NEC Semifinals Preview: E-Mail Discussion Style

Rather then give the fans your typical NEC Semifinal preview, John and I had a little discussion via e-mail to talk about the upcoming matchups this Saturday. In case you’re living under a rock, here are the semifinal games:

Saturday, March 9th, Noon: #3 LIU Brooklyn at #2 Wagner
Saturday, March 9th, 2:30 PM: #5 Mount St. Mary’s at #1 Robert Morris

Let’s begin with our e-mail banter:

Ryan: And then there were four teams, John! Mount St. Mary’s addition into the semis may have us more astonished than Dave Bike watching his team play really good defense, but neither of us are all that surprised to see Wagner, Robert Morris, and LIU in the mix for the NEC tourney championship. All four remaining are quite possibly the deepest teams in the league, while also possessing veteran leadership that – with the exception of Mount St. Mary’s – has been part of these pressure packed situations in the past. The Mount’s roster is littered with upperclassmen too, so their experience shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially after they handled Bryant in front of a feverish Chace crowd last Wednesday night.

First let’s talk about the game you’ll be attending Saturday, LIU Brooklyn at Wagner. Bashir Mason has gotten the best of Jack Perri twice, although the first game was decided when Jamal Olasewere and C.J. Garner were returning after a two game layoff. What are some of the things Perri must focus on for the game plan? Besides of course hoping his stud Olasewere isn’t sitting next to him on the bench for more than ten minutes during Saturday’s game…

John: One of the biggest questions is going to be, “Can LIU figure out a way to defend Wagner?” The Seahawks have looked like an offensive juggernaut in both of their games against the Blackbirds. Now, most teams look better on offense against LIU, but we’re talking greater than 1.20 points per possession in both games. This third time around hopefully Perri has figured out a way to slow down the Seahawks. Unfortunately, I really think that the referees are going to play a big part in this game. They basically submarined Wagner’s playoff game against Robert Morris last season. It’d be a bummer if that happened again.

How about the experience and grit that LIU showed in pulling out the victory in the quarterfinals. If you’re not a believer in “clutch play” and making moments count, I think that this LIU team can really twist your thinking. They just seem to make the plays at the end of games. Do you think that the Seahawks are going to pull this out?

Ryan: Wait a second, Mr. Analytical Stats Guy who worships Ken Pomeroy and the ground he walks on is now praising a team because of their clutchness? I agree with you, John, but I’m just having trouble digesting your last paragraph.

OK, moving along. You hit on a great point: How will the officials call this semifinal? If it’s called tightly, LIU has a decent advantage in this one. The Blackbirds are eighth in the country in free throw rate for a reason. Then again, Jamal Olasewere and The Human Foul Machine (aka E.J. Reed) wouldn’t benefit from the officials ruining semifinal #1 either.

Answering your original question: No, I don’t think Wagner can pull it out. Obviously, it’s a coin flip game, but here’s why I believe LIU will make it to their 3rd straight NEC finals: Wagner was ridiculously hot from behind the arc in both victories, and as you know, that isn’t terribly sustainable. You’d have to think Perri’s guys will play even a modicum of defense in this one. LIU has to shoot for the magic number of 1.10 points allowed per possession. When opponents score less, LIU is 9-1 in the league. Plus, I think Olasewere, Garner, and Brickman will find a way to win. So who are you picking?

John: I don’t know if Wagner is going to play the amazing offense that they demonstrated in the first two games against LIU, but I do expect the Seahawks to score enough to win. Playing at home is another big benefit. Lets say Wagner by four or five. (Note: I think Wagner has lost at least three games this season I predicted they’d win.)

Moving onto semifinal number two in Moon Township. The Robert Morris Colonials looked like the big, bad powerhouse that the aforementioned Pomeroy projected in his preseason rankings in their blowout win over St. Francis Brooklyn on Wednesday. Has Velton Jones been that transformational or was Andy Toole’s team just waiting for the right moment to unleash the fury upon the rest of the NEC?

Ryan: It’s been a rough year for Velton Jones injury wise, there’s no question, but I like the 2013 version of Velton. He sporting a career best assist rate – third in the nation actually – and has hasn’t been the volume scorer we saw last season. I bet a lot of that is due to the condition of his shoulder (it can’t be easy to shoot), but it’s probably a lot easier to trust your teammates when they are shooting more than three percentage points better from behind the arc.

Karvel Anderson and Coron Williams have been excellent outlets, and Jones is doing a wonderful job of creating and then kicking out for teammates. I definitely like this version of Velton Jones the best. Just don’t get me started on his induction into the NEC First Team though.

I can’t wait to see Mount St. Mary’s and ROY Shivaughn Wiggins match up against Velton. To me, this is one the biggest factors in the game. Wiggins has proven to be an excellent on-the-ball defender. There’s a reason why guys like Brickman (6 turnovers), Phil Gaetano (only 4 assists, 3 turnovers), and Frankie Dobbs (only 10 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers) have struggled vs the Mount. Wiggins has locked them up!

What are some matchups you’re most looking forward to in Moon Township?

John: These two teams played once this season and in that game Robert Morris only won by 8, so we’re not talking about a runaway here for sure. Karvel Anderson went off the last two times they played and I don’t know if Mount St. Mary’s is going to have anyone that can contain the sharp-shooter (or if they’ll want to). If you break the Mount press it’s really easy to get baskets and I’m a little worried that behind the excellent point guard play of Jones that the Mount won’t get enough turnovers for the rest to matter. Last time they played RMU only turned it over 15 times in a 69 possession game, that’s not good enough if Christian’s team is going to pull the upset on the road.

I think an interesting matchup could be Raven Barber vs. Russell Johnson or other Robert Morris big men. Barber has been playing well lately, he’s had an offensive rating above 100 in eight of his last 10 games. If MSM can get some scoring from him it would make the offense a little more versatile and hopefully force RMU to think about something other than Wiggins and Julian Norfleet. The last time RMU and MSM played Barber did almost nothing. Can he turn it around and help the Mount pull off what would have to be one of the biggest upsets in recent memory in the NEC tournament? That said, do you really think the Mount can win this one?

Ryan: Barber’s play has been improved ever since Jamion Christian handed each of his players a piece of paper with the number of guaranteed games left in their career. As a senior, Barber talked about how it motivated him to end his collegiate career on a high note. Personally though, I think Russell Johnson will do just fine on the offensively limited Barber. The biggest key is how Robert Morris reacts to Christian’s four guard sets, with Sam Prescott playing at the “4”.

Against smaller teams with little depth like Bryant, CCSU, and Sacred Heart, Christian is able to exploit mismatches for guys like Kelvin Parker, Sam Prescott and Rashad Whack. It creates a big advantage on offense, because it’s difficult to expect players like Alex Francis to leave the interior to guard their three-point heaving, super athletic counterpart. With Robert Morris however, Toole can match Christian’s four guard lineup by playing small himself, with Lucky Jones at the “4” (who’s quite capable of handling Prescott or Whack, might I add) and Russell Johnson as the center. Because of this and the Colonials’ depth, not to mention their ability to break the Mayhem pressure if they play Velton and Anthony Myers on the floor together, I think the NEC Championship will be played in Moon Township.

So in closing John, give everyone your NEC Finals matchup. We all know you’re hoping for a final in NYC, but what does your head say?

John: Unfortunately I’m forced to agree with you Ryan. I wish the Mount could pull the upset because man do I want to see the finals in New York City. Alas, that’s probably not going to happen. I think this is a Robert Morris – Wagner final. It’ll be a fun one, but it’ll be a long way away from the Big Apple.

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