The Mid-Range Jumper: 11/30/20
There were just a dozen games featuring NEC teams, but you know what? That was 12 more than we had the week before, and they were glorious. Let's get to it.
Team of the Week: Bryant
Wait, what? Bryant lost their only game last week, and SFU knocked off PITTSBURGH! What gives? I'm cheating a bit-this gives me the opportunity to talk about TWO teams right off the jump, rather than just one. We'll talk Red Flash in a minute. Plus; one could make the argument losing to Syracuse (pre-season #30 at Kenpom) is more impressive than beating Pitt (pre-season #84 at Kenpom). Anyway; the Bulldogs took 'Cuse to the wire, with both Peter Kiss and Michael Green III missing decent looks with an opportunity to win in the final seconds. Bryant only got 10 minutes from Melo Eggleston, who left in the 1st half due to an apparent injury, while Kiss, the Rutgers transfer, was just 2-10 from downtown, and Green was 1 for 7 from deep. However, Jared Grasso got major lifts from Charles Pride (15 points on 8 shot attempts) and Chris Childs (5 for 9 from three), and they assisted on 19 of their 31 field goal attempts.
Of course, it's not necessarily what they did on the court that earned them the team of the week. There was also this; at halftime, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim blamed his team's 7-point deficit on the fact that they were shut-down for 14 days due to a positive COVID test, and suggested that the game should have been canceled. After the game, Jared Grasso went off, pulling back the onion a bit and sharing that Syracuse had plenty of opportunities to cancel the game. You can go read a good recap of it here, courtesy of Mid-Major Madness.
Personally, I love it; Grasso didn't allow himself to be bullied by the Hall of Fame coach, and rightfully so. So yeah, his squad lost, but they earned "Team of the Week".
Best Win: St. Francis 80, Pittsburgh 70
No, Bryant losing by 1 to Syracuse was not more impressive than the Red Flash's beatdown of the Panthers. SFU led by as many as 20 in the 2nd half, and their lead was never fewer than 10 points in the final 20 minutes of the game. Rob Krimmel's club was nails on both sides of the ball; they were able to score 1.05 PPP and held Pitt to just 0.92 PPP, both extremely good when considering the level of competition. Ramiir Dixon-Conover, whom I've questioned as a legit top-division point guard on these very here pages, was outstanding in this one; 21 points on 9 field goal attempts, 5 assists and 5 boards to go along with his usual elite perimeter defense which resulted in 4 steals. Krimmel used 8 players more than 9 minutes, and three of them were freshmen playing in their first games and they did not disappoint; Max Land was 3 for 5 from deep (21 points, 3 boards), Ronell Giles scored 10 points and added a couple of assists, and Zahree Harrison hit a couple of big free throws, and also had two steals. SFU held Pitt to 6 of 24 from downtown, and also forced 23 turnovers (30% rate).. Remember when I picked them 7th, and questioned why the projection systems were so high on St. Francis (PA)? lol
Player of the Week: Jalen Gibbs, Mount St. Mary's
The Mount went 1-2 last week, which could be considered a bit of a disappointment; the loss to Maryland was expected, but they split a pair of "coin flip games" by winning at Morgan St. and losing to Navy at the University of Maryland. Of course, the losses weren't Jalen Gibbs' fault. The senior wing averaged 17.7 points and nearly 4 boards per game last week, putting up a 51.4% eFG% thanks to hitting 9 of 21 from downtown, and also converted 16 of 19 from the free throw line. His 52.8% free throw rate far surpasses his career 25.1% rate, as does his usage rate (25.1% through 3 games, compared to 18.9 last season). If Gibbs can continue to be a big-time scorer for Dan Engelstad, the Mount has a shot.
Others Considered: Ramiir Dixon-Conover, SFU; Mark Flagg, SFU; Charles Pride, Bryant; Brandon Rush, FDU
Freshman of the Week: Maxwell Land, St. Francis (PA)
Land, a 6'4" wing, earned the start in each of his first two collegiate games and did not disappoint. The lefty averaged 11 points and 3.5 rebounds in ~25 minutes per game, knocking down 4 of 6 from downtown. Land has a 64.3% eFG% through two games, and looks like the best of the bunch for Rob Krimmel.
Others Considered: Pier-Olivier Racine, FDU; Mike Sixsmith, SHU
Prior to Fairleigh Dickinson's 1st game of the season (an 84-66 loss to Quinnipiac), it was announced that Xzavier Malone-Key was entering the Transfer Portal, and Devon Dunn was opting out of the season. Those are both heavy blows to Greg Herenda and the Knights, who were picked by the coaches to win the league. XMK was expected to be the team's 2nd leading scorer and one of the better wing players in the NEC, while Dunn was one of the best three-point shooters in the league last season. These losses likely pull FDU back toward the middle of the pack, and opens up the league for teams like Bryant, St. Francis (PA), and Mount St. Mary's, as well as Long Island (my pick to win the league) to make a run at a title.
As I mentioned above, there was just twelve games featuring NEC teams, and only six programs have been in action so far: Bryant, Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, Mount St. Mary's, Sacred Heart, and St. Francis (PA).
Merrimack and Sacred Heart are currently each in a covid-related shutdown, while Long Island previously announced they would only play conference games. There have been no announcements regarding Wagner and St. Francis-Brooklyn.
One of my favorite aspects of the early season non-conference games is getting to see how newcomers are utilized. This season there have been a number of new faces; D1 transfers, JUCO transfers, and freshmen. Let's go around the league:
Bryant- It's a small sample size, but as expected Peter Kiss (Rutgers) and Melo Eggleston (Arkansas St.) earned starts, while Chris Childs (JUCO) came off the bench to knock down five three-pointers, and Luis Hurtado, Jr. (UAB) played 24 points off the bench, scoring 5 points and adding 6 assists and 5 boards. Grasso did not play any of the three freshmen on the roster, nor did Darius Guinn (JUCO Transfer) or Luke Sutherland (Siena transfer) see time.
Central Connecticut- Nigel Scantlebury (JUCO transfer), as I predicted, saw the majority of time at the point guard in both of CCSU's losses (62.5%) and carried a heavy 25.3% usage rate. He really struggled from the field (5 for 15 overall, 0 for 3 from downtown) and he turned it over 7 times, but did have 6 assists. Tre Mitchell, another JUCO guy, was featured more on the wing and played nearly 50% of minutes, and also struggled going just 2 for 8 from three.
Fairleigh Dickinson- With the losses of Malone-Key and Dunn, there are more minutes available than expected. Pier-Olivier Racine, a 6'8" freshman big, was dynamite for Greg Herenda, putting up a double-double (15 points, 10 boards) in his 2nd career game against Rutgers, a top 25 team. Through two games, POR is averaging 10 points and 9 boards, has 5 blocks (all of which came against Quinnipiac), and he's shooting 8 for 11 at the rim (it was close between him and Land for Freshman of the Week). Freshman Mikey Square, a 6'6" small-ball-4, played 17 minutes in each game, putting up a 17% offensive rebounding rate, and knocking down all 5 of his free throws. Joe Munden,, a 6'4" freshman, averaged 15.5 minutes in the two losses, though struggled shooting the ball (4 for 13 from the field), but did grab 8 boards.
Mount St. Mary's- Mezie Offurum, the 6'8" transfer from George Washington, started all three games for the Mount, while three freshmen; Dakota Leffew, Josh Reaves, and Frantisek Barton, saw significant minutes off the bench. Leffew was quiet in the win over Morgan St. and the loss to Maryland, but in the loss to Navy the 6'5" wing put up 12 points in 21 minutes, knocking down all three 3-point attempts. Reaves averaged 12 minutes in the three games, making 2 of 6 from three. Barton, a 6'7" big, played about 8 minutes per game as a back-up.
St. Francis (PA)- As mentioned above, Krimmel relied heavily upon his three freshmen. We've talked in depth about Land, but Zahree Harrison, a 6'0" PG, logged heavy minutes as well, specifically in the loss to UMBC after Ramiir Dixon-Conover went down with an apparent injury. In 39 minutes over 2 games, Harrison had 5 assists against 2 turnovers, and scored 10 points, though he's yet to knock-down a three-pointer. Giles, a 6'4" wing who missed the UMBC game due to injury, had 10 points and 2 assists in the win over Pitt, getting to the charity stripe 5 times (making 4).
Sacred Heart- The Pios were expected to rely heavily on freshman given the transfers of Anosike, Parker, and Ozier, and that they did in a loss to Rutgers. Nico Galette (24), Quest Harris (21), Mike Sixsmith (20), Bryce Johnson (18), Matas Spokas (16), Kasparas Jonauskas (14), and Kenneth Womack (9) all saw time. with Sixsmith (3 for 4 from three), Spokas (3 for 6 from three), and Bryce Johnson (8 boards) being particularly impressive. Cantavio Dutreil, a JUCO transfer, had only 4 points but 11 boards and a couple of blocks in 21 minutes.
Let's look at a few players who struggled in their first games of the season.
Jahlil Jenkins- Through two games, the NEC"s pre-season Player of the Year has a 27.6% eFG% (2 for 10 from three), 4 assists and 10 turnovers in two losses. Am I worried? A tiny bit; FDU's star made 44% of his threes last season and has a 21.3% assist rate against a 16.6% turnover rate. However, with Malone-Key and Dunn gone for at least the season (plus Brandon Powell has yet to appear in a game), Jenkins will be asked to carry a heavy burden which could result in poor efficiency numbers.
Ian Krishnan- CCSU's junior sharp-shooter wasn't sharp through his team's first two games; making just 1 of his 9 three-point attempts, which has resulted in a 25% eFG%, though he did get to the charity stripe 8 times (making 7). Krishnan has had slumps before, and he will be fine.
Mezie Offorum- A 6'8" wing/big who transferred from George Washington, Offurum has really had a hard time shooting the rock; he's just 2 for 11 from three, and 2 for 10 from two (1 for 5 at the rim). What's troubling; his shooting woes existed as George Washington, where he made just 4 of his 19 three-point attempts and had a 36.6% eFG% as a sophomore. He has rebounded the ball well (4.3 per game), but the shooting is definitely a concern, as is the foul rate (4.8 per 40 minutes, including fouling out in just 21 minutes against Navy).
Tyler Stewart- An athletic 6'8" forward, I was concerned with how Krimmel may try to play Stewart alongside Mark Flagg and Myles Thompson in a "big lineup". It turns out those concerns were unfounded; Stewart played just 9 minutes in the win over Pittsburgh, though he did log 24 minutes in the loss to UMBC as Thompson dealt with foul trouble. The junior is just 1 for 6 from two (3 for 6 from three), and he turned it over 6 times against UMBC. Shooting was a problem for Stewart last season (45.8% FG%), and it appears that Krimmel has chosen to ride with the freshman wings rather than playing a big lineup.
As I wrote in my Season Preview, the Mount struggled defensively last season, finishing with the 8th rated defensive efficiency in the NEC, thanks to a combination of poor 3P defense (36.5%, 9th) and an inability to force turnovers (16.9%, 9th). In the Mount's 62-55 win over Morgan St., the Mount's D held the Bears to just 0.81 PPP, including 3 of 18 from three, and forced 16 turnovers (23.5%). However, in the 73-67 loss to Navy, the Midshipmen scored 1.14PPP, and though they only shot 4 of 15 from three, they didn't turn it over (8 times, 12.5%) and got to the free throw line 22 times, making 19. This bears watching, as it'll be difficult for Mount St. Mary's to challenge for the NEC title if their defense isn't significantly improved from a year ago.
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings
The player who has most taken advantage of some key departures from the Fairleigh Dickinson program is Brandon Rush. The sophomore averaged just 4.9 points in 17.3 mpg last season. Through two games this year? 18.5 ppg in 32.5 mpg. He's got a 63% eFG% thanks to making 4 of 11 from downtown, and 11 of 16 from inside the arc...Charles Pride, Bryant's sophomore wing and captain, was 2 of 5 from three, 5 of 8 overall in the loss to Syracuse. With his level of defense, if he can be a solid shooter he becomes one of the most valuable players in this league...Malik Jefferson, the Mount's junior big-man, showed himself ACC-worthy on Sunday. In their loss to Maryland, Jefferson went for 18 and 9 in 30 minutes...Aaron Clarke currently leads the NEC in usage rate with 27.9%. Granted it was just one game, but expect Clarke to have to do a lot offensively for Anthony Latina. The junior combo-guard took 18 shots (making 7), and also had 4 assists...A number of players haven't suited up yet for their teams, and I'm not sure why. Of course, injuries could be a part of it. Those players include Erickson Bans, Darius Guinn, and Kai Kostmayer for Bryant; Brandon Powell for FDU; Naim Miller and Quinton Mincey for Mount St. Mary's; and Tyler Thomas and Zach Radz for Sacred Heart..