NEC Daily Ball Screen: 12/23/21
Outside of the scheduled game between Central Connecticut and Rutgers on New Year's Day, today is the final day of the non-conference schedule for NEC programs, as Wagner heads to Bridgeport to take on Fairfield. Before we dive into that one, as well as yesterday's games, a few words on the covid situation in college basketball.
Initially, many conferences (including the NEC, I believe), implemented forfeiture rules in cases where teams were unable to play due to a covid outbreak. However, those rules were largely created to encourage programs to get their players vaccinated and to maintain schedule integrity. I don't think anyone expected to be where we're at now; dozens of programs, many with 100% vaccination rates, shut-down due to covid outbreaks, including three NEC teams (Bryant, St. Francis-Brooklyn, and Fairleigh Dickinson).
Yesterday, some conferences walked-back their forfeiture rules, and for good reason. Are we going to punish teams because vaccinated players tested positive for covid as Omicron sweeps the country? It just doesn't feel right. I personally like what the Pac-12 did; they kept open the possibility of forfeits if the league felt that a team went into a covid shutdown due to competitive reasons (i.e. their best player had to go out but they still had enough players to play, or to avoid a specific match-up or road trip). CBS Sports' Matt Norlander has a good write-up on what's going on around the country.
I'll never get political here; there's enough of that everywhere else you look. But I will say this; as long as we continue to test vaccinated and asymptomatic athletes, teams at every level in every sport are going to get shut-down. I get it; a college sports conference is not going to go against CDC recommendations, and it sounds like guidance will remain where it's at for the foreseeable future (or at least until the Omicron wave is over).
It will be interesting to see what happens after Christmas. Next Wednesday, NEC games are scheduled to kick-off with a 5-game slate. With three teams currently on pause, and with players (assumingly) heading home for the holidays, how many of those games get played? I'd like to stay positive and say all 5, but I'm not sure that will be the case. And it's not just the NEC, obviously; leagues across the country are going to have to figure this out on the fly.
Hartford 78, Sacred Heart 71
Sacred Heart was outscored 38-20 in the paint, as the Pios really struggled to finish at the rim (8 of 20), and the Hawks had no such issues (15 of 21).
After missing the previous two games due to an illness. Hunter Marks came back and went for 31 points on 10-14 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free throw line, plus 8 boards and 3 assists. Over at Kenpom, Marks had the #2 "Line o' The Night".
Tyler Thomas had a tough one; 13 points on 5 of 16 shooting (3 of 9 from downtown), and no free throw attempts. After a hot start, Thomas has cooled of late; in 6 November games, he had an O-Rating of 101.2 on 28.9% usage. However, since the calendar flipped to December, in 5 games he's got a 94.7 O-Rating on 30.8% usage. It's notable Thomas' difference in efficiency on three-pointers; on a catch-and-shoot, he's at ~33%. However, off the dribble that drops to about 24%. Yesterday Thomas had a few good looks that just didn't drop.
Aaron Clarke continued to play well; he was just 2 of 7 from downtown, but made all 11 of his free throw attempts, scoring 23 points to go along with 4 assists against 1 turnover. Nico Galette had 14/7, and Bryce Johnson had 7 points and 9 boards. Mike Sixsmith put up a very un-Sixsmith line; just 3 points but 6 rebounds and 5 assists (1 turnover).
Its also notable that Hartford played this one without leading scorer Austin Williams. Traci Carter played 23 minutes, scoring 5 points on 2 of 7 from the field. He also had 5 assists. DJ Mitchell stepped up to score 18 points (4 of 7 from downtown). La Salle transfer Jared Kimbrough remained out with a foot/ankle injury for UHart.
Robert Morris 75, St. Francis (PA) 67
In the nightcap, it was a similar story; the Red Flash were outscored in the paint 46-22, and SFU had issues containing 6'8" big Matt Mayers (16 points and 11 boards, 6 of which came on the offensive end). Ol' Friend and former SFC Terrier Rasheem Dunn added 21 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists.
SFU jumped out to an early 17-12 lead, however they really had a tough time getting anything going inside; they were just 8 of 19 at the rim, and the Colonials forced them into take a number of tough 2-pointers (5 of 18 from mid-range).
Ramiir Dixon-Conover, as he often does, led the way for SFU with 20 points (3 of 4 from three), 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Myles Thompson (14 points), Ronell Giles (12) and Max Land (11) were also in double-figures. Thompson was a perfect 3 for 3 from downtown, while Giles made 7 of 9 from the charity stripe.
However, the Red Flash got next to nothing from their bigs; Mark Flagg and Josh Cohen combined for 6 points, though Flagg did have 7 rebounds.
Robert Morris, which earned its first D1 win of the season, converted 23 of 29 at the rim, with Dunn using the dribble to make 8 of 9, Mayers finishing 5 for 5, and Enoch Cheeks and Justin Winston were each a perfect 4-4. SFU is now allowing opponents to make 55.7% from two, which is 333rd nationally.
Ol' Friend Michael Green III came off the bench to play 29 minutes, chipping in 7 points and 5 rebounds.
Wagner at Fairfield, 2pm, ESPN3
Keep an eye on the battle in the paint; Fairfield has a very good, young big in 6'9" Supreme Cook; the sophomore is averaging 10.3 points and 8 boards, including a 14.4% Offensive Rebounding rate. The NEC has a number of good big-men, and it'll be interesting to see how the frontcourt combination of Raekwon Rogers and Ja'Mier Fletcher can handle Cook. Rogers is a D2 transfer who isn't used to having to defend this kind of size and skill. It's also notable that, after playing at least 12 minutes in every game this season, Nigel Jackson did not play in the win over Delaware St., and logged just 9 minutes against Immaculata. I'm not sure if he's working his way back from an injury or illness, or if he's been surpassed by Fletcher, but Wagner may need all the help they can get up front, especially since coach Jay Young can bring 6'10" Chris Maidoh (13 points in the win over FDU) off the bench, and often pairs those guys with 6'9" stretch-4 Zach Crisler.