NEC Forecaster: Week 2

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.

Monday, 11/15:

Bryant (+15) at Clemson, 7pm, ACCNetwork

Tuesday, 11/16:

Mount St. Mary's (+25) at Kentucky, 7pm, SEC Network

Central Connecticut (+24) vs. NC State at Mohegan Sun, 8pm, FloSports

Wednesday, 11/17:

Central Connecticut (+10) vs. UMass-Lowell at Mohegan Sun, 5pm, FloSports

Merrimack (+1) at Army, 6pm, ESPN+

Long Island (+24) at Connecticut, 6:30pm, FS2

Saint Peter's at Wagner, (-4) 7pm

Thursday, 11/18:

St. Francis-Brooklyn (+25) at Penn State, 7pm, B1G Network+

Saint Francis (PA) (+20) at Virginia Tech, 8pm, ACC Network

Fairleigh Dickinson (+26) at Northwestern, 9pm, B1G Network

Friday, 11/19:

Mount St. Mary's (+5) at Robert Morris, 7pm

Lehigh at Merrimack (-7), 7pm

Saturday, 11/20

Bryant (-15) vs. Bethune-Cookman at Daytona Beach, FL, 12pm

Central Connecticut (+15) at Quinnipiac, 1pm, ESPN+

Fairleigh Dickinson (+27) at St. John's, 6pm, FS2

NJIT at Wagner (-10), 7:30pm

Fairfield (+1) at Sacred Heart, 8pm

Sunday, 11/21

Bryant at Air Force/Holy Cross at Daytona Beach, FL

Merrimack (+17) at Virginia Tech, 4pm, Virginia Tech Sports Network

Games to Watch

Saint Peter's at Wagner, 11/17

The Seahawks have a reasonable chance to start its season 4-0, but Wednesdays test against the Peacocks will not be easy. Former Seton Hall Pirate Shaheen Holloway has built this program, and SPU is a legit contender in the MAAC. SPU is 0-2, with two road losses at VCU (57-54) and St. John's (91-70)...yes, the same VCU team that Wagner hammered this past weekend.

Saint Peter's is led by 6'7" senior KC Ndefo, a MAAC Player of the Year candidate (front runner?) who averaged nearly 14 points and 6.5 rebounds last season, as well as 3.5 blocks per contest. Ndefo is arguably one of the best defensive players in the country (he's a 2x MAAC Defensive POY), and poses all sorts of issues to anyone trying to get to the rim. Last week, Ndefo was saddled with foul trouble in both of SPU's losses, averaging just 14 mpg, and did struggle offensively, making just 5 of 15 from the field.

The backcourt is led by juniors PG Matthew Lee and sharp-shooter Doug Edert. Lee has a career 27% assist rate and has shot 38% from three, but has struggled with turnovers. Edert, a low usage shooter, has made nearly 39% of his three-pointers in his 2+ year career at SPU, and is shooting 5 for 11 this season.

We all know what Wagner was able to do last week, knocking off Hartford and VCU. Given the way Shaheen Holloway teams defend, and the fact that Wagner's defense has ticked up a bit from last season, I'd expect this one to be a low-scoring rock fight.

Merrimack at Army, 11/17

The Black Knights opened their D1 season with an 82-56 loss at Duke, then beat Hartford at Cameron Indoor 86-79 thanks to making 12 of 17 at the rim and turning it over just 8 times.

Head coach Jimmy Allen is big into analytics, and it shows; his teams like to play up-tempo, get layups in transition, and are usually in the top 50 in terms of 3-point attempts. Sophomore Jalen Rucker has gotten off to a nice start; the 5'10" point guard averaged 24 ppg last week, including 29 points on 8 of 11 from deep in the win over UHart. Rucker has a pair of running mates in the backcourt in 6'2" senior Josh Caldwell (28% usage, 9 assists and 1 turnover so far, and 20 points and 6 boards per game) and 6'0" senior Aaron Duhart (5-8 from the field, 9 assists). Up front, 6'9" sophomore Charlie Peterson is a classic big who combines rim protection (3.3% career block rate) with an ability to finish at the rim (7 for 8 on the season) and rebounding (17.1% career DR%).

You know I love a contrast in style, and this is it. Merrimack is going to try to slow down the tempo and take away the 3, which goes against everything Army wants to do. I'd like to see Mikey Watkins have a big game here; the junior guard is just 2 for 9 from three, and is a much different shooter on a "catch and shoot" than he is of the dribble. Getting Malik Edmead more involved (he's played just 45% of minutes and is 3 for 10 from the field) could help.

Fairfield at Sacred Heart, 11/20

The battle of Fairfield, in the first time these two have played since November 2016 (please bring back the CT6)! The Stags, fresh off a Cinderalla-type run to the MAAC title game last March, lost two buy games by single digits last week at Providence and at Boston College. Head coach Jay Young, now in his 3rd season, brings back everyone from last year's team, and Kenpom is buying; despite finishing #309 last season, the Stags started out at #229 in the pre-season and currently sit at #222 after a couple of solid performances.

6'5" wing Jake Wojcik highlights an offense that struggled last season. The former Richmond Spider averaged 13.5ppg on 38% three-point shooting. Also back is 6'4" wing Taj Benning (12 ppg, 36.6% from deep), and 6'5" forward Jesus Cruz. Cruz, a super senior, has struggled with efficiency in his career but has started strong, knocking down 4 of 8 from three (9ppg, 61.5% eFG%). A pair of 6'9" bigs provide some frontline depth; sophomore Supreme Cook had a nice freshman season as a rim protector and finisher, and he's continued that so far, going for 16 and 7 at Boston College. Junior Zach Crisler, who previously played at Rise, is a face-up 5 who scored 14 points on 4 of 6 from deep at Providence. A freshman to watch; combo-guard TJ Long averaged 12 points and 4 boards last week, showing an ability to score at all three levels off the bench.

Sacred Heart looked really good in its win over La Salle, and in the 1st half at Providence; however, their last three halves have surely not been what Anthony Latina wants. It will be interesting to see if Aaron Clarke is back for this one after rolling his ankle in the 1st half at La Salle. This one is another contrast of styles; Young likes to slow it down and have his teams defend for 40 minutes, while Anthony Latina squads want to get out and run.

Bryant in the Sunshine Slam, 11/20 & 11/21

The Bulldogs head down to Daytona Beach (must be nice) to play in a 4-team tournament over the weekend. On Saturday, Bryant will take on the SWAC'S Bethune-Cookman, followed by either Air Force or Holy Cross.

BCU, coached by former NBAer Reggie Theus (1st season), is one of the worst teams in D1. Currently rated #355 at Kenpom, the Wildcats dropped two games by 20+ points last week at South Florida and Middle Tennessee. After not playing last season, Theus brought in a bevy of transfers, including Dylan Robertson (Sam Houston St.), Damani McEntire (Southern Utah), Calvin Poulina (Binghamton), and Collins Joseph (Savannah St.). However, their best player so far has been the lone returnee from 2019-20, Joe French, who averaged 16 points on 6 of 14 from three in their two losses.

As a team, the Wildcats shot just 23.5% from three and turned it over on 24% of their turnovers in their two games, while struggling to defend the paint and rebound.

If Bryant can win that one, it likely sets up a matchup with Air Force, which had a rough season in Joe Scott's 1st season at the helm (5-20, 3-17 in the Mountain West). Winning a road game at Tulsa last Saturday was a step in the right direction, as the Falcons defense has looked better than it did last season.

Holy Cross lost by 30 to Boston College last week in its lone D1 game, and its best player was 5'10" guard Kyrell Luc, who scored 18 points on 15 shot attempts at BC. A young squad that lost a few guys off last year's team, head coach Brett Nelson played 8 freshman or sophomores, and just 1 senior in Chestnut Hill.

The Bulldogs have a good chance to win the Sunshine Slam, especially if Peter Kiss is back and ready to begin a run at NEC POY.