Final tempo-free NEC, plus awards

All the games have been played and the final weekend provided a big shake up! Not only did LIU Brooklyn fall at Monmouth, a bunch of other teams got knocked out too. Fascinatingly enough, Robert Morris almost caught LIU after the Blackbirds’ disaster, but since it only mattered in tempo-free world LIU will still hang onto home court throughout the conference tournament, which at least gives Jim Ferry’s team a fighting chance at repeating as champions. I’ve also included my All-NEC First and Second Teams and conference awards at the end of this post.

Tempo-free Standings:

1. Wagner (15-3) — +0.163
2. LIU Brooklyn (16-2) — +0.096
3. Robert Morris (13-5) — +0.094
4. Quinnipiac (10-8) — +0.077
5. St. Francis (NY) (12-6) — +0.043
6. Central Connecticut (10-8) — +0.042
7. Sacred Heart (8-10) — 0.003
8. Monmouth (10-8) — -0.009
9. Mount St. Mary’s (6-12) — -0.056
10. St. Francis (PA) (5-13) — -0.099
11. Fairleigh Dickinson (2-16) — -0.171
12. Bryant (1-17) — -0.201

The right eight teams are playing for the NEC title according to these metrics. It’s the seeding that the actual standings and tempo-free standings can’t seem to agree on. Monmouth struggled early in the season, which is why the Hawks’ efficiency margin is so low, but now they own just one of two defeats for LIU this season. Speaking of which, the Blackbirds went 16-2, but have an efficiency margin of 9.6 points per 100 possessions over the conference. Considering that includes the entire conference and not just the top eight, it makes you wonder how vulnerable they really are.

Superlatives:

Best Offense: LIU at 1.12 points per possession
Best Defense: Wagner at 0.91 points allowed per possession
Worst Offense: FDU at 0.89 points per possession
Worst Defense: Bryant at 1.12 points per possession
Luckiest: LIU at 2.7 wins above expected
Unluckiest: Quinnipiac at 2.6 wins below expected
Highest Variance Team: Quinnipiac
Lowest Variance Team:  LIU

NEC Awards:

Player of the Year: Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart — No one did more with less than Gibson. He was the only consistent performer on his team and he accepted that burden with grace and efficiency. Gibson’s offensive rating of 113.2 puts him 9th in the nation amongst players using 28% or more of their team’s possessions when on the court. That’s the definition of a go-to-guy. I saw SHU in person twice and both times whenever Gibson got the ball I was terrified for the other team. His shooting range and playmaking abilities made the Pioneers go this season and are the reason they’re in the NEC playoffs.

Rookie of the Year: Jalen Cannon, St. Francis (NY) — Shoot the ball more!! Cannon might be St. Francis’ best offensive weapon, but no one will ever know it because he only managed to use 16.9% of the team’s possessions when he was on the court this season. Still, his 120.7 offensive rating is ridiculous. Part of that is because Cannon is really good at grabbing offensive rebounds and extending possessions. He’s just a talented rebounder overall though ranking in the top 30 in the nation in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Because most of his shots came on put backs, dunks or simple post moves Cannon also rarely turned the ball over. His one weakness? Shooting 60.2% from the free throw line during a season which he was 12th in the nation in free throw rate.

Coach of the Year: Glenn Braica, St. Francis (NY) — Yes, the Terriers got swept during the final weekend of the season. It doesn’t change the amazing job that Braica has done in Brooklyn Heights this season. After graduating the team’s top two scorers SFC managed to battle all season for a home playoff game and ends up hosting Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals. This is a team that was picked 11th in the preseason and then watched its starting point guard, Dre Calloway, go down to injury. Even more injuries have befallen the Terriers of late, but Braica has kept the team together and expertly meshed veterans like Stefan Perunicic in with youngsters like Jalen Cannon into a team that has no go-to-guy but a bunch of players that can beat you on any given night. The best judge of coaching is when an opposing team can’t figure out how you beat them. That’s happened many times in the NEC with SFC this season.

All-NEC First Team:

G – Shane Gibson, SHU — See above.
G – Velton Jones, RMU — Jones is the perfect point guard for Andrew Toole’s defensive oriented philosophy. Jones doesn’t turn the ball over much, but he’s an excellent playmaker with a 34.7% assist rate (37th in the nation). He also manages to get to the line, drawing 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes and has the 45th best steal percentage in the nation, but doesn’t foul too much. All of that means he can run an offense, stay on the court and pick up tough defensive assignments.
G – Tyler Murray, Wagner — The guts of Dan Hurley’s Seahawks Murray might not have the stats of teammate Latif Rivers, but that’s due almost entirely to usage rate. Murray has an offensive rating of 120.5 (74th in the nation) this season and is absolutely adored by statistics like Value Add from Cracked Sidewalks. His value comes from being a sharpshooter from beyond the arc, where he shoots 49.3%.
F – Julian Boyd, LIU — In my mind Boyd is the runner-up by the slightest of margins for the NEC POY and it’s only because he had help this season on what is still the NEC’s most complete team. Boyd’s 114.8 offensive rating is impressive, but it’s his rebounding that puts him over the top of many NEC forwards. The junior is 17th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, grabbing 26.4% of all the misses available out there on the court. He’s also aggressive in the low post, a rarity in the NEC and draws consistent foul trouble for opposing big men. When LIU needed big shots to pull out close games it was Boyd or Jamal Olasewere that got the call. Because LIU had two options I decided to go with Gibson for POY.
F –  Ken Horton, CCSU — Value Add thinks Horton is one of the best players in the country. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know this, he’s certainly one of the best players in the NEC. After a run through the end of the season that culminated in CCSU winning three of its final four, including a win over Wagner in the finale, Horton has led the Blue Devils back to relevancy. He’s done it the same way he always does, by being an incredibly efficient scorer while taking on a large number of possessions. Amongst players using at least 24% of their team’s possessions Horton’s 117.0 offensive rating ranks 20th, two spots behind Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. What seems to bug people is that they understand Horton could be even better if he was more assertive, we’ll see what the do-or-die nature of the NEC tournament brings out in him.

All-NEC Second Team:

G – Jason Brickman, LIU — Still only a sophomore Brickman certainly still has things to learn. For one, I wish he’d cut out those lollipop passes to the post. That said, he’s also excellent at so many things on the basketball court. This season he’s first in the nation at fouls called per 40 minutes at 0.7. That allows him to play by far the most minutes of anyone in Jim Ferry’s rotation. Brickman’s turnover rate of 34.9% is high, but he makes up for it with a 34.3% assist rate (34th in the nation) and 64.8% true shooting percentage (25th). His solid three-point (43.5%) and foul (81.3%) shooting mean you can’t ignore him when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands.
G –  Latif Rivers, Wagner — Do I think Rivers probably shot a bit too much this season? Yes. Do I think he’s definitely one of the 10 best players in the NEC? Yes. Rivers has the second lowest offensive efficiency of anyone on the first or second team, but at 108.5 it’s still excellent. The sophomore guard is a volume shooter, but he did it with accuracy. Shooting 88% from the line means there’s almost no one else in the NEC that a team would rather have on the line when they’re trying to ice the game.
F – Jamal Olasewere, LIU — There isn’t anyone in the NEC quite like Olasewere. In fact, there aren’t many players in the entire nation like the 6’7″ junior swingman Olasewere forces you to make a move defensively and then he attacks. His relentless style is tough to deal with and puts the onus on a defender to attempt to stop the drive early by forcing a turnover. It’s that 23.4% turnover rate that holds Olasewere back from being on the first team.
F – Ike Azotam, Quinnipiac — Is this the best season ever put up this quietly? Azotam, not James Johnson, was actually Quinnipiac’s leader in usage rate this season – by the slimmest of margins. He did everything you’d ask of a big man. He blocked shots. He rebounded. He went to the free throw line. He shot 56.5% from two-point range. Somehow he still managed to get overlooked. Let’s just say, he’s really good.
F – Scott Eatherton, St. Francis (PA) — The Red Flash struggled this season, but it certainly wasn’t Eatherton’s fault. He shot 63.7% on two-point attempts and was 24th in the nation in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. He also was a force defensively on the block at 6’8″, with a 4.8% block percentage.

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