NEC Roster Movement Update: 3/30/22
Of course the big news this week is Bryant leaving the Northeast Conference for the America East. I really don't have much to say about it; this has been in motion for weeks, and it's a fact that the AE is a step up from the NEC. The NEC came out with the following release:
I'm not sure what options the league has to replace Bryant. The rumor mill has the University of New Haven, as well as Stonehill College, as possible replacements. Could the NEC tempt any MEAC schools? Howard University is an associate member in a number of sports. Time will tell, but lose a couple more schools and the league would be in a precarious situation.
A lot has happened over the last week plus in terms of roster movement, as a number of NEC players have entered the Transfer Portal including Tyler Thomas, whom I wrote about here. However, since Thomas' announcement, the only true rotation player who has entered the Portal is Merrimack point guard Mikey Watkins. Since the most recent update, no NEC school has received a player commitment.
One minor event to note; Former Merrimack redshirt freshman Joshua Chesney has committed to St. Edward's, a D2 school in Texas.
Mikey Watkins (Merrimack)
This week's headliner, Watkins was a 3-year starter who took over for Juvaris Hayes at the point guard position in 2020-21, and this past season led the NEC in assists with 4.6 per game, and finished 3rd on the team in scoring (9.7 ppg) while spear-heading the Merrimack zone defense and finishing 4th in the league in steals (1.8 per game).
Watkins did struggle with his shot in each of his last two seasons; after making nearly 36% from deep as a sophomore, he was just 38 of 122 (31.1%) in his final two years, and in 21-22 his O-Rating sunk to 88.7 (23.2% usage) thanks to a 44.7% eFG% which was partially due to making just 36.6% of his 2-point jumpers, plus a 24.2% turnover rate.
Listed at 5'11" 175 lbs., Watkins isn't overly athletic or dynamic, though he does have two elite skills; passing and defending. A New Jersey native, I'd have to think that a northeast D1 would have interest in Watkins as a pure point guard, especially a team that has significant scoring on the wing. He's got one year remaining, and I'd imagine he'd want an opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament given that Merrimack will be ineligible for post-season for one more season thanks to its transition from Division 2.
For Merrimack, the answer here is Malik Edmead. The 5'10" point guard saw a significant increase in playing time this past season (57.8%, 27% usage rate) and massively improved as a three-point shooter; he made just 3 of 17 as a freshman, then knocked down 40.3% of his 67 three-point attempts this past season. Joe Gallo will likely turn the keys to the offense over to the 3rd-year junior, who has the chance to be an elite scoring point guard in this league. The coaching staff does have commitments from two high school guards; Chevalier Emery, Jr., a 6'1" combo-guard from Wisconsin who likes to use his quickness to get into the lane, and Javon Bennett, a skilled play-making guard from Orlando who had three offers from Atlantic Sun schools. Both will likely get opportunities to play right away behind Edmead and sharp-shooter Mykel Derring.
Vuk Stevanic and Kasper Suurorg (St. Francis-Brooklyn)
The primary big man in 20-21, the 6'8" 228 lb. true senior battled injuries and ineffectiveness this past season, and when he returned after missing 7 games he had been passed on the depth chart by Jack Hemphill. After playing two years at Highland Community College, the Serbian shot 55.3% from the field as a junior. However, this past season he made just 25% of his field goal attempts, including 0 for 8 from deep. Stevanic, who has one year of eligibility remaining, is a solid rim protector and very good passer from the 5-spot. I could see another D1 looking to fill a back-up role giving Stevanic a call, though I also wouldn't be surprised if he ended up at a non-D1.
While the depth at the '5' for the Terriers takes a hit, Hemphill should return for his super-senior year, and he provides both rim protection and an ability to stretch the defense (23 of 74 from deep). Junior 6'7" big Elijah Hardison probably enters the season as the back-up, though I'd expect Glenn Braica to be active in the Transfer Portal as he normally is.
Suurorg, a 6'6" "big wing" from Estonia, played just 9.7% of available minutes last season, putting up a 37.5% eFG% (4 of 16 from three). The freshman was stuck behind a host of wings, and a step-down in level is likely in the cards.
Hegel Augustin (Central Connecticut)
Augustin averaged over 20 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game at D2 Glenville St. in 2020-21, then came to CCSU for his grad season. However, a knee injury during the pre-season caused him to miss the year. A 6'3" 205 lb. versatile "big wing" and Queens native, I can't help but wonder if his knee just didn't quite bounce back post-injury.
With Augustin and Ian Krishnan in the Transfer Portal, Patrick Sellers doesn't have much depth remaining on the wing, with Tre Mitchell and incoming freshman TJ Holloway the only true wings on the roster. However, he's made overtures on players currently in the Portal, and I'd expect his focus to be on adding an experienced and versatile wing (or two).
Devin Nicholson (Long Island)
Nicholson was a walk-on who appeared in 18 games over two seasons (2020 and 2022). He's from nearby Staten Island.
Dante Bouchard (Mount St. Mary's)
Another walk-on, the 6'0" guard is from Gloversville, NY and prepped at IMG Academy. Bouchard redshirted in his lone season at the Mount, and should have four seasons of eligibility remaining.