The Mid-Range Jumper: 12/14/20
We started NEC play last week with 5 games; back-to-backs between St. Francis-Brooklyn/Bryant and Central Connecticut/Fairleigh Dickinson, as well as a single game as Saint Francis (PA) took on Mount St. Mary's. Not a lot of games, but a lot to talk about.
As we get further into the season, I'll post the updated standings sorted by Adjusted Efficiency, but for now a quick, 6-team list.
1. Mount St. Mary's (1-0)
t2. Bryant (1-1)
t2. Central Connecticut (1-1)
t2. Fairleigh Dickinson (1-1)
t2. St. Francis-Brooklyn (1-1)
6. St. Francis (Pa) (0-2)
Team of the Week: Bryant
Third time in a row for the Bulldogs, who are the lone NEC team with an overall winning record (4-2). Bryant went 2-1 last week, splitting on the road in Brooklyn, then taking care of Stony Brook at the Chase 81-72 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs scored at least 1.09PPP in all three games last week (and in all five of their games since losing to Syracuse on 11/27), and improved 25 spots at Kenpom from #258 before the 1st game against SFC to #233 as of this writing (they began the season at #312).
Bryant currently has four players averaging in double-figures on the season; Michael Green III (17.3), Chris Childs (16.3), Peter Kiss (15.7), and Charles Pride (15.2), and as a team they are third nationally in points per game with 98 (which includes their 138 points in the win over Rhode Island College).
Jared Grasso's group is currently 1-1 in the NEC and take on Wagner in Smithfield on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
Team Performance of the Week: Mount St. Mary's (75-57 win over St. Francis (PA))
In its first conference game last week, Mount St. Mary's was dominant in their win over the Red Flash; they put up 1.20PPP and held SFU to just 0.91PPP. The Mount has more size than any other team in the NEC, and they utilized that by making 9 of their 11 shot attempts at the rim and grabbing nearly 26% of their misses (8 offensive boards).
Mezie Offorum, the transfer from George Washington who struggled in the Mount's first four games, led the scoring with 19 points on 12 field goal attempts, to go along with 8 boards. Damian Chong Qui had 17 points and 8 assists (and 0 turnovers!), and Jalen Gibbs chipped in with 13 points and 8 rebounds.
Sure, SFU continues to play without starting point guard Ramiir Dixon-Conover, and to be clear the Red Flash are a different team without him, but a blowout conference win in this mess of a season is big for the Mount.
One thing I noticed watching this game; with Malik Jefferson saddled with foul trouble (just 17 minutes), Dan Engelstad was forced to go "small" with just Nana Opoku and Offurum up front for much of the game, and it seemed like there was more spacing offensively which allowed Offurum, as well as Chong Qui and Gibbs, to penetrate a bit more. Something to watch.
Player of the Week: Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson
That's more like it.
After really struggling over his first four games, the NEC's pre-season Player of the Year was awesome last week in two games against Central Connecticut. The 6'0" point guard averaged 17.5 points, 6 assists (1.5 turnovers), 3.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in 39 mpg in the Knights' split with CCSU.
Less important than the counting numbers, Jenkins was efficient: he put up a 50% eFG% (4 for 9 from three), 26.3% assist rate and just 10.3% turnover rate. What's more; after scoring 24 points in the first match-up with the Blue Devils, Jenkins was comfortable being more of a facilitator in game 2; he scored just 11 points on 7 field goal attempts, but had 9 assists. He's at his best when he's making plays for others.
Freshman of the Week: Joe Munden, Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson
Down two expected starters, Greg Herenda desperately needs at least two guys to step up on the wing. Brandon Rush has been really good so far this season, and after last week perhaps the next guy up will be Joe Munden, Jr. A 6'4" freshman, Munden averaged 13 points and 3 boards last week, shooting 6 of 9 from three.
So far in his development, his perimeter shooting is ahead of the rest of his game; he's made 8 of his 16 three-point attempts, but just 10 of 25 from inside the arc (40%). However, he's got good size for a wing, and could probably defend 1-4. An intriguing young player for FDU.
So it looks like it's going to be awfully difficult to sweep these back-to-back games.
Last week, Bryant crushed St. Francis-Brooklyn 101-82 last Tuesday, the Terriers bounced back by knocking off the Bulldogs 93-81 on Wednesday. The same happened in Teaneck, where the Blue Devils won the first one with FDU winning Game 2. While that's a (super) small sample size, take a look at the MAAC.
MAAC teams opened up conference play last week as well, with 4 sets of back-to-backs. Three of them split, with only Saint Peter's sweeping (over Niagara). The math geek in me needs to see more of this to believe it, but there is something to be said for well-coached teams being able to quickly adjust.
This week's slate has three back-to-back series in the NEC. Can anyone sweep?
One of my favorite "analytic data points" is usage rates; it's a pretty commonly held belief that most teams need one or two "play-makers"; guys who have the ball in their hands and who can go get you a bucket when you need it. Kenpom describes a "go-to guy" as a player with a usage rate above 28%, and a "Major Contributor" has a rate between 24% and 28%. Let's use that 24% benchmark to check up on every team's primary playmaker(s). (Note: we are only including players who play at least 60% of available minutes)
Bryant- Michael Green III (28% usage): MG3 is the engine for the Bulldogs; he's playing 86% of available minutes, and has the ball in his hands all the time. He hasn't been efficient shooting the ball; his 40.6% eFG% is low thanks to making just 9 of 31 from deep, but he's excelled in transition and is as good a passer as you'll find in the NEC (4.2 assists per game, 20.4% assist rate). If he could start shooting the ball like he did on Saturday (3 for 8 from 3), Bryant would be very difficult to beat.
Central Connecticut- Nigel Scantlebury (24.0%): Scantlebury barely qualifies based on his usage rate (and minutes, at just 64.5%), but he's been exactly what CCSU has needed; a play-maker. Like MG3, he's struggled shooting the ball putting up a 45.7% eFG%, but has a 30.8% assist rate (4th in the league) and has gotten to the charity stripe 22 times already (72.7%). It's also worth noting that Greg Outlaw, a sophomore wing who missed the team's first game, has a 31.1% usage rate and has been getting more run as of late. Outlaw does most of his work getting to the rim (14 for 26 on close 2s), but also has a solid 17.4% assist rate.
Fairleigh Dickinson- Elyjah Williams (25.4%): Greg Herenda's offense has largely played through the 6'7" forward, who has been very efficient so far this season (56.3% eFG% and 19.7% assist rate), though he's made just 1 of 10 from three. Last season, Williams finished 4th on FDU in usage, but is taking a much more prominent role in the offense with Kaleb Bishop (graduated) and Xzavier Malone-Key (opted out and transferring) gone. Also; Jahlil Jenkins has a 23.8% usage rate. No other FDU rotation player has a usage rate north of 20.1%.
Mount St. Mary's- Damian Chong Qui (24.3%): As expected, DCQ is "the guy" for Dan Engelstad; the 5'8" junior point guard has a 32.1% assist rate and a 48.3% eFG%, which are strong numbers at that level of usage. If Chong Qui could find his shooting stroke (7 of 23 from three so far), those numbers will look even better. Jalen Gibbs is 2nd on the team with a 23.3% usage rate, and has been the team's best scorer (16.5 ppg).
Sacred Heart- Aaron Clarke (27.9%): The Pios played just one game before getting shut down, and in that one game Aaron Clarke took 18 shots and also had 4 assists and 2 turnovers. Expect that kind of heavy usage from the junior combo-guard, as the rest of the roster is rather inexperienced.
St. Francis-Brooklyn- Rob Higgins (24.6%): It's two games, but Higgins has been the primary recipient of Chauncey Hawkins' quiet start (4 points on 2 of 8 shooting in game 1, 16 minutes in game 2 due to foul trouble). Last season Hawkins led the team with a 25.7% usage rate, and no other rotation player was above 22% (Higgins was at 20.9%). Expect Hawkins to be back up near the 26% mark he was at as both a sophomore and junior.
St. Francis (PA)- Myles Thompson (24.7%): With Ramiir Dixon-Conover missing the past four games, Rob Krimmel has had to rely more upon his junior forward. Thompson has a 36.8% eFG% and isn't much of a play-maker (10.1% assist rate). Another junior forward, Tyler Stewart, has had a 26.4% usage rate in 44% of available minutes, but he's really struggled with turnovers (28.2%), though he's shot it well from three (7 of 15). This is a case of asking guys to do things they aren't really accustomed (or able) to, and once Dixon-Conover returns both Thompson and Stewart's rates should drop; RDC had a 29% usage rate (and 36.9% assist rate) in 1.5 games before going down with an injured ankle.
Wagner- Alex Morales (37.3%), Elijah Ford (25.9%): Morales finished 2nd in the NEC in usage last season (27.7%), so it's reasonable that he will be near the top of the league this season as well. The 6'6" wing is adept passer (22.3% assist rate in 2019-20), and in the Seahawks' lone game this season, a 78-45 loss to Seton Hall, he took 14 shots (made just 3) and had 4 turnovers (1 assist) in 26 minutes. Ford, an undersized 6'5" forward, was 5 of 10 at the rim in the Seton Hall game, but had a 22.2% usage last season (60.8% of available minutes), and shouldn't be expected to keep up a nearly 26.6% rate.
Central Shooting the Ball Well
Bryant currently leads the NEC with a 53.8% eFG%, but CCSU is just behind them at 52.4% (88th nationally). The Blue Devils have made an above average 33.7% from three, but they've really done work inside the arc.
As I've written before, during Donyell Marshall's tenure CCSU has relied more upon the mid-range jumper than any other NEC team, and this season they are taking nearly 27% of their shots from "long two", which is a bit lower than last season but still well higher than average.
However, this season they are making them. The Blue Devils are shooting an NEC-best 48.1% from "farther twos" according to Bart Torvik, Take a look at these individual numbers:
Zach Newkirk: 5-7 (71.4%)
Tre Mitchell: 6-9 (66.7%)
Ian Krishnan: 5-8 (62.5%)
Greg Outlaw: 7-12 (58.3%)
All four guys have used the dribble to get into the lane and knock down pull-up jumpers and, anecdotally speaking, they've relied less on long, two-point jumpers than they have in the past. And that's backed up by the data; according to Shot Quality, CCSU has the 3rd best "Shot Quality" in the NEC (58th percentile overall). If CCSU's offense is going to improve, they will have to continue to make their two-pointers at a rate above 50% (53.5% this season, but 41.2% in 2019-20).
SFU Defending the 3-ball
The Red Flash have held opponents to just 27.2% from behind the arc, which is 51st nationally. Only Liberty, back on 12/3, shot better than 30% from three against SFU, and last week Mount St. Mary's made just 7 of 27 from behind the arc. This is usually one of those things that regresses to the mean, but Rob Krimmel does have a lot of quickness on the perimeter.
The problem defensively for SFU has been their inability to defend the interior; opponents are making 64.1% of their shots inside the arc, and SFU's 2.4% block rate is 309th out of the 315 teams who have played a D1 game so far this season. Senior big Mark Flagg was a really good shot blocker last season (6.1%), but he has just 3 blocks through five games, and as a team the Red Flash have just one other blocked shot so far (Tyler Stewart). Unless they are going to be able to completely shut down the 3-ball, Krimmel will need to figure out a way to prevent opponents from killing them inside.
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings
In watching last Wednesday's game between SFC and Bryant, I was struck with how versatile the Terriers' wings are. Quinnipiac transfer Travis Atson can score from all over the floor (59.3% eFG% in two games, 18.5 ppg) and rebounds well for his size (9.5 rpg), as does 6'2" wing Unique McLean (16.5 ppg, 7 rpg). Glenn Braica has the luxury of never being forced to go "big", and instead can play a lineup that includes Chauncey Hawkins, Rob Higgins, Atson, and McLean without getting killed on the boards...Nana Opoku may be one of the more unsung players in the NEC. A versatile 6'9" forward, he had 5 blocks in the win over SFU last week, is averaging 5 rpg, and can stretch the defense (though just 3 for 11 from three this season)...Max Land is going to be a star in the NEC. He's got a 116.3 O-Rating (13.5% usage) thanks to a 61.5% eFG% and just 5 turnovers. He's not a play-maker yet (just 5 assists), but he just looks like a baller...CCSU's Tre Mitchell has been one of the best players in the NEC so far. on a rate basis The Junior College transfer is averaging is averaging 14.6 ppg over his last three games and is shooting 37% from three on the season (61.3% eFG%), and has really taken care of the basketball (2 turnovers). However, given that Marshall leans heavily on his bench, Mitchell is only playing 55.5% of available minutes...In Bryant's win over Stony Brook, the Seawolves gave the Bulldogs a heavy dose of a 3-2 zone defense late in the 1st half/early in the 2nd half, which really stymied the Bryant offense and allowed SBU to take the lead. Fortunately for Jared Grasso, the Bryant shooters (namely MG3 and Childs) got hot at the right time and shot their way out of the zone. Bryant is shooting 41.2% from three (20th nationally), but going zone may be the best way to slow them down...Bashir Mason relied heavily upon freshman in Wagner's first game, with Elijah Allen playing 36 minutes and DeLonnie Hunt 35. Of course part of that was Chase Freeman getting just 11 minutes before being ejected for a confrontation with a Seton Hall player, but expect to see both Allen (13 points, 5 boards, 2 steals) and Hunt (7 points, 2 assists, 2 turnovers) get plenty of run this season...Speaking of Wagner, Chattanooga transfer Justin Brown, a 6'10" big, was 0 for 2 from the field, and had just 3 rebounds and a block in 16 minutes against Seton Hall...Brandon Powell, a 6'2" junior wing, missed FDU's first 5 games but was back in last Wednesday's win over CCSU, scoring 11 points and grabbing 7 boards in 22 minutes. Powell's ability to shoot (42% from three last season) and rebound from the wing should really help the Knights, especially when Herenda wants to play small-ball...and finally, Merrimack is currently on their 2nd "shut down" without playing a single game, while SFU is currently shut down. Sacred Heart returns on Wednesday, as does Long Island, who has yet to play a game.