NEC Breakout Candidates – Part 2

For the second part of my NEC breakouts segment, I’m introducing the lesser known players to you. These players needed a season or two to fully accommodate themselves to the rigors of Division I basketball. Now seasoned, I’m expecting these young men to emerge into reliable, and at times very good contributors to their respective teams. Given the talent here, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see any of these players land on an All-NEC team before their careers are over.

Zaid Hearst, Quinnipiac

A gaping hole was left at shooting guard with the departure of James Johnson, so someone has to step up. Truth be told, Tom Moore has plenty of potential candidates that could make up Johnson’s production, but I chose Hearst thanks to his upside and ability to create space off the dribble. His weakness coming out of high school was the perimeter jumper, but in his first season donning the blue and gold, Hearst posted a respectable effective field goal percentage of 48.4% while draining 37.0% of his threes. Sure, Garvey Young or newcomers like Tariq Carey or James Ford could eat away at Hearst’s production, but I’ll place my bets on the high-motored competitor who averaged 12 points, six rebounds, and 25 minutes in his final six games as a freshman last season.

Malcolm McMillan, Central Connecticut

Ignore McMillan’s puny 2.4 ppg average from last season – he wasn’t asked by Howie Dickenman to put the ball in the basket. It would have been impossible anyway with three players (Ken Horton, Robby Ptacek, and Kyle Vinales) each possessing usage rates over 25%. Horton and Ptacek have since graduated, so perhaps McMillan will be asked to revert back to his high school days as a prolific scorer, well at least partially. McMillan will still play to his strengths – run the point, facilitate for others, and protect the basketball – but you can probably expect a sizable uptick in field goals attempted. A stat line of eight points and six assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.8 isn’t out of the question, especially when most of the defensive focus will go on his backcourt mate, Vinales.

Marcus Burton, Wagner

When a player is lauded by a coach in two separate interviews for adding eight pounds of muscle, then that player deserves inclusion into my NEC breakouts list, even if the opportunity isn’t completely evident. Hence the entry of Wagner’s Marcus Burton, who put up respectable numbers in limited minutes as a freshman, while backing up noted point guard Kenneth Ortiz. Burton also showed an ability to shoot free throws, which should translate to an uptick in three-point percentage.  Another year of development, and that added strength, should help him cut down on turnovers and become a true point guard. His numbers might look a like Ortiz with a better jump shot by season’s end.

Phil Gaetano, Sacred Heart

I was hesitant adding the 5-foot-11 Phil Gaetano to this list, because readers would possibly question my credibility (“Two SHU players on your breakout list! What kind of subjective nonsense are we reading?!”) Rest assured, my blog-mate John added Gaetano, because the underlying statistics paint the picture of a heady floor general with an excellent assist rate and an equally impressive three-point percentage. Call him a poor man’s Jason Brickman for now, since Gaetano profiles as a pass-first, deep threat who isn’t afraid of the big moment and will knock down free throws in the clutch. If Gaetano can improve his turnover rate and add strength to compensate for his size, then he has the potential to mature into one of the best point guards in Sacred Heart history. There’s obviously a long way to go before that chapter is written, yet his freshman season was a nice start.

And now for a deep sleeper of a breakout candidate…

Storm Stanley, St. Francis (PA)

Forgive me as I throw out the overused adage “you can not teach size.” This rings especially true for the 6-foot-11, 270 pound Storm Stanley, whose size will stand out in the NEC. Stanley has impressed the St. Francis coaching staff this offseason, so much so that the junior should play meaningful minutes as the Red Flash’s center. If he has progressed as much as head coach Rob Krimmel hopes, NEC opponents will have difficultly defending the ambidextrous Stanley in the post and keeping the massive center off the boards. Given his past injury history and limited playing time as an underclassman, Stanley’s opportunity and untapped potential are needed for a breakout. It wouldn’t shock me if Stanley was seriously considered for NEC Most Improved Player next March.

2 thoughts on “NEC Breakout Candidates – Part 2

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