NEC Daily Ball Screen: 11/24/21
Man, I did my best to stay up for Gonzaga-UCLA last night, but once the 'Dogs went up 29-8 it was lights out for me. Is Gonzaga going to lose this season? Its played two top-5 teams and completely dismantled both of them. Drew Timme is the likely POY, Chet Holmgren is a top 5 pick in June's NBA draft, Andrew Nembhard might be the best point guard in the nation, and they've got experienced and talented dudes all over the floor.
Quite frankly; the best part of the late night slate was getting to her Dick Vitale back on the call. As a kid, Dicky V was what college hoops was all about to me; if he was there, it was a big game! As I've gotten older I've grown tired of his schtick, but Dick Vitale the man is an absolute treasure; forget what he did to grow the game in the 80s and 90s, what he's done for cancer research can never be overstated. Saint Dick, as far as I'm concerned.
The wi-fi was pulling extra duty last night, that's for sure. Four games featuring NEC teams, all tipping at 7pm, and all good games! A fun night, indeed.
Let's start up in Orono, where Patrick Sellers earned his first win as the head coach of Central Connecticut, knocking off Maine 64-56. Before we start getting crazy; I watched all 40 minutes of this one, and Maine is not good. It's ranked #346 at Kenpom currently, but will likely drop further. However, this isn't about Maine, this is about the now 1-5 Blue Devils.
Sellers spoke openly during the pre-season about wanting to focus on the defensive side of the ball, and last night the D finally showed up; it held Maine to 2 of 14 from deep and forced 18 turnovers in a 64 possession game (28%!). Again; some of that was the Black Bears missing open shots, and some of that was unforced errors. But the defense was swarming, especially in the 1st half, and the Blue Devils were quicker to the ball.
Central had four players score between 9 and 12 points, including Nigel Scantlebury who, at least so far, looks like one of the best point guards in the league. The 6'0" senior went for 10 points and 4 assists in 26 minutes, and through 6 games is shooting 47% from three and has a 28% assist rate.
Of course; you can't talk about Central Connecticut without mentioning the freshmen. As my man Mark Carroll pointed out; CCSU frosh combined for 35 points and 16 boards last night. Jayden Brown, in just his 2nd game, was 5 for 7 from the field to go along with 4 rebounds and an assist, and looks like the probable NEC Rookie of the Year, while 5'8" point guard Davonte Sweatman had 11 points (5 of 7 shooting) and 2 steals in 21 minutes, and Andre Snoddy scored 9 points and added 6 rebounds. As I wondered on Twitter; could those three, plus Trenton McLaughlin and Joe Ostrowsky, make up the entirety of the NEC All-Rookie Team? Wagner's guards (Javi Ezquerra and Zaire Williams) might have something to say about that, as should FDU's Ibrahim Wattara and maybe LIU's Andre Washington. But Central has 5 of the top 7-8 freshmen in the league, and are set up for the future.
Elsewhere; St. Francis-Brooklyn gave St. John's a game at Carnesecca Arena, ultimately falling 76-70 thanks to a late Johnnies run. However, the Terriers showed out, jumping out to a quick 19-6 lead, and holding a 64-55 lead with 10 minutes left. Tedrick Wilcox, a D2 transfer, scored 19 points on 5 of 8 from three (he came into the game with just 12 total points in three games), and added 6 boards. Patrick Emilien had his first collegiate double-double (12 points, 12 boards), and Larry Moreno came off the bench to score 15 points, though he did have 6 turnovers. Something I found interesting; big-men Vuk Stevanic and Jack Hemphill combined for just 13 minutes. Instead, Glenn Braica went small with 6'6" Bahaide Haidara combining with 6'7" Emilien and 6'6" Wilcox to form the front line. And it worked! SFC killed it on the offensive boards (16, 4 each by Haidara and Emilien), and grabbed 83% of their defensive rebounding opportunities against the bigger Red Storm. Ultimately there was too much Julian Champagnie (23 points on 20 field goal attempts), but a very good showing for the Terriers.
Merrimack blew out UHart 75-60 thanks to career-high 25 points from both Jordan Minor and Mykel Derring. Usually when we are talking about the Warriors we are talking about the defense, and it was fine last night; they limited 2nd chance opportunities, and held Hartford to 0.97ppp. However, for the first time all season Joe Gallo's club got it going offensively thanks to the inside-outside pairing of Minor and Derring. Derring, a 6'2" junior, has made 15 of his 30 three-point attempts so far (a cool 64.5% eFG%) after going 7 for 9 last night, while Minor killed it inside, going 8 for 11 from the field and 9 for 10 from the charity stripe. It's also been nice to see Malik Edmead get going a bit; over the last three games he's shooting 4 for 8 from three, and has had 5 assists against 3 turnovers. Mikey Watkins also had a solid game; 11 points, 5 boards, and 4 assists with his normal stout defense. Odd; Devin Jensen played 30 minutes and never took a shot.
And finally; Long Island fell to 0-4 with a 64-62 defeat at the hands of Saint Peter's. The Sharks fell down 49-37 with a little over 7 minutes to go before storming back and making a game of it, largely thanks to its defense. For the first time all season LIU held an opponent under 1.11ppp (0.79 last night), forcing turnovers at a 28% clip and allowing just 8 offensive boards (20%). However; the offense continues to sputter. As a team, they made just 6 of 19 from three and turned it over 23 times (28%), scoring just 0.76ppp. So far this season they've yet to do better than 0.89ppp in a single game, and their 41.3% eFG% is 331st nationally. Ty Flowers was the lone efficient Shark; 17 points on 9 field goal attempts (4 of 6 from deep, 6 of 6 from the charity stripe), to go along with 7 boards and 7 blocks (!). Flowers has been hot from deep to start the season (11 of 26), but he's the only one. Eral Penn did put up a double-double (17 pts, 11 boards), but was just 4 for 14 from the field. Isaac Kante continues to struggle scoring the ball (9 points on 4-8 from the field), but did have 11 boards. Once again, the starting backcourt of Tre Wood and Alex Rivera struggled; last night it combined for 1 for 4 from the field, 1 assist and 7 turnovers. Notable; freshman Andre Washington played more minutes (19) than Wood, going 0 for 4 from the field, but 3 assists against just 2 turnovers.
Wagner's game at Army is postponed due to Wagner's covid issues, which marks the third straight game. Let's hope the league's best team can get on the court soon.
Just two games today, both winnable; St. Francis (PA) heads to upstate New York to take on Cornell, while Fairleigh Dickinson takes on local rival NJIT.
A few things to watch:
1) Tonight marks Greg Herenda's first game against a fellow mid-major; FDU is 0-3 with losses at Seton Hall, Northwestern, and St. John's. So it's no surprise that their metrics at Kenpom are nearly all "red" (red=bad). Brandon Rush has gotten off to an ugly start; just 2 of 12 from three (36.1% eFG%). Look for Herenda to get his star wing off to a good start to get some of that confidence back. Remember; this high usage thing is new to him (30.7% so far, 20.4%) last season. I'm bullish on the Knights, but only if Rush can be a top 5ish player in the league.
2) SFU takes on a Big Red squad that has really played well in the early going; its 3-1 against D1 schools, and have risen at Kenpom from #288 in the pre-season to #253. Cornell likes to get up and down the floor, and head coach Brian Earl is a Princeton disciple; which means he's going to spread you out and back-door you to death. SFU coach Rob Krimmel has essentially gone 8-deep so far this season; can the Red Flash keep up?
3) Similar to Brandon Rush; it'd be nice to see Ramiir Dixon-Conover get going. So far he's just 7 of 24 from the field against D1 competition, though he's really taken care of the basketball (7 assists and 2 turnovers). Getting RDC downhill and headed towards the rim should be a priority for Krimmel and his staff.
Of course I took the under in the Merrimack-Hartford game last night, and I wasn't even close; they cleared the 123 number with ease. However, SFC + 27.5 at St. John's was fruitful, as that one was never in doubt.
A reminder; this is not gambling or financial advice, and I'm not suggesting anyone copy me. These are my bets, and my bets only.
Season Record: 8-7
Today's Bets: Fairleigh Dickinson at NJIT (over 141.5)
Both Kenpom (149) and Torvik (146) see this one going 'over', and for good reason; Greg Herenda typically likes to push the tempo, and so far this season all three of FDU's games have featured at least 72 possessions. As I said above; the Knights' offense has struggled, but that's come against high major competition. FDU has dudes who can score, and the issues for them will likely be on the defensive end. Meanwhile, NJIT put up 73 points on 72 possessions last week against a solid Lehigh team.
Brandon Rush is going to have a huge game tonight, and these two will get up and down. Give me the over.