The Mid-Range Jumper: 2021 NEC Awards Edition
What follows are my NEC awards, not a prediction of what they will be. In my humble opinion, the coaches do a generally poor job in selecting the official post-season awards, with superficial stats like points per game the primary stat utilized. And you know what? I don't blame them! They're paid to win basketball games and develop young men, not vote on awards. If I were a coach, I'd probably spend, tops, 5 minutes on this exercise. But I'm not a coach, so instead I spent a good 4 hours.
In case you're interested; I largely used advanced metrics (Bart Torvik's PORPGATU!, Box Plus/Minus, PER, Win Shares, and Shot Quality's SQPPP metric), then adjusted based on my eyes and experience watching games (which, I watched a LOT of NEC basketball this season).
You disagree? Let's have a cordial discussion over on Twitter.
(stats are as of 3/1)
NEC Player of the Year: Alex Morales, Sr., Wagner
A few weeks ago I left Morales off my top NEC PGs list, and in hindsight two things might be true; 1) it shows that I'm a dummy, and 2) it shows how great of a final two months Wagner's stud had. The analytics love him; both Kenpom and Torvik have him as the league's POY, and he's ranked in the top 6 in all of the metrics I used (and they generally undersell point guards). The superficial stats are also impressive; 3rd in scoring (18.3 ppg), 8th in rebounding (7.4 rpg), and 2nd in assists (5.6 apg), and for good measure was 6th in steals (1.8 spg). The best player on one of the top teams, Morales had a league high 29.9% usage rate, and did literally everything on the floor for Bashir Mason.
NEC Rookie of the Year: DeLonnie Hunt, Fr., Wagner
Quite honestly, this was an easy choice; Hunt led all freshmen in scoring (11 ppg), assists (2.8 apg), and minutes (83.6%). While struggling early on to find his role, he settled into a combo-guard who could shoot (37% 3P%), take care of the basketball (11.6% turnover rate), and make plays, especially in transition.
NEC Most Improved Player: Brandon Rush, So., Fairleigh Dickinson
As a freshman, Rush was a bit player, playing just 39% of the team's available minutes while putting up an O-Rating of 92 on 14.8% usage. He shot it okay (32% from three), but didn't do much else. When it was announced that both Xzavier Malone-Key and Devon Dunn would opt out of the 2020-21 season, I was concerned with who could step up for the Knights. Enter Rush, who became a major scoring option thanks a really strong shooting line of 48%/40%/74%, plus he doubled his assist rate and cut down on his turnovers. As a freshman he was a really good athlete with potential. As a sophomore, he was a really good basketball player.
NEC Coach of the Year: Anthony Latina, Sacred Heart
This is sure to be derisive; there's too many coaches that are deserving! I would never argue with someone who thought Jared Grasso or Bashir Mason were more deserving...they were awesome this year. Ditto Joe Gallo and Dan Engelstad. But to me, what Latina has done is remarkable; they lost five rotation players off last season's team, plus another to injury, yet he's returned the Pios to the Top 4 while relying mostly on freshmen and previously unproven players.
All-NEC 1st Team:
Alex Morales, Sr., Wagner
Peter Kiss, Sr., Bryant: He checks all the boxes; nearly 17 ppg, 6 boards, and over 3 assists per game, a 57.4% eFG%, and efficient numbers across the board.
Ty Flowers, Sr., Long Island: Flowers put up video-game numbers for the 2nd season in a row; 17.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.6 apg, and 21 blocks in 18 games. He was #1 in Box +/-, and combined strong rebounding/defensive numbers with a solid 51.6% eFG%.
Damian Chong Qui, Jr., Mount St. Mary's: You probably had to watch Mount St. Mary's play at least a few games this season to truly appreciate the diminutive lefty; he hit a number of big shots down the stretch and seemingly took over the 2nd half of multiple games as the primary go-to-guy for the Mount. If you looked at the numbers alone he doesn't end up on the 1st team, but to me there's probably no one more valuable to their squad.
Eral Penn, Jr., Long Island: Perhaps the anti-DCQ in a way, Penn rates either 1st or 2nd in every advanced metric. LIU's big man averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds per game (the latter tops in the NEC), and was by far the best '5' man in the conference.
All-NEC 2nd Team:
Elijah Ford, Sr., Wagner: Ford's numbers suggest he should be on the 1st team; the analytics love him (top 5 in all the advanced metrics), plus he finished 2nd in the league in scoring. Ultimately I docked him a bit for playing just 72% of available minutes (no one else on the top two teams was below 77.6%) thanks to missing a couple of games in January, but make no mistake; Elijah Ford was really good, and I toyed with making the 1st team 6-players deep.
Tyler Thomas, So., Sacred Heart: The NEC's leading scorer, Thomas was awesome as a high usage (28.4%) scorer for the young Pios.
Michael Green III, So., Bryant: MG3 is similar to Chong Qui; the advanced metrics don't love him thanks to the 46.3% eFG%, but that undersells the impact he had on the Bulldogs. My friend and Bryant-superfan Mike Rancourt said it best: "his ability to keep his team on the attack and get them buckets when they're struggling is extremely important, but advanced stats don't reflect well on it. He's a baller. Total confidence at all times. The backbone of the team". What he said.
Charles Pride, So., Bryant: Having him on my 2nd team may be an outlier, but I just dig Pride's game. He does well with the analytics, though he wasn't relied upon a ton offensively (18.5% usage). But he scores when asked (12.4 ppg), he rebounds (6.8 pg), makes plays for others (2.6 apg), and is one of the best defenders in the Northeast Conference. If Jared Grasso asked him to carry the load offensively, he'd average 18ppg.
Travis Atson, Sr., St. Francis-Brooklyn: The most significant non-Kiss transfer this season, Atson had an efficient 58% eFG% (14.8 ppg) while grabbing 6.8 rpg. His versatility allowed SFC to play "small-ball" this season, and was the main difference between last season's 7-11 team (with Deniz Celen) and this year's 9-9 league mark.
All-NEC 3rd Team:
Jahlil Jenkins, Sr. Fairleigh Dickinson: My pre-season Player of the Year, Jenkins had a rough start to the season, looked like a POY candidate in January, then was up-and-down in February. Similar to the other point guards on this list, their value on the floor is probably difficult to quantify, especially for a guy who was relied upon as much as Jenkins was (92% of minutes, 24.2% usage).
Elyjah Williams, Sr. Fairleigh Dickinson: 14 points, 7.6 boards, and 3.1 assists per game, the senior big man did it all for FDU offensively while finishing 4th in the league in blocks (32 in 21 games). His 60.5% eFG% of 60.5% was 4th in the league, and he rarely came off the floor (33.2 mpg).
Ramiir Dixon-Conover, Sr., St. Francis (PA): RDC carried the Red Flash offensively, as his 27.6% usage rate was 4th in the conference, and while his 46.7% eFG% was lower than you'd want, it's tough to be efficient when you're relied upon that much. He really stuffed the stat sheet; 15.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 4.4 assists, and was probably the best perimeter defender in the conference. Plus, per Torvik, SFU's 'Game Score' when RDC was in the lineup? 27.4. When he wasn't (4 games)? 14.5. Impactful, to say the least.
Hall Elisias, Sr., Bryant: The 4th Bulldog to grace this list, Elisias is the 2nd best true center in the conference (behind Eral Penn). His block rate of 8.4% wasn't just tops in the league, it was tops by a country mile (Nana Opoku was 2nd at 5.8%). He wasn't asked to do much offensively (17% usage, 10.2 ppg), but he finished 5th in the league in rebounding (7.9 rpg), and is difficult to game plan against.
Unique McLean, Sr., St. Francis-Brooklyn: How many players averaged at least 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game? Just 4; Morales, Flowers, Elyjah Williams, and Unique McLean. The SFC wing finished in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, and his versatility (along with Atson) allowed Glen Braica to play a small lineup all season.
All-NEC Rookie Team:
DeLonnie Hunt, Wagner
Mike Sixsmith, Sacred Heart: The Pios wing is an analytics darling thanks to a ridiculous 77.3% eFG%. I chose Hunt for ROY for two reasons; a) Sixsmith played just 63% of minutes (compared to Hunt's 83.6%), and b) Sixsmith had a low 12.2% usage rate (Hunt's was 18.5%). But that's not to disparage what SHU's freshman did; 8 ppg, a solid 18% assist rate, and better defense than you'd might expect.
Maxwell Land, St. Francis (PA): Land was probably the most impressive freshman through the early part of the season but had some struggles late in January/February, then missed the final five games due to an injury. However, his 8.9 ppg ranked 2nd among freshman, and his 4.2 rpg was 4th. His 56% eFG% reflects his ability to shoot the ball from deep (41.1%), and his athleticism allows him to take it to the rack as well.
Bryce Johnson, Sacred Heart: Another Pio who performs well with the 'lytics, Johnson only played 51% of minutes but when he was on the floor was one of the league's best board-men; his 24.8% DR was tops in the NEC and his 9.1% OR% was 4th. Offensively he wasn't tasked with much (15.6% usage), but he was super efficient (60.8% eFG%).
Josh Reaves, Mount St. Mary's: When Jalen Gibbs transferred between semesters, it was Reaves who stepped up; after 1/1, Reaves played 77.5% of the team's minutes and had a solid 52% eFG% thanks to making 33 of 81 (40.7%) from three.
Leaving Chauncey Hawkins off the three teams was tough, but ultimately couldn't get past the fact that he played just 61.4% of his team's minutes; Hall Elisias played the same amount, but he was so dominant defensively and is the league's 2nd best center, and no one else played fewer than 71.9% (Elijah Ford). Hawkins missed three games, and also played 26 or fewer minutes six times (mainly due to foul trouble). His numbers were deserving though; his 3.1 PORPAGATU! was 5th (as was his 23 PER), and his 16 points and 4.4 assists per game were more than solid.
Another player who perhaps deserved to be on here was Brandon Rush of FDU, my MIP. The analytics loved him, and I ultimately chose Unique McLean because of the other factors (defense, rebounding). You'll get no argument from me if you prefer Rush.
Speaking of Rush, it was between he and Tyler Thomas for MIP. I went with Rush because he wasn't on any of my All-NEC teams, though Thomas is just as deserving for that award.
Other players I heavily considered for the 3rd team; Jordan Minor and Mikey Watkins (Merrimack) and Chris Childs (Bryant). Will Martinez (Wagner) had the numbers, but I largely ignored anyone who played fewer than 60% of their team's minutes (Martinez checked it at 56.7%).
As I alluded to above, I tried to get the best players at specific positions on one of the three teams. Point guards are undersold by the analytics, as are really good defensive players (defense is tough to quantify, at least with publicly-available data).
One might question having two LIU players on the first team when they finished just 9-9, while teams like Bryant and Wagner each have one. LIU's rotation was top heavy (there wasn't another Shark I considered for any of the teams), while Bryant and Wagner had more depth in their rotations.
For the All-ROY team, I leaned heavily on minutes played; guys like Malik Edmead (Merrimack), PO Racine (FDU), and Josh Cohen (SFU) were really good, but I couldn't justify putting guys on my All-ROY team when they play fewer than 50% of the team's minutes (the guys I just listed were all below 40%). I went back and forth between FDU's Joe Munden Jr. and Reaves, but ultimately went with the level of impact Reaves provided the Mount.
If you wanted me to come up with an "All-potential" team, which to me is different than the All-Rookie team, it would likely go: Hunt and Edmead in the backcourt, Land and Munden on the wings, and Josh Cohen as the '5'. Those guys will be players to watch next year, as sophomores often make big jumps. Guys like Sixsmith and Ronell Giles, Jr. (SFU) I could also see developing into stars, and there are a number of freshman who project to be really solid in this league (PO Racine and Kyndall Davis, from LIU, among them).