It’s a touch late, but there was a lot to add to my second serving of the NEC’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Before the weekend, I was ready to stick the entire conference into the Ugly section, since the NEC was devoid of a meaningful non-conference win. What big victory was there to hang the conference’s hat on? Does St. Francis College beating Lafayette on the road get you excited? How about Monmouth at home versus a shorthanded Hofstra squad? Or can I interest you in Robert Morris’ drubbing of Atlantic 10 doormat Fordham?
Nothing had trickled my fancy, but then the weekend came. A bunch of NEC programs and their performances stood out, so let’s dive right into the Thanksgiving edition of the Big Apple Buckets’ weekly NEC summary!
- Paradise Never Felt So Good – Quinnipiac gave the NEC its first quality non-conference win when they slid past Iona in the first round of the Paradise Jam Tournament. Jamee Jackson had a sensational game (19 points, ten rebounds, one turnover, six of seven shooting) and showcased his scary potential when healthy. Jackson’s dominance and Ike Azotam’s further brilliance on the glass (9.3 rebounds per game) should have future NEC opponents terrified of matching up with Quinnipiac’s frontcourt, especially after they out-rebounded UConn 39-29 in the semifinals. Sure, the agonizing double overtime loss to the Huskies now stands as a dreaded moral victory (King Rice just shook his head), but it was impressive nonetheless. Also impressive: The play of senior point guard Dave Johnson, who possesses a splendid 1.7 assist to turnover ratio in the early going.
- A New Identity – I’m a bit concerned with how fast Central Connecticut is playing with only six to seven guys currently in the rotation, yet you can’t argue with the early results of Howie Dickenman’s squad. On Sunday, the Blue Devils gave the NEC its best non-conference road win to date – an 81-74 road victory over possible Atlantic 10 contender La Salle. The victory gives Central Connecticut a two-game winning streak, thanks in large part to the play of sophomore point guard and BAB favorite Malcolm McMillan. In the past two contests, McMillan has compiled 13 assists, 13 rebounds, four steals, and one turnover. I’d say a 13.0 A/TO is what coach Dickenman is looking for!
- Immediate Contributors of Mayhem – I’ve seen plenty of Mount St. Mary’s in the early going and I’ve already shared my observations of Jamion Christian’s Mayhem system. What I’m about to do here though, may make Mount fans cringe, so please prepare yourself. Are you ready? I’d like to extend my praise to former Mount coach Robert Burke for bringing in the talented transfers Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott. Yep, I just congratulated the guy Christian replaced. In the preseason, I heard whispers of Prescott’s elite athleticism and Whack’s ability to knock down the long-range jumper, but I’ve been thoroughly impressed with both players in the early going. Currently, Whack leads the team in scoring, rebounding, steals, and is shooting 50.0% from behind the arc. These junior guards will be a significant part of Christian’s rotation moving forward and may eventually place Kelvin Parker’s picture on a milk carton.
- Staten Island’s Finest – After one week, Wagner has as many non-conference losses (2) as they had last season, despite the inspired play of senior forward Jonathan Williams. A preseason all-conference third team selection here at BAB, Williams has been the most integral part of the Seahawks offense, averaging 16.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. In the season opener versus Delaware State, Williams sank the game tying layup at the buzzer to extend the game into overtime. If Williams continues to provide this type of production, things will only get easier for the backcourt of Kenneth Ortiz, Latif Rivers, Marcus Burton, and Dwaun Anderson.
- Pioneer Problems? – I was about three minutes away from placing my alma mater right in the thick of the Ugly section, but then Shane Gibson happened. His 11 points in the final three minutes of the game spurred a ridiculous comeback – their second such come-from-behind victory in eight days – over the previously undefeated Stony Brook Seawolves. Despite the win and their 2-2 record, there’s a lot not to like with the Pioneers and it starts of course with Gibson. Before the comeback, the superstar guard underwent a brutal stretch of basketball in his last three games, shooting 8 of 35 from the floor. Hopefully for Dave Bike’s sake, Gibson latest theatrics pushes him back onto the right track. Justin Swidowski and Evan Kelley also need to find their rhythm coming off injuries. Perhaps the most telling stat in Sacred Heart’s first four games: They have only led for 13 out of a possible 165 minutes (8.5%). They’re very lucky not to be 0-4 heading into their Patriot League showdown with Lehigh.
- Weak Flash – It’s been a rough start to the season for junior guard Umar Shannon, who to be fair is a year removed from ACL surgery. In the Red Flash’s first three games, Shannon hasn’t played well, for whatever the reason, scoring 20 points (on 30 shots) with an efficiency rating of just under 2 (his efficiency rating was 11 in his last full season). Obviously, it will take time for Shannon to trust he’s 100% healthy, so the challenge for first year head coach Rob Krimmel is to find production elsewhere on St. Francis’ young roster while Shannon transitions back (hopefully) into all-conference form. His production will be sorely needed in January.
- Closer to Dayton Then a 15 Seed? – (Please allow me to prepare myself for the potential onslaught of Blackbird fans in the comments section … deep breath … OK here we go) With the Blackbirds’ tough loss on the road early last week to Lafayette, color me skeptical if you think LIU still has a good chance at securing a 14 or 15 seed should they make the NCAA tournament. After they lose their fourth straight game of the season to Kentucky this Friday, please show me where the quality conference wins will come from. Sure, they can go on a run – and I believe they will – for the remainder of their non-conference slate, but most of their opponents are currently sitting outside of the RPI top 100. Of course, it’s quite presumptuous of me to expect none of LIU’s future opponents (say Manhattan, Hofstra, Columbia) will move up in the standings, but I just have trouble seeing where the Blackbirds will accumulate enough quality wins to get on that 15 seed line. It makes their showdowns with Seton Hall and Columbia must wins in that regard. Really, one or two more non-conference losses after Kentucky could seal LIU’s fate as a future 16 seed for the third straight season.
- FDU Troubles – I don’t mean to consistently beat a dead horse … but when you find yourself down 41-14 at the half to Northwestern, it’s never a good sign. Before I go any further however, I’ll simply end the post on that note…
I hope everyone has a Happy Thansgiving!
Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride