and he will have to come up with something here. Might we see more zone than we normally do?
How do you stop Alex Morales? It's a rhetorical question of course, as I'm not sure you can. It's not just his scoring (he finished 3rd in the league with 18.2 ppg); Morales finished 4th in assists per game (3.9), and according to Shot Quality he's in the 95th percentile as a passer. Very few players at this level can score from any spot on the floor, but that's Morales in a nut shell; he's tough to stop around the rim given his incredible body control and length (6'6"), and if you throw a second defender at him he will find the open man. The key for Bryant is to make him become an off-the-dribble jump shooter; according to Shot Quality, he's just 0.81 SQPPP on 3s off the dribble, and 0.6 SQPPP on long mid-range jumpers. Once he puts it on the deck, respect the drive and live with a jump shot.
The Coaching Battle. Thanks to Ryan Peters for this tidbit; officially, Jared Grasso is 7-0 head-to-head against Bashir Mason. I know, I know; Wagner beat Bryant this season, but Grasso was sick for that one and Phil Martelli, Jr. coached in his stead. Both coaches have been, and will continue to be, mentioned for vacant jobs here in the northeast (both have been rumored to be involved with the UMass opening), and this game, right or wrong, could have massive ramifications on head coaching searches over the next month or so.
The Crowd. The Chace is going to be rocking on Tuesday night. How will that effect the Wagner players? That's a veteran group that has seen it all, plus it's not like Bryant blew out its previous two opponents at home; #9 seed CCSU got to within '3' in the second half, while the Mount has a late lead. It's going to be loud, but seeing the way the Seahawks handled things yesterday after their shootaround, I don't think they will be concerned by it.
I can't wait until 7pm. Enjoy the game, folks!