Overall, the month of November wasn’t a great one for the Northeast Conference. This was to be expected with lots of senior talent and Quinnipiac moving on, though, some performances near the top of the league have been rather underwhelming. Still, the NEC is currently the 24th best conference in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy’s standards. If that ranking holds up over the course of the season, it would be the league’s best performance in the KenPom era going back to 2003.
Let’s breakdown where all 10 NEC programs are halfway through the non-conference portion of the schedule.
1) Bryant (4-2)
It’s been a struggle for the NEC, so much so that Bryant find themselves atop our first power poll. Everything has gone as expected for the Bulldogs; they’ve won every game they have been favored in and have been dominant at home, knocking off Vermont and Brown. Yet, the Bulldogs weren’t able to conger up much of an effort against mid-major powers Gonzaga and Harvard.
Nevertheless, Tim O’Shea’s crew looks poised to make a run at the NEC title, despite Corey Maynard’s early struggles at the point (24 assists against 24 turnovers) and Dyami Starks’ uneven start to his junior campaign:
Starks first three D-I games – 33 ppg, 32/59 shooting (12/27 3PT), 28 FT attempts
Starks last three D-I games – 13 ppg, 12/42 shooting (5/20 3PT), 10 FT attempts
Bryant’s improved depth and athleticism could allow the Bulldogs to produce more stops on the defensive end and so far they’ve been better in that category (104.4 points allowed per 100 possessions). That was a glaring weakness a season ago for a 19-win team, so any defensive improvement makes them a fair bet to capture their first ever NEC title.
2) Wagner (3-4)
Things were going just fine for Wagner, who at one time had won three straight showdowns against Coppin State, Vermont and Stetson. Then, a tight loss to St. Bonaventure and a decisive, technical foul plagued affair with UIC sent the Seahawks scuffling once again.
The team is as deep and athletic as ever, make no mistake, yet Wagner hasn’t been able to adjust to the new defensive rules. Through eight games (one versus Chestnut Hill) only 13 teams in the country have sent their opponents to the free throw line more than Wagner. With an average of 26 personal fouls committed per contest, this is a troubling trend for Bashir Mason. He needs to find a way to adapt to the officials or else Mario Moody, Orlando Parker, and Naofall Folahan will continue to find themselves in foul trouble. Even worse, the Seahawks aren’t making life as difficult for opposing offenses, as they’re only 322nd in the nation in turnover rate. Both of these rates will need to improve if Wagner expects to go dancing in March.
3) St. Francis (Brooklyn) (4-3)
No one has made more noise in the conference nationally than St. Francis, who has impressive road victories over Miami and Stony Brook, while putting a legitimate scare into Syracuse. Jalen Cannon has, to no one’s surprise, been exceptional (117.5 offensive rating) and this season he has help down low. Freshman Wayne Martin has been a relevation, showing an adept ability to attack the rim and clean up the glass. Transfer Amdy Fall has one of the best block rates in the country. Quite frankly, the aforementioned threesome has positioned the Terriers as the best defense of the NEC in the early going. Opponents are currently shooting 43% from inside the arc, while only making a quarter of their three-point attempts. Never has the defense been this stout in the Glenn Braica era. With all of their paycheck games in the rear view mirror, the Terriers have an opportunity to reel off some more confidence boosting victories before NEC play commences in a month.
4) Robert Morris (3-5)
When the Colonials lost Velton Jones, Russell Johnson and Coron Williams from last year’s regular season championship roster, many wondered if the offense would continue to produce at an efficient rate. The truth is Andy Toole’s club has been fine on offense, scoring 106.1 points per 100 possessions while taking care of the basketball (16.4% turnover rate).
It’s the defense that’s been abhorrent. Take it away, Robert Morris beat writers!
Below last weekend’s Delaware game:
RMU has allowed opponents to average more than 1 pt per possession in 5 of first 7 games. First time that’s happened in more than a decade.
— Craig Meyer (@CraigMeyerPG) November 29, 2013
This is the fifth straight game and the sixth out of eight total that Robert Morris has given up 80 points. Unheard of for #RMU.
— Andrew Chiappazzi (@achiappazzi) November 30, 2013
With so much turnover at Robert Morris, the defense (272nd nationally in defensive effeciency) hasn’t been anywhere near Toole’s standards. Perhaps he should go back to the chair drill?
5) LIU Brooklyn (2-4)
If you remove the forgettable West Coast trip, LIU Brooklyn has shown an ability to adapt without the services of Jamal Olasewere, C.J. Garner, and Julian Boyd. Of course, Boyd may be back in January, but for now Jack Perri’s Blackbirds have enough pieces to work with. Gilbert Parga, Gerrell Martin and Troy Joseph have collectively played well as off-the-ball guards. Though undersized as true power forwards, Landon Atterberry and E.J. Reed should match up well against most NEC front courts come January. And Jason Brickman is well, Jason Brickman!
Through six games, Brickman has compiled 60 assists against 18 turnovers for a career best 3.3 assist to turnover ratio. Moreover, the Blackbird captain has a realistic shot to become only the fourth player in NCAA history to record 1,000 assists. He simply needs to average 9.6 assists per game over the next 24 games (we’re assuming LIU gets at least one game in then NEC playoffs). All records aside, LIU Brooklyn will always have a chance to four-peat with Brickman leading the charge.
6) Mount St. Mary’s (2-6)
Due to defections and injuries, Mount Mayhem will cease to exist in Jamion Christian’s second year at the helm. That’s likely an overstatement, but with only eight scholarship players left on the 2013-14 roster, the second year head coach will need to pick his spots when employing his high pressure, up-tempo style. Moreover, the Mount must rely on their three athletic seniors, Julian Norfleet, Rashad Whack, and Sam Prescott, more than ever. It’s far from the balanced approach the Mount enjoyed during Christian’s successful inaugural season, though, the Mount has no other options at this point.
More troublesome, some underclassmen have failed to produce early on. Sophomore Gregory Graves has been especially disappointing. Since opening night, Graves is averaging a meager 2.0 points and 1.9 rebounds per game. With Kristijan Krajina now out for the season with a torn ACL, Graves and fellow sophomore Taylor Danaher will be forced into more action.
7) Fairleigh Dickinson (2-6)
Well what do we have here? We knew Greg Herenda was a miracle worker when it came to rebuilding programs, but this may be his most impressive turnaround yet! Granted, it’s only two victories, but Herenda’s team has already pulled off something FDU had never previously achieved. For the first time in the school’s history, the Knights knocked off in-state rivals Seton Hall and Rutgers in the same regular season. Will both power conference programs ever return FDU’s calls for future match ups?
One major catalyst responsible for the Knights success has been point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. For the season, Sanders is playing like an all-conference first teamer, averaging 17.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Versus Seton Hall, the senior nearly compiled a triple double, registering 23 points (on 14 shots), nine rebounds and nine assists. On the season, he has the second best assist rate in the country (46.8%) and possesses a 106.2 offensive rating while handling more than one-third of the Knight’s possessions. That’s a remarkable turnaround given Sanders’ pedestrian numbers a season prior.
8) Central Connecticut (1-5)
If improving the defense was the main goal of Howie Dickenman and his coaching staff this offseason, then November was a colossal failure. Not once has CCSU held an opponent to under 1.00 point per possession, nor have they held their counterparts to under 47% shooting from the field in any defeat.
The overall depth has improved, as the individual performances have been encouraging, at times, for newcomers like Khalen Cumberlander, Faronte Drakeford and Juwan Newman. But this is a team game and CCSU has failed to put together a complete effort for 40 straight minutes. So far, this team has underachieved much like the CCSU teams of recent past.
9) Sacred Heart (1-6)
While Anthony Latina’s Pioneers only have one win through seven contests, the transformation from Dave Bike to Anthony Latina at least has shown promise. The Pioneers are attacking the rim more than ever – their 45.5% FTA/FGA ratio is easily the highest it has ever been the past decade. In addition, they’re extracting turnovers at a high rate, illustrating the Pioneers’ newfound scheme of attacking opponents on the defensive end.
Despite the “progress”, there’s still a ton of work to be done defensively (107.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) and on the glass, yet Sacred Heart has the guard play to at least be competitive in the NEC. At the moment, Latina is patiently waiting for his athletic freshman wing De’von Barnett to return from a high ankle sprain, which was suffered a week before the season began. His insertion into the lineup would give the Pioneers another athletic slasher who can create mismatches for the other team.
10) St. Francis (PA) (1-6)
Aside from a tight victory over Navy during the second week of the season, it has been a discouraging start for second year head coach Rob Krimmel. For starters, the team has failed to score more than 67 points in any game this season, posting a dismal 0.86 points per possession. The Red Flash have been outscored by an average of 19.5 points in six defeats. With the exception of Ronnie Drinnon, who has one of the lowest possession rates on the team, no player has an offensive rating above 100.
But enough about the glaring negatives, which were out on display during their non-competitive loss to American last Saturday. Freshman point guard Malik Harmon, with his excellent 30.2% assist rate, is virtually a lock to earn a spot on the NEC all-rookie team, so there’s that, I guess. Everyone else, however, including Earl Brown, Stephon Mosley, Greg Brown and Drinnon haven’t made that next step to help guide the Red Flash out of perpetual mediocrity.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride