I broke a personal best this past week when I attended four NEC games in three days. I spent a majority of my Sunday adjusting to the craziness as a result, but I’d certainly do it again. I saw two-thirds of the league in action, therefore I’m ready to broadcast my thoughts, opinions, and a bunch more on the week four version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, NEC style.
Pioneer Home Cooking – Many were skeptical of Sacred Heart’s 4-2 start (myself included), but after a week that saw the Pioneers beat Bryant and Monmouth by double digits in Fairfield, many pundits are beginning to respect the Pioneers. So far, SHU has taken care of business on their home court by winning all four of their games, despite residing in a league that has only won 56.2% of their home games. Louis Montes has been a big part of Sacred Heart’s success. The junior wing scored 41 points in two games on an ultra efficient 21 shots. With Shane Gibson making it rain three-pointers and Phil Gaetano handing out assists left and right, a consistent effort from Montes night in and night out surely makes these Pioneers a contender for the NEC crown. Can the Pioneers continue this run with three of their top seven players injured? Thursday night at Wagner will be a difficult test ahead for Dave Bike and company.
Malcolm in the Middle – With all of the point guard praise going to Phil Gaetano and Jason Brickman, CCSU’s Malcolm McMillan has put together a nice run of performances recently for Howie Dickenman. The sophomore is shooting lights out from the floor, nailing more three-pointers (ten) in his past three games then he did in his first 16 games (seven). His newfound scoring prowess (16.3 ppg last three games) has given CCSU a much-needed source of production alongside with Kyle Vinales and Matthew Hunter. McMillan is beginning to look like the breakout player we expected him to become.
Taking Care of Business – I’m far from declaring that Wagner is officially back, especially after winning two games they had no excuse to lose in Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis (PA). I am a little encouraged, however, to see the Seahawks back to their defensive ways, even if the Mount and Red Flash aren’t exactly offensive superpowers. The team has captured the embodiment of their head coach, Bashir Mason, and stymied their opponents to a tune of 0.86 points allowed per possession over the past week. They’ve also received contributions from unexpected sources in Orlando Parker and freshman Eric Fanning. Each player has averaged approximately 13 points and six rebounds per game in their past two games, which helps tremendously given the injury issues Mason must deal with Marcus Burton out and Latif River’s knee far from 100%.
Scoring With the Best of Them – Never in the Andy Toole era have I used the words “offensive juggernaut” and “Robert Morris” in the same sentence, but perhaps it’s now warranted. Before I go any further, let me show you the Colonials superb offensive numbers through eight conference games: 117.1 points/100 possessions (1st in NEC), 17.1% turnover percentage (1st in NEC), 56.0% EFG (2nd in NEC), 41.3% three-pointers (3rd in NEC), and 33.6% offensive rebounding rate (4th in NEC). Wow. Those are some gaudy numbers for a team we’d expect to simply grind out victories. Sure, the defense has been a little inconsistent at times, allowing an uncharacteristic 1.01 points/possession, yet Robert Morris is doing a great job getting to the free throw line, hitting their freebies once there, and draining their outside shots (I think Coron Williams, Karvel Anderson and their 44.7% 3PT% may have something to do with that). The truth is the Colonials have always been efficient offensively under the direction of Mike Rice and Toole, but this is ridiculous. It’s all the more impressive with the multiple injuries they’ve dealt with too. It will be interesting to see if this torrid pace continues as Robert Morris heads to Brooklyn for a pair versus St. Francis and LIU.
The Defending Champs Are Back – Speaking of LIU, the two-time defending champions are back in the thick of the regular season race, despite dropping their first three conference games. Since then, the Blackbirds have won five straight and as John pointed out in a tweet earlier today, the Blackbirds are doing it with offense, offense, and more offense. Under Jack Perri, LIU is better offensively yet far worse defensively compared to last season’s team. LIU is currently giving up a whooping 111 points per 100 possession in NEC play. Luckily for Perri, every player logging at least 30% of the team’s minutes has an offensive rating above 100. It’s fancy KenPom talk to say the following: LIU’s offense is good. LIU defense isn’t very good!
Bombs Away on the Bulldogs – After receiving national recognition by Yahoo Sports, the Bryant Bulldogs perfect mark in conference play ended this week with losses to Sacred Heart and LIU Brooklyn. As usual, the offense was competing at a high level, however, Tim O’Shea’s porous defense allowed their past two opponents to shoot a scorching 57.0% from the floor. The latest performance places the Bulldogs’ mediocre defense as the fourth worst in the conference at 1.05 points allowed per possession. The big three of Frankie Dobbs, Alex Francis, and Dyami Starks continue to play at a high level on the offensive end (combined 48.2 ppg), but the Bulldogs’ defensive misfortunes could ultimately limit the upside on one of the biggest turnarounds in the NEC this season.
A Season Slipping Away – After shocking the NEC by upsetting Central Connecticut and then losing some nail-biters to FDU, Sacred Heart, and Quinnipiac, the season is beginning to spiral out of control for Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash. This past week, St. Francis was routed twice by NEC contenders as they attempted to “compete” without the services of Umar Shannon and Stephon Mosley. The defense has suffered the most with the Red Flash giving up an atrocious 1.31 points per possession this week. It now makes St. Francis the seventh worst team in the country in KenPom’s defensive efficiency rating (115 points allowed/100 possessions). Even worse, the Red Flash have to close out their season with seven road games in their final ten. Maybe my original projection of four NEC wins was a tad optimistic?
Feeling the Pressure? – With every mounting loss, things continue to get worse and worse for Greg Vetrone’s FDU Knights. His team, after choking away Saturday’s game versus Quinnipiac, was a whisker away from being 4-4 on the conference season. Instead, they find themselves in tenth place at 2-6 with a big hill to climb if they want to make the NEC postseason for the first time in three seasons. If they miss postseason basketball once again, it could be curtains for Vetrone, who in four seasons at the helm, never really got FDU back to a competitive level. He’s had some bad luck, but after a while Vetrone has to do better than post a 26-85 career record.