NEC Daily Ball Screen: 12/24/21
Around our parts, the big news yesterday was not Wagner winning at Fairfield (though that was big, as Bashir Mason got career win #150). It was the announcement that the NEC approved a one-time expansion of the 2022 NEC Men's and Women's Tournament fields to include all nine eligible teams (Merrimack remains ineligible as it transitions to D1), while also maintaining the league's cancellation and forfeit policy. Here's the release.
As far as the forfeiture rule goes, I get it. Yesterday I questioned how fair it is to punish a team for having to go on a covid-related pause despite being 100% vaccinated, and I stand by that. However, given that every team will be able to participate in the NEC Tournament, that argument is partially moot. Plus, last season there were rumors of teams, across the country and locally, pausing when they maybe did not have to, but because it was convenient; losing your best player or two, avoiding a difficult match-up, or not wanting to risk losing out on a high conference tournament seed. The forfeiture rule effectively eliminates that; if your choice is to play with a limited roster or just take an L, that's an easy one
Of course, no decision will be perfect during this Stupid Pandemic, and the unintended consequences remain a concern; imagine being a team like, say, St. Francis (PA), having a really good season and earning the #3 seed, but having to host, say, Bryant, which was one of the best teams in the league but forfeited a handful of games because of a shut-down, in the quarterfinals instead of a lesser opponent? That's a hypothetical I hope does not happen, but it certainly is a possibility.
The only fair thing to do, then, was to allow every team into the conference tournament. Now you avoid a team like, say, CCSU (which is scheduled to play Bryant and St. Francis-Brooklyn next week, both of which are currently paused) finishing ahead of a clearly better team just because it was "lucky" enough to get more wins via forfeit than another team. I'm just glad it's settled prior to the NEC schedule kicking off.
My question; what will the expansion look like? The NEC season is scheduled to wrap-up on Saturday, 2/26, with NEC Quarterfinals scheduled for Wednesday, 3/2. I'm assuming there will be an 8/9 matchup, with the winner playing at the #1 seed. The dates of the quarterfinals and semifinals (3/5) are probably fluid, but the NEC Championship game scheduled for 3/8 on ESPN2 is likely set in stone. So my suggestion; either push the quarters and semis back, with #9 playing at #8 on that Tuesday 3/1, then heading to play the top seed on 3/3, or have those teams play at the site of the #1 seed on 3/1, with the winner playing the next night.
I'm sure that will get ironed out soon enough. Until then; good job, NEC administrators.
Wagner 63, Fairfield 50
The Seahawks outscored the Stags 24-11 over the game's final 10 minutes, securing a hard-fought road win despite making just 1 three-pointer (out of 7 attempts). The win was Bashir Mason's 150th of his career. That's a lot of wins for a guy who has been a head coach for just 10 seasons, and is only 37 years old!
The fact that Wagner was able to win despite getting next to nothing from the perimeter tells you how well-rounded this roster is; not only can they score, but they defend. Even though Fairfield had a size advantage, the Stags attempted just 11 field goals at the rim (making 5), and instead lived in the mid-range, going 5 of 16. Supreme Cook, FU's talented 6'9" sophomore big, was just 1 for 5 from the field, though backup big Chris Maidoh did have some success (4 for 5 for 10 points).
Ultimately, Wagner won this one by defending and making free throws; they were 24 of 31 from the charity stripe, while the Stags were just 12 of 21. Alex Morales scored 9 of his 15 at the free throw line (in 9 attempts), and also added 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Boogie Ford was 6 of 10 from the field, including this pretty move:
My favorite part of this is obviously the spin and finish; how many NEC players can make that play on a 6'9" opponent? And if you're Zach Chrisler and you read the scouting report, you know Ford likes to go left on a drive (over 70% of the time). Just a great read by Ford, especially with the better rim protector (Chris Maidoh) on the left side. Perhaps Chrisler should have allowed Ford to go left with Maidoh there? What I also love is how Alex Morales, who is posting up on the right block, sees Ford sizing up Chrisler, so he pops out to the corner, dragging his defender with him giving Boogie the space to make that move. That's what happens when you've played together for three seasons.
I was also impressed with Wagner's Raekwon Rogers; despite giving up a few inches to the Stags' front-line, he defended well and also scored 11 points and grabbed 5 boards. Plus, he can do this:
Last season, Wagner did not have a post-up option; according to Shot Quality, Alex Morales was the only Seahawk to have more than 6 field goal attempts out of a post-up (15). This season, in just 8 games, Rogers already has 16 post-ups FGAs, and he's averaging 1.02ppp on those opportunities. What's more; he's been above 0.90ppp whether he's posting-up on the right or left block. In 2020-21 teams could get away without having a defensive post-presence. Not this season.
Will Martinez added 10 points, 4 boards, and 3 assists, while neither Nigel Jackson (2nd game in a row) nor Jahbril Price-Noel got into the game. DeLonnie Hunt scored just 1 point after netting 17 in the win over Delaware St.
For Fairfield, Caleb Green led the way with 10 points (2 of 5 from downtown), while Taj Benning had 9 points and 9 rebounds.
And with that, I wish those who celebrate a Merry Christmas, and a happy holiday(s) to those who celebrate something else. I'll be back early next week with a rather robust "NEC Reset", where I'll update my rankings prior to the conference season and hand out some non-conference awards.