Before John and I go over our actual individual awards tonight and on Monday, I wanted to present our fictitious All-NEC Surprise team. Since some of these players may not crack the all-conference team – although some may very well – allow me to call attention to some players who have unexpectedly provided significant value to their respective teams.
If you remember, John and I published a breakouts list in October, so this post is also an opportunity for us to pat ourselves on the back for some of our selections. (And to cringe at our wild misses. I’m looking at you, Stanley Storm.)
PG: Malcolm McMillan, Central Connecticut
Given the lack of depth and experience in the Blue Devils backcourt, we could see McMillan’s ascension coming from a mile away. The shifty 6’0″ floor general runs the fastest paced offense in the NEC at nearly 71 possessions per game, and he has done it quietly and marvelously. McMillan leads the NEC in assist to turnover ratio at 2.5, has scored in double figures in 11 of the Blue Devils’ 29 games, and has been a consistent and reliable source of production for Howie Dickenman. Much of the focus centers around Kyle Vinales and Matthew Hunter, but opposing head coaches will soon realize, if they haven’t already, that CCSU has a formidable three-headed monster in New Britain.
PG: Phil Gaetano, Sacred Heart
While we also selected Gaetano as a breakout candidate, no one, and I mean no one, pegged Gaetano as the second best passer in the country at 7.9 assists per contest. (He’s trailing LIU foe Jason Brickman, who leads the country with 8.5 assists per game.) Part of his unexpected production has been due to other players’ injury misfortune (see Kelley, Evan), but the point guard has taken full advantage. His wonderful court vision, above average handle, and improved fitness has himself on the cusp of cracking an All-NEC team, which no one had originally envisioned, except maybe Gaetano himself.
G: Evan Conti, Quinnipiac
Tom Moore’s backcourt has almost always been the x-factor this season, and surprisingly, Evan Conti has become the most consistent force alongside veteran point guard Dave Johnson. Early on, Moore struggled to find a steady presence, constantly shuffling guys like Zaid Hearst, Conti, the oft-injured Garvey Young, Shaq Shannon, and freshmen Kendrick Ray and James Ford. While Hearst has elevated his play recently, Conti has logged efficient minutes throughout the conference season for Quinnipiac. The 6’3″ guard concluded his sophomore campaign averaging 8.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and a 1.3 A/TO, even though he may be the least athletic and explosive player of Quinnipiac’s aforementioned options. Kudos to the workmanlike Conti for grasping the opportunity.
PF: Earl Brown, St. Francis University
In a conference littered with several prolific rebounders, it was Brown who finds himself in the top five of the NEC with 8.1 boards per contest. After seven uneventful games to begin the 2012-13 season, there wasn’t any indication that the relentless 6’6″ sophomore would approach that level, but soon thereafter Brown exploded. Since getting his feet wet, the tenacious Brown has 10 double-doubles and even grabbed the most rebounds in a game since 2009, when he secured 25 misses off the glass in a victory over Central Connecticut. As a result, Brown is perhaps the most prized piece in Rob Krimmel’s rotation at the moment and a virtual lock for the NEC Most Improved Player award.
PF: Mario Moody, Wagner
Moody’s minutes have been erratic lately, but that doesn’t take away from the bouncy sophomore’s accomplishments. Always deemed as a ridiculously athletic specimen, Moody put it together in his sophomore season to grab 5.5 rebounds and block 1.3 shots per game. In fact, Moody is ranked 58th in the nation in block rate at 8.7%, which begs the question: Why isn’t he playing more down the stretch? Given Bashir Mason’s talented roster, it’s a great problem to have, but I can guarantee you that opposing big men are relieved when they see the 6’7″ forward sitting on the bench during a game. His defensive presence in the lane is a game changer.
Did we miss any other surprise performances for the season? Let’s us know in the comments section!