The NEC Forecaster: 2/11-2/13
Point Spreads per Kenpom, as of 2/10/21
Fairleigh Dickinson at Wagner (-3), 5pm
St. Francis-Brooklyn at St. Francis (PA) (-3), 7pm
Long Island at Mount St. Mary's (-4), 7pm
Merrimack (-1) at Central Connecticut, 7pm
Long Island at Mount St. Mary's (-4), 4pm
St. Francis-Brooklyn at St. Francis (PA) (-3), 4pm
Merrimack (-1) at Central Connecticut, 7pm
Wagner at Fairleigh Dickinson (-2), 7pm
Series to Watch #1: FDU vs. Wagner (home-and-home)
Scorching hot- Fairleigh Dickinson comes into this one the winners of 4 in a row, and 5 of 6, and have jumped from #307 to #271 at Kenpom over the last two weeks. Wagner has won three in a row, and have improved from #283 to #267 at Kenpom over that stretch.
Battle of the Boards- The Seahawks have been the league's best offensive rebounding team in conference play (35.5% OR%), while FDU has really struggled to grab defensive boards as Elyjah Williams is the lone FDU player in the top 15 in defensive rebounding rate. Knights' wings will have to figure out a way to box out Alex Morales and Elijah Ford, or it could be a tough night on that end of the floor.
The 3-ball- Over their last 7 games, Fairleigh Dickinson has shot 40.1% from three, compared to 34.7% prior, and their 38.2% in conference play rates 2nd in the NEC. Over that stretch, Jahlil Jenkins is knocking down 55.3% of his 38 3-point attempts, Elyjah Williams is 8 for 11, and Brandon Rush is shooting 36.6% from deep. Jenkins/Williams numbers may not be sustainable, but if they got hot watch out. Meanwhile, Wagner is dead last in the NEC in 3P% (30.5%).
Elyjah Williams- Williams is a throw-back, 1990s type power forward; 6'7", 220 lbs. and strong, finishes at the rim (65.4%) and rebounds (7.5 rpg). Of course, this year he's added a more consistent perimeter shot to his repertoire (12 for 25 from deep), and he's also averaging over 3 assists per game. There's a decent argument that it's Williams, not point guard Jahlil Jenkins, who is FDU's best player. Either way, Herenda has quite the guard-forward combination.
DeLonnie Hunt- My reigning NEC Freshman of the Week, Hunt had a brutal first three games of his collegiate career; 3 for 20 from two, 2 for 10 from three, six turnovers, and zero free throw attempts. Since then, though? The rookie lefty is averaging 13.5ppg, shooting 34.4% from three, 46.5% from two, and has used his blinding speed to get to the rim with frequency. He's not as much of a play-maker at this point (12.5% assist rate), but with Alex Morales on the roster he doesn't have to be.
Series to Watch #2: LIU at MSMU
The NECT race- If the season ended today, both Long Island and Mount St. Mary's would be in the NEC Tournament as the #3 and #4 seeds, respectively, but we still have a few more weeks to go. A sweep could put the loser in a precarious situation, while a split would keep both teams feeling good about making the NEC's "Final 4". Kenpom projects Mount St. Mary's to finish with the #3 seed at 9-7, while LIU is projected to finish 10-8 and #4. The difference between #3 and #4 is important; the 3-seed gets to avoid the top-seed, which will have home-court advantage, in the semis.
Tempo- Everyone talks about Bryant's need for speed, but the Sharks are currently 6th nationally in terms of field goal attempts in transition (38.3%); they like to run as well. And while it's true that the Mount likes to slow it down on the offensive end, they can be beat down the floor in transition given their penchant for crashing the offensive boards (34.7%, 2nd in the NEC). Does Dan Engelstad have his charges focus more on getting back on defense, or do they try to get 2nd chance points? Given the way LIU rebounds on the defensive end, I'd guess the former.
Can the Mount take care of the basketball? On the season they are turning it over on 20.1% of their possessions, while Long Island is forcing turnovers on 21.3% of their possessions (2nd in the NEC). On the surface, the fact that Mount St. Mary's turns it over frequently makes sense; the longer a possession lasts, the higher likelihood something bad can happen. The Sharks will employ their full-court press to try and force turnovers, as well as speed MSMU up. Damian Chong Qui can be a one-man press-breaker. Can he take care of the basketball and get the Mount into their half-court set?
Josh Reaves- Over Mount St. Mary's' last six games, the freshman wing has been perhaps the best 1st year player in the NEC; he's averaging 12.3 ppg thanks to a nearly 62% eFG% (17 for 35 from 3). A 6'4" wing, Reaves is more jump-shooter than scorer at this stage of his development (just 1 for 5 at the rim), but he's shown an ability to get shots in a variety of ways, and is a good athlete who can defend both smaller guards and bigger wings. He seems like the type of player who will be primed for a big breakout as a sophomore.
Alex Rivera- Watch LIU play, and Rivera stands out for his quickness and interesting looking jump shot; he gets a ton of lift, and kind of reminds me of a baseball pitcher with a "herky-jerky motion". There's a lot of moving parts which can cause some inconsistency at times, but overall he's been very good; he's shooting 39% from deep with a 56.2% eFG%. Given the number of offensive options Derek Kellogg has at his disposal, Rivera has accepted a role as someone who knocks down open shots and doesn't force his offense, very similar to the way Julian Batts was utilized in recent seasons (with Jermaine Jackson, Jr. filling the Jashaun Agosto role). With defenses focusing on the frontcourt studs Ty Flowers and Eral Penn, Rivera needs to make the Mount pay should they lay off him at all.