We took a week off from the NEC weekly recap to unveil our midseason power rankings, but as we enter the home stretch of the conference season, we’ll dive back into our weekly routine of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. The league has separated into mini tiers, but with plenty of parity throughout and ten teams fighting for eight playoff spots, there’s reason to be excited moving forward. Let’s begin…
- Beware of the Bobcats – Maybe it has to do with the parity in the league or maybe it has to do with Quinnipiac’s #1 ranked hockey team. Whatever the reason may be, Tom Moore’s Bobcats have quietly rebounded (pun intended) to win four of their last five games. Crashing the glass continues to be Quinnipiac’s major strength with the team outrebounding opponents by an average margin of 13.8 rebounds per game in 11 NEC games. (No, that isn’t a typo.) The difference lately, however, has been the Bobcats improved play on the defensive end. During their 4-1 streak, Quinnipiac is giving up 0.98 points per possession, which is significantly better than the 1.12 points they were allowing per possession in their first six contests (2-4). It also helps that JUCO transfer Shaq Shannon has emerged as a viable scorer off the bench. The 6’1″ guard has averaged 14.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 12 of 25 (48%) from behind the arc. With the exception of St. Francis (PA), there are no cupcakes on the remainder of the schedule, but the Bobcats appeared to be peaking at the right time. Thursday’s upcoming showdown with Robert Morris will serve as a nice litmus test. A win and the Bobcats are back in the “home playoff game” race.
- Shining Shivaughn – It has been a light year for freshmen across the league, but one player who has elevated himself among the rest recently is Mount St. Mary’s point guard Shivaughn Wiggins. After a seesaw non-conference season, Wiggins has taken full advantage of Josh Castellanos’ spotty health by playing tremendous basketball over his last eight games. He’s scored 14.9 points per game, while converting a ridiculous 76.5% of his shots from behind the arc and 80.8% from the charity stripe. Moreover, Wiggins has tied the Mountaineers all-time record for the most NEC Rookie of the Weeks secured in a season with four. And we still have three regular season weeks remaining. That’s really remarkable considering Jamion Christian gave some thought toward redshirting Wiggins this season.
- Not Just a “Lucky” Run – When we here at BAB made our all-conference projections, we boldly put one Colonial on our All-NEC Second Team. It was quite optimistic to some, but we were confident Lucky Jones would build off his very good rookie campaign with an even better sophomore season. After witnessing the past ten NEC games, Lucky has not disappointed. During this 9-1 Robert Morris stretch, Jones has scored in double digits in nine of ten, while filling up the stat sheet in across the box score. For the year, Jones is nationally ranked in such KenPom categories as offensive rating (221st nationally), true shooting percentage (112th), defensive rebounding rate (242nd), steal percentage (435th), and fouls drawn per 40 minutes (179). Basically this is fancy statisticians speak for the following: Lucky Jones has been the rock for a Robert Morris team that suffered through a myriad of injuries. Yet through it all, Jones has competed admirably game in and game out. He’s easily been the most consistent Colonial for Andy Toole this conference season.
- Marvelous Mally – Jamal Olasewere (aka Mally the Kid to you Twitter fans) has been sensational for the Blackbirds this season. If BBState efficiency rating is your thing, then you’d be pleased to see Olasewere barely trailing Jalen Cannon for the best mark in the NEC. Currently, Olasewere is second in the conference in scoring (19.4 ppg), fourth in field goal percentage (58.1%), second in rebounding (9.7 rpg), and tied for twelfth in steals (1.3 spg). Ever since fouling out in his NEC opener versus Wagner, the uber-athletic senior hasn’t been disqualified for fouling too much, which has given Jack Perri an opportunity to play his best player about 32 minutes per game. It’s the biggest reason why LIU is 8-2 with Olasewere in the lineup. Can you say NEC Player of the Year?
- Parity Pairing Down the Competition – Now that the college basketball season is most of the way through, it’s safe to say the Northeast Conference is destined for a #16 seed in the NCAA tournament, no matter who ends up representing them. Bryant may have an outside chance at a #15 seed should they qualify, but some upsets in the other low mid-major conference tournaments would need to materialize for that to realistically happen. The wonderful parity of the league has more than likely been the culprit, as the NEC currently has at least six or seven teams who can reasonably reel off three straight wins come conference tournament time. Still, all of that parity – and of course the injuries too – has beaten up some of the upper echelon teams to an extent, as the NEC currently sits as the 24th best conference according to KenPom. Robert Morris is the highest rated team at #163, which is the lowest any conference leader is ranked with the exception of the Great West leader NJIT. It really hasn’t been the banner year the conference was hoping for back in early November.
- Finding New Ways to Lose – Statisticians will usually bend over backwards to claim that winning close games isn’t much of a skill and has to do more with luck. Whatever side of the debate you fall under, statisticians have this season’s St. Francis Brooklyn as Exhibit A for their luck over skill argument. As the Terriers slid into an eighth place tie with Mount St. Mary’s this past weekend, it was their inability to execute in late game situations that has haunted Glenn Braica’s crew. Whether it’s untimely intentional fouls, poor free throw shooting, or the inability to execute in the half-court set late, St. Francis has painfully found ways to lose games they were pulling out last season. In their two inexplicable home losses to Monmouth and St. Francis (PA), the Terriers bricked 20 total free throws in both games. Whatever the reason, St. Francis needs to solve their woes in a hurry. A February 23rd showdown at Mount St. Mary’s could very well decide who qualifies for the postseason and the Mountaineers have an excellent 6-2 record at home under Christian.
- Playing it Out For Pride – This weekend, two teams playoff chances were put on life support, as both FDU and St. Francis (PA) suffered their tenth NEC defeat of the season. For the Red Flash, this was expected because of their youth and inexperience. FDU, on the other hand, reasonably had visions of cracking the NEC top eight and began the season decent enough by winning two of their first four games. But now with both teams sitting at 2-10 in the conference, what hope remained at the beginning of January is all but gone. Defense, or the lack thereof, has been the overwhelming weakness, as both teams are among the 20 worst teams nationally in defensive efficiency. To be fair, LIU Brooklyn finds themselves in that vicinity too, but the Blackbirds are also scoring the basketball at a very efficient rate. It’s just so difficult in Division I basketball when you allow opponents to make more than half of their field goal attempts, fail to protect the offensive glass, and do a poor job extracting turnovers, but this is where the bottom two teams of the NEC sit unfortunately. It will surely be a long offseason when the season mercifully ends in three weeks.