The NEC Mid-Range Jumper: LIU Is Rolling
The best part about this past weekend? We got 10 NEC games after having six games forfeited over the first two weeks of the league schedule. Hopefully forfeits, and Omicron, are a thing of the past.
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
There's an argument to be made that Bryant has played the best basketball in the confernece over the last three weeks, as they currently sit at 5-1 in the league (4-1 in actual games played), with their lone loss at Wagner in overtime.
This past weekend, the Bulldogs knocked off the Mount 73-66, then destroyed St. Francis (PA) 82-52, both in Smithfield. If Efficiency Margin is your jam, Bryant was +25.9 points/100 possessions. In looking the standings, it's pretty obvious that the Bulldogs have separated themselves from the pack, and appear to be the lone challenger to Wagner atop the standings.
NEC Player of the Week: Ty Flowers, Long Island
LIU seems to have figured something out over the next few weeks, and it's coincided with an offensive explosion from super senior Ty Flowers.
In two games this past weekend, Flowers scored 43 points (including 30 in the win over CCSU), making 6 of 12 from three and putting up a 58.8% eFG%. However, he doesn't just score; in the two games, Flowers averaged 8 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 1 turnover per ballgame in earning two Kenpom MVPs.
NEC Rookie of the Week: Andre Snoddy, Central Connecticut
Snoddy appears to be separating himself from the pack in terms of the Rookie of the Year conversation.
The 6'6" forward had his first career double-double in Saturday's loss at LIU, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 boards (plus 4 assists). Then on Monday, Snoddy had 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Weekly Leaderboard: Adjusted Tempo, per Kenpom. The number represents the number of possessions per 40 minutes.
Positional Rankings: Wings
In the old days we called them "Small Forwards", but now they are versatile wings who provide all, or at least most of, scoring, shooting, rebounding, and defense. This, by far, is the deepest and most talented position in the league, and is led by a couple of Player of the Year contenders.
1. Alex Morales, Wagner- What hasn't already been said about the league's best player? We all know he can score (his 16.2 ppg is 5th in the NEC), but that's not what makes him so good. His 22.3% defensive rebounding rate is 5th, his 24.1% assist rate is 7th, and his 3.3% steal rate is 8th. He's maybe not the best at any one thing, but he's one of the league's top scorers, rebounders, passers, and defensive wings.
2. Peter Kiss, Bryant- Pretty much everything I wrote about Morales can be said about Kiss. Bryant relies on him so much offensively (his 33.3% usage rate is the highest in the league), and not only does he lead the league in scoring (21.2 ppg), his 26.8% assist rate is 4th and he's a versatile defender at 6'5".
3, Charles Pride, Bryant- Yeah, two guys from the same team. Pride is the perfect Robin to Kiss' Batman; he's as unselfish as they come, can go get you 20 (or 27 like he did back on 12/11 at Stony Brook), he rebounds well for his size, and he's one of the league's best defenders. The shooting has dipped a bit (31.3% from deep), but Pride is a winner.
4. Tyler Thomas, Sacred Heart- Perhaps the best "pure scorer" in the NEC, Thomas' 19.1 ppg is 2nd in the league, and he does it in a variety of ways; he can shoot the 3 (35.3%), can finish at the rim (61.7%), and he's developing a nice mid-range game. His 51.5% eFG% is 2nd amongst player with a usage rate north of 25% (behind Ty Flowers), and his 15.2% assist rate suggests he's an unselfish play-maker as well. Defensively he's got work to do to catch up to the guys ahead of him on this list, but Thomas is a sure-fire All-NEC player at season's end.
5. Will Martinez, Wagner- If I had done this list 3 weeks ago, Martinez likely wouldn't have been on it, but he's been superb of late. Unlike the other players on this list, the 3-ball isn't a big part of Martinez' game; he's taken just 13 of them, making 5. Despite that, he's got a 55.9% eFG% (9th in the league) as he's adept at getting into the paint and either finishing at the rim (67.6%) or in the mid-range (43%). His 25.8% assist rate is 5th in the NEC, and he provides play-making, scoring, rebounding, ball-handling, and defense from the wing. Just an all-around strong player.
6. Brandon Rush, Fairleigh Dickinson- Yeah, I had to go 6-deep because I didn't want to exclude Rush. FDU's junior wing has not been good statistically this season as his eFG% is all the way down to 42%. However, if there was a draft of NEC players, how many guys would go ahead of Rush? He's got an ability to finish at the rim and knock down the 3, and can be exciting in transition. He's a bit out of his depth as a go-to-scorer and play-maker, especially considering the youth on the FDU roster. Rush has top 10 in the NEC type ability, and is more suited to be a 2nd or 3rd scorer. This season's struggles is more to do with the FDU roster than it is Rush's talent or ability.
Is Alex Rivera Finding It?
When Rivera came to Long Island from UMass-Lowell in the summer of 2019, I was expecting big things; the 6'1" guard was one of the top freshmen in the America East in 2018-19, and was a big-time recruit for the River Hawks. However, last season could probably be considered a bit disappointing; his 9 ppg was essentially equal to what he did as a freshman at UML, and, as a low-usage (14.8%) guard, his 33.3% from deep was more "fine" than good.
This past week, however, Rivera came up huge for the Sharks; in the win over CCSU, he was 6 for 7 from three for 21 points, and followed that up with a 12 point (2 of 6 from deep) game against St. Francis-Brooklyn. Plus, in the two games, he averaged 3.5 assists and 2 steals per game.
Rivera can be streaky, but over his last three games he's made 11 of his 19 3P attempts, and is up to 37.3% on the year. Combine that with an improved assist rate (15.3%, up from 11.2%) and improved defense, and the junior guard is exactly the kind of player that can make opposing defenses pay when they try to pack it in defensively against that big LIU frontline.
Wagner is Confusing
Mark my words, you're going to hear something to this effect soon; "Wagner is really good offensively and they don't take, or make, many 3s. Take that, analytics nerds!"
Well, part of that is true; Wagner is shooting just 26.3% from deep, which is 348th in the country. And they are only taking 27.4% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc, which is 352nd. Combine that together and only two schools get fewer points, as a percentage, from three-point land. And yet; their 51.5% eFG% is 114th nationally, and tops in the Northeast Conference. What?!
This is a complete statistical anomaly, and I'm totally here for it. Here are all the teams in the country with a 3P% below 27% and their corresponding eFG%:
In fact, the worst 3P shooting team to have an eFG% better than Wagner's is Bellarmine, which has made 32.3% from three and have a 53.1% eFG%.
So then, why are the Seahawks able to remain efficient without being able to make threes at a high clip? Well, because 50% of their shots come at the rim, which is 8th highest nationally, and they make those at a 60% clip.
If you want to beat Wagner, you have to keep the transition opportunities at a minimum, and stop cutters from getting to the basket. Easier said than done, clearly.
Merrimack is No Longer on Fire
Just last week, I was talking about how Merrimack could not miss from beyond the arc. Man, things can change in a hurry. Let's break this down.
After making 50% of their 3P attempts in their first 3 NEC games, in last weekend's home losses to St. Francis (PA) and Mount St. Mary's, the Warriors shot a woeful 4 for 38 from beyond the arc. The question becomes; is this team a good offensive team, or not?
In looking at the graphic above, one row is not like the others. In fact, prior to 12/29, Merrimack never had a single game with an eFG% above 60%, so it was unreasonable to suggest that Joe Gallo suddenly had one of the best shooting teams in the entire country.
Of course, Gallo can win with an offensive that is less than good. The concern, if you're a fan of this school, is that in five league games they've allowed 101 points per 100 possessions, which is just 6th in the Northeast Conference.
In my opinion, it's more likely they get back to being one of the top defenses in the NEC than becoming one of the best offenses.
Nerd Table: eFG%
Pull up a chair and talk effective field goal percentage, or eFG%, with me.
If you hate math, and find these new-fangled stats confusing, then look at eFG% this way; multiply it by two (if you could figure out how to click the link to get here, you can multiply 2 digit numbers by 2), and call it "points per shot". So; a 53% eFG% means that player, or team, earned 1.06 points per shot. With me so far? Cool.
OK, so why do we care? Because pure FG% has been lying to us all these years, in the same way that Batting Average did for baseball fans! To put it simply; field goal percentage assumes all shots (3s and 2s) are the same. But even those who hate math know that 3 is higher than 2, right? So effective FG% counts three-pointers as 1.5x more valuable than a 2-pointer, because they are.
Let's compare St. Francis-Brooklyn's Tedrick Wilcox, Jr., who is one of the best 3P shooters in the NEC, with Mount St. Mary's' Nana Opoku, who gets most of his offensive from inside the arc:
If you were judging these players by pure field goal percentage, then you'd overlook Wilcox. However, the sophomore transfer from D2 Dominican is 3rd in the Northeast Conference with a 62.4% eFG% because he's made 30 of his 63 3P attempts (47.6%). Opoku, on the flip side, is just 3 for 6 from beyond the arc. Both are among the most efficient offensive players in the NEC, they just do it completely differently.
Kyndall Davis vs. Elijah Ford: Dunk Contest
On Friday, Wagner's Elijah Davis did this:
Then on Monday, Kyndall Davis did his best to match him:
As I wrote on Twitter; we need these two to get together for a Long Island vs. Staten Island dunk contest. My (serious) suggestion; the two guys put something together during the summer and post it to social media, perhaps using it as a way to raise money for something meaningful to both of them. Now that we've got NIL, I'd imagine this could work, no? Heck; include a game of H-O-R-S-E as well. I'd bet Larry Moreno would pop in for that.
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings:
- In the Mount's win over Merrimack on Monday, I couldn't help but notice that, in crunch time, Dan Engelstad went with three guards while rotating his three bigs (Mezie Offurum, Nana Opoku, and Malik Jefferson) among two spots. Part of that was foul trouble, but in watching the Mount I've felt that while Offurum at the '3' is a major advantage on the defensive side of the ball, playing that big frontline together limits the spacing offensively as neither Offurum, Opoku, or Jefferson stretch the defense with any consistency.
- I was planning to write a "what's up with Malik Jefferson" blurb in this week's MRJ, but then the 6'9" senior big man went out and put up 16/9 on Monday, making 7 of 10 from the field and blocking 3 shots. Jefferson's shooting numbers are well below what they were last year, but hopefully Monday was the beginning of a strong finish to the season.
- On January 6th, in his first game back after missing two games, Mount St. Mary's' Deandre Thomas was 2 for 8 from deep in the Mount's loss to LIU. In three games since, he's attempted just three 3-pointers (making 1) despite playing over 23 minutes in each game. Thomas is a career 37.6% 3P shooter, and MSMU needs him to be a factor from outside.
- He hasn't played a ton, but I like Mount St. Mary's freshman Jaylin Gibson. At 6'3", he profiles as a 3&D guy (9 for 20 from deep on the season) who has the athleticism to be solid in transition. By my count Engelstad's entire roster could return in 22-23, but if anyone leaves, Gibson would be a candidate to see a sophomore jump.
- In the pre-season, it felt like all the talk around the Bryant program, at least in terms of transfers, centered around the former A-10 guys in Tyler Brelsford (George Washington) and Greg Calixte (George Mason). However, it's been Adham Eleeda who has made the largest impact for BU. The Bulldogs have just three players playing more than 57% of available minutes; Peter Kiss, Charles Pride, and the Northern Kentucky transfer. In Bryant's win over Mount St. Mary's on Saturday, Eleeda was 8 for 13 from beyond the arc for 26 points. Sure, he was just 3 of 14 on Monday, but on the season he's making 37.4% from deep, and he leads the league with 49 made treys (3.1 per game).
- Peter Kiss averaged 24.5 ppg this past weekend, including 5 of 10 from deep in Monday's win over SFU. He's only making 27% of his threes on the season, but 32.4% during league play, and has his FT% up over 70% after some early struggles.
- Where has Chris Childs gone? After being a major part of Bryant's rotation a season ago (66.7% of available minutes), the sharp-shooter played just 12 scoreless minutes in two games last weekend. He's made just 30.3% from deep (down from 39.5% last season), and has clearly been passed in the pecking order by Eleeda, and perhaps even Brelsford and Erickson Bans. I can't help but wonder if there's an injury there.
- Last week Bryant received a Verbal Commitment from La Salle transfer Sherif Kenney. The 6'4" wing averaged nearly 9ppg in 2.5 seasons for the Explorers, putting up a 36.7/31.3/67.8 (45.4% eFG%) shooting line. Kenney had steal rates north of 2% in all three seasons in which he played, and profiles as a high usage scorer. He should be able to come in and compete with former St. Francis-Brooklyn Terrier Chauncey Hawkins for minutes at the '1', while Adham Eleeda's minutes should be up for grabs as well after he graduates. Keep in mind, however; for whatever reason, there's been plenty of examples of a player committing to Bryant but never actually playing (where's Myles Latimer?). A lot can happen between now and November.
- Is it me, or does Wagner's Raekwon Rogers only seem to be getting better? In league games, his usage rate is up to 26.3% (23.4% for the season), and he's maintained an efficient 126.6 O-Rating thanks to shooting 60% from the field, grabbing 14.7% of his OR opportunities, and rarely turning it over. At 6'8" 240 lbs., there's very few, if any, NEC bigs who can handle him 1v1 in the post.
- Speaking of the Seahawks; in the most recent Bracket Matrix update from 1/17, Wagner remained a 14-seed, though they dropped one spot the the 3rd 14th seed behind South Dakota St. (Summit League) and Vermont (America East), and just ahead of Towson (Colonial). I'd have to think that one league loss, maybe with the exception of at Bryant in the regular season finale, would all but end their dream of being anything higher than a 15. Of course, that would also depend on what happens in other one-big leagues.
- Aaron Clarke, to me, deserves on the All-NEC 1st team this season, even ahead of teammate Tyler Thomas. Last weekend he averaged 17 points and 4 assists in Sacred Heart's sweep of FDU and CCSU. Two weeks ago I ranked him as the league's top PG, and I think it would take a really bad stretch for me to back off that.
- The Pio's' Bryce Johnson put up a 9 points and 13 boards against Central Connecticut on Monday, in what was perhaps his best game of the season. Unlike Nico Galette, Johnson hasn't taken as large of a step as I had expected; he's a very good rebounder, but the shot hasn't been there (3 for 14 from 3, just 46% from the charity stripe).
- According to Shot Quality, Central Connecticut is 349th in terms of shot selection in Patrick Sellers' first season. The biggest issue is that they get very little at the rim (0.96 SQppp, 351st nationally), as the roster doesn't have many guys who can use the dribble to attack the paint, and they rely on the mid-range quite a bit (and not good mid-range shots, like Wagner).
- Andre Snoddy, who just picked up his 3rd NEC Rookie of the Week Award (and 2nd in a row), will probably be the run-away Rookie of the Year award in the league. Snoddy leads all freshmen in scoring (7.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg), as well as total minutes played (508).
- Despite starting out 1-4 in league play, CCSU's Ian Krishnan has been really good; he's shot 37.5% from deep and has a 58.1% eFG%. Over his last three games, the 6'2" 4th year junior is averaging 16.3 ppg.
- Two players largely absent from the CCSU rotation last weekend were Jayden Brown and Zach Newkirk. Brown, who has started the 10 games in which he's appeared, logged just 15 minutes in the two games, committing 6 fouls and scoring 2 points. Newkirk, who has started 7 games this season, did not play in the loss to Sacred Heart but did appear to be in uniform on the bench.
- St. Francis-Brooklyn's Patrick Emilien was really good in Saturday's loss to Wagner, scoring 23 points on 9 of 13 shooting while showcasing a variety of moves in the post. Then he was absent during Monday's loss to Long Island. I know Michael Cubbage is the high usage guy, but Emilien has been SFC's best player this season.
- Jack Hemphill, SFC's 6'9" big by way of Boston University, is shooting 30% from three and 71.4% from the mid-range. However, he's made just 38.5% of his attempts at the rim. Odd for someone with that kind of size.
- St. Francis (PA) has been riddled with injuries for the 2nd season in a row, as Ronell Giles remains out with what appears to be a knee injury. In both games this past weekend, Rob Krimmel put both of his primary bigs, Josh Cohen and Mark Flagg, in the starting 5. I'm not sure how effective that lineup can be since both are true 5's and neither offer any versatility on both sides of the ball, but I'm not sure what choice Krimmel has. Hopefully Giles gets back soon.
- Over the last 4 games, SFU 7-footer Jeriah Coleman has played at least 12 minutes in each, and he's averaged 6.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. He's shooting 65.4% from the field on the season, has a 25.6% defensive rebounding rate, and offers rim protection.. Fouling has been an issue (6.5 fouls per 40 mins), but Coleman should be a legitimate rotation option for SFU next season after Mark Flagg graduates..
- It's just two games, but last weekend Brandon Rush's usage rate was just 19.3% (it's 28.6% on the season), as Greg Herenda appears to be trying to feature Mikey Square more offensively. Rush was just 5 for 17 from the field with a pair of assists.
- Speaking of Square; in his first 10 games, the sophomore was just 0-2 from deep. However, over his last three he's 2 for 4. He doesn't need to become a "3-point shooter", but if he can keep the defense honest, it should open up space for him to get to the rim where he's shooting 58.2%.
- There's been a handful of guys who have seemingly regressed since last season, and one of them is FDU's sophomore wing Joe Munden. As a freshman he had a 48.4% eFG% on the strength of 15 of 37 from deep. This season that's all the way down to 36.7%, and it's largely a mid-range issue; he's attempted 23 shots from the mid-range, and just 25 at the rim. Munden has an SQ PPP of 0.69, which is in the 11th percentile of D1 players.
- There's been more shifting across the NCAA D1 landscape, and this time it threatens to affect the NEC. On Wednesday, media reports suggested that Monmouth (MAAC), Stony Brook (America East), and Hampton (MEAC) are leaving their respective conferences to join the Colonial Athletic Association. It's also been reported that the CAA may not be done, and could still target anywhere from 2-4 more teams at some point. Wagner has been rumored to be potentially involved with the MAAC, which could look at others from the NEC, as could the America East. There are plenty of dominos that could fall.