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The NEC Mid-Range Jumper: Chuck's Big Week

A more brief version of the MRJ this week, as I spent my Sunday driving to/from New Hampshire to rescue a dog (Wes), and Wes is extremely skittish/nervous and has taken up more time than I had expected.

I'll be back with a more full Jumper next week.

Standings: As always after the start of conference play, teams are sorted by Efficiency Margin in league games only.

NEC Team of the Week: Bryant

Two road wins always gets you in consideration for this "award", but doing so without your leading scorer (Peter Kiss) and rim protector-extraordinaire (Hall Elisias) makes this a no-brainer.

Bryant went down to Loretto and knocked off St. Francis (PA) 89-82, then won a huge matchup at Mount St. Mary's 62-61, and in both cases got contributions from guys who maybe don't get of run.

The win at the Mount all but locked in a top-2 finish in the NEC, and showed the rest of the league that they have the depth to beat good teams on the road.

NEC Player of the Week: Charles Pride, Bryant

It's all been well-documented; with Kiss out, Pride exploded for 44 points and 12 boards at SFU, then went for 32 and 10 at Mount St. Mary's. It wasn't just the scoring numbers; he was 26 of 43 from two, 4 of 13 from three, and 12 of 12 from the free throw line, and also had 6 steals and 2 blocks.

So here's a rhetorical question that doesn't really need an answer; are we sure Peter Kiss is Bryant's best player. He's their best scorer, sure. But, in my opinion, Chuck Pride has been Bryant's best player all season with his ability to rebound, defend, and do anything a coach could ask him to do. I'm glad he got a chance to show that he can be a high usage scorer if needed, as well.

NEC Rookie of the Week: Andre Snoddy, Central Connecticut

After back-to-back double-doubles this past week (10 and 10 against Wagner, 18, 14, and 7 assists in the win over FDU), Snoddy now has 3 straight double-doubles and has probably already locked up the NEC's Rookie of the Year Award.

You want to see growth? Check it:

Snoddy was a very good rebounder on day 1, but the rest of his game has developed right before our eyes. The free throw shooting has come around (including some very clutch FTs), the assists are up, the turnovers are down, and he's continued to be a versatile, high-level defender. And on Saturday he even made a perimeter jump shot (his foot was on the line so it was not a 3). Don't be surprised to see him return as a sophomore with the ability to make an open three-pointer, which could vault him into an All-NEC level guy as a 2nd year player.

Weekly Leaderboard: Team 3P rate (percent of shots taken that are 3-pointers)

1) Bryant, 45.5 (31st in the nation)

2) Long Island, 41.2 (101)

3) Sacred Heart, 40.2 (121)

4) Merrimack, 39.7 (137)

5) Central Connecticut, 38.3 (165)

6) St. Francis-Brooklyn, 37.1 (199)

7) Fairleigh Dickinson, 34.2 (262)

8) St. Francis (PA), 30.9 (328)

9) Mount St. Mary's, 30.3 (336)

10) Wagner, 27.9 (347)

Elijah Ford Done for the Year

On Monday afternoon, Wagner's Boogie Ford tweeted the following:

Ford, a 6'5" "small-ball-4", was averaging 11.8 points, 4.8 boards, 1.8 steals and had a 54.7% eFG% as a 3rd scoring option for the Seahawks and provided versatility and quickness on the defensive end.

First; as a basketball fan, this sucks. Ford is a throw-back who was so fun to watch play; he was a monster in transition, was one of the league's best rebounders, and a superb defense player.

If I'm a Wagner fan, should I be nervous? First let's take a look at what the Seahawks are compared to with and without Ford on the floor:

When Ford isn't on the floor the offense goes from 'elite' to 'average', which is to be expected; few teams get as many transition buckets as the Seahawks, and few players are as good around the rim (63%) as Boogie is. For a team that doesn't take, or make, many three-pointers, getting to the rim is imperative.

What's surprising is that the defense, at least according to Hoop Explorer, has been slightly better with Ford off the floor. Now, it's somewhat of a small sample size; it's 785 possessions with Boogie, and 330 without. what? Bashir Mason and his staff can't simply replace Ford. The first option to man the '4' should be Jahbril Price-Noel. The 6'7" 4th year transfer from Pacific is a very different player than Elijah Ford; he's a low usage shooter who has made 34% of his 135 three-point attempts in his career (8 of 20 this season) and 39.4% of his 155 two-point attempts. Price-Noel, who missed 9 games due to injury, has made 6 of 15 from deep since returning and provides a different look for Wagner given his ability to shoot it. Plus; his length should be a positive on the defensive end against some of the bigger teams in the league (like, say, the Mount which will come to Staten Island on Thursday).

Mason's other option? Go small. Mason hasn't shown much of an interest in playing 4 guards; his most utilized non-Ford lineups have featured either Price-Noel or Nigel Jackson, who has not played in any of the last 4 games, at the '4'. However, he has gone with DeLonnie Hunt, Will Martinez, Zaire Williams, and Alex Morales together a bit. While that lineup has had quite a bit of success, it's been just 14 offensive possessions. My guess? It will be opponent dependent; does he want to be more switchable, or long?

Ultimately this is a huge loss for the team atop the NEC's standings. While I have no doubt the Seahawks have the talent and coaching to continue to be successful, I'm not sure I'd consider them the NEC title favorites anymore. I'll see how they look on Thursday (at 5pm, ugh) before making any grand statements, but I'm worried.

The Clear Top 3

In actual games played, the top 3 in the league standings go Wagner (10-0), Bryant (10-1), and Mount St. Mary's (7-3). So I'm not really blowing anyone's mind when I tell you that there is a clear top 3 in the NEC this season. However, you might be thinking that Bryant and Wagner are their own tier with the Mount below them, and I'm here to tell you that you're wrong.

In terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, those teams make up the top 3 in each; Wagner is #2 on both sides of the ball, while Bryant is #1 in offensive efficiency and Mount St. Mary's is #1 in defensive efficiency. If you scroll up and re-look at the Standings on the top of this page, you'll notice that it's Mount St. Mary's that has the 2nd best Efficiency Margin, not Bryant. Long Island, at +2.9, is a distant 4th place.

But it's more than that; Bart Torvik allows you to customize the dates of tempo-free stats, and since January 17th it's Mount St. Mary's, not Wagner or Bryant, that has been the best team in the Northeast Conference (their "BARTHAG" is .6467, ahead of Wagner's at .6434).

Because of losing two games to forfeits, plus Saturday's 1-point loss to Bryant, the #3 seed is the best that this group can hope for. But don't lose sight of the fact that, as of today, neither Bryant nor Wagner want to see Jalen Benjamin and company walking into the gym on Semifinal Saturday.

NEC Tournament Watch

It's time, ya'll.

The NEC Tournament begins exactly 3 weeks from this past Monday night with the 8/9 game, which means we need to start fully breaking down the seeding. While this exercise is always fun (to me), it's less fun this year as the top 4 are essentially locked up. But there's still plenty of intrigue.

The NEC has updated its tiebreaker procedure, and yes forfeits will be included. Merrimack remains ineligible for the NEC Tournament, but games against the Warriors do count for tiebreaking purposes. It's also worth reminding you that the conference re-seeds its teams after each round.

#1 Seed (home court advantage): It's between Wagner and Bryant for the top 2 spots, but the Bulldogs need help. Wagner beat Bryant back on 1/6, and unless the Seahawks get upset (according to Kenpom they are at least 84% to win each game, and 55% to win all of their next 5 games) the 2/26 rematch will not have a factor on seeding given that, if the two finish tied at 17-1, it would fall to NET rankings and there's no way Bryant (#223) is catching Wagner (#95). According to Torvik, Wagner is 93.7% to win the league outright, with Bryant checking in at 6.3%. Of course; none of those numbers factor in the now-injured Elijah Ford.

#3 Seed: The Mount is up 1-game on LIU, though the Sharks won the first meeting in Brooklyn back on 1/6 and Kenpom has both teams finishing 10-8 (LIU has the softer remaining schedule). Two things here: These two play at Knott Arena on 2/19, and if the Mount can win their sweep of Merrimack could come in handy for tie-breaking purposes.

#4 Seed (home QF game): To get into the top 4, 9 wins might do it, but 10-8 almost definitely will. According to Torvik, Mount St. Mary's has a 97% chance of winning at least 9 league games, while LIU is at 90%. The next closest? Sacred Heart (9.4%). For now, everyone else is battling for #5.

#5 Seed: Why is #5 important? No offense to Derek Kellogg, Ty Flowers, Eral Penn, et. al., but if given the choice between Brooklyn, Emmitsburg, Smithfield, or Staten Island, I think most teams would take their chances at the WRAC (though that still sounds miserable). Right now the rest of the teams are all jumbled within 1.5 games of each other. Kenpom has Sacred Heart finishing alone at 7-11. There's no point in running through 5-team tiebreaking scenarios at this point, but 8-10 should get you the #5 seed. The odds of 8+ wins, according to Torvik: SHU (30%), SFC (15%), and SFU (9%).

#6-9 seeds: No one wants to play in the Play-in Game, only to earn a likely trip to Staten Island should you win. Right now St. Francis-Brooklyn and Central Connecticut are tied for 7th at 4-8, with Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis (PA) each a game back at 3-9. Kenpom has FDU finishing last at 5-13, with the other 3 all finishing 6-12. There's plenty of games remaining featuring two teams within this grouping, but remember; St. Francis-Brooklyn owns a sweep over FDU. I'd be rooting for the Knights if I were a Terriers fan. FDU also owns a (forfeit) win over Mount St. Mary's, should that come into play (say, like a tie with CCSU for 8th). Also worth noting; CCSU has the league's most difficult remaining schedule, as they still have road games at Wagner and Bryant, and they welcome Mount St. Mary's into Detrick Gym.

A Look Ahead to 2022-23

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but many of the league's best players are "super seniors" and will be out of eligibility next season. Over at Kenpom, the NEC's "All-Kenpom team" is made up of Alex Morales and Raekwon Rogers (Wagner), Peter Kiss and Charles Pride (Bryant), and Ty Flowers (LIU). Only Kiss and Pride have the option of returning next season, though I've heard that Kiss will move on after this season and begin his (likely) long professional career.

So who might be candidates to be on the 2022-23 pre-season NEC 1st team? Rather than putting too much thought on this given so much will change between now and next November, I went over to Torvik. Here are the top 15 players in the NEC who have eligibility remaining after this season by PORPAGATU! (excluding Kiss).

  1. Charles Pride, Bryant (3.6)

  2. Aaron Clarke, Sacred Heart (3.2)

  3. Josh Cohen, St. Francis (PA) (3.1)

  4. Tyler Thomas, Sacred Heart (2.2)

  5. Mikey Square, Fairleigh Dickinson (2.1)

  6. Jordan Minor, Merrimack (2.1)

  7. Nana Opoku, Mount St. Mary's (1.9)

  8. Jalen Benjamin, Mount St. Mary's (1.9)

  9. Nigel Scantlebury, Central Connecticut (1.6)

  10. Brandon Rush, Fairleigh Dickinson (1.6)

  11. Patrick Emilien, St. Francis-Brooklyn (1.4)

  12. Nico Galette, Sacred Heart (1.4)

  13. Malik Edmead, Merrimack (1.4)

  14. Mezie Offurum, Mount St. Mary's (1.3)

  15. Tedrick Wilcox, St. Francis-Brooklyn (1.2)

Buy stock in Mount St. Mary's and Sacred Heart.

Curiosities, Surprises, Observations, and Musings

- Shouts to Brad McCabe! The little used walk-on was pressed into duty this past weekend as Myles Thompson was limited to just 14 minutes with what appeared to be an injury, and McCabe responded by scoring 11 points against Bryant (3 of 6 from downtown), then scored 5 points and had 8 boards against Merrimack. McCabe averaged 22 mpg this weekend after never playing more than 4 minutes in a game. Plus he did this:

- Josh Cohen hadn't scored more than 12 points in 2022 but exploded on Saturday against Merrimack, scoring 26 points and grabbing 10 boards. Cohen was 10 of 18 from the field (8 of 12 at the rim) but just 6 of 12 from the free throw line. For a guy with such a soft touch around the rim, it's odd to see him shooting 62% from the charity stripe. By the way; Merrimack continues to struggle with talented bigs.

- Prior to 1/17, the Red Flash had a Game Score (per Torvik) above '25' six times in 15 D-1 games. Since then? Zero. Rob Krimmel misses Ronell Giles in the worst way.

- Maxwell Land played all 40 minutes against Bryant, then logged 44 in SFU's overtime loss to Merrimack.

- Ramiir Dixon-Conover leads the league with 50 steals in 22 games. The next closest? Mikey Watkins, with 40 steals in 23 games.

- With Elijah Ford out, I can't help but wonder if Alex Morales will just take over like he did on Saturday. 28 points, 14 boards, 3 assists in the win over LIU. I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone with that kind of size with such body control at this level.

- DeLonnie Hunt's usage rate went from 18% as a freshman to 13.8% this season, and he's shooting just 28% from three. Is he a guy Bashir Mason can build around going forward? We're about to find out, as he's going to have to step up in Ford's absence.

- I was worried that Raekwon Rogers may have been hitting a wall, as he totaled just 6 points and 7 rebounds in 24 minutes across two games (at SFC, at CCSU). However, 14 and 11 in 30 minutes against LIU makes me feel a little better.

- The Seahawks made just 3 field goals in the 2nd half at Central Connecticut. Give credit to the Blue Devils, but that can't happen come March.

- Wagner remains a 14-seed in the most recent Bracket Matrix update. If they were to win all their games except for the season-finale at Bryant, I'd think they'd land on the 14-line. Take any other losses during the regular season and I think you're suddenly looking at 15. If anyone else were to win the league title they're likely a 16, though Bryant may be able to avoid a PIG.

- FDU's head coach Greg Herenda continues to mix and match lineups, as 11 guys played at least 14% of minutes this past week. Mikey Square, who has been one of the league's most efficient players, saw just 14 minutes at St. Francis-Brooklyn, then went scoreless in 3 minutes at CCSU. It's certainly not performance-related...dude's got a 61% I can't help but wonder if he's found himself in Herenda's doghouse.

- Freshman point guard Antoine Jacks played a career-high 28 minutes at CCSU after seeing 17 minutes at SFC. Jacks scored 10 points and had 9 assists with 2 turnovers in the two games. Jacks has made 50% at the rim, but just 29% on mid-range jumpers and 23.5% on threes.

- Oscar Berry was 5 of 6 from three on the week, including 4 of 5 at CCSU. Berry has very similar numbers to Mike Sixsmith as a freshman; uber-efficient in a low usage role. Berry has made 18 of 39 from three and is 7 of 7 at the rim.

- On Saturday I tweeted that CCSU needed to figure out how to get Nigel Scantlebury going and man did they. The 4th year PG scored a career-high 27 points on 7 of 11 from the field and 10 of 11 from the free throw line, and also had 5 assists and 4 boards (and 1 turnover).

- Freshman walk-on Joe Ostrowsky was on the floor during crunch-time in both of CCSU's game last week. In 47 minutes, Ostrowsky scored 13 points and had 4 assists, but it's not the numbers that earns him time; he's a heady ball-handler who doesn't try to do too much. He took all of Davonte Sweatman's minutes, as CCSU's other freshman PG did not get off the bench against FDU after playing just 7 scoreless minutes against Wagner.

- Central Connecticut's 104.1 points/100 possessions allowed in NEC play, which is 6th in the NEC, would be its best mark since 2011-12 (95.7, 3rd). On an adjusted basis, their 110.0 mark is only 314th nationally, but it's their best since 2012-13 (109.9). The focus has been clear; get this team to buy in on the defensive end, then figure out how to score points.

- In a normal week Eral Penn probably would have won NEC Player of the Week, no? 20.5 points, 7.5 boards, 15 for 27 from the field. He's so good when he's getting most of his offense at the rim (9 for 10 last week) and picking his spots in regards to jump shots, not the other way around.

- LIU's backup PG Andre Washington played a career-high 30 minutes against Sacred Heart, scoring 11 points and adding 5 assists and 5 rebounds. He's struggled to shoot it efficiently this season (2 of 15 from three, 21.7% eFG%) but the fact that he's made 8 of 9 at the free throw line lends me to believe that he's got an ability to be able to knock down open shots.

- As soon as next season, LIU might line up Kyndall Davis and Quion Burns together on the wings. Burns is long (6'5") and super athletic, and has made 31.7% from beyond the arc. The two of them should be able to combine athleticism, shooting, and defensive versatility. Burns is raw, but the talent is clearly there.

- Man, I really hope we get another season of Patrick Emilien. The 6'7" senior is a throw-back as a true "power forward", and went for 20 and 7 (5 offensive rebounds) in SFC's win over Fairleigh Dickinson, then followed that up with 12 and 8. I can't help but wonder what kind of damage he would have done with a true lead guard (like, say, Chauncey Hawkins), especially with a stretch 5 like Jack Hemphill. It's surprising that he's just 1 for 9 from three after shooting 14-43 at Western Michigan last season, but he clearly knows where his bread is buttered.

- I've continued to hold out hope for Robby Higgins, as I just love the energy with which he plays. That 21.6% assist rate is really nice (3.4 apg), but unless he figures out how to score efficiently I'm afraid he's more of a bench guard than starter. His 42.1% eFG% is in line with his career (41.4%). He's a good defender and ball-handler, but that 13 for 52 on mid-range jumpers (25%) really pulls down his offensive numbers.

- I love George Mason transfer Bahaide Haidara as a bench piece. The SFC "wing" is 6'6" and while he doesn't have much of a jump shot (2 for 10 from three, 53.6% from the free throw line), he's incredibly versatile defensively and can finish at the rim (32 for 48). He's a great option in a small lineup that has plenty of shooting around him, and he's good in transition.

- How big was Sacred Heart's win over St. Francis-Brooklyn on Saturday? Lose that one, and you're in the play-in-game conversation. Tyler Thomas scored 20 in that one after really struggling over SHU's 4-game losing streak during which he had a 45.2% eFG% thanks to making just 7 of 25 from two. Thomas has already taken 93 mid-range jumpers in 21 games this season (35.5% FG%) compared to 58 in 17 games a year ago (36.2% FG%).

- Nico Galette averaged 16 points and 9 boards in the two games last week, and might be have solidified himself as the league's Most Improved Player. Is he Anthony Latina's next star?

- Speaking of stars; Aaron Clarke has really struggled from three over the past month, making just 4 of 29 over his last 6 games. I think he and Thomas may be trying to do too much at times, which is reasonable given that there aren't many offensive options for Anthony Latina right now.

- Speaking of SHU offensive options; it's a shock to me that Mike Sixsmith did not take off as a sophomore. After being one of the most efficient players in the country a season ago, Sixsmith's minutes have been nearly cut in half, and he's just 10 of 40 from three (32 of 49 as a freshman). It's not like he's being utilized differently; the rotation is th same, and his usage rate is up marginally from 12.2% to 14.5%. Combine that with Matas Spokas being MIA, and two first-year guys who were heavily relied upon last season have not helped this year's team much.

- Merrimack snapped its 6-game losing streak on Saturday with an overtime in out in Loretto. Jordan Minor was a stud in that one; 16 points on 17 field goal attempts, and 16 rebounds. Ziggy Reid added 10 and 6.

- If you're looking for another MIP candidate, what about Malik Edmead? It blows my mind that he was 3 of 17 from there and 57.6% from the free throw line as a freshman, and as a sophomore he's made 23 of 55 from beyond the arc (41.8%) and 70.2% from the charity stripe. There's some shot selection issues there, but the work he put in working on his shot last summer is clear.

- All the talk earlier this week was about Charles Pride, and rightfully so, but how about Erickson Bans? The sophomore averaged 10 points per game last week as he stepped up in Kiss' absence, making 5 of 9 from downtown. The whole "all-time Rhode Island HS leading scorer" has become the popular refrain for Bans on broadcasts, but the man can put the ball in the hoop and probably deserves a shot heading into next season. Of course; he has to shoot better than 27.5% from three (32.7% eFG%), but it's hard to get comfortable on the floor when you don't get consistent time.

- Joe Moon has appeared in just 12 games for Bryant, yet came up with the big block on Jalen Benjamin as time expired on Saturday to preserve the win. Moon played a career high 13 minutes, scoring 3 points. Bans and Moon have shown that it's difficult for young players to get into the rotation given the way Jared Grasso relies on the Transfer Portal.

- The Mount's Dakota Leffew is really coming into his own during league play. 10 of 22 from deep (54% eFG%), multiple big rebounding games (had 6 in the win over Merrimack), and solid on the ball defense.

- It's probably worth writing about more in depth, but Mezie Offurum has really become more efficient offensively since the calendar flipped to 2022. He's picked his spots from the perimeter (5 of 14 in league play) which has allowed him to become more efficient. On Saturday he had 16 poitns on 14 field goal attempts against Bryant.

- Malik Jefferson returned for Mount St. Mary's last week, playing 26 minutes in each game after missing the previous three. He put up 16 points and 22 rebounds in the two games.

- Mount St. Mary's heads to Wagner on Thursday in what should be a fun one. The only catch; it's a 5pm tip.

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