With the young season now a month old, I felt this was a good opportunity to analyze some early season trends. I combed through Ken Pomeroy’s advanced statistics to highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of several NEC teams. Some trends will be of no surprise, but others I can bet were not expected.
NOTE: For an explanation of these advanced statistics I’ll highlight below, feel free to look at Ken Pomeroy’s definition page.
Mount St. Mary’s 40 Minutes of Mayhem – Jamion Christian newly implemented Mayhem system has been the most talked about tenacious defense of the conference, and with good reason. The Mount is third in the nation in defensive turnover rate, forcing opponents to cough up the ball on 29.1% of their total possessions. It hasn’t been all peaches and cream, however, for Christian’s full court trapping style. Opponents will have open shots if the Mount’s trapping press is broken, as they’re currently dead last nationally in eFG% defense. Still, it’s a system that will give NEC clubs fits, and the Mount will remain competitive in the league as a result. Monmouth is also in the top 10 nationally in defensive turnover rate, despite showcasing different methods of attack. On the flip side, Sacred Heart finds themselves in the bottom 20 nationally in defensively turnover rate at 16.3%.
An Efficient Fast-Paced Attack – These days, three things are certain: death, taxes, and LIU will push the tempo at every waking moment. The Blackbirds have the tenth fastest adjusted tempo of the nation, which is right in line with their pace last year as the second fastest team in the country. The offense as a whole has been incredibly efficient as they’re protecting the basketball (10th nationally in offensive TO rate at 15.6%), getting to the free throw line (15th nationally in FT attempts per FG attempts at 49.8%), and moving the ball very well (41st nationally in assists per FGs made at 61.7%). Much of their success is due to play of Jason Brickman, who possesses a fantastic offensive rating and assist rate. Surprisingly, Monmouth plays at an even faster tempo than LIU; they’re eighth in the country with a pace of 73.6 possessions per game.
Staten Island’s Swarming Defense – In the early going, the Wagner Seahawks are defending the basketball at even a higher rate than last season under the guidance of Dan Hurley. Let’s face it, when you’re averaging a paltry 56 points per game (with two games going to overtime), your defense better perform at an elite level for your team to have any chance to win nearly half of their games. Wagner has done just that, with the 24th best defense in terms of point allowed (89.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). There are a couple of factors, but look no further than the imposing lane presence of Neofall Folahan. The 6’11 junior currently holds the 12th best block rate in the nation. Now if only Wagner didn’t turn the ball over so frequently and made more than 24.7% of their three-point attempts.
Getting to the Charity Stripe – It’s the same old Robert Morris attack, with the Colonials getting to the free throw line at an excellent rate. After ten games, they possess the 33rd best national rate in that category. It was a prime reason they pulled off the substantial upset over the Ohio Bobcats two Saturday nights ago. In the game, Robert Morris got to the line 35 times and made a season high 28 attempts. It helps when you have three players (Velton Jones, Lucky Jones, and Russell Johnson) in the top 200 nationally in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. This is certainly one trend that I’m confident will continue over the course of the season.
The New Look Blue Devils – When the Central Connecticut Blue Devils graduated Ken Horton, Robby Ptacek, and David Simmons, you would’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone that was bullish on Central Connecticut’s future offensive production. Kyle Vinales, the nation’s leading freshman scorer was returning, but everyone else on Howie Dickenman’s roster was completely unproven. Through eight games, however, the Blue Devils now have the most efficient offensive attack they’ve seen since the 2007-08 campaign. Vinales has been terrific, but others have stepped up including junior college transfer Matthew Hunter, sophomore Malcolm McMillan, and senior Joe Efase. The Blue Devils are protecting the basketball (17.4% turnover rate, 40th nationally), making their free throws (first nationally at 83.3%), and making a respectable number of their outside jumpers. Their lack of depth may get the best of them, but so far this is one well oiled machine on offense.
Where’s the Defense? – Let’s finish this post on a negative note, shall we? In the first month of the season, Sacred Heart, Fairleigh Dickenson, and St. Francis (PA) all find themselves in the bottom 20 nationally in adjusted defense. Each team has allowed at least 108 points per 100 possessions, which is the big reason why the combined record of the three is 6-19 (note: only one of those six victories was against a team in KenPom’s top 150 in Stony Brook). If this troubling trend continues, it may be no basketball in early March for these three embattled programs come NEC tournament time.