NEC Off-Season Update: 5/4/22

Last week the third domino in the conference realignment game fell, as Mount St. Mary's has officially joined the MAAC. With Bryant gone to the America East, and Stonehill into the NEC, the league is back to 9 programs, only 7 of which are eligible for post-season play (one more year for Merrimack). Where does the league go from here? Great question! The University of New Haven is long been rumored to be interested in joining the D1 ranks, though I've heard that neither Sacred Heart or Central Connecticut are on board with that idea. I've also heard rumblings regarding the NEC being in talks with one or two current D1s (MEAC schools?). Nothing concrete yet, so we wait.


Down in Teaneck, FDU wrapped up its coaching search rather quickly, naming Tobin Anderson as the successor to Greg Herenda. Anderson has been the head coach at St. Thomas Aquinas (D2) since 2013, earning ECC Coach of the Year in 2015 & 2016, and the Met Writer's Coach of the Year in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Last season STAC finished 28-5 overall, losing to Bentley 82-75 in the East Regional Finals. If you followed me on Twitter during CCSU's head coaching search last season, you'll know that I'm a huge fan of Anderson; he's shown that he can win, and he plays with a distinct up-and-down style (they finished 18th in D2 in scoring at 84.9 ppg).

Anderson has a lot of contacts in, and around, the tri-state area, and should hit the ground running, especially given that, per Hoop Dirt, Anderson is bringing his entire coaching staff with him from STAC. It's also worth noting that Mike Holloway, Jr. is still listed on the team site as a Grad Assistant.


***(To be clear, as a CCSU alum I'm absolutely thrilled with Patrick Sellers, and I also would have been happy with current St. Bonaventure Associate HC Steve Curran or any of the other finalists. CCSU was choosing from a number of qualified coaches last April)***


Also a bit of scheduling news; according to CBS Sports' Matt Norlander, the majority of mid-major conferences are working towards a scheduling concept that would pit schools against similarly rated teams (determined via a computer model) in back-to-back games in February. It's kind of like Bracket Busters, except on steroids. From what I understand; schools with limited budgets (such as most NEC schools) would play two games (1 home, 1 away) against teams in their region. For instance, last season Central Connecticut (rated#346 at Kenpom) may have played a road game at Holy Cross (#349) and a home game against Maine (#354). These games would theoretically replace two non-conference games in November/December, and would make coaches lives easier as it would be two fewer games they'd have to schedule on their own. Personally, I love it. Imagine seeing Wagner and Bryant getting the opportunity to play other strong, regional teams as we headed down the stretch in 2022 (against, say, Iona and Vermont, respectively). Huge games for the schools, and for the leagues. With high majors becoming less and less inclined to play mids, this would be a great thing for the Northeast Conference to be involved in.


The May 1st deadline for players to enter the Transfer Portal and be immediately eligible has come and gone. Does that mean we won't see anymore players leave? Of course not. Things happen, and given the pandemic, I'd expect the NCAA to be pretty lenient when it comes to waivers (especially in "run-off" situations). With that said, I'd guess that, broadly speaking, these updates will be more about players "coming" than "going".


In case you missed it, I've created this handy Google Sheet to track transfers, prep commits, and projected rotations, as well as coaching staffs. If you're curious about, say, how many programs only have two paid assistant coaches, you can find it there.


Comings

Maurice Commander (Long Island)

A 6'0" combo-guard from Chicago, Commander last played for Illinois-Chicago in 2020-21 when he averaged 10.5 points and 2.3 assists in 32.2 minutes per game, shooting 43.2% from three (54% eFG%). Commander, who began his career at Chattanooga, did not play in 21-22 and should have two years of eligibility remaining.


Commander, who committed back in January but it largely went under the radar, profiles as a shooting combo-guard; he's got a career 35.2% 3P% to go along with a 14.8% assist rate and 17.8% turnover rate. He's got a reputation as a knock-down shooter who is also comfortable as a floor general, and he's shown an ability to create his own shot. After earning the starting PG role as a freshman, Commander hurt his foot in the first game of the season and struggled to catch up, though did play over 70% of available minutes as a sophomore.


So where does Commander fit in Derek Kellogg's rotation? Tre Wood is the incumbent at PG, and while his season long numbers (85.4 O-Rating on 16.4% usage) were not good, he was better in league play (94.8 O-Rating) thanks to a 22.2% assist rate, an ability to be a good perimeter defender, and 8 made 3-pointers (on 32 attempts). Alex Rivera had a solid season playing off the ball, knocking down 37.2% from deep (52.3% eFG%). While Commander isn't exactly a high usage guy (career 15.2%, 16.1% at UIC), my best guess would be that he takes over as the starter at the '1', and also sees time off the ball playing alongside Wood. Those three should form a nice back-court rotation with ample play-making and shooting, though will be on the smaller side (Wood is just 6'0", while Rivera is 6'1").


I currently have LIU at 14 scholarships which means something has got to give. However, I've heard some rumblings that it's not a lock that both Eral Penn and Isaac Kante, both of whom have 1 year of eligibility remaining, return. If that's the case, I'd expect Kellogg to be looking hard at big men in the Transfer Portal. It's also notable that the Sharks are the only program in the NEC that have not had a scholarship enter the Transfer Portal.


Jay Rodgers (Central Connecticut)

Rodgers, a 6'3" scoring combo-guard, played last season at Cochise College, a D1 Junior College out in Sierra Vista, Arizona, where he averaged 17.8 points and 3.2 assists per game on his way to earning All-Conference, All-Region, and Honorable Mention NJCAA All-American honors. Cochise finished 29-4 overall, losing to Salt Lake CC in the West District Championship game. The lefty made 40% of his 222 three-point attempts (47.2% overall).

Originally from Ohio, Rodgers prepped at The Winchendon School in Massachusetts where a huge season put him on the map, and earned him offers from a number of schools including Mount St. Mary's, Quinnipiac, Illinois-Chicago, and Eastern Michigan. Rodgers ultimately ended up at New Orleans (Southland) where he managed to play just 20 minutes across 11 games. Current Blue Devils assistant coach Lenny Jefferson was the Associate Head Coach at Winchendon when Rodgers was there, which helped ultimately get him to Central Connecticut.


A high-usage scorer who can get buckets at all three levels, Rodgers will likely slot in at the '2' while playing alongside Nigel Scantlebury, and the two should form a dynamic backcourt with both guys comfortable being both shooter and play-maker. One of CCSU's biggest problems last season was a lack of an ability to get into the lane via the dribble drive, as well as shot creation, two things Rodgers has the ability to do well. Rodgers is the first JUCO player Patrick Sellers has brought to New Britain.


CCSU now has three scholarships available and a real need on the wing; right now their only true "small forward" is 6'5" freshman TJ Holloway. I'd imagine finding two 3&D wings is at the top of the priority list, as is a stretchy-4 type.


Josiah Harris (St. Francis-Brooklyn)

A 6'8", 220 lb. big from Delaware, Harris spent one year at Hutchinson CC in Kansas where he started 16 games, averaging 6 points and 6 boards while shooting 41.3% from the field. A true big, Harris did show an ability to step out and shoot it, though was inconsistent making just 8 out of 30 from deep and 22 of 44 from the free throw line.


Harris, who has three years of eligibility remaining, should provide rebounding and some rim protection (39 blocks in 32 games), and will likely be the back-up to incumbent '5' Jack Hemphill. Over the last few seasons, Glenn Braica has shown a penchant for bringing in good passing bigs, and Harris did average nearly 1 assist per game, which is solid for someone of his size. Between Harris, Hemphill, and rising junior Elijah Hardison (6'7" 225 lbs.), the Terriers should be set at the '5', while Patrick Emilien will likely be SFC's "go-to-guy" while playing the '4'.


Harris is the 2nd commit for 22-23, joining wing Zion Bethea who came over after 1 year at Hofstra. With 1 scholarship available, I'd expect the SFC staff to continue to be active in the Transfer Portal, and I wouldn't be surprised if they brought in a true PG to backup, or play alongside, Rob Higgins.


Max Zegarowski (Stonehill)

A 6'6" 201 lb. "stretchy-4", Zegarowski spent the last three seasons at Franklin & Pierce after playing one season at Lynn Unversity, and in 21-22 averaged 14.9 points and 6 boards per game while making 71 of his 165 three-point attempts.


Zegarowski, who is from Massachusetts and prepped at the Tilton School, is a knock-down shooter; in 55 games (31 starts) at F&P, he made 125 of 293 from deep and was an 88% free throw shooter. As a prep senior, Zegarowski was ranked #45 in 2018 New England by New England Recruiting Report, which was ahead of a number of D1 commits such as Ian Krishnan (#58) and Cameron Parker (#61). His twin brother, Marcus, was a star at Creighton and a 2nd round pick of the Brooklyn Nets last May.


With 6'6" 200 lb. Andrew Sims (15.2 points, 6.2 boards) entrenched as a face-up '5', Zegarowski should provide size and shooting at the '4'. It still remains to be seen how the Stonehill scholarship situation will work out; as of right now I have them at 17 scholarships including two prep commits. Assuming 2nd leading scorer Owen Chose (14.7 ppg) returns (he's spent 5 years at SC though red-shirted one season), the additions of Briggs McClain (via Hartford) and Zegarowski should combine with Sims and 6'5" play-maker Isaiah Burnett to form a solid starting '5'.


Goings

Oscar Berry (Fairleigh Dickinson)

A sharp-shooter from Australia, Berry finally got a chance to play significantly in February (56.2% of available minutes), and rewarded the coaching staff with a 63.5% eFG% (18 of 38 from deep). On the season, the 6'4" wing shot 43.7% from three (61.4% eFG%), and according to Shot Quality, was in the 98th percentile on "catch and shoot 3s" (1.36 SQPPP).


Given the firing of Greg Herenda, it's not surprising to see Berry enter the Transfer Portal, and perhaps the only surprising part is that guys like Mikey Square, Anquan Hill, and all of the other young players have not. I'd imagine there's a D1 spot somewhere for a guy who can shoot it like Berry though he offers little else; his usage rate of 13.7% indicates that he's largely a 1-dimensional offensive player, and his 10 attempts at the rim (compared to 71 3p attempts and 24 mid-range jumpers) further back that up.


I'd imagine there's a chance Berry could return to Teaneck (multiple CCSU players entered the Portal last season and returned after meeting with Pat Sellers after he was hired), and given that Berry was probably the 2nd best freshman on FDU's roster last season, he should be prioritized by new head coach Tobin Anderson.