The NEC Mid-Range Jumper: Down goes Wagner (and Bryant)!

What was the nation's longest winning streak just a few days ago is no longer, as Merrimack walked into the Spiro Center and upset the Seahawks 80-65 in overtime. Then, about an hour later, Long Island knocked off Bryant 99-88 in what was an exciting, back-and-forth affair after Bryant came back from a 17-point 1st half deficit.

In the grand scheme of things those two results mean very little; the top 2-seeds are nearly wrapped up by Bryant and Wagner (more on that down below), however it has to give the rest of the league some confidence heading into the NEC Tournament. Neither Wagner nor Bryant are invincible.

Standings: With just two full weeks left, I will switch things up and order the standings by the Bart Torvik's projected record, with teams that are tied ordered by current tie-breakers. Note: I'm using Torvik because his projections include forfeits, while Kenpom's do not (though it's easy to adjust the records).

NEC Team of the Week: Long Island

The only team to go 2-0 last week, LIU ended Bryant's 9-game winning streak and, along with their 74-69 win over St. Francis-Brooklyn, are in the driver's seat for the #3 seed in the NEC Tournament. Next Saturday's game down in Emmitsburgh is massive.

NEC Player of the Week: Ty Flowers, Long Island

As he's been for nearly a month now, Flowers was dominant last week. The senior forward averaged 30.5 points, 12 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 3 blocks per game in the two wins.

NEC Rookie of the Week: Anquan Hill, Fairleigh Dickinson

FDU's freshman big has continued to come on strong here at the end of the season, and last week scored 37 points and had 16 boards in FDU's split.

Weekly Leaderboard: Most Mid-Range Jumpers taken (per Bart Torvik)

NEC Tournament Seed-Races

Just two weeks, ya'll. The NEC Tournament begins exactly 2 weeks from last night with the 8/9 game.

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: Wagner has clinched home-court advantage through the semifinals (they're up 5 games on both LIU and the Mount with 4 games to play), while Bryant's magic number to clinch a top-2 spot is '1'. The Seahawks still have the inside track on the 1-seed; they're 1-game up on Bryant (the two play in Smithfield on 2/26). If the two were to finish tied (and therefore split the season series), Bryant's loss to LIU could hurt as Wagner swept both the Sharks and Mount St. Mary's.

#3/#4 Seeds: Why is #3 important? Because if one of the top seeds get upset in the quarterfinals (unlikely but possible), then you get a home game in the semis. Otherwise, at least this season, I'm not sure it matters. Either way; Long Island and Mount St. Mary's are tied with Mount St. Mary's looking to split the season-series in Emmitsburg next Saturday (Kenpom has them as 3-point favorites). Both teams have soft schedules otherwise, so it very well could be that the winner of that one gets the 3. As for the 4? Both teams could clinch home-court in the quarterfinals as early as Thursday night, as both SFC and CCSU are 3 games back with 4 to play (and neither are likely to come anywhere close to winning out).

The Rest: St. Francis-Brooklyn got a huge win at CCSU on Saturday, and while they're currently tied with the Blue Devils for the 5th seed, they're projected by both Kenpom and Torvik to finish 7-11 and alone for #5. Of course, they do not have an easy schedule with trips to Emmitsburg and Loretto and home games against Bryant and Merrimack. Go 1-3 (Torvik gives that a 34% chance) and things get hairy.

The Red Flash, Sacred Heart, and Central Connecticut are all projected to finish 6-12. Right now SFU is sitting pretty with a combined 2-0 record against SHU and CCSU, however they will finish their season with that Connecticut trip (Kenpom gives them a 39% chance of winning both). Should the Blue Devils and Pios end up tied given that they've split the season series (by virtue of a SHU forfeit), Central's win over LIU at Detrick could help them avoid the Play-in-Game. Sacred Heart's home game against Merrimack tonight is paramount.

FDU? They'd probably need to split their final 4 games to get out of last place. The problem? Their remaining schedule is a gauntlet of 3 road games (Merrimack, Bryant, and LIU) and a home game against Wagner. According to Torvik, the Knights' most likely outcome is 0-4 (56%). FDU, whose victory over Mount St. Mary's looms large in a tie-breaker scenario, needs to win at least 1 game and hope SFU finishes no better than 1-3 (29% likely) or CCSU loses out (39%).

The New Look Seahawks

Last Thursday, Wagner made it look like playing without Elijah Ford wouldn't be much trouble in trouncing a very good Mount St. Mary's squad 69-57 at the Spiro Center, and it wasn't even that close as the Seahawks had a 20-point lead with under 9 minutes to play. And they did it, surprisingly enough, from beyond the arc by making 8 of 18 from deep while also limiting the Mount to just 0.93ppp.

On Saturday, it was completely different as the Seahawks fell to Merrimack 80-65 in overtime. In my Ball Screen I had noted that I was worried about who Bashir Mason would put into the middle of the Merrimack zone as it's the perfect spot for a play-making forward like, say, Elijah Ford. And while I think that did play into a bit, a few notes about that game:

  • Alex Morales uncharacteristically struggled, finishing just 7 of 21 from the field, with 2 assists and 4 turnovers.

  • The Seahawks made just 1 of 20 from deep. Elijah Ford wouldn't have helped with that, though you could make an argument that with him they wouldn't have had to settle for so many perimeter shots.

  • According to Shot Quality, based on the shots both teams took, Wagner wins the game 58% of the time. In other words; the Seahawks missed some good looks from beyond the arc. Make just one more in regulation, and Wagner wins.

Anyway; I watched both games pretty closely because I wanted to see what the Wagner rotation looked like. In last week's Jumper I surmised that it would be Jahbril Price-Noel who saw the largest increase in minutes and I pretty much hit the nail on the head (Note: the comparison only includes games since Price-Noel returned):

While the rest of the rotation also saw an uptick in minutes, Price-Noel played 34 minutes against Mount St. Mary's and 38 minutes against Merrimack as Mason showed that he really doesn't want to play with a small lineup any more than he has to.

A few other observations:

  • Early in the Mount St. Mary's game, Raekwon Rogers hit a "pick and pop" three on a play that was specifically designed, similar to the game-tying three Rogers hit to send the LIU game to overtime. He's now exactly 2 for 3 from deep on the season, and if defenses have to honor that shot, it will only open things up even more for him inside.

  • Mason showed a penchant for playing more zone which makes sense given that Price-Noel is not nearly as switchable as Ford.

  • Price-Noel gives Wagner a different look offensively as a high-volume shooter, but he's just not the playmaker Ford is. In the two games, Price-Noel's usage rate was just 11.1% compared to Ford's 21.8%.

  • Who saw their usage jump? They played through Rogers a bit more (27.2% usage compared to a season average of 24%), and Will Martinez was more involved (26.1% compared to 24% on the year).

  • Merrimack's bigs torched Wagner inside; Jordan Minor was 8 for 9 at the rim, and Ziggy Reid's size and athleticism was problematic all game (6 for 11 from the field, 6 for 8 from the free throw line). Minor was a handful the first time around (6 for 9 from the field), but Reid was 0 for 10 back on January 23rd. It bares watching how Wagner matches up with athletic 4s going forward, though it's worth noting that Nana Opoku and Mezie Offurum combined for 2 for 11 from the field on Thursday night.

Ultimately I have a feeling Wagner just played a bad game while the coaching staff was forced to adjust its rotation while playing a unique defense. Are the Seahawks no longer the league favorite? I'm not ready to go there, though I think their margin for error is a lot less than it was prior to the Ford injury.

Is Jalen Benjamin Injured?

With 13 minutes left in the 2nd half out in Loretto on Saturday, Jalen Benjamin began favoring his right leg and, after being subbed out, never returned to action. While the announcers, at least to my knowledge, never brought it up (it seemed they had Jaylen Gibson confused for Benjamin), you could see Benjamin sitting on the bench with his right leg extended and what appeared to be an ice pack on it.

I won't try to play doctor, and will not suggest that it's anything more than a "tweak" with Dan Engelstad just playing it safe with a kid's health. However, if he were to miss time, I'd be very concerned as we head down the home stretch.

The former UAB Blazer plays nearly 77% of the team's minutes, and his usage rate of 25.3% is tops on the team and 9th in the NEC. He has the ball in his hands a lot. According to Hoop Explorer, the Mount's offense nearly falls apart when he's out of the game;

  • When he's on the floor, MSMU averages 102.3 points/100 possessions (99.1 adjusted OE)

  • When he's off the floor, they averages 80.9 points/100 possessions (79.3 adjusted OE)

Now, some of those 282 possessions with Benjamin on the bench occurred when one of either Dakota Leffew or Deandre Thomas were injured. Even so, Engelstad does not have another guard capable of doing the things that Benjamin offers on the offensive end.

On the defensive end, his ability to pick up his man 80 feet from the basket has been crucial to the Mount's success. Again, using Hoop Explorer, when he's on the floor the Mount forces turnovers on 18.7% of their possessions, compared to just 15.3% when he's not there.

Let's hope the Mount's lead guard is back and 100% healthy come Thursday night.

Bryant since Elisias went out?

Hall Elisias, who is the league-leader in block rate by a country mile (11.4%, compared to Jordan Minor's 8.4%) has missed Bryant's last 5 games with a knee injury suffered against Merrimack on January 27th. Since then, the Bulldogs have gone 4-1, so it'd be normal to wonder if Bryant even misses him. Oh boy, do they.

Backup big man Greg Calixte has stepped in admirably for Elisias; his 5.2% block rate is 5th in the NEC, and he's got a 66% eFG% on the season. Not a bad guy to be bringing off the bench if you're Jared Grasso.

However, in Saturday loss at LIU we started to see the cracks. Calixte was great when he was on the floor; 14 points, 10 rebounds, and a block in 26 minutes. However, it's the 26 minutes that were the problem, as Calixte battled foul trouble all game and eventually fouled out with 1:47 remaining. Bryant doesn't have another scholarship player taller than 6'6", and freshman walk-on Josh Ozabor has the size (6'7" 220) but not quite the ability (yet) to handle some of the better opposing bigs in the NEC. At the end of that game, Grasso used Luis Hurtado to guard Isaac Kante, and that's not something that will work long-term.

So, how bad has Bryant missed Elisias? Since the big man went out, Bryant's 108.5 Adjusted DE is just 7th in the league. Prior to that? 105.0 (5th) since the start of the season, but 103.7 (3rd) since the beginning of NEC play.

Taking a trip back over to Hoop Explorer and the difference is night-and-day; when Elisias is on the floor, Bryant is allowing just 101.7 points/100 possessions, compared to 108.1 when he's not.

Top "Prospects"

Most of my stuff is stat-based, but I'm switching gears here. What follows is my NEC "top prospects" list, which features players who have three years remaining (freshmen and sophomores). A caveat; this is not who is best right now, but rather if I were betting on these guys long-term. Current performance is relevant, but this is more upside than anything.

PG- Malik Edmead, Merrimack- Edmead is the type of high-usage lead guard who can do damage every time he touches the basketball; as a sophomore he has a 25% assist rate, is shooting 41.7% from deep, and he's a pest on the defensive end with a league-leading 4.2% steal rate. The decision making needs to improve, especially when it comes to shot selection, and he's got to find consistency. But when I remember that he made just 3 of 17 from three last season, it tells me that the work ethic is clearly there. Given the talent and the position that he plays, if I were drafting today I'd take Edmead for the next three years over any other player in the Northeast Conference.

Next up: DeLonnie Hunt, Wagner- He's taken a step back this season, however the 20-21 NEC Rookie of the Year is clearly a capable shooter (35% as a freshman). I'd expect him to become more of a play-maker next season once Alex Morales is gone.

2G- Dakota Leffew, Mount St. Mary's- Leffew is more combo-guard than true shooter, and at 6'5" he provides so much size and defensive versatility for the position. His three-point shot has suffered a bit as he's had the ball in his hands more often this season (just 32% this year after making 38% as a freshman), but his assist rate has jumped to 17.1% from 9.1% and he's cut his turnovers by more than half. Despite the height, he's not exactly comfortable in the paint (just 44% at the rim), but that could change as he gets stronger and some of these really good NEC bigs graduate and move on. A shooter with size and an ability to handle the ball? Sign me up.

Next up: Maxwell Land, St. Francis (PA)- Land is a shooter (career 41.1% from deep) while providing good size (6'4") on the wing. I almost went Oscar Berry from FDU here, but I'm always a bit warry of low usage, 1-dimensional shooters becoming more than that.

3- Kyndall Davis, Long Island- There may not be a more athletic player in the NEC than Davis; at 6'5" Davis can jump out of the gym and is one of the very best perimeter defenders in the conference. The jump shot (28.4% from deep on 81 attempts) has improved from last season when he was just 3 of 22 from deep, though he's been inconsistent at times and can struggle with decision making. However, even if he becomes nothing more than an average 3P shooter, his ability to finish in transition in an uptempo offense means he could become one of the leading scorers in the league as he ascends to a more prominent role in the offense over the next few seasons.

Next up: Jaylin Gibson, Mount St. Mary's- I just love watching this dude play; in very limited minutes, he's shown that he can be a "3&D" guy as a freshman as he's made 12 of 34 from distance, and his 3.5% steal rate only begins to tell the story of how disruptive he can be defensively. I'd guess that Dan Engelstad will have to find a way to get Gibson significant run next season. (Note: I went back and forth between Gibson and Ronell Giles here, but ultimately I like Gibson's upside a bit more long-term. Wagner's Zaire Williams is also a guy who I considered here. Deep position.)

4- Andre Snoddy, Central Connecticut- In the pre-season, CCSU head coach Patrick Sellers referred to Snoddy as a "Draymond Green type" and...yeah! At 6'6" 210 lbs., Snoddy is already one of the league's best rebounders (his 22% DR% is 3rd in the conference), he's got a soft touch around the rim (60.6%), and he can put the ball on the floor and make plays for others. The big question mark; can he develop a jump shot (he's 0 for 6 from deep)? He's worked hard in-season to improve at the free throw line (he's now up to 77% in league play), and provides versatility on the defensive end with an ability to ably defend 2-4. If he can become a guy who can do enough from the perimeter to keep the defense honest, he's a future POY candidate. If not, he's still likely a top 10 guy in this league two years from now.

Next up: Nico Galette, Sacred Heart- Galette has gone from little-used reserve to an invaluable piece of Anthony Latina's rotation in just one year. A "grab and go" forward, Galette is already one of the league's best rebounders as a sophomore, has shown an ability to make threes (31.7%), and can put the ball on the floor. Offensively, I think Galette is the type of player Andre Snoddy could become. The reason I have Snoddy higher here is that I don't think Galette is quite as impactful on the defensive end. However, with the way Anthony Latina has developed players over the years, don't be surprised to see Galette as a 16 point, 8 rebound guy down the line. (Note: No, I'm not forgetting Mikey Square. I really like Square, but I just don't think he's as dynamic as the other two)

5- Anquan Hill, Fairleigh Dickinson- If this surprises you, you clearly haven't watched FDU enough. If you want to talk about impacting the game; at 6'9", Hill has the athleticism and length to become an elite shot blocker (his 4.6% block rate is 9th) and on the offensive end he can score both beyond the arc (7 for 16 in league play) and at the rim (54%) with a skill set is more "stretch 4" than "true 5". At 195 lbs. he needs to get stronger to be able to bang inside, though his 19% defensive rebounding rate is already solid.

Next up: Josh Cohen, St. Francis (PA)- Cohen is already one of the more efficient bigs in the league, and has worked hard to go from redshirt freshman to usurping Mark Flagg as the starter in Loretto. His upside defensively is probably not what Hill's is, however.

Some other names worth mentioning: Jayden Brown and Trenton McLaughlin, CCSU; Joe Munden and Sebastien Lamaute, FDU; Josh Reaves, MSMU; Quion Burns, LIU


Curiosities, Surprises, Observations, and Musings

- Maybe I should have mentioned Brad McCabe as one of my Top Prospects? Dude torched FDU for 21 points (5 of 6 from deep) and 5 boards last Thursday night. There are some really good walk-ons who have gotten ample PT this season in McCabe, SHU's Joey Reilly, CCSU's Joe Ostrowsky, and Bryant's Josh Ozabor.

- It looked like a great atmosphere on ESPNU last Thursday when Mount St. Mary's took on Wagner. However, it was very disappointing that ESPN did not send its announcers to the Spiro Center, instead having them call the game off-location. I do think the broadcast loses a bit when that's the case.

- Last Thursday Patrick Sellers installed Andre Snoddy in the middle of the Merrimack zone and he just picked it apart. In a 61-posssesion game, Snoddy had 12 points (on 13 shots), 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, and his ability to pass and also make 8-footers was problematic all night long for the Warriors.

- Speaking of Merrimack, Devin Jensen returned on Thursday night, logging 22 minutes against CCSU though he did not play against Wagner. Jensen, who appeared to have a boot on his foot at one point, missed 11 games so it would make sense to ease him back in. However, the Warriors desperately need him; when he's in the lineup, their Adjusted DE is 94.2. When he's out? 107.4.

- Raekwon Rogers (Wagner) and Tedrick Wilcox (St. Francis-Brooklyn) have become instrumental cogs in their teams rotation a year removed from playing D2 ball. I can't help but wonder what kind of impact CCSU's Hegel Augustin could have made hade he not gotten injured in the pre-season. Augustin averaged 21.2 points and 9.7 boards at Glenville St. last season, and would really have helped at that '3' spot given his size (6'3" 205) and ability to rebound. Hopefully he uses that 5th year of eligibility next season.

- Fairleigh Dickinson beat Sacred Heart on Saturday while playing Brandon Rush and Devon Dunn each 6 minutes. Instead, Herenda played 4-different first year players at least 31 minutes. In the game prior, Joe Munden took a DNP. Greg Herenda is stubborn, man. Ultimately this team will probably be better down the line because of his willingness to have his stars take a backseat.

- On Thursday night, with the clock winding down, Tre Mitchell absolutely smothered Merrimack's Mikey Watkins as he tried to get a good-look for a game-tying three-pointer. Mitchell has become CCSU's best defender. Despite his shot becoming inconsistent thanks to his line drive style (27.7% in NEC play), the senior guard is well-deserving of playing 30+ minutes every night.

- When Jalen Benjamin went out on Saturday, Jaylin Gibson showed an ability to be more than a shooter; he was 3 of 4 at the rim, and showed he was capable of getting offense off the bounce. That game was actually what gave me the idea of doing a "Top Prospects" blurb this week. Loads of upside there, but he can't go getting himself ejected prior to playing a minute like he did on Thursday at Wagner.

- On the SFU broadcast, it was said that Ronell Giles was participating in pre-game warmups. Whether he returns or not remains to be seen, but if that's true it's obviously very good news. If I were Krimmel, I wouldn't rush him back unless he was 100% healthy.

- Jordan Minor was impossible to stop all week, scoring 49 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in the two games. His combination of size and athleticism may be unmatched in the NEC, and if he can make 7 of 11 from the free throw line like he did last week, he's unstoppable.

- With Michael Cubbage unavailable on Saturday, Larry Moreno took over in scoring a season-high 23 points on 11 field goal attempts. I wasn't surprised to see Moreno knock down 3 of 6 from distance, but 4 of 4 at the rim?

- It's been years since I've seen someone use the fade-away as much as Patrick Emilien does. It's obviously impossible to block, though explains why he's been so inconsistent this season (just 4 of 15 at CCSU).

- Wagner's Zaire Williams scored just 1 point (0 for 5 from deep) in Wagner's loss to Merrimack. Perhaps the most highly-touted freshman in this year's class, Williams has loads of athleticism at 6'4", and his jump shot is pure. Williams may be the key to the 22-23 version of the Seahawks as a guy who will be looked to carry a higher usage than this year's 15.4% mark. But that 28.2% 3P% will need to creep up.

- Wagner is still holding strong as a #14 seed according to the most recent Bracket Matrix. I'd have to guess that if they finished 3-1 with a loss at Bryant and won the NEC Tournament, they'd likely be a 14 and would be no lower than a 15-seed. They can't go losing to Sacred Heart, CCSU, or FDU, however.

- After scoring 110 points across three games, Charles Pride fell back to earh at LIU managing just 9 points on 21 field goal attempts, including 1 of 12 from deep. However, he did have 15 rebounds and 6 assists. You have to like the fact that he continued to shoot the rock.

- Despite the fact that Marlon Hargis is shooting 39.6% from three and has a 110.7 O-Rating on 18.9% usage, SFU is worse both offensively (92.1 points/100 possessions compared to 97.8 when he's off) and defensively (100.5 pts/100 poss compared to 104.1 when he's off). Huh? Krimmel needs Hargis to defend better out of the 4-spot, specifically on the boards. However, it's odd that they'd be worse offensively. My theory? They force turnovers more with a smaller, quicker lineup which leads to transition opportunities.

- And finally; did you know that if you get bit by a bat while you're sleeping, you may not know it? I found that out last week when I had to go get rabies shots because there was a bat sleeping in my kitchen when I woke up Sunday morning (the 2nd bat in 2 months here). Also; the rabies shot series is not something you want to go through. My advice? Don't have bats in your house.