NEC Mid-Range Jumper: 12/6/21
Standings: As always during non-conference play, sorted by Adjusted Efficiency Margin (aka Kenpom rankings)
NEC Team of the Week: Wagner
On the surface, Wagner had a fine week; they went 1-1 with a loss at Seton Hall and a win over Stony Brook. But if you follow the league closely, you know that the Seahawks cemented themselves as the clear-cut favorite to win the Northeast Conference.
Playing its first game in 2.5 weeks due a covid-related shutdown, Wagner was trailing Seton Hall (#34 at Kenpom) by just two at halftime. Oh, and the Seahawks were without reigning NEC Player of the Year Alex Morales, last season's NEC Rookie of the Year DeLonnie Hunt, significant rotation piece Will Martinez, and head coach Bashir Mason. Ultimately Wagner faded, eventually losing 85-63.
Oh Saturday, with Morales and Martinez back in uniform and Mason on the sidelines (but still no Hunt), Wagner completely blitzed Stony Brook 78-49 out on Long Island. Stony Brook, which was expected to challenge Vermont for the AE title, was completely overmatched. We saw multiple teams last season struggle after shut-downs, but this Wagner team had no such issues. I have no idea how frequently they were able to practice over the past 3 weeks, but they looked like they didn't skip a beat.
Since Tuesday, Wagner improved 17 spots at Kenpom to #134, which is a historically high ranking for an NEC team. If you're interested in such things; Wagner finished #102 in 2012, which is the highest final Kenpom ranking over the past decade.
NEC Team Performance of the Week: Wagner 78, Stony Brook 49
Alex Morales, who missed the loss at Seton Hall due to covid-protocols, continued to look like a shoe-in for NEC Player of the Year; 19 points (9 of14 shooting), 9 rebounds, 6 assists (3 turnovers), and 2 steals. The shot has improved, the shot selection has improved, and he appears to be fully committed defensively.
Boogie Ford added 14 points and 4 boards in just 18 minutes, while Raekwon Rogers went for 10 and 8. Ashton Miller, playing in just his 2nd game for Wagner after sitting out last season following a transfer from Duquesne, added 8 points on 4 of 5 shooting.
While the offense was rolling, the defense may have been even more impressive; Wagner held the Seawolves to a 37.3% eFG%, including allowing nearly nothing at the rim (just 6 of 14, 10 of 30 from two overall). Wagner doesn't really have rim protectors, but their zone is containing penetration and pushing opponents into the mid-range.
Co-NEC Players of the Week: Aaron Clarke, Sacred Heart; and Nigel Scantlebury, Central Connecticut
I don't generally like giving this to two players, but I could not separate these guys this week.
We all know Tyler Thomas is Sacred Heart's best player, but it was Clarke who carried the Pios this past week. In two games, he averaged 21.5 points on 7 of 11 from three and 7 of 11 rom two (67.7% eFG%), to go along with 5 assists. Clarke is averaging 17ppg, and has clearly bounced back from an injury-plagued 2020-21.
Scantlebury is enjoying a breakout season under new head coach Patrick Sellers, and last week may have been his best in a Blue Devil uniform. The 4th year PG averaged 20 ppg last week in two games, plus 4.5 boards and 3 assists per ballgame. Through 9 games, the PG is shooting 50% from deep, including 6 of 9 this past week, and was also a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line.
NEC Rookie of the Week: Andre Snoddy, Central Connecticut
Two different Blue Devils (Joe Ostrowsky, Trenton McLaughlin) have gotten my nod as the NEC Rookie of the Week, and Snoddy is now the 3rd (it's worth noting Ostrowsky and Jaden Brown of won the NEC's Rookie of the Week award, which is slightly more important).
Snoddy, who has settled in as the starting '4' for the Blue Devils, scored a career high 11 points on 4 of 5 shooting and 3 of 3 from the charity stripe, including two clutch FTs late in CCSU's win over Maine. On the week, he averaged 7.5 points and 3 boards per contest.
Small Sample Check-in
The primary publicly used projection systems, Kenpom and Bart Torvik, base its respectively pre-season projections on the returning roster, coach, previous season, and historical program performance. And, at least during the early part of the season, those pre-season ratings are still factored in. Which makes sense, right? You don't want to see a team win one game and jump 150 spots in the rankings. Without having some predisposition towards previous seasons, the ratings would be super volatile early on. And that'd be annoying for everyone.
However, Bart Torvik allows you to filter out those pre-season ratings to get a sense on how teams have played so far this season. Let's take a look at how NEC teams have performed thus far, based purely on 21-22 results:
Is Wagner a top 25 team in the sport? Surely, no. Which is why including pre-season expectations still makes sense!
However, every piece of data is pointing to the fact that Wagner is, at least right now, far and away the best team in the Northeast Conference. Then there's a logjam of 4 teams vying for a home quarterfinal game (remember, Merrimack remains ineligible for the post-season as they are still considered transitioning to D1).
The surprise? Long Island, despite being just 1-6, remain in the top half of the standings. The feather in its cap is the dominant performance against Delaware St., plus; they've actually played well in their last three losses, all of which were by single-digits on the road at top 200 Kenpom teams.
Another one? Mount St. Mary's has played like a team battling for an NEC playoff berth, not a home game.
A reminder; this is a small sample size. The Mount could go out and win at Santa Clara on Tuesday, and suddenly they are an NEC title contender according to these metrics. They should be taken with a grain of salt, but are interesting nonetheless.
As I wrote above, Nigel Scantlebury is clearly enjoying his time on the court in Patrick Sellers' system. With more room to operate, the 6'0" PG has really gotten to showcase his shooting a bit more than in the past; last season he took just 16.6% of the shots when he was on the floor, compared to 24.1% this season. Let's look at the numbers:
The 50% from beyond the arc is probably not sustainable, but given that he's shooting over 90% from the charity stripe, the shot is clearly improved. Yeah, the assist rate is down a bit, but so are the turnovers. Plus, when you score like Scantlebury can, taking more shots isn't exactly a bad thing.
But is the breakout truly real? According to Shot Quality, Scantlebury is in the 34th percentile in terms of overall shot quality, which is only a slight improvement from last season (32nd percentile). Plus; he's shooting just 46.7% at the rim, which is nearly identical to last season (50%).
If Scantlebury reverts back to a 35% three-point shooter like he was last season, then he's essentially what he was in his 1st year in New Britain; a decent, but not great, scoring point guard. But if he can keep that 3P% in the 40s (he won't shoot 50% all season), then he's a potential All-NEC player. Especially if he can become more consistent at the rim.
The Wagner Defense
I don't want to get ahead of myself, as it's just 4 games. But the Wagner defense appears to be significantly improved from a season ago.
Their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which excludes the pre-season ratings, is currently in the top 20 in the country. For one; they're pressuring the basketball and forcing turnovers, which Bashir Mason-coached teams have often done in years' past. But they're also limiting good looks; according to Shot Quality, their Defensive Shot Quality has improved from 1.11 last season to 1.03 this year, which is 2nd in the NEC. But obviously it's more than that; they're not fouling nearly as often as they did, and they're limiting 2nd chance opportunities.
But, how? It's essentially the same personnel, with a couple of transfers mixed in. A couple theories there; 1) the added depth from guys like Raekwon Rogers, Jahbril Price-Noel, and Ashton Miller has allowed for increased defensive intensity as Bashir Mason can rest the rotation a bit more; and 2) Rogers brings more rim protection to the table, not necessarily as a shot blocker, but as someone who can take up more space and push opposing bigs off the block. According to Hoop Explorer, when Rogers is on the floor, Wagner's Adjusted DE is 79.4, and when he's off it's 88.9.
I'm not sure they can keep this up, but having watched the win over Stony Brook, they do pass the eye test.
The Red Flash's Sophomore Standouts
Last season, SFU wings Maxwell Land and Ronell Giles, Jr. were two of the best freshmen in the NEC. After slow starts, both guys appear to be making their "sophomore jump".
This past week, Land scored 25 points in the two games (3 of 7 from three, 8 of 9 from the charity stripe), with 6 assists and 1 turnover. On the season, Land hasn't shot it as well as he did last season; his eFG% has dipped to 44.3% after being 56.1% as a freshman. However, his efficiency has increased because of what he's doing as a ball-handler; his assist rate has nearly doubled from 6% to 12%, and he's cut his turnover rate from 25.1% to 8.7%. Making more plays for others, and taking care of the rock. The shooting will come; he's made 92.3% of his free throws, so he clearly didn't lose his stroke.
Giles had a similarly good week 25 points, 8 boards, 9 assists, and 2 turnovers in two games. Also similar to Land, Giles' shooting numbers have slipped a bit to start the year; he's made just 5 of 17 from three after shooting nearly 33% a season ago. But his steal rate has jumped to 3.1% from 1.2%, and he's taking care of the basketball, cutting his turnover rate from 20.4% to 11.1%.
A big part of SFU's improvement this season has been due to limiting turnovers, and Land & Giles are a big reason why. And now, it appears, the shooting is coming around as well.
Bryant is now a Defensive Team?
Since Jared Grasso has become the head coach of Bryant, one thing has been clear; he wants to get out and run, which culminated in the 3rd fastest Adjusted Tempo in the country last season.
However, as you all may remember, during the summer Grasso lost his point guard, Michael Green III. And so far, at least on the offensive end, the results have not been good. As you can see in the chart below (data per Torvik), Bryant's Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, based purely on this season's results, have dropped precipitously. Not horrible mind you, but a clear drop from last season.
The issues have mainly been shooting the ball; turnovers and offensive rebounds have been the same. Last season, Bryant shot nearly 38% from three (16th in the country) and 51% from two. This season, they're making just 27.6% of their threes, and 45% of twos, which culminates in a 43.3% eFG% (325th in the country). Anecdotally, there's not enough dribble penetration in the halfcourt, which has resulted in a number of well-guarded three-point attempts.
However, defensively Bryant has been essentially the same on the surface; their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency has been slightly worse than it was last season. So are we selling the Bulldogs?
Not so fast; Bryant's defensive numbers are being skewed by two games; the 93-70 loss at Clemson, where they allowed 1.35ppp, and the 111-44 loss at Houston (1.49ppp). Again, according to Torvik, their Adjusted DE has been below 1.01ppp in 5 of their 6 games that came against teams not named Clemson and Houston, with the lone exception that ugly performance against Bethune-Cookman.
Oh, and if you're looking for a glimmer of hope for the offense; according to Shot Quality, Bryant's SQPPP of 1.04 is tops in the NEC, and just slightly below last season's figure of 1.07. Generally speaking, the Bulldogs are getting good looks and just not converting.
I still think Jared Grasso is missing a pure point guard, which means the offense will not be as good as it was last season. However, the defense is for real, and the shooting is due for some regression. I'm buying.
There are plenty of "old friends" kicking around Division 1 basketball, so let's check in on them every once in awhile. Up first is a former All-NEC 1st teamer.
After scoring 15.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in 2019-20, E.J. Anosike hit the Transfer Portal, leaving Sacred Heart for Tennessee. That was a rough spring for Anthony Latina, who also lost Cameron Parker (Montana) and Koreem Ozier (UL-Monroe).
It clearly didn't work out for Anosike at Tennessee, where his sister Nicky played from 2004-2008; he averaged just 8.5 mpg in 22 games, and by the end of the season wasn't really part of the Vols rotation. Instead of coming back to the northeast (he's from New Jersey, and prepped at St. Thomas More in Connecticut), Anosike went west to Cal St. Fullerton.
So far, Anosike looks like a legit contender (frontrunner?) for Big West Player of the Year; he's averaging 18 points and 8 boards per game, and is shooting 54.5% from the field with a 29% usage rate (two years ago it was just 23.9% at SHU). Fullerton is currently 4-4 and ranked #192 at Kenpom, with wins over George Washington, San Diego, Northern Arizona, and Pacific. In the win over GW, Anosike had 28 points and 11 boards.
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings: As Patrick Sellers gets his bearings as a head coach, one of the things that was clear from the jump was he wanted to see what he had, frequently utilizing an 11-man rotation. However, over the last three games he's increasingly leaned on 4 players; Scantlebury, Ian Krishnan, Zach Newkirk, and Andre Snoddy. Those 4, in the first 6 games of the season, averaged 23.8mpg. Over the last 6? 29.3...Speaking of the Blue Devils, what's up with Tre Mitchell? Last season, Mitchell was CCSU's 3rd leading scorer at 9.4ppg and had a solid 51% eFG%. So far in 21-22? Mitchell is scoring south of 6ppg and has seen his minutes dwindle as he's struggled to make shots...Since putting up an 18/10 double-double on opening night, Merrimack's Ziggy Reid has really had a tough time; just 8 of 55 from the field, and his rebounding rates are below where they were last season...I've been pretty critical of the Long Island backcourt, so they deserve their due. In LIU's loss at Towson this week, Tre Wood scored a season-high 13 points (including 2 of 5 from downtown), with 2 assists and 2 steals (and 2 turnovers). Alex Rivera scored 9 points on 7 field goal attempts, but added 11 rebounds and 3 assists (just 1 turnover). Derek Kellogg needs more of that from those guys going forward...Last season, St. Francis (PA) turned it over on 20.2% of their possessions, which wasn't terrible but was below average. This season, they've coughed it up just 15.4% of the time, 35th best nationally...SFU's Myles Thompson appears to be having a resurgence after a rough 2020-21. His 50.9% eFG% would be a career-high. If this keeps up, I'll dig into it in a later "Jumper"...Sacred Heart is a talented offensive team, but they need to pick it up on the defensive end if they want to compete for a home QF game. They allowed 1.17ppp to a Brown team that has been more offense than defense this season, including 14 of 16 at the rim...Similar to CCSU's Tre Mitchell, the Pios' Mike Sixsmith has gone from one of the most efficient shooters in the country to a 38.6% eFG%, including just 5 of 22 from deep...Deandre Thomas had a week. He hit the game-winning, buzzer-beating three to beat Howard, then scored 14 points in the loss to Loyola. His ability to shoot the three and handle the basketball has been huge for the Mount, but he does appear to have a mid-range issue, as he's made just 2 of 12 from there (and 4 of 18 overall from two)...After starting the season's first 7 games, the Mount's Josh Reaves has played just 1 minute in the last two contests. I'm not sure if there's an injury there, or if he's in Dan Engelstad's dog house. But his shooting numbers have declined sharply from last season as his eFG% has dropped from 50% to 39%...St. Francis-Brooklyn is now 0-8 after losing to Hartford on Sunday, and their eFG% is just 428% (332nd nationally) including just 26.6% from three. Tedrick Wilcox, who has been the Terriers' best perimeter shooter, was absent during the Hartford loss...The FDU coaching staff has really mixed-and-matched lineups and rotations. In 7 games they've had 5 different starting lineups, and ten different players are playing between 10% of the minutes and 50% (with just three, Devon Dunn, Brandon Rush, and Mikey Square, playing more than 50%). It almost feels like a random number generator (it's surely not)...This is probably worth writing about in the near future, but Raekwon Rogers has been exactly what Bashir Mason needed in the frontcourt. A big, bruising 6'8" forward, the Henderson St. transfer has a 67% eFG% and has killed it on the offensive boards...Bryant went heavy with a 1-3-1 zone defense against Cincinnati. That certainly helped keep the Bulldogs in the game until halfway through the 2nd half...and finally, FDU head coach Greg Herenda remains out, and I'm sure we're all hoping for a speedy recovery and return to the sidelines.