A Holiday Special: NEC, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

With the NEC – and most of college basketball – off for the past couple of days, I broke out my periodic review of all things NEC. Unfortunately, I had some difficultly finding an equal amount of good and bad stories, so I did my best to sprinkle in some positive news. To be quite frank, it hasn’t been the greatest non-conference season for the NEC. The Ken Pomeroy rating for the conference has dipped from #19, at the start of the season, to #25. With little time left before conference play begins, it appears the NEC is destined for a maximum of two combined NCAA and NIT bids, at best.

The Good

  • The Class of the NEC – We sound like a broken record, but we must continually praise Robert Morris for their consistency when compared to the rest of the conference. After their upset victory over Ohio, the Colonials took care of business by knocking off Duquesne and Louisiana-Lafayette on the road, before succumbing to SEC foe Arkansas (although they were only trailing by three points late). Now with the best record of the 12 NEC teams at 8-5, Andy Toole has gotten his players to fill in their roles perfectly. Lucky Jones is nationally ranked in defensive rebounding rate, steal rate, and free throw rate. Karvel Anderson and Coron Williams are shooting with deadly accuracy from the outside (they’ve combined to drain 44.7% of their threes on the season), and Velton Jones has been just, well Velton Jones. The senior leader is fifth in the country in assist rate and is averaging 5.3 dimes per contest. Things are clicking nicely for Robert Morris heading into their NEC home opener with Bryant on January 3rd.
  • A Long Time Coming – With a winning record of 6-4, Bryant has quietly turned some heads thanks in large part to the addition of transfers Dyami Starks (whom I profile here) and Joe O’Shea. Much of the Bulldogs’ success, though, can be attributed to fifth year senior Frankie Dobbs. The polished floor general is among the league leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.5. In addition, Dobbs has filled up in the stat sheet, averaging 12.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.0 steal per game. It’s one of the better stories of the NEC this year: here’s a player who spent three years of his eligibility in Bryant’s D-I transition purgatory. Now in his senior season, Dobbs finally has an opportunity to compete in the NEC playoffs, and if the first two months are any indication, we expect the point guard to take full advantage.
  • Menaces in the Paint – It’s been an up-and-down start for the Seahawks, who after defeating Coppin State and South Methodist, slipped up in the Cable Car Finale to a nine-win Santa Clara squad. Despite the inconsistencies, Wagner has gotten inspired interior defense from big men Mario Moody and Neofall Folahan. Through ten games, both players have combined for a ridiculous block rate of 13.8%. To put that number in perspective, it places both players within the top 15 of the nation in block rate. That’s right, Wagner has two of the most prolific shot blockers in the country. It’s a major reason why opposing teams are shooting a paltry 40.6% inside the arc. We don’t expect that percentage to go up during NEC play, in fact we reckon it may trend downward as the season progresses.

The Bad

  • Mid-Major Competition Welcome – Prepare yourself for the understatement of the week: Monmouth has recently gone through a rough patch, thanks to a brutal December stretch of games that included losses to Syracuse, Maryland, Villanova … and Navy?! For most low mid-major programs, paycheck games are a necessity, but even King Rice recently acknowledged that these games should have more spread out during the non-conference season. Because of the aforementioned stretch, the Hawks have lost their last four games by an average of 35 points. If Monmouth wants to get back to their winning ways, they simply need to shoot the basketball better. Only Stephen Spinella and Ed Waite have a eFG percentage higher than 44%, while no one on the roster possess a three-point shooting percentage north of 33.3%. It’s no wonder Monmouth has only scored 88.6 points per 100 possessions, good for 325th (out of 347 teams) in the nation.
  • Mayhem Currently on Hold – If the latest three game stretch for Jamion Christian’s Mountaineers hasn’t tempered their fan’s expectations, then I don’t know what will. Excluding their expected blowout loss to Indiana, the Mount was also blown out in road losses to in-state rival Loyola (MD) and Western Michigan. The slide has produced a three game losing streak, yet the more pressing issue is the Mount’s defense, which is now dead last in the country in three-point percentage defense (44.7%) and two-point percentage defense (63.0%). Thankfully, they’ve forced turnovers at an exceptionally high rate, but the defense needs to improve substantially if the Mount has visions of breaking into the top half of the NEC this season. It won’t matter how many threes they jack up if they continue to struggle on both ends in the half-court.

The Ugly

  • A Wounded Heart – I’m starting to run out of ways to express my disappointment in the Pioneers’ performance this season, which now has them at two wins and eight losses. In their latest stumble at La Salle, the Explorers dropped 66 points in the first half and led by as much as 36 points! If Sacred Heart didn’t have another non-conference battle, the La Salle beatdown would have been a fitting end to surprisingly putrid opening third of the season. Before La Salle, the Pioneers have been competitive and had a real opportunity to win their previous three games versus Holy Cross, Lafayette, and Stony Brook. But as was the issue last season, Dave Bike’s Pioneers  have struggled in close games. Without their second and third best options in the backcourt (Evan Kelley and Chris Evans), the margin of victory is now razor thin. They’ll need to win a majority of their close games should they wish to finish with their first winning conference record in the past four seasons. I’m not terribly optimistic at the moment.
  • Last Call for a Non-Conference Victory – It’s been a brutal opening third of the season for Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash, with his team losing their first ten games. St. Francis has one last opportunity to break the non-conference slide when they take on Ivy League opponent Cornell at home this Friday. The Red Flash had their chances for a victory earlier this season, but with an incredibly young roster in Loretto (only two upperclassmen, Umar Shannon and Kam Ritter, have played significant minutes), there will be many more losses down the road. Early on, the defense has been predictably porous, as only seven schools in the country are allowing more points per 100 possessions. One bright spot has been the play of freshmen big men Ronnie Drinnon and Stephon Mosley. Both big men have been respectively efficient offensively and on the boards. They’ll need more of that if Krimmel wants to finish his first head coaching season out of the NEC basement.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

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