The Mid-Range Jumper: 1/19/21
Standings: Sorted by Efficiency Margin, as always.
Team of the Week: Mount St. Mary's
Perhaps Merrimack isn't as good as many expected them to be prior to the season, but anytime you can win back-to-back games, by double digits no less, it's a good week. For the Mount, it was all about the defense; they held the Warriors to 0.81ppp in both games; Merrimack's eFG% was below 40% in each contest, and shot 10-39 from three overall.
Offensively, Damian Chong Qui was a stud for Dan Engelstad; the junior point man scored 29 points and had 14 assists, including a 10/10 double-double on Friday, knocking down 11-12 from the charity stripe and 2-4 from long range. They also got major lifts from newly-eligible transfer Deandre Thomas and freshman Josh Reaves (more on each of them in a bit).
Mount St. Mary's now sits at 3-2 in the league, and their +6.6 Efficiency Margin puts them 3rd (just behind LIU at +6.7). Projected to win their next 6 games (CCSU, Wagner, Sacred Heart), February will be quite the gauntlet; Bryant, LIU, FDU, then finishing up with a single game at SFU. Get through January, Mount fans.
Team Performance of the Week: SFU 89, Bryant 82
Losers of six in a row, the Red Flash welcomed the Bulldogs into DeGol Arena; the same Bulldogs who were the darlings of the mid-major world, sneaking into the top 90 in the NET, and the clear favorites in the NEC race. So what happened? Naturally St. Francis (PA) took care of business, knocking off Bryant 89-82.
It was the first time all season that Bryant had been held below 1.04ppp by a non-power 5 team (they scored 0.98ppp at Syracuse), as the Red Flash held the Bulldogs to just 7 of 28 from three (46.8% eFG%). On the other side of the ball, Rob Krimmel had five players score in double-figures, led by Ronell Giles' 21 points, Max Land's 17, and Ramiir Dixon-Conover's 11 points, 10 assists and 7 assists.
Player of the Week: Ty Flowers, Long Island
Damian Chong Qui and Alex Morales won the NEC's Co-Players of the Week this past week, and while both were really good, for me it was Ty Flowers. The 6'9" forward went for 27 and 8 in the Sharks' win over Wagner, then went for 11 and 5 on Friday. However, the reason why he's here is not just the points and rebounds; he added 6 steals, 4 blocks, and 4 steals on the week, and continues to stuff the stat sheet for LIU while rarely coming off the floor. What's more; after coming into the week shooting 3 for 17 from three, he made 5 of 10 from deep against the Seahawks. If he's truly found his stroke, the league's POY could be his to lose.
Freshman of the Week: Josh Reaves, Mount St. Mary's
Reaves, a 6'4" wing, has been perhaps the biggest beneficiary of playing time since Jalen Gibbs left the Mount program; prior to Christmas, Reaves was averaging 16.8 minutes per game. Since then? 27.8 mpg. He's rewarded Dan Engelstad with some really solid play, especially on the perimeter; last week he made 7 of 10 from three on his way to averaging 12.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.
Most Improved Players
Last week we looked at guys who have had slow starts compared to how they played last year. This week I wanted to look at which players may be candidates for the Most Improved Player Award.
Brandon Rush, Fairleigh Dickinson- It's been awhile since we've seen FDU play, but let's not forget about Brandon Rush. The 6'3" sophomore played just 39% of minutes last season as the only thing he really provided as an offensive player was three-point shooting (32%). This season? Rush is shooting a blazing 45.2% from three and has improved inside the arc while increasing his eFG% from 48% to 61.6%. What's more; his assist rate is up from 4.4% to 11.8%, and his turnovers are down. Who had Rush leading the Knights in scoring at 15.9 ppg? Certainly not me. But with that kind of athleticism, he's here to stay.
Ramiir Dixon-Conover, St. Francis (PA)- The man they call RDC has always provided tremendous athleticism at the point guard spot. The issue last season? A 35.6% turnover rate, which resulted in an 89.6 O-Rating on just 15.6% usage in 2020-21. Now a senior, Dixon-Conover's turnover rate has been cut to a much more manageable 21.9%. Oh, and his assist rate is 37.4% (up from 17.8%). Through six games (he missed time due to an ankle injury), he's averaging 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game, a far cry from last season's 8.7/4.9/4.5. He's got an uncanny ability to finish at the rim, and despite being left-handed, likes to use his right-hand around the basket.
Elijah Ford, Wagner- Last season, Ford was one of the best rebounders in the league, but offensively carried a 47.5% eFG% and averaged just 9.5 ppg. As a senior, he's become a much larger part of the offense (his usage rate is up from 22.2% to 27%) and yet has become more efficient with a 62.1% eFG%. That's how you see your scoring average get up past 20 ppg. Given his size and athleticism, he's tough to stop when he gets a full head of steam going toward the basket, especially in transition.
Will Martinez, Wagner- Ford is not the only Wagner player to see a dramatic improvement year-over-year. A 6'5" wing, Martinez has continued to be a big-time playmaker for Bashir Mason, carrying an assist rate north of 30%. However, in his first season on Staten Island his eFG% was just 36.4% as he really struggled from three (17.4%) and took a ton of mid-range jumpers (41% of his attempts), not making many of them (29%). This season the shot selection has been much better as he's focused on attacking the rim (9 for 15), and appears to have improved his jump shot (3 for 6 from deep).
Michael Green III, Bryant- One of the frontrunners for league POY, my question coming into the season was; could MG3 become more efficient shooting the basketball? As a freshman he shot just 27% from deep and 41% from inside the arc (40.9% eFG%). Well, the answer has been a resounding "yes". The NYC point guard is shooting 37.3% from deep this season on more attempts (75 in 12 games, 75 in 31 a season ago), 45% from two, and his turnover rate is down from 22% to 18.9%. All that adds up to a significantly higher O-Rating (90.3 to 104.8) on higher usage (24.4% to 26.4%).
Charles Pride, Bryant- I've gushed about Pride in this space plenty this season, but let's do it some more. The sophomore wing has improved his eFG% from 46.8% to 56.5% thanks to an improved jumper (37% from three, compared to 27.4% a season ago), and better shot selection (he's taken just 10 mid-range jumpers, and his converting over 60% at the rim). He's rebounding better on the defensive end, his assist rate is up to 17.1% from 13.1%, and he's gotten to the free throw line 44 times in 12 games (48 times in 28 games last season).
Tyler Thomas, Sacred Heart- After losing 5 of their top 6 scorers, Anthony Latina needed someone to step up and put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis. Enter the sophomore wing, who has improved his scoring average from 5.6 ppg as a freshman to 19.1 ppg this season. While is eFG% is essentially unchanged (~43%), he's done it on nearly a 30% usage rate (16.1% last season), as he's been asked to carry a hefty load for the Pios. However, it's not just the scoring; his assist rate is up to 22.8% (3.3 per game) from 5.8% as a first-year player.
Mikey Watkins, Merrimack- Last season, Watkins was usually the 5th scoring option for Joe Gallo; his usage rate was just 17.6%, though he did a nice job shooting the basketball (35% from three) on limited attempts (56). It's just 4 games, but it's clear things have changed for the junior guard; his usage rate is up to 22.6% and his assist rate, which was just 12.2% as a sophomore, is up to 20.6%.
When you peak at the standings, it's easy to overlook St. Francis (PA), as they're currently dead last in the league with a 1-3 record. However, the empirical evidence suggests they're still very much in the hunt to finish in the top 4 and qualify for the NEC Tournament. Let's do this in bullet-point fashion;
Per Bart Torvik, they've had the most difficult conference schedule to date (at Mount St. Mary's, at LIU, vs. Bryant)
Again per Torvik, their remaining conference schedule is the easiest among NEC teams (just one game remaining against a team that currently is projected to finish with a winning record in league play)
Ramiir Dixon-Conover is now healthy, and playing like one of the best PGs in the league
Mark Flagg is a difficult matchup as one of the best big-men in the NEC
Marlon Hargis, a 6'7" transfer from Holy Cross, is now eligible and averaged 13 points and 7.5 rebounds in the two games vs. Bryant last week.
Freshmen Ronell Giles and Max Land are playing like All-Rookie Team players, while 6'10" RS freshman Josh Cohen gave Krimmel some really good minutes last week.
The Red Flash looked really good last week in giving the Bulldogs all they could handle, winning on Thursday before falling 72-63 on Friday. What was interesting was, late in both games Krimmel opted to play "small-ball" with Myles Thompson at the the '5' and Hargis at the '4', which gave them more quickness and athleticism. With Hargis, who was ruled eligible last week prior to the Bryant games, in the fold, the Red Flash have more depth and versatility than they have had all season long. Their next six games consist of roadies at Sacred Heart, the youngest team in the league, followed by home tilts against FDU, which has been shut down for the better part of a month due to covid, and Central Connecticut, which has really struggled on both sides of the ball, especially since the calendar flipped. Don't be shocked to see SFU sitting above .500 as we head into February.
Morales, a 6'6" senior "point-wing", is the most heavily used player in the Northeast Conference, carrying a 32% usage rate. With Elijah Ford, the league's leading scorer, out due to injury, Morales had two very good, albeit very different, games against LIU last week.
In Wagner's 77-66 loss on Thursday, Morales scored 25 points on 19 field goal attempts, had 7 boards, but had just 1 assist and 6 turnovers. On Friday, in the team's 76-74 win, Morales hit the game-winner to earn a 10 point, 14 assist double-double, with just 3 turnovers.
We knew the 6'7" big man from Haiti would be able to rebound the ball in the NEC; at North Alabama in 2019-20, he had a 28.2% defensive rebounding rate and 11.3% offensive rebounding rate in limited minutes, and he average nearly 9 rpg at Harcum JC last season. But did anyone expect this?
The Pio big man is averaging 10 rpg through 7 games this season, which is impressive enough. However, he's playing just 48.7% of available minutes, which is 7th on the team. In last week's win over CCSU, Dutreil grabbed 19 rebounds, to go along with a season-best 15 points, in 28 minutes. While he's struggled offensively (34% eFG), Dutreil leads the league in both offensive rebounding rate and defensive rebounding rate, and is clearly the best board-man in the NEC.
Thanks to their loss at SFU last Thursday, Bryant has dropped in the NET...but not as far as one might think. They currently sit at #96, and remain the final #15 seed according to Bracket Matrix. CBS' Jerry Palm has them as a 14, while Stadium and Brad-Ketology are the lone bracketologists that have them on the 13-line.
Despite the loss, Bart Torvik has Bryant as 51.6% to win the NEC's Auto-bid, followed by LIU (16.4%) and Mount St. Mary's (11.9%). No other team is above 5.4%.
For what it's worth, a few brackets have LIU as the NEC's winner (probably because they updated on Friday morning when the Sharks were technically in 1st place), and was a 14-seed in one bracket, with an average of 15.25, putting them right at that 15/16 line.
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings
Josh Cohen, a 6'10" red-shirt freshman, played a season high 18 minutes in SFU's 72-63 loss to Bryant on Friday. The backup big-man finished with 9 points and 8 boards (5 on the offensive end), and really showed a nice touch around the rim and some solid athleticism for someone his size. Mark Flagg is a stud, but Cohen is the big man of the future in Loretto..Jared Grasso went with wing-heavy lineups last week, specifically on Friday. Surrounding Hall Elisias with drivers/shooters such as Michael Green III, Charles Pride, Peter Kiss, and Chris Childs can certainly work, especially with the way Pride and Kiss rebound the ball...Despite being listed at just 6'0", Wagner's DeLonnie Hunt is unafraid of getting to the rim. Through 7 games, he's attempted 35 such shots, and while he's made just 11 (31.4%), that kind of aggressiveness helped lead the Seahawks to a 76-74 win over LIU on Friday, as the freshman combo guard went for 15 points (4 of 8 at the rim). Bashir Mason appears to really have something here, especially if Hunt can improve the jump shot (9 for 33 from three, 4 of 8 from the free throw line)...DeAndre Thomas becoming eligible has been a godsend for Dan Engelstad. A 6'5" combo guard who played two seasons at Samford, Thomas scored 18 points on 7 field goal attempts in Friday's win over Merrimack, and has added another ball-handler to the rotation. Thomas has made 8 of his 14 3P attempts through 4 games after making them at a 27.8% clip last season. However, as a freshman he made 49% of his shots from beyond the arc. It looks like last season was an anomaly...It's just 4 games, but I'm pretty worried about the Merrimack defense. A season ago, in their first season in D1, the Warriors had by far the best defense in the Northeast Conference, allowing just 90.3 points per 100 possessions in league play. So far this season, they're allowing nearly 107 points/100 poss., which is 2nd worst behind FDU's 110.7. On 1/7 Sacred Heart put up 1.13ppp, which was (and is) the Pios' best offensive output of the season, and last Thursday Mount St. Mary's scored nearly 1.10ppp, their 2nd best offensive performance in 2020-21. Merrimack is still forcing turnovers at a high level (24.4%, 1st in the NEC), but have allowed teams to shoot 45.1% from three and 48% from two (56.2% eFG%, 9th in the league). What's more concerning, however, is that they're allowing teams to grab 31.5% of their own misses, which is a league worst. This has been a strange season, as the Warriors didn't play a game until 1/7 as they went through multiple covid-related shut downs, so that could be partially to blame. But it's a surprising development, to say the least...As a freshman, Jordan McKoy played just 19.4% of minutes, and didn't do much to suggest he should have played more; he made 4 of 18 from three (34.3% eFG%) in limited time. As a sophomore, however, the 6'5" Merrimack wing has looked like one of the best shooters in the NEC. Through 4 games he's shooting 6 of 9 from deep (91.7% eFG%) in 52.7% of available minutes. His usage rate of 8.6% suggests he's not much more than a shooter at this stage of his development, but after scoring 11 points in 27 minutes last Friday, he may be in line for more run...Eral Penn didn't make my "Most Improved" list above because he didn't play last season due to injury, but the LIU big man looks like a different player than he did two seasons ago. Prior to this season, he had made just five three-pointers, and through six games this season he's already made 4, and while his eFG% is down a touch (58.8%), he's much more involved in the offense (21.1% usage, compared to 14.6% as a sophomore), has seen his assist rate go up from 3.1% to 10%, and he's converting nearly 64% at the rim. Oh, and he's 4th in the league in block rate and 13th in steal rate...I couldn't be more excited for Thursday's St. Francis-Brooklyn/LIU game. Kenpom projects just four teams with winning records, and the Terriers and Sharks are two of them. The return game, in Brooklyn Heights, is next Saturday...The NCAA put out an announcement that the tournament will be seeded in a true S-curve, with geography not a factor. This makes sense given that the entire tournament will be in one location.