The Forecaster: 1/14-1/15
Point spreads per Kenpom
Bryant (-3) at St. Francis (PA), 7pm
Merrimack at Mount St. Mary's (-4), 7pm
Central Connecticut at Sacred Heart (-3), 7pm
Long Island at Wagner (-2), 7pm
Bryant (-3) at St. Francis (PA), 4pm
Merrimack at Mount St. Mary's (-4), 4pm
Long Island at Wagner (-2), 7pm
Series 2 Watch #1: LIU at WC
Layoff- The Seahawks have been off since their double overtime loss to Sacred Heart on 12/22, not through any fault of their own (they were scheduled to play FDU last week before the Knights were shut down due to covid). Wagner is 1-4 overall, 1-3 in the league, though that record may be a bit deceiving; they lost to Bryant 81-75 in the 2nd game of a back-to-back, then destroyed Sacred Heart 74-46 before losing the next night to the Pios in two extra frames. In fact, their Efficiency Margin of +4.8 is currently 3rd in the league, and suggest they've played more like a 3-1 team than a 1-3 team.
Battle of the Boards- Both teams are in the nation's top 64 in terms of offensive rebounding rate; Wagner is grabbing 34.8% of their own misses (31st), while LIU checks in at 32.4% (64th). The difference? The Seahawks are really good on both sides of the ball, allowing opponents to grab just 23.1% of offensive rebounding opportunities? Long Island, not so much (grabbing just 68% on the defensive end). In the Sharks' win over St. Francis (PA) last Friday, the Red Flash tallied 12 offensive boards, while Sacred Heart grabbed 30 combined against LIU in back-to-back games in December. Wagner hasn't shot the ball well yet this season (45% eFG%), but 2nd chance opportunities could help them win at least one of these games.
LIU's cold shooting- Wagner isn't the only team with a 45% eFG%, as LIU comes into the game with exactly the same mark. The Sharks have been more than solid inside the arc (51.2%), but they've made just 23.3% of their three-point attempts. Jermaine Jackson, Jr., who missed Friday's win over SFU, has made 12 of 26 (46.2%) from deep, is the only LIU player shooting better than D1 average from beyond the arc (33.4%). Alex Rivera made 4 of 8 in JJJ's absence last Friday to get his percentage over 30%, but Ty Flowers is 3 for 17, Virshon Cotton is 2 of 15, and the combination of Eral Penn, Tre Wood, Jack Ballantyne, and Kyndall Davis are a combined 0 for 22. LIU is 3-1 thanks to a holding opponents below 0.90ppp through 4 games, but they'll need to get some outside shooting if they want to challenge Bryant.
Is Jackson, Jr. back?- I had high hopes for Jermaine Jackson, Jr. coming into the season, and he's done little to disappoint. After being more of a role player in his first season in Brooklyn after transferring form Detroit, JJJ is now the lead guard for Derek Kellogg with an ability to knock down perimeter shots at a high clip and make plays for others. Through three games, Jackson, Jr. has made 12 of 26 from three and is third on the team in assist rate (17.4%). Though he made 53.5% of his shots at the rim a year ago, he's converted just 3 of 10 this year, though has gotten to the free throw line 13 times in three games. LIU fans should keep their fingers crossed that the junior guard is ready to go on Thursday.
Elijah Ford- The 6'5" senior currently sits as the NEC's leading scorer, pouring in 20.8 ppg after averaging just 9.5 ppg a season ago. An undersized 4-man (who reminds this CCSU grad of Obie Nwadike), Ford is converting an ungodly 73.9% at the rim, which is tops amongst all NEC players who have attempted more than 10 such shots. Between put-backs (he's got a career 8.7% offensive rebounding rate) and getting out in transition, Ford is nearly impossible to stop at the rim. The Sharks will certainly try; their 11.5% block rate is 2nd in the league (behind Wagner's 12.8%).
Series 2 Watch #2: BU at SFU
NCAA Tournament Prospects- Bryant is out to an incredible start, sitting at 5-1 with an Efficiency Margin of +15.5 (only two NEC teams in the Kenpom era have finished with a better EM). As of the current Bracket Matrix, Bryant is the 4th 15-seed in the NCAA Tournament, though Stadium has them as a 13-seed, as does T-Rank. Simply put; Bryant is the NEC's best chance of avoiding the 16-seed line, which the NEC Champ hasn't done since 2010-11 (Long Island). Which brings us to Thursday; according to Kenpom, the Bulldogs are favored to win the rest of their games, though this week's matchups with the Red Flash represent their lowest win probabilities (62%) of the remaining season. Any slip up would have major ramifications on Bryant's potential NCAA Tournament seed, if they happen to win the league's conference tournament.
Bryant converting inside- Jared Grasso has his team taking a lot of threes (41% of their shots, 87th in the nation) and making many of them (40.2%, 12th). However, if you watch Bryant, they don't force threes and instead like to play inside-out, utilizing the dribble drive to attack the rim and either convert layups or kick it out open shooters. On the season, BU is making 52.9% of their shots inside the arc, while the Red Flash are allowing teams to shoot 62.2% on such shots, including a league worst 69.6% at the rim. Rob Krimmel doesn't have much rim protection outside of Mark Flagg (2.8% block rate), and they've struggled to contain penetration. If I'm an SFU fan, I'm concerned with how the Red Flash can contain the dribble-drive, especially when Bryant goes 5-out (with Nate Stokes at the '5'). If Bryant is able to convert a high percentage in the paint, it could be a long two games. I can't help but wonder if 7-foot freshman Jeriah Coleman gets some run this week, especially when Bryant's Hall Elisias is on the floor.
The SFU Offense- Since SFU's upset win at Pitt in their first game of the season, the Red Flash offense has been dreadful; they haven't scored more than 0.92PPP in a game, and in league play their 86.6 points/100 possessions are by far the worst in the league (Mount St. Mary's is 9th at 93 points/100 poss). Through three league games, they have the league's worst turnover rate (26%), get to the line the least (18.8 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts), and their 48.5% eFG% is 7th. Krimmel really needs Myles Thompson, who is shooting 17.2% from three, to find his shot again (he made 34.8% of his 3p attempts last season), and Ramiir Dixon-Conover, who returned last week from an ankle injury, to play like an all-conference point guard.
Sour Patch- Look, Peter Kiss and Michael Green III are well on their way to being All-NEC 1st teamers, and deservedly so. But if I had to take one Bulldog on my team, it might just be Charles Pride. The 6'4" Pride does, quite literally, everything on the floor for Jared Grasso; he scores (13.1 ppg), rebounds (7.1 rpg), makes plays for others (3.1 apg), shoots the three (37.5%), converts at the charity stripe (79.4%), and is one of the best all-around defenders in the NEC. What's even more impressive, however, is that he's accepted his role as the team's 3rd (or 4th) scoring option when he'd be the leading scorer on at least half of the league's teams, if not more. Consummate team player.
The SFU Freshmen- Seniors Mark Flagg and Ramiir Dixon-Conover have been phenomenal for the Red Flash so far this season, but if I'm an SFU fan I'm looking towards the future with a big smile on my face; freshmen have scored 40.1% of the team's points, and are playing ~50% of the team's minutes. Max Land has, perhaps, been the most impressive of the bunch; the 6'4" wing is scoring 8.6 points and grabbing 4.3 rebounds per game while shooting 62.5% (10 of 16) from three. His usage rate is low (12.9%), but he's made shots, taken care of the basketball, and defended. Ronell Giles, Jr. has been very good, if inconsistent; a 6'4" scorer, he's struggled with efficiency (42.7% eFG%) and turnovers (22.6%), but has shown an ability to score off the bounce and make shots at all three levels. In a 3-point loss at LIU last week, Giles scored 19 points on 11 field goal attempts, and also had 3 steals and 4 assists, though he turned it over 6 times. Other first year players Bryce Laskey (34.8% from three), point guard Zahree Harrison (25.3% assist rate), bigs Josh Cohen and Jeriah Coleman, and shooter (and Tic Toc star) Luke Ruggery should all be significant contributors for Krimmel for years to come.