The NEC Mid-Ranger Jumper: NEC Week 2 Recap
Week 2 is in the books, and it featured 4 forfeits; two each by Sacred Heart and Fairleigh Dickinson. Because of that, just four teams played twice last week, while the schools mentioned above didn't play any.
In case you missed it, NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris appeared on St. Francis-Brooklyn's halftime show and had some insightful comments.
Standings: As always after the start of conference play, teams are sorted by Efficiency Margin in league games only.
NEC Team of the Week: Long Island
I'll admit; I wasn't buying Long Island, not after they destroyed Army back on 12/19 90-65, despite moving up to #250 at Kenpom. At that point they had two D1 wins, both at home, both blowouts, but 7 D1 losses, many of them by double-digits.
The 0-2 start wasn't concerning; they both came on the road at teams expected to finished at, or above, .500 in the league, and they came by a combined 9 points. But still; starting out 0-2 is never great.
Well, last week the Sharks bounced back in a big way, trouncing Mount St. Mary's 74-57, then squeaking by St. Francis (PA) 75-70 in overtime. On the week, they limited their opponents to just 0.85 ppp, forcing turnovers on 25.6% of their possessions and limiting the Warriors and Red Flash to a combined 44.2% eFG%.
Long Island is one of only four teams to have played all 4 of its scheduled league games, and right now are projected by Kenpom to finish in 4th place at 10-8. Based on how they've played at the Steinberg Wellness Center so far this season, getting a home playoff game is paramount.
NEC Team Performance of the Week: Wagner over Bryant
In potentially the NEC's Game of the Year, Wagner came back from a 13-point 1st half deficit to ultimately take a 69-68 lead with 1:55 left, then trailed by 4 with 36 seconds left before winning in OT.
I recapped the game a few days ago. And while this game told us that Wagner is certainly not invincible, let's zoom out a bit; the Seahawks beat the league's 2nd best team despite shooting 3 of 19 from three. I know three-point shooting isn't one of Wagner's strengths, in fact it may be one of their only weaknesses, but still; you're not supposed to win if you can't make shots. The fact that they somehow pulled this one out gives hope to the idea that, come March, this squad may be able to escape even if they play a C+ game.
NEC Player of the Week: Alex Morales, Wagner
In Wagner's win over Bryant, Morales somehow had a quiet 24 points, 10 boards, 5 assists, 2 blocks, and 0 turnovers, playing all 45 minutes.
Morales, the reigning NEC Player of the Year, really lets the game come to him, but stepped up in the biggest moments. He finished 8 for 8 from the free throw line, 7 of 14 overall (2 of 6 from deep), and put this team on his back at times.
NEC Rookie of the Week: Andre Snoddy, Central Connecticut
There weren't a ton of options for this award this week, as FDU was off, and CCSU only played one game. So I'll go with the guy who played 37 minutes and finished with 7 points and 8 rebounds in the loss to Merrimack. Plus, he can do stuff like this:
Weekly Leaderboard: PER, according to Basketball Reference (Minimum 20 mpg)
1. Josh Cohen, St. Francis (PA), 30.3
2. Alex Morales, Wagner, 29.3
3. Jordan Minor, Merrimack, 29.2
4. Raekwon Rogers, Wagner, 24.2
5. Ty Flowers, Long Island, 23.4
6. Will Martinez, Wagner, 23.0
7. Hall Elisias, Bryant, 22.4
8. Elijah Ford, Wagner, 191
9. Nana Opoku, Mount St. Mary's, 19.0
10. Tyler Thomas, Sacred Heart, 19.0
50. Josh Reaves, Mount St. Mary's, 9.4
51. Alex Watson, Sacred Heart, 9.1
52. Ian Krishnan, Central Connecticut, 9.1
53. DeLonnie Hunt, Wagner, 8.7
54. Tre Mitchell, Central Connecticut, 7.6
55. Zaire Williams, Wagner, 7.6
56. Alex Rivera, Long Island, 7.4
57. Luis Hurtado, Bryant, 7.0
58. Tre Wood, Long Island, 5.9
59. Devin Jensen, Merrimack, 4.5
Positional Rankings: Bigs
Last week, in the first installment of this series, I ranked the league's best PG's. Next up; the '5's. I'm not sure we've ever had as strong a group of true bigs in the NEC as we do this year. A stacked position, with plenty of good players not ending up on this list.. If you're wondering where Nana Opoku is, I categorized him as a '4'
1, Jordan Minor, Merrimack- Minor is the lone NEC big who, in my opinion, that can combine both significant skill offensively with strong rim protection. Merrimack plays through Minor on the offensive end, both in the post and in isolations in-and-around the paint, and his 32% usage rate is 2nd in the NEC. So far this season, Minor is 1st among 5's, and 8th in the league, in scoring at 14.2 ppg, 9th in rebounding (6.5 rpg), and 2nd in blocks (2.8 bpg).
2. Hall Elisias, Bryant- The ability to protect the rim at an elite level can be a game-changer, and that's what Elisias provides. The 6'8" senior's block rate of 11.6% isn't just tops in the NEC, but is 22nd nationally, and is one of the main reasons why Bryant is holding teams to 48.1% on 2-pointers. Offensively, he gets most of his offense on lobs and offensive rebounds (9.6%, 8th), and he's shooting 77% from the charity stripe. When you have the scoring options that Jared Grasso has, Elisias is the perfect 5.
3. Raekwon Rogers, Wagner- The graduate senior has been a revelation since arriving from D2 Henderson St.; as primarily a 3rd scoring option, Rogers has given Bashir Mason a true post presence, as his 120.7 O-Rating is 2nd in the league (21.8% usage). He's not quite the rim protector Minor and Elisias are, as his block rate of 4% is 7th in the league, but he's 3rd in the league in offensive rebounding rate (11.6%), and has been incredibly efficient around the rim (68.3%).
4. Josh Cohen, St. Francis (PA)- I'm a huge Cohen fan, but I never expected him to be leading the league in eFG% (67.1%). The 6'10" RS-sophomore has incredible touch in the paint, is an underrated passer for his size (his 12.7% assist rate is tops among players on this list), and his 12.3% offensive rebounding rate is 2nd behind Cantavio Dutreil's 12.4%. So why isn't he higher? He's only playing 44.4% of available minutes, well below the guys ahead of him, and he doesn't provide the kind of rim protection you'd want from your center. Cohen is more offense than defense at this stage.
5. Isaac Kante, Long Island- A grad transfer from Hofstra who started his career at Georgia, Kante has been solid if not spectacular early on for LIU; 12.5 points and 7.9 boards per game is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but his eFG% is just 49.2% and he's not a shot blocker. However, Derek Kellogg doesn't need him to be that, not with Eral Penn and Ty Flowers playing alongside him; Kante has given LIU another elite rebounder (his 7.9 rpg is 2nd in the league) and a good 3rd scoring option.
Will Martinez' Improvement
Alex Morales gets the majority of the headlines, while Elijah Ford and Raekwon Rogers have gotten a lot of notoriety for Wagner's hot start, and rightfully so. But, Will Martinez has been an unsung hero for Bashir Mason, and has gotten better each year in Staten Island.
Early on in his career Martinez tried to do too much, and at times took bad shots. Plus the shot wasn't quite there; in his first season at Wagner, he was 4 of 23 from three (17.4%) and just 60% at the free throw line. Now? He's not a volume 3P shooter, but he picks his spots and has made 5 of 11 from deep, and has improved to 74.2% from the charity stripe.
You can see Martinez' improvement in his Shot Quality metrics;
This season; 0.87 SQppp
Last season: 0.79 SQppp
1st season: 0.62 SQppp
Now, if you've ever read my stuff before, you know that generally speaking I hate mid-range jumpers. Well, Martinez takes a lot of them and always has. However, anecdotally he takes good ones, at least now. Perhaps no NEC player is better at getting 10-12 foot jumpers given his size (6'5") and ability to use the dribble.
When you factor in Martinez' ability to make plays for others, and defend 1-3 (1-4 in a pinch), he's a great role player for a Wagner squad with scorers all over the floor.
Merrimack Keeps Rolling
Merrimack improved to 4-0 in the NEC thanks to a forfeit by virtue of Fairleigh Dickinson's covid shutdown, as well as a 66-57 victory at Central Connecticut.
In the win over CCSU, the Warriors made 9 of 22 from three, and they're now a staggering 33 for 66 from deep in three NEC games. Look at the difference in adjusted offensive efficiency:
Merrimack, in non-conference games: 87.9 OE, last in the NEC (344th nationally)
Merrimack, in 3 league games: 115.6 OE, 1st in the NEC
And it's not just because of the 3-ball; they're shooting 61.3% on twos, which is also 1st in the league. Look at these NEC-only eFG%'s:
Jordan McKoy, 85%, 2nd
Ziggy Reid, 70.8% , 4th
Mikey Watkins, 69.6%, 7th
Malik Edmead, 63.9%, 10th
Mykel Derring, 61.5%, 12th
Jordan Minor, 58.6%, 20th
Can they keep this up? Time will tell...it's just 3 games, after all...but the Warriors look unstoppable right now.
What's up with the Red Flash?
If you're looking for an anti-Merrimack, look no further than Loretto, PA. On Saturday, the Red Flash dropped to 0-4 in the league (with no forfeits), and what once looked like one of the better offensive teams in the NEC has been quite the opposite.
Sure, SFU was without Myles Thompson in the team's first NEC game, and were sans Josh Cohen this past week. But this difference is more than one or two players, right?
A reminder; this looks similar to what 20-21 looked like for SFU. In non-conference play, they had a solid 99.4 Adjusted OE, which was 3rd in the NEC, then in league play that number slipped to 93.1 (8th). Again, there were reasons; Thompson struggled, Flagg dealt with injuries, and Giles/Land were both freshmen, with Land getting hurt late in the season, and also they played just 4 non-conference games in 20-21, which is a mighty small sample.
Through 4 games, Rob Krimmel's two leading scorers have really struggled; Ronell Giles has made just 9 of 30 from the field (33.3% eFG%), while Ramiir Dixon-Conover is shooting 10 for 21 at the rim (39.1% eFG%).
If you're optimistic about the Red Flash, you're calling this a small sample size, and noting that Thompson and Cohen, the team's #3 and #4 leading scorers, have only been on the floor together for one of those games. Thompson has looked good, as has Max Land.
However, I worry that NEC defenses have figured out the Red Flash, and RDC specifically. It's also worth noting that Ronell Giles, Jr. went down with what appeared to be a knee injury in the 1st half of Saturday's game at LIU and did not return. Let's keep our fingers crossed that it's not serious.
A pet peeve that I have; when broadcasters cite rebounding margin. The truth is; whichever team misses more shots, the opposing team will, for the most part, get more rebounds. Citing rebounding totals treats every rebound like a theoretical 50/50 proposition, when in fact the defensive team gets the rebound, on average, about 72.5% of the time.
In last week's Bryant-Wagner game, both teams grabbed 47 rebounds, which means the casual fan thinks they were even on the boards. They were not!. Wagner missed 58 shots, while Bryant missed just 42 . Which means; Wagner was much better on the glass, grabbing 75% of their defensive rebounding opportunities compared to Bryant's 68.5% (or, a different way to look at it, Wagner grabbed 31.5% of their misses compared to Bryant's 25%).
Curiosities, Surprises, and Musings:
- I think Peter Kiss' shooting slump is over. Yeah, he was just 2 for 8 from deep in the loss at Wagner, but he made 13 of 14 from the free throw line to improve his FT% to 67.4%. Kiss put up 27 points in that game, and now leads the league with 20.6 ppg.
- Speaking of the Bryant-Wagner game, Charles Pride scored 23 points, and over his last 5 games he's scoring a cool 19 ppg. If you're a Bryant fan, you're loving that he made 4 of 8 from deep, as he's really struggled from distance (28.8% on the season). He's too good a shooter to be making less than 30% of those shots.
- Elijah Ford has averaged 15 ppg over his last three, including 9 of 16 at the rim. When he gets a full head of steam, he's almost unstoppable.
- Ian Krishnan scored 18 points in CCSU's loss to Merrimack on Sunday, and over his last 4 games against mid-majors (excluding the Rutgers game last weekend), he's averaged 16.8 ppg. A sharp-shooter with a career 35.4% 3P%, he's done a bit more inside the arc of late; in those 4 games I noted above, he's made 58.8% of his two-pointers, with more twos than threes (in his career he's made 131 twos and 158 threes).
- The Blue Devils got Nigel Scantlebury, Jayden Brown, Zach Newkirk, and Tre Mitchell back after all four guys missed the previous 3 games due to covid, though were missing key reserves Davonte Sweatman and Trenton McLaughlin. Scantlebury, in particular, didn't quite look like himself; he did score 13 points, but 6 of them came at the free throw line after twice getting fouled on a 3P attempt, and he had an uncharacteristic 5 turnovers. Of course, that could just have been the Merrimack defense doing its thing.
- Eral Penn has scored in double-figures in all but one game for Long Island this season, and is 5th in the NEC in scoring at 15.5 ppg. However, his efficiency continues to suffer; his eFG% is down from 58.4% last season to 46.4% this season, and his jump shot has been inconsistent thanks to not having much arc on his shot.
- Now that he's not being asked to play the '5' anymore, Ty Flowers is having a career year; he's made 36% from three (54% eFG%), is making plays for others (17.2% assist rate), and he remains the elite shot blocker and rebounder he's been in the past.
- Is there an NEC player who can jump higher than LIU's Kyndall Davis?
- The Mount's Josh Reaves has had an uneven season, and at times it's appeared that he's found himself in Dan Engelstad's doghouse (I'm not sure how else you explain his 1 minute of action against Loyola (MD) on 12/4 after not playing against Howard the game before). However, on Saturday Reaves had a season-high 19 points on 4 of 7 from three. The sophomore is an elite shooter (37% from deep) that has had issues inside the arc (also 37%). He could be a 3&D guy, similar to Bryant's Adham Eleeda, but needs to not try and do too much offensively.
- Nana Opoku had 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 blocks in the Mount's first NEC win on Sunday. Opoku has all but stopped shooting 3's (he's 3 for 6 this season after shooting 7 for 34 a year ago), and he's having the most efficient season (107.8 O-Rating, 17.3% usage) of his career.
- What's up with Malik Jefferson? His eFG% is down to 41.6% (it was 57% last season). That's concerning for a guy who was expected to be one of the league's best bigs.
- Tre Wood is out here trying to prove me wrong, and I am 100% here for it. Early on I questioned the Sharks' PG position, and the LIU point guard averaged 9 points and 4 assists per game last week, and in NEC play he has 21 assists against 6 turnovers, as well as 7 steals. It looks like Derek Kellogg's patience with Wood is paying off.
- St. Francis-Brooklyn was without both Michael Cubbage and Patrick Emilien in their first two games because of covid, but they returned last week to help SFC split their two games. Cubbage had a great game in SFC's win over SFU, going for 19 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, and just 1 turnover. However, he was just 3 of 12 from the field in the loss to the Mount. Emilien averaged 11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the two games, and his 6.4 rpg on the season is 11th in the NEC.
- SFC's Tedrick Wilcox has made 25 of 52 from beyond the arc. That'll do.
- From the "grass isn't always greener" department, a number of NEC transfers have not found much success with their new schools. Damian Chong Qui has seen his scoring cut nearly in half, from 15.1 ppg at the Mount last season to 8.1 ppg this season, as he's not seeing near the minutes, nor the usage, he did for Dan Engelstad. Michael Green III has gone through a rough season at Robert Morris (former SFC Terrier Rasheem Dunn recently left the team), and he's seen his ppg go from 16.0 at Bryant, to 9 with the Colonials, and his's made just 28.6% from three.
- Speaking of transfers, two NEC guys left for Power 5 schools, and none of gotten on the court much. Former FDU forward Elyjah Williams is playing just 34% of available minutes at Northwestern, after being heavily relied upon by Greg Herenda. It's worth noting; Williams is from Chicago, and probably knew he wouldn't play much, but getting a graduate degree from Northwestern is surely worth it. Xzavier Malone-Key, now out at Oregon St., has appeared in just 8 games (14% of available minutes).
- Last week, Bashir Mason signed 6'3" wing Rahmir Moore, who played two season's for St. Joseph's. As a freshman, Moore started a handful of games for St. Joe's, making 33.3% of his 54 three-point attempts and getting to the free throw line 106 times, making 72.6%. However, his playing time and efficiency slipped as a sophomore, as he made just 4 of 28 from deep. The Philadelphia product should add shooting on the wing, and will help lessen the blow when Wagner loses most of its rotation to graduation.