The NEC Mid-Range Jumper: New Year's Edition
Standings: As always after the start of conference play, teams are sorted by Efficiency Margin in league games only.
NEC Team of the Week: Merrimack
On Wednesday, MC opened league play with a 74-64 win over St. Francis-Brooklyn, then on New Year's Eve the Warriors knocked off Long Island 82-77, in a game where the Warriors led at one point by 19 points.
It's not a surprise that the Warriors started out 2-0, as they were home favorites against both Long Island and St. Francis-Brooklyn, which was without its top two scorers. However, what was a surprise was how they did it; scoring 1.24ppp and making 54.5% of its 3-point attempts (72.3% eFG%).
It was a complete role reversal for Joe Gallo's club, as Merrimack allowed SFC to score over 1.00ppp, then LIU hung 77 points in a 62 possession game.
NEC Team Performance of the Week: Fairleigh Dickinson 70, St. Francis (PA) 62
The most unlikely winner of the week (Kenpom gave FDU a 16% chance of getting the dub), the Knights went into Loretto and held the league's top offense to 0.83ppp, largely thanks to holding SFU to 3 of 17 from three.
NEC Player of the Week: Ty Flowers, Long Island
I wouldn't normally give the Player of the Week to a guy from a team that went 0-2, but Flowers was just so good; in the two games he averaged 29.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 2.5 steals per game, making 8 of 17 from three, 7 of 8 from the charity stripe, and 10 of 12 at the rim (63.4% eFG%).
NEC Rookie of the Week: Andre Snoddy, Central Connecticut
With CCSU missing 3 starters, plus their 6th man, due to covid, Patrick Sellers needed multiple guys to step up, and Snoddy was up to the task. The 6'6" freshman scored 13 points on 6 of 10 from the field in CCSU's loss to Bryant, then two days later went for 14 and 9. On Saturday at Rutgers, tired legs prevailed, as Snoddy finished with just 4 points, but did grab 8 rebounds and had 3 blocks.
Weekly Leaderboard: Pick and Roll offense (per Shot Quality)
Dan Engelstad used Damian Chong Qui in a similar role last season, utilizing the P&R in 26% of his half-court sets. DCQ accounted for 177 of those plays (55%), and had a SQ PPP of 0.79 It will be interesting to see how Benjamin's efficiency changes during the league schedule.
This is the area that is, perhaps, the largest on-court difference between new head coach Patrick Sellers and previous HC Donyell Marshall. Sellers has gone P&R heavy with Nigel Scantlebury.
Wagner can use a number of players in the P&R, including Morales, Will Martinez, and Elijah Ford. That makes them incredibly difficult to defend (and scout).
SFC has really struggled in the P&R, as Michael Cubbage has been very inefficient. Part of the problem? He's made just 4 of 26 from three. Defenses only have to respect the dribble drive.
Brandon Rush and Ramiir Dixon-Conover have been very good in the PnR. Both guys have the athleticism to get to, and finish, at the rim, while Rush is the better shooter and RDC the superior passer.
Positional Rankings: Point Guards
Continuing something I did last season, for the next 5 week's I'll identify the top 5 NEC players at each position. Remember; things change, especially over the course of the league schedule. Consider this a snap shot in time, not a projection for the rest of the season.
We'll start with, undeniably, the most important position in college basketball. Find me a title favorite in any league, and I'll point to really good point guard play.
1. Aaron Clarke, Sacred Heart: During the pre-season, I wouldn't have guessed Clarke would be in this spot. While his career has been somewhat up-and-down, the 'downs' have largely been due to nagging injuries, not ability. This year, the senior leads all PGs with a 115.3 O-Rating (24.5% usage), as well as scoring (16.1 ppg). Add in 3.7 apg (23.8% assist rate), and Clarke may be SHU's best all-around player, or at least most important. My favorite part of his game is his ability to use the dribble to get into the lane.
2. Ramiir Dixon-Conover, St. Francis (PA): RDC has taken a step-back in terms of usage (23.2%), and his 46.5% eFG% is more 'fine' then good, but he does a little bit of everything; scores (13.1 ppg), makes plays for others (3.8 apg), rebounds (5.2 rpg), and is maybe the best perimeter defender in the NEC.
3. Nigel Scantlebury, Central Connecticut: In my NEC Preview, I touted Tre Mitchell as "The Guy" for CCSU, yet it's been Scantlebury who has benefitted most from Patrick Sellers' style. The 6'0" 4th year senior is 2nd among NEC PGs with a 26.6% assist rate, has a 50.4% eFG% (44.4% from three), and has made 85% from the charity stripe.
4. Jalen Benjamin, Mount St. Mary's: No point guard is being tasked with more than Benjamin; the UAB transfer is playing 80% of available minutes and has a 25.6% usage rate. He hasn't exactly been efficient shooting the basketball (44.4% eFG%, the lowest of the 5 guys on this list), but he leads the league with a 30.4% assist rate, and Benjamin is the primary play-maker for the Mount.
5. Malik Edmead, Merrimack: What a jump the sophomore has made; an efficient 100.8 O-Rating on early 27% usage, Edmead's eFG% is up to 48.6%, and he's got 32 assists against just 15 turnovers (last season he has 26 of each). Edmead is the only 2nd year player on this list, and has a chance to become a star in this league.
The NEC's tournament champ hasn't gotten off the 16-seed line since 2011, when LIU Brooklyn, as it used to be called, was a #15 seed when it lost to North Carolina 102-87. That Blackbirds team finished at #109 at Kenpom.
The Seahawks are currently 7-2 overall, and 2-0 in the NEC including its forfeit win over Mount St. Mary's last week. Kenpom has Wagner at #117, and Bracket Matrix, as of January 1st, has WC as the 2nd #14 seed.
It's too early to start comparing Wagner to the best teams in some other one-big leagues, but if this keeps up into February, I'll start doing that.
Merrimack: a good offensive team?
After having one of the worst offenses in the nation, by Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, the Warriors exploded up in North Andover last week:
In two games, Merrimack averaged 1.25ppp thanks to making 24 of their 44 3P attempts, including a ridiculous 17 of 26 against LIU.
Sometimes when a team shoots the lights out, it can be due to one player. However, that wasn't the case here:
Jordan McKoy came into the week shooting 32.3% from three, then made 9 of 15 in the two games last week;
Ziggy Reid was 16 of 60 (26.7%), then shot 4 of 7;
Mikey Watkins was just 6 of 31 through Christmas, then made 5 of 9 last week.
Malik Edmead continued to shoot the ball well (3 of 5 from deep, 48.1% on the season), while Jordan Minor shot 76.5% from the field (13 of 17).
Is this what we should begin expecting from this Warriors team? In going by single-game Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, which adjusts for opponent and location, their 2 NEC wins represented their best offensive performances of the season. In fact, they've had just four games with an Adjusted OE better than 94.6; their 75-60 win over UHart (at home), and the 61-60 loss at Boston University.
My guess? This was a bit of a blip, though watch out for Jordan McKoy; with Devin Jensen wearing a walking-boot, the 6'5" junior has been a bright spot as a 3&D guy; he's now up to 41.3% from deep on the season after making 12 of 48 in his first two seasons at MC, and he's got a 2.4% steal rate.
Bryant's Block Party
If you follow the NEC even a little bit, you know that Bryant has the league's premier shot-blocker in 6'8" big man Hall Elisias. But last week was something else; the Bulldogs had a 19.1% block rate thanks to sending back 9 shots at CCSU on Wednesday, then following that up with another 9 block afternoon against Sacred Heart.
Yes, Elisias did the yeoman's work; he rejected 5 blocks in each game, and now has a 12.1% block rate that ranks 19th nationally. However, George Mason transfer Greg Calixte has really given Jared Grasso a rim protector when Elisias heads to the bench; after blocking 4 shots last week, Calixte's block rate is 4.7%, which ranks 7th in the league among players who have played at least 35% of available minutes.
CCSU's Short-Handed Success
No team last week was as under-manned as CCSU, as starters Nigel Scantlebury, Jayden Brown, and Zach Newkirk were all out due to covid protocols, as was 6th man Tre Mitchell and back-up big man Arian Dehnavi. Patrick Sellers needed some reserves, including freshmen, to step up and they did in a big way. After nearly pulling out a home victory over Bryant (they lost 80-76), CCSU rode a 22-0 2nd half run to knock off St. Francis-Brooklyn on Remsen St. Six of the 7 players who saw significant action last week performed well above what they had shown previously. Note: I'm ignoring Saturday's loss at Rutgers, largely because it was their 3rd game in 4 days, and doesn't really tell us anything about these players, or this team, going forward.
Davonte Sweatman, a 5'8" freshman, went from little used backup to high usage lead guard, scoring 16 points against Bryant, then 11 at St. Francis-Brooklyn. Snoddy was 11 of 18 from the field, Krishnan looked to do a bit more scoring than he usually does (6 of 10 on twos), and Ostrowsky, a walk-on, scored 23 points and had 10 assists (against 5 turnovers) in the two NEC games. McLaughlin, the 6'6" big wing, knocked down 3 of 5 from three, while Abdul Momoh saw his first collegiate action (he was hurt for the majority of the non-conference), making 4 of 6 from the field and pulling down 7 boards.
The ultimate take-away? This program has the kind of freshman class that can be built around, with a number of players who can be trusted to play big minutes in league play right now. CCSU fans are giddy for the future.
RDC's Rough Week
According to the St. Francis (PA) broadcast, the Red Flash's Ramiir Dixon-Conover was under the weather last week, and it showed. My #2 NEC point guard averaged just 6 ppg last week, well below his 13.1 average, making just 4 of 15 from the field. What's more; in neither game did his usage rate approach his season average of 23.2%.
In watching the replay of SFU's loss to Fairleigh Dickinson (seriously, how great is NEC FrontRow?), it appeared that Greg Herenda's game-plan was to force other Red Flash players to beat them. Not only did the Knights switch on ball-screens, but once Dixon-Conover got anywhere near the paint, FDU sent a second defender after him.
It'll be curious to see if other NEC teams will follow suit, and try to force RDC to get rid of the ball before he gets into the paint. That would mean that guys like Ronell Giles, Max Land, and Josh Cohen, among others, are going to have to become play-makers.
Cantavio Dutreil Provides a Left
Cantavio Dutreil, Sacred Heart's 6'7" 210 lb. forward, came into the week playing just 36% of available minutes, well below last season's 45.7%. The reason, quite frankly, is that he was passed on the depth chart by sophomore Nico Galette, who has been a revelation so far this season for Anthony Latina.
However, while both Galette and fellow forward Bryce Johnson have been good, neither provides much rim protection; Johnson's 2.1% block rate is 17th in the NEC, while Galette has rejected just one shot all season.
With Sacred Heart going up against two very good, and strong, bigs in LIU's Isaac Kante and Bryant's Hall Elisias, Latina called on Dutreil and it paid off. The former North Alabama player averaged 31 minutes per game last week, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10.5 rebounds per game while blocking 4 shots.
Dutreil doesn't do much offensively, but he finishes well around the rim (56%), is one of the league's best rebounders on both sides of the ball, and he does give sacred Heart a shot blocking presence (4.1% career block rate). With the number of talented bigs the league has, I can't help but wonder if Dutreil will get more run as the season goes on.
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings
Tedrick Wilcox, Jr. had seen his minutes dwindle recently, largely due to some defensive short-comings. However, with St. Francis-Brooklyn missing its two leading scorers, Michael Cubbage and Patrick Emilien, Wilcox stepped up to score 39 points in two games, including 27 (5 of 10 from three) in Friday's loss to CCSU. Dude can shoot.
After a slow start to his season, Rob Higgins is averaging 15.8 points and 3 assists per game over his last 4 outings.
Will Martinez has his eFG% up near 60%, which continues an upward trend since arriving on Staten Island; 36.4% as a junior, and 51.8% as a 4th year senior. He's 15 of 18 at the rim and 5 of 11 from three.
Recently, someone asked me on Twitter if I had concerns regarding Elijah Ford's slow start, and I did not. It's tough for a 6'5" non-shooter to have success against non-conference opponents who have guys who can match his athleticism. Over his last two games, Ford is averaging 14.5 points and 5 rebounds per game, making 11 of his 19 field goal attempts.
After a three game stretch where he averaged just 3ppg, SFU's Josh Cohen got back to it on Friday; 15 points (4 of 6 from the field, 7 of 12 from the FT line) and 7 boards. The former Holy Cross Crusader is 9 of 18 from three, 81% from the free throw line, and has a 55.5% eFG% in a part-time role.
Marlon Hargis filled in for Myles Thompson, who was out for the Wagner game, and scored 15 points and grabbed 6 boards. I like his combination of size and athleticism.
FDU is now 2-0 in the NEC after Mount St. Mary's had to forfeit after being unable to play due to covid issues on both Wednesday and Friday (against Wagner). Getting a road win via forfeit is incredibly fortunate as teams battle to stay out of the 8/9 game.
FDU's 1st year sophomore Sebastien Lamaute had yet to have more than 5 rebound in a game all season, so naturally he grabbed 15(!) in his first career NEC game on Friday, to go along with 14 points (6 of 8 at the rim) and 2 steals.
Fellow FDU rookie Oscar Berry was 3 of 7 from deep in the Knights' win over St. Francis (PA), and is now shooting 8 of 19 on the season.
In last week's Non-Conference Recap, Josh Cohen was my Most Improved Player, but he's not alone in consideration for that award. I mentioned Galette above, but what about Malik Edmead? Coming into the season, I wasn't ready to go all-in on a 5'10" point guard who shot 3 of 17 from deep last season. Well, this season he's made 13 of 27 from beyond the arc, and has a 25.4% assist rate and 3.8% steal rate. With some better shot selection (13 of 41 in the mid-range), he could be a sneaky pick to make one of the 3 All-NEC teams.
Raekwon Rogers has scored in double-figures in 6 of his games with Wagner, and he's shooting 66% from the field. His ability to provide a post-presence offensively while being able to bang with opposing bigs on the defensive end is, perhaps, the biggest difference between last year's Wagner team and this year's version.
Peter Kiss went off in Bryant's win over Sacred Heart; 33 points on 12 of 22 shooting. While the super-senior is averaging 20ppg, Friday was just the 4th time this season he has an O-Rating above 100. To put that in perspective; in 21 games last season, Kiss had an Ortg north of 100 15 different times. Maybe Friday was the beginning of a hot stretch.
Despite shooting just 26% from three so far this season, Charles Pride does so much to help his team win. On Wednesday, Pride grabbed 12 boards and had 5 assists, to go along with 11 points. Then on Friday, Pride made 6 of 8 from two and 6 of 7 from the free throw line for 18 points.
Adham Eleeda has taken 91 three-pointers, making 34 of them (37.4%). And he's attempted just 7 two-pointers and 7 free throws. One-dimensional offensive guys can be effective when they can make 3s with that level of efficiency.
Despite starting 2-0 in league play, Bryant dropped 9-spots at Kenpom from #230 to #239.
I know they were missing their two best scorers, but St. Francis-Brooklyn turned it over on 26% of its possessions last week. Coughing it up 16 times in 63 possessions isn't much of a surprise at Merrimack, but CCSU was able to force 17 turnovers of their own. In that game, freshman Nick Folk had 5 TOs in 26 minutes, while Rob Higgins had 4.
I watch a lot of college basketball, and on the whole the NEC has some very good broadcasters. Both play-by-play and color analysis are difficult jobs...I know I couldn't do it...but it can be frustrating when broadcasters don't do their homework on the opposing team.
It's early, but Kenpom's All-NEC team right now is Alex Morales, Jordan Minor, Peter Kiss, Ty Flowers, and Raekwon Rogers. Rogers is probably the surprise in that group.
In CCSU's win over St. Francis-Brooklyn, at one point they were given just a 4.5% chance to win when they were down 12 nearly halfway through the 2nd half, per Kenpom.
The one Blue Devil who had a bad week was Stephane Ayangma. The grad senior, including the Rutgers game, shot 6 of 27 from two, 2 for 5 from three, and 5 of 10 from the free throw line. Ayangma has a real mid-range problem; he's shooting just 12 of 39 on "long twos", which is largely why is eFG% is down to 41.7%. He did average 7 rebounds per game, though.
Bashir Mason continues to start freshman Zaire Williams (if it ain't broke, why fix it?), but he's really struggled with efficiency; 7 of 28 from three (43.6% eFG%) and a 21.6% turnover rate. My guess is that Mason really likes his ability to defend. The talent is there to be a good offensive player, as well.
Long Island's Tre Wood had 9 assists against 1 turnover in LIU's loss at Merrimack. On the week he put up a 10 assist, 4 turnover line but made just 2 of his 11 field goal attempts, and on the season he has a 37.7% eFG% (3 of 23 from deep).
Former Mount guard Jalen Gibbs, who started out at Drake, is having a really nice super-senior season at Jacksonville St. The Gamecocks' 3rd leading scorer at 11.2 ppg, Gibbs has really shot it well (46% from three). While at the Mount, I think he was asked to do too much at times, and he's really struggled in his career on 2-pointers (44% career, just 4 of 19 at the rim this season). JSU, which is ranked #127 at Kenpom and one of the best teams in the Atlantic Sun, has allowed Gibbs to find a role as a sharp-shooter and it's seemed to work out.
And finally, former Sacred Heart point guard Cameron Parker made the pass that set up a game-winner for Montana. Parker leads the Big Sky, and is 6th in the nation, with a 43.1% assist rate, and he's chipping in 9 points and 3 boards per game. Montana is currently 3-1 in the league and ranked #175 at Kenpom. :