NEC Forecaster: Opening Week
Every week I will go through the NEC schedule (D1 games only; games against non-D1s don't exist in my world) and highlight some games to watch. As always, point spreads are per Kenpom.
All NEC home games can be found on NEC Front Row.
Anyway; Coach Beard, take it away!
Mount St. Mary's (+24) at Villanova, 4:30pm, FS1
Central Connecticut (+31) at Connecticut, 6:30pm, FS1
Hartford at Wagner (-5), 7pm
St. Francis (PA) (+5) at George Washington, 8pm on ESPN+
St. Francis (NY) (+25) at Wisconsin, 8pm, Big Ten Network+
Sacred Heart (+7) at La Salle, 8pm, ESPN+
Long Island (+22) at San Francisco, 10:30pm, WCC Sports website
Fairleigh Dickinson (+26) at Seton Hall, 7pm, FS1
Sacred Heart (+16) at Providence, 6:30pm, FS1
Merrimack (-2) at NJIT, 7pm, ESPN3
Fairleigh Dickinson (+15) at Drexel, 5pm, Flo Hoops
Bryant (+12) at Rhode Island, 6pm, ESPN+
Long Island (+12) at Fresno St., 10pm, Mountain West Network
Mount St. Mary's (+7) at Saint Joseph's, 1pm, ESPN+
St. Thomas at St. Francis (NY) (-6), 2pm
Merrimack (+15) at Rutgers, 2pm, Big Ten Network+
Wagner (+11) at VCU, 7pm, ESPN+/MASN2
Binghamton at Sacred Heart (-8), 1pm
Central Connecticut (+14) at Brown, 4pm, ESPN+
Games 2 Watch
11/9- Hartford at Wagner, 5pm on NEC FrontRow
The only Opening Night game in which the NEC team is favored, this is a massive early-season game for the Northeast Conference; you've got the reigning regular season champion taking on last season's America East Tournament champs.
Sure, we all know that UHart's Board of Regents voted to drop sports down to D3 status, but let's focus on the 21-22 team, which should be good again. Gone is lead guard Traci Carter, but head coach John Gallagher returns senior wing Austin Williams. A 4th year senior, Williams averaged 14 pts and 6 boards per game thanks to an ability to finish inside (61% ATR), while also keeping defenses honest by making 33% of his 73 3P attempts.
Of course, Gallagher didn't sit tight; as usual he has a couple of transfers ready to contribute; Grad transfer DeJuan Clayton, a 6'2" lead guard, should step into Carter's shoes'; he averaged 15 points and 5 assists for Coppin St. last season. Jared Kimbrough, a 6'8" 225 lb. big who played at La Salle for three seasons, should have a lot of success in the AE as a finisher (75% ATR) and rim protector (4.2% block rate). Hartford also brings back 6'9" stretch 4 Hunter Marks and shooter D.J. Mitchell (41% from 3), as well as combo guard Moses Flowers, who missed the majority of last season due to an injury. Talented, deep, and experienced.
It's a good first test for a Wagner team that is looking to break in a few transfers of their own; namely Ashton Miller (Duquesne), Jahbril Price-Noel (Pacific), and Raekwon Rogers (Henderson St.). If you're looking for a story-line in regards to Wagner, keep an eye on the frontcourt; Nigel Jackson played 63% of the minutes at the '5', and while his playing time should be relatively safe, who else gets minutes there?
11/9- St. Francis (PA) at George Washington, 8pm on ESPN+
A bonus game for opening night, old friend Jamion Christian takes on Rob Krimmel in a super interesting tilt down in DC. Remember; SFU took down Pitt on opening night last season. George Washington has consistently been picked near the bottom of the A-10 during the pre-season.
From the Red Flash point of view, there's not a ton to talk about; the vast majority of the rotation is back, and they are looking to bounce back from a frustrating 20-21 season. George Washington will likely play small since Arizona transfer Ira Lee is out for the season with an injury, so look for Marlon Hargis to play a big role as a big wing/small-ball-4. I'm also watching the sophomore wings; can Max Land and/or Ronell Giles take some of the scoring load off of Ramiir Dixon-Conover?
As for the Colonials; Christian is just 17-32 in two seasons at GW, though last season was especially tough as they played just 8 league games due to numerous pandemic-related shutdowns. He's hit the Transfer Portal in a major way, as his starting lineup should feature numerous former high-major players. Lead guard James Bishop, who averaged 19 ppg and 5 apg last season, is back for his 2nd season at GW after playing one year at LSU. Bishop is GW's "RDC"; he had a 31.6% usage rate last season, and nearly a 34% assist rate". Bishop vs. Dixon-Conover should be fun to watch.
But it's not just Bishop; wings Joe Bamisile (Virginia Tech) and Brendan Adams (UConn) should give Christian some scoring punch, and 6'8" Ricky Lindo, who played at Maryland two seasons ago, averaged a double-double in 7 games for the Colonials in 20-21. Also keep an eye on 6'1" freshman point guard Bryan Freeman, who spurned multiple high majors to join George Washington.
11/11- Merrimack at NJIT, 7pm on ESPN3
The Warriors open up on Tuesday against Emerson College, so Thursday's matchup with the Highlanders is their first D1 test. Picked 8th by the coaches, NJIT lost its two best players from last season; Zach Cooks (transferred to Hofstra) and San Antonio Brinson (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi).
However, head coach Brian Kennedy does have a group with significant D1 experience, led by Matt Faw, a 6'9" stretch 5 who played 4 seasons at Holy Cross, averaging over 11 pts and 5 boards per game in 20-21. NJIT has a pair of returning senior wings, Dylan O'Hearn (33% from three) and Myles Coleman (55% eFG%). Antwuan Butler returns at PG, while 6'9" rim protector Souleymane Diakite is back as well.
With that said, it could be tough for a group who hasn't played together much to attack the Merrimack zone; the Warriors return their entire rotation from a year ago, and with a full off-season of practice, they should be better defensively than they were last season when they finished 2nd in the NEC in Defensive Efficiency.
As for the Warriors; how will Joe Gallo work dynamic sophomore guard Malik Edmead into the rotation? And can Devin Jensen get off to a hot start? Despite being on the road, the Warriors are 2-point favorites in what would be a nice win for the league.
11/13- St. Thomas at St. Francis (NY), 2pm on NEC FrontRow
The Terriers are, perhaps, the most interesting team heading into the non-conference season. How does Glenn Braica assimilate transfers Michael Cubbage, Patrick Emilien, Jack Hemphill, Bahaide Haidara, and Tedrick Wilcox, and can any of them replace Chauncey Hawkins' production?
St. Thomas is new to Division 1, and just the 2nd D1 program in the state of Minnesota. Joining the Summit League for 21-22, the Tommies return 4 double-digit scorers from their final Division 3 season, including senior guards Anders Nelson and Riley Miller, both of whom scored more than 19 ppg. Head coach Johnny Tauer, the third all-time winningest D3 coach, also brings in 6'7" big wing Courtney Brown, who scored 5.5 ppg at Milwaukee last season.
As one would expect, St. Thomas was picked last in the Summit League, and will likely be one of the weaker teams in D1 this season. Given that it's a home game, the Terriers should be able to grab a 'W' here.
11/14- Binghamton at Sacred Heart, 1pm on NEC FrontRow
The Pios are busy during the season's first week; the only NEC team to play three games, Sacred Heart starts out with a couple of tough road games at La Salle and Providence, then returns home to play Binghamton.
Picked last in the America East, the Bearcats fired head coach Tommy Dempsey after finishing 4-10 in the AE last season, and gave Lavell Sanders the job on an interim basis. Fortunately, outside of Brenton Mills (Bowling Green), Dempsey was able to bring back the majority of the rotation from a season ago, including 6'3" combo guard Tyler Bertram (11 ppg) and 6'6" wing George Tinsley (8.5 points and 6.5 boards per game). Of course, Dempsey didn't just sit pat; point guard John McGriff drops down a couple levels from St. John's, while wing Jacob Falco arrives in Binghamton after nearly scoring double-figures per night at Gardner-Webb. 6'8" JUCO transfer Taveion White should provide inside scoring and rim protection.
Luckily, we get to learn quite a bit about Anthony Latina's squad over the first couple weeks of the non-conference season. Against a similar-sized team, I'm most interested to see how the frontcourt playing time shakes out, including how Latina will utilize 6'8" Zach Pfaffenberger, who missed last season with an injury. Also; how will Mike Sixsmith build on his strong freshman season?
Per Kenpom, Sacred Heart is favored by 8 points, which represents the largest spread for an NEC favorite during the season's first week. An NEC contender should be able to take down an America East bottom feeder at home.