NEC Daily Ball Screen: 12/22/21
With 41 seconds to go, Mikey Watkins drained a three-pointer from the right wing to give Merrimack a 49-47 lead, and they'd hold on to knock off Maine on Tuesday night.
For Merrimack, as we all know it's all about the defense; the Warriors held Maine to 5 of 18 from deep and forced the Black Bears into taking 15 mid-range jumpers (making just 4), which correlated with 0.85ppp.
However, the Warriors continue to have issues scoring the basketball; after making 11 of 29 from downtown at Indiana, MC was just 3 of 18 from three and 14 of 37 from two (33.6% eFG), and on the season their 42.2% eFG% ranks 341st nationally. Jordan Minor did have a 13/10 double-double, but he was just 6 of 15 from the field and 1 of 5 from the free throw line.
Minor is Merrimack's biggest offensive weapon; he leads the team by far with a 32.9% usage rate (which is 2nd in the NEC), as he's not only involved heavily as a ball screener, but Joe Gallo likes to utilize him in isolations, especially late in the shot clock. So when he struggles from the field, or the free throw line, like he did on Tuesday night, it's tough for the Warriors to be efficient as a team.
Sophomore guard Malik Edmead played a career-high 31 minutes in his 3rd consecutive start, though was just 3 of 10 from the field with 1 assist. Ziggy Reid struggled from downtown (0 of 4), but did grab 11 boards. Devin Jensen was a DNP for the 2nd straight game.
Merrimack wraps up non-conference play with the league's best defense, and the league's worst offense. It'll be fascinating to see how that plays out during league play; can they score enough to challenge for a league title? A reminder that in 2019-20, they finished with the 2nd worst Offensive Efficiency and the best DE (by a huge margin) and won the regular season title with a 14-4 record.
Hartford at Sacred Heart, 11am, NEC FrontRow
Saint Peter's at Fairleigh Dickinson, 3pm, NEC FrontRow
Robert Morris at St. Francis (PA), 7pm, NEC FrontRow
UHart at SHU
I got an up-close look at Hartford last weekend at Detrick Gym, and the Hawks like to shoot the 3, and isolate either Austin Williams, Moses Flowers, or Traci Carter. Yes, that Traci Carter, who is now in his 7th year in college. Last season, the combo-guard who started his career ar Maquette, then La Salle, averaged 11.7 ppg on 24% usage. I'm not sure how many minutes he can log yet as he works his way into game-shape (he played 25 at CCSU), but adding him to the other 2 high-level guards allows Gallagher to use the dribble to get into the lane. Over-help, and bigs Donald Shriver and Hunter Marks (both 38% from three) are ready to kill you from deep. Marks, however, has missed the team's last two games, while La Salle transfer Jared Kimbrough was in a boot last week.
SPU at FDU
Greg Herenda teams have never relied extensively on the 3-ball; as he tells it, he's an old-school coach. However, the Knights are converting below 40% on their twos. Outside of Mikey Square (56.5%), the FDU staff hasn't been able to find a consistent inside scoring presence, and while 44% of their field goal attempts have come at the rim (67th nationally, according to Shot Quality), they're scoring just 0.93ppp when they attack the rim. Saint Peter's has one of the top defenses in the MAAC, and they really protect the rim thanks to KC Ndefo (12.7% block rate), as well as the Drame twins. Can FDU make enough perimeter shots to win?
RMU at SFU
Things appear to have fallen off the tracks for Andy Toole since Bobby Mo left for the Horizon League. Last season, the Colonials 4-15 overall, 3-12 in the Horizon (#303 at Kenpom), and so far this season they are 0-9 against D1 competition and ranked #314 at Kenpom. To put that into perspective; prior to last season, Toole finished worse than #269 just once, back in 2015-16 (#303). What's surprising is that, excluding pre-season bias, RMU has a 111.1 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which is 330th nationally, and the worst in the Horizon. SFU has had the NEC's best offense so far this season, largely thanks to Ramiir Dixon-Conover's ability to get into the paint and either finish at the rim, or find an open teammate.
Season Record: 17-20
Today's Bet: Saint Peter's (-8) at Fairleigh Dickinson
I asked the question above; can FDU make enough threes to keep this game close? They've scored above 0.9ppp exactly three times on the season, and in those games they made 32 of 66 from three (48%). In their 7 other games, they're shooting just 22% from downtown. So, sure, they can. But I'm not willing to bet on it until they start doing it consistently.