NEC Mid-Range Jumper: 12/13/21

Standings: As always during non-conference play, sorted by Adjusted Efficiency Margin (aka Kenpom rankings). Note: I've added Net Rankings into the graphic.

NEC Team of the Week: St. Francis-Brooklyn

The Terriers got their first two wins of the season, and by Torvik's Game Score had two of the best four performances by an NEC team this week.

On Wednesday, SFC went on the road and knocked off a good Saint Peter's team 71-60. Then on Saturday, the Terriers went down to Dover and walloped Delaware St. 75-61.

On the week, SFC improved 13 spots at Kenpom, and 22 spots at Torvik.

NEC Team Performance of the Week: Bryant 76, New Hampshire 59

Bryant scored 1.25ppp, and outscored UNH 39-26 in the 2nd half. Peter Kiss had 23 points and 10 boards, while Adham Eleeda scored 18 points on 6 of 8 from three, and Charles Pride added 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Bryant's Game Score of '83' at Torvik was, by far, the best of their season.

NEC Player of the Week: Charles Pride, Bryant

My darkhorse candidate for NEC Player of the Year coming into the season, Pride hasn't been able to get it going from beyond the arc yet this season (28%, compared to 41% last season). However, he continues to do the other things (like defend and rebound), and this week he had, perhaps, his best two games of the year.

In Wednesday's win over UNH, Pride was a perfect 5 for 5 at the rim, scoring 16 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, and dishing out 3 assists. Then, on Saturday with Bryant playing without Peter Kiss and Hall Elisias due to covid-protocols, Pride stepped up to score 27 points, including 9 of 11 at the rim and 2 of 6 from deep, to go along with 5 boards and 3 assists, nearly willing the Bulldogs to a win over Stony Brook.

NEC Rookie of the Week: Oscar Berry, Fairleigh Dickinson

Coming into the week, Berry had appeared in just three games, playing 35 total minutes. Then, in last week's 81-55 loss at La Salle, the 6'4" freshman played 27 minutes, scoring 8 points on 3 of 6 from the field, and grabbing 4 rebounds. He's a high-level shooter who's clearly earning the trust from the FDU staff.

Weekly Leaderboard: High Usage Players

There are currently 12 players in the NEC who are playing more than 60% of their team's available minutes, and have a usage rate above 22%. Note: I used the 60% mark to include Peter Kiss, Brandon Rush and Ramiir Dixon-Conover, all of whom have missed time but are their teams clear "go-to players".

St. Francis-Brooklyn's Defensive Improvement

When I think about the best defenses in the NEC, I go immediately to Merrimack, followed by programs like Wagner and Mount St. Mary's. And generally speaking, Derek Kellogg's LIU teams and Jared Grasso's Bryant teams have done a good job on that end as well.

However, since the calendar flipped to December, Glenn Braica's SFC club has had the 2nd best Adjusted DE by a fairly wide margin.

Look, you might be rolling your eyes a bit. thinking that this is such a small sample and it's not even worth writing about. And normally I'd agree with you. But Braica has so many new pieces this season (just 5 players returned from last season's team), that he's been trying to figure out a rotation he likes. And he may have found it? Look at the difference in playing time between November and December:

Michael Cubbage and Patrick Emilien, the two high profile D1 transfers Braica brought in, are really the only two players who have been consistently leaned upon. Larry Moreno, who is shooting 37% from three, has seen more run, as has forward Bahaide Haidara, who provides versatility on both sides of the floor. Freshman guard Nick Folk, who didn't appear in the team's first 5 games, has scored 25 points in three games in December while making all 10 of his free throw attempts.

On the flip side; Tedrick Wilcox, Jr. went from scoring in double-figures in three games in a row in November to playing just 9 minutes in the team's last three games. Trey Quartlebaum, who averaged 12 ppg over the season's first two games, has played just 11 minutes over the last two. And Braica has been using his bigs, Stevanic and Hemphill, less and less in favor of a more athletic lineup, with Emilien and Haidara manning the 4/5.

Do I think the Terriers are the 2nd best defensive team in the NEC? I do not. But I think there's been a clear improvement on that side of the ball, and if they keep this up they could become a darkhorse contender for a top 4 finish, especially if Michael Cubbage can become a bit more efficient offensively.

Josh Cohen, Star?

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I often find an under-appreciated NEC player to stump for. Three years ago it was Jahlil Jenkins, in 2019-20 it was Damian Chong Qui, and last season it was Josh Cohen.

The 6'10" big came seemingly out of nowhere to put up solid numbers as Mark Flagg's backup in 20-21; in just under 14 mpg, including 2 starts, Cohen averaged 5.7 points and 4.6 rebounds, putting up strong efficiency numbers; a 127.0 O-Rating on 18.4% usage, and a 65.3% eFG%. But it's not the numbers that made me dig Cohen, it's the way he plays; at 6'10" he plays under the rim, and he's more skill and high IQ than he is athletic. He's seemingly always in the right position and has an incredibly soft touch around the rim.

Coming into the season, it was expected that there would be some sort of a time share between Flagg, who is in his 5th year with the program, and Cohen at the '5'. And, while that's still the case, Cohen has been seeing more and more minutes. Note: the chart below excludes Wednesday's loss at American, which Mark Flagg did not play.

It's pretty clear that Cohen has earned more playing time as we've gotten further into the season. And it's also worth noting that Rob Krimmel has not shown an interest in playing the two of them together, which makes sense; neither stretches the defense, and neither would be able to defend smaller 4s out on the perimeter.

Anyway, back to Cohen. It's one thing to be efficient as a part-time player before opposing teams have been able to scout you. But he's taken it to a whole new level this season. Check it:

That O-Rating is 12th in the country, and his 75% FG% on 2-pointers is 15th. And while that's probably not sustainable, Cohen takes essentially all his field goal attempts from the paint, and his high FG% due to his soft touch around the rim.

According to Bart Torvik's PORPAGATU!, Cohen's 4.5 is second in the NEC behind Alex Morales among players who have played at least 50% of available minutes. And according to Hoop Explorer, St. Francis (PA) is a much different team when Cohen is on the floor.

I'm not sure I quite buy the defensive metrics there; Flagg offers more mobility and has been a better shot blocker in his career. However, it's clear that, on a net basis, SFU needs Cohen on the floor.

I'm not sure he can keep this up, and his 5.7 fouls/40 minutes could continue to limit his minutes, but SFU's redshirt sophomore looks like he could end up on an All-NEC squad come March.

Long Island's Shot Quality

Before we go farther, let's acknowledge one thing; Derek Kellogg has had a tough schedule to date. Seven of Long Island's 8 games have been on the road, including a west coast swing to start the season (at San Francisco and Fresno St.), a trip to UConn, and roadies at top 225 Kenpom teams Saint Peter's, Delaware, Towson, and Fordham. Sure, maybe one would expect them to be 2-7 instead of 1-8, but it's not like it's been a total disaster (they've only dropped 16 spots at Kenpom, to #273 as of this writing).

However, the offense is a major concern, especially if you expected Long Island to challenge for a top 4 finish. Remember; Derek Kellogg lost two guards from last season's team (Jermaine Jackson Jr. and Virshon Cotton), and essentially replaced them with a high-impact transfer in big-man Isaac Kante. Playing with all that size and length certainly sounds intriguing, especially after Mount St. Mary's rode their 3 big men to an NEC title last season, but the early returns have not been good on the offensive end.

The offense has clearly taken a major step back in nearly every category; some of those numbers will probably improve as the Sharks enter NEC play, but the Adjusted OE factors in the quality of their opponents, as does the Adjusted Shot Quality metric.

Last season, both Ty Flowers and Eral Penn were very efficient for LIU, putting up eFG% north of 50%, while Isaac Kante did similar things for Hofstra. But each player has struggled to follow it up this season, and that's likely due to the shots each player is taking.

Each of the Sharks' "big three" has seen their eFG% and shot quality decline when compared to last season. If only the eFG% were down, you could chalk it up to a shooting slump, or quality of competition, and move on your merry way. But the Shot Quality metric shows that it's clearly more than that.

In 2020-21, Penn was dominant at the rim, and kept defenses honest by stepping out and knocking down a 3-pointer once every other game. This season he's already attempted 10 more threes in 8 games than he did in 18 games a season ago, and while he's making them at a similar clip, his ability to get to, and convert, at the rim has really been diminished in the early going.

Similar to Eral Penn, Ty Flowers has become largely a jump shooter, with 61% of his FG attempts coming from beyond the arc. What's made Flowers such a match-up nightmare in the past was that if you put a smaller player on him, he'd kill you inside. It's great that he's making a higher percentage of his three-pointers, but I think LIU is missing the damage he did down low.

Kante had never attempted a three-pointer in three collegiate seasons, yet he's taken 13 (and made 1) this season. While he's still making 60%+ at the rim, he's taking more jump shots this season, and has seen his overall eFG% decline because of it.

Because of their quirky schedule, I hadn't been able to watch an LIU game until Thursday's loss at Fordham. What I saw was a lack of spacing and a bunched of rushed/questionable shot attempts. Again, there's still a lot of season left. But the Long Island staff needs to figure out how to utilize Penn, Flowers, and Kante in a way that can help them be more efficient.

Slow Starts from Deep

There are a number of players who have been major three-point threats in the past and are off to slow starts.

Peter Kiss, Bryant- 23% this season after shooting 42.2% last season.

Charles Pride, Bryant- 28% this season after shooting 41% last season.

Mikey Watkins, Merrimack- 19.2% this season after making 35.7% two seasons ago, and 31.1% last season.

Devin Jensen, Merrimack- 25% this season after making 43.3% two seasons agot and 31.7% last season.

Mike Sixsmith, Sacred Heart- 20% this season after shooting 54.2% last season.

Tre Mitchell, Central Connecticut- 25.6% this season after shooting 36.8% last year.

"Old Friend" Check-In

In case you missed it last week, Virginia went on the road to James Madison, and JMU knocked off the Cavaliers 52-49, storming the court afterwards. Well, you know who is 2nd on that James Madison team in scoring? Vado Morse.

Morse, the former Mount star who was named to the NEC's All-Rookie team back in 2018-19, is in his 2nd season at James Madison where he's averaging 10.6 points and 2.4 assists per game. As a 3rd year junior last season, he scored 14.4ppg.

Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings

Wagner Freshman Zaire Williams is 5th on the team in minutes (23.4), and though he's struggled shooting the ball (3 of 14 from three), offers nice size for a wing at 6'4" and is active defensively. He and teammate/fellow freshman Javier Esquerra, who is a talented pure PG, should form a nice combination in the future, and both have started the last two games for the Seahawks...Wagner has just two players shooting better than 31% from three (Alex Morales and Will Martinez). This was a problem last year that guys like Jahbril Price-Noel and Zaire Williams were supposed to help solve. It's something worth monitoring...Bryant's Greg Calixte did an admirable job filling in for Hall Elisias on Saturday, as Elisias was out due to covid-protocols. Calixte doesn't provide the rim protection Elisias does, but he did score 12 points on 5 of 6 from the field, and also grabbed 13 rebounds. However, he was just 2 of 8 from the free throw line, and is a career 35.9% FT shooter in 145 attempts...The Bulldogs' Adham Eleeda came into the week making just 15 of his 52 3P attempts. So naturally he made 10 of 19 over the past two games...After getting off to a nice start, LIU's Kyndall Davis has scored just 9 points over his last three games, shooting 3 for 11 from the field, with 6 assists and 7 turnovers. Much was expected of him in Year 2, though he's playing only ~51% of available minutes...Malik Edmead has started the last two games for Merrimack, and has made 4 of 6 from deep. After making just 3 of 17 a season ago, he's up to 10 of 21 this year. Combine that with his 24% assist rate, 10% turnover rate, and 4.3% steal rate, he's becoming a key player for the Warriors. He just needs to solve that mid-range problem (10 of 29)...Tyler Thomas scored 30 points at URI last week. He's a stud...Ronell Giles, Jr. has scored in double-figures in each of his last five games, including 13 last week at American...The stats say Marlon Hargis has played really well for SFU; he's got a 125.2 O-Rating on 22.1% usage. However, he's seen his minutes dwindle of late, playing just 17 minutes total over his last two games. If I had to guess, some combination of defense and rebounding is the likely culprit...St. Francis-Brooklyn's freshman wing Kasper Suurorg has one of the strangest game logs I've ever seen. He played 5 minutes in the season opener at Wisconsin, didn't play at all over the next three, played, in minutes, 16, 7, 31, 16 in the next four games, and hasn't played over the last two...The Mount's Nana Opoku was a cool 18 of 20 from the field this week, averaging 19 points and 8.5 rebounds in two games. He's all but eliminated the three-point shot from his game; after taking 137 in three previous seasons (making just 36), he's only attempted three this year (making 2). It's not surprise, then, that his eFG% is up to 60.5%...Alex Watson scored 14 points, to go with 4 assists and 0 turnovers in 29 minutes at URI last week. On the season he's made 13 of 28 from downtown, and has a 60.5% eFG%...Ramiir Dixon-Conover had 19 points, 5 boards, 3 assists, and 1 turnover in SFU's loss at American. He's being relied upon less than he was last season (just 23.7% usage, compared to 27.6% in 20-21), and I think that's been a good thing for both RDC, and the Red Flash as a whole...After experiencing some spotty playing time in November, including two DNPs, Rob Higgins averaged 15 ppg last week, and had 7 assists against 0 turnovers...Brandon Rush had 19 points at La Salle, but has clearly found it difficult jumping from 20% usage to 30%. His eFG% is just 43.4%, including 30.6% from three...Mikey Square is doing his best to take some pressure of of Rush; over his last three games, he's averaging 14 ppg on 17 of 23 from the field...CCSU's Tre Mitchell scored a season-high 15 points in the Blue Devils' lost to Providence. Maybe that'll get him going? It's true that he's shooting just 25.6% from three, but he's made just 21% of his two-pointers; 3 of 11 at the rim, and 2 of 13 in the mid-range. At least he's made 80% from the free throw line...Central Connecticut is shooting just 65.6% from the charity stripe as a team. Andre Snoddy is just 10 of 18, Zach Newkirk 10 of 17, Steph Ayangma 15 of 26, and Jayden Brown 2 of 9...Snoddy, a freshman "big wing", is tied for 1st in the NEC with a 22.9% Defensive Rebounding Rate. The Mount's Malik Jefferson is also at 22.9%...Merrimack is forcing turnovers on 25% of their defensive possessions, 14th nationally...Another light week on the docket, with just 16 NEC vs. D1 games. However, just two P5 matchup on the slate (SFU at Illinois and FDU at Virginia), which means some opportunities for wins/competitive games. The highlights? Next weekend features Sacred Heart at UMass-Lowell and UHart at Central Connecticut. Morgan St. at the Mount should be fun, and I'm intrigued by Army at LIU.