NEC Power Rankings – Conference Preview

For the final part of our midseason NEC preview (here’s the email discussion and midseason awards post), it’s about time we broke out our NEC Power Rankings for the second time this season. Since our first installment, a little shuffling has occurred.

1) Bryant, 7-7

It understandably took some time, but Corey Maynard has been manning the point exceptionally well recently. So well, that the fiery Australian has put up better numbers than former teammate and all-conference third teamer Frankie Dobbs. The comparison:

  • Corey Maynard (last 7 games) – 14.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.1 apg, 2.3 A/TO, 2.1 spg, 44.6% FG%
  • Frankie Dobbs (2012-13 season) – 13.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.2 A/TO, 1.2 spg, 42.3% FG%

Of course, I’m cherry picking Maynard’s data and I don’t mean to downgrade Dobbs’ invaluable contributions last season, but you get the point. If pundits had any reservations about Tim O’Shea handing the point guard duties to Maynard, they clearly were unfounded. Bryant is only 3-4 in those last seven games highlighted, yet that includes two tight, could-have-gone-either-way losses to North Dakota State and Delaware. Those are two programs that have a legitimate chance at qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

While Maynard has filled one area of need, another issue is still unresolved – Bryant’s bench. O’Shea didn’t use the non-conference season to expand the rotation; in fact, only five regulars have played more than half of Bryant’s available minutes thus far. Will the veteran head coach continue to employ a short rotation, or will guys like Curtis Oakley, Declan Soukup and Shane McLaughlin step up? It could be the difference between fresh and tired legs come February. Last season, many of those same legs were slow and heavy, and as a result, Bryant lost six of their final nine contests. — Ryan

2) St. Francis Brooklyn, 8-6

The Terriers’ surprising run has been all about one thing, defense. But it turns out Glenn Braica’s squad is also one of the youngest in Division I with 1.60 years of average experience, according to KenPom. Doesn’t all that youthful innocence hold them back? Nope. There’s actually no correlation between experience and adjusted defensive efficiency. On the other hand, SFC does buck another trend. The Terriers are 332nd nationally in effective height and that’s certainly correlated with defensive efficiency – what with rebounding and blocks and all being important. Despite their height disadvantage Braica’s squad does everything well thanks to an entire team concept. Most surprisingly, the Terriers rank 50th nationally in block percentage because of two newcomers: Amdy Fall (10.2% block percentage) and Wayne Martin (6.3%). Fall had a reputation as a shot-blocker coming in, but Braica has to be equally impressed by the defensive work of his other young forward.

If there’s one reason to be worried about SFC, though, it’s that this team really struggles shooting the basketball. The Terriers have shot 26% from three and rank 333rd nationally in effective field goal percentage. There are a few NEC teams (Wagner and Bryant come to mind) that have the height to deal with SFC inside. The poor shooting partly stems from Ben Mockford’s back injury woes during non-conference play (he’s the only player shooting better than 30% from three), but the senior can’t be the lone solution when teams are going to have time to focus solely on stopping SFC from getting to the rim. — John

3) Wagner, 5-7

If you want to understand Wagner this season you have to understand Mario Moody. The 6’7″ junior forward is finally getting his first taste of significant minutes and the results have been uninspiring to say the least. While he’s playing more minutes, his offensive rating has plummeted to 88.4 from 107.6 a season ago. It’s not because he’s using more possessions either, it’s because his two-point percentage is 37.5%. Again, Moody is 6’7″ and one of the most athletic players in the New York City region (and an elite athletic at the NEC level) and he’s shooting less than 40% on twos. It’s incomprehensible. Just stare at his KenPom page for a second. Dig a little deeper using Hoop-Math and you find this: Moody is shooting almost seven percentage points worse on field goals at the rim this season and just 11% on two-point jumpers. Moody didn’t all of a sudden lose his basketball skills. He’s going to come back in a big way.

In fact, the whole Wagner team is probably set to bounce back in a big way. Bashir Mason’s team is the perfect test for that old cliché of being able to reset the record when conference play begins. The start of NEC play on Thursday at Central Connecticut means forgetting about Mason’s one-game suspension and unexpected losses to less talented teams, and just concentrating on winning an NEC title. Every team is 0-0 in conference and no team needs it more than the Seahawks, especially since only Kenneth Ortiz, Latif Rivers (though he had injuries), and Jay Harris can truly be satisfied with their own play. The expectations have even lessened a bit. Wagner’s now a talented dark horse instead of the league favorite. Mason’s team likes playing that role and that makes the Seahawks increasingly dangerous in the NEC. — John

4) Robert Morris, 5-10

If you remove an ugly loss over a very good Oklahoma State team, the past month (2-5) doesn’t look all that bad for Robert Morris. Yes, the defense hadn’t shown much improvement on paper, but let’s be fair here, the Colonials have run into some really good offenses. Just in the month of December, Andy Toole and his staff game planed for Youngstown State (87th best OEff nationally), Toledo (3rd), Duquesne (65th), Oakland (51st), Oklahoma State (5th) and Alabama (116th). That’s an impressive slate of scorers, so maybe Robert Morris’ defense (1.13 points allow per possession) won’t be as bad as advertised during NEC play.

Nevertheless, Toole has to be concerned with his interior defense. The Colonials are allowing opponents to shoot 55.8% from inside the arc, by far the worst percentage ever allowed in the Mike Rice/Toole era. Mike McFadden and Stephen Hawkins have to be more disciplined and stay out of foul trouble.

Through 15 games, Robert Morris has almost as many losses (10) as they acquired in each of the past two seasons (11), yet the difficult schedule could be the major culprit. With the 26th toughest non-conference schedule in the country, a team with six newcomers absolutely needed time to gel. Toole is certainly hoping the cohesion process begins to take shape on Thursday evening in southern Connecticut. — Ryan

5) Mount St. Mary’s 4-9

Please make sense of these inconsistent results for me:

  • Loss at UMBC, 90-84 OT
  • Loss at Maryland Eastern Shore, 78-71
  • Win vs. American, 68-64 (the Eagles look to be for real)
  • Win vs. Bucknell, 69-64
  • Loss vs. Binghamton, 74-70
  • Loss at Texas Tech, 100-69
  • Win at Norfolk State, 104-84

It’s been a non-conference season full of variance for Mount St. Mary’s, yet one thing has been consistent – Julian Norfleet. The senior has been remarkable through 13 games, capping it off with the best performance of any NEC individual this season when he torched Norfolk State. He had an ORtg of 171 for the game!! Here’s how that epic performance ranks among the great performances of this young season within the conference:

  1. Julian Norfleet (vs. Norfolk State) – 31 points (11 of 13), 10 assists, 3 rebounds, 4 steals, 39 efficiency
  2. Evan Kelley (vs. Holy Cross) – 32 points (12 of 24), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, 33 efficiency
  3. Jason Brickman (vs. Sam Houston State) – 26 points (6 of 9), 13 assists, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 32 efficiency
  4. Earl Brown (vs. NJIT) – 31 points (13 of 20), 11 rebounds, 2 blocks, 32 efficiency
  5. Dyami Starks (vs. Delaware) – 35 points (12 of 22), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 31 efficiency

With Norfleet in control, the Mount has a chance to make some noise in the unpredictable NEC. You won’t get Mount Mayhem for 40 minutes, but as a team loaded with seniors at the front end, they’ll be dangerous. Especially when guys like Byron Ashe, Sam Prescott, and Will Miller are in rhythm from downtown. Opposing coaches should especially take note of the latter – the lanky 6’6” forward hit all five of his three-point attempts in just 11 minutes versus Norfolk State. He, like much of the team, can score the ball in bunches.  — Ryan

6) LIU Brooklyn 5-8

For as great as Jason Brickman is he’s not the most important player on the Blackbirds’ roster if they’re looking to make a run for an unlikely fourth title. Nope, that responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Gilbert Parga. He’s only played eight games this season, but in those eight games the Blackbirds are 3-5. But it’s not that either. It’s the extra dimension that he gives LIU. The Blackbirds don’t have a replacement for a rangy 6’4″ wing. (They don’t have a replacement for Brickman either, but Jack Perri wouldn’t sleep if he had to even contemplate such a scenario.) Sure other players can pick up the slack in the LIU rotation if Parga is out, but they can’t do everything he can – trade offs are made when he’s not on the court. Parga has shot well from both two (45% on 31 attempts) and three (55% on 20 attempts) and also provides a stabilizing, if not intimidating, force on the defensive boards. In fact, Parga had his best rebounding game of the second with six in his return against Texas St. right before New Year. He also scored 13 points and showed how he can fit into this LIU lineup. Having Parga on the court makes the Blackbirds better and potentially a deep sleeper for a fourth straight NEC title.

It’s also worth noting that the Blackbirds haven’t played a game since that Dec. 30 contest in Texas. It’s been a long layoff. During that time the Blackbirds announced that sixth-year senior Julian Boyd wouldn’t be returning. Now more than ever E.J. Reed and Landon Atterberry know they can’t foul. There’s no one coming to save them. In a way it’s probably for the best. There won’t be any outsized expectations heaped upon Boyd’s broad shoulders and Perri and the other players don’t have to keep wondering if Boyd will ever make it back. Instead the Blackbirds are rolling with what they’ve got. It’s certainly not perfect, but when you’ve got the league (and one the nation)’s best point guards anything can happen. — John

7) Central Connecticut 3-9

If you ever have some time to kill, feel free to entertain yourself with the Central Connecticut basketball forum. As you could imagine, the morale has been far from positive in recent seasons and Matt Hunter’s academic issues have only made things worse. The Blue Devils have won a quarter of their Division I games this season, even though they had the 257th toughest non-conference slate. But is it really time to panic? 

Howie Dickenman has never put a ton of value in the non-conference season, yet it’s hard to ignore their issues. As evident from their 1.09 points allowed per possession – their worst defensive effort since the 2005-06 season – CCSU hasn’t stopped anyone on defense. Their rebounding has been dreadful; they’re currently posting the 336th best defensive rebounding rate in the nation. And the team has struggled to score from the perimeter, hitting a measly 28.6% of their three-point attempts. OK, maybe things are bad.

Even without the services of Hunter, however, the Blue Devils have a chance to turn things around. In limited time, sophomore Brandon Peel and Juwan Newman have shown flashes of their potential, especially in the rebounding aspect. It may behoove Dickenman to give Peel and Newman more than their current allotment of 15 minutes per game. JUCO transfer Faronte Drakeford has been good, averaging 12.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg. And CCSU still has Kyle Vinales and Malcolm McMillan to lean on. A four game home stand to open the conference season also helps, but if CCSU goes 1-3, things will get downright ugly in New Britain rather quickly. — Ryan

8) Sacred Heart, 3-12

The first 15 games of Anthony Latina’s head coaching career surely didn’t end up as planned, yet there have been some highlights along the way. Most recently, the play of freshman De’von Barnett should have Latina excited for his future. The dynamic wing, who makes his living slashing to the rim and leaping above outstretched hands 10-12 feet from the basket, has been wonderfully efficient. Through seven contests, the freshman has made 30 of 48 shots (62.5%) inside the arc, with 23 of those makes coming at the rim, according to Hoop-Math. Even his two-point jumper percentage – he’s made 43.8% (7 of 16) – exceeds the Division I average of 35.7%. Not bad for a kid who was a backup on a loaded Riverdale Baptism high school team.

Unfortunately, Barnett can’t be expected to perform the heavy lifting, as other Pioneers need to contribute. Some have on the offensive end, but, with the recent exception of senior Mustafa Abdel-Latif, the frontcourt play has been mediocre at best. The Pioneers are getting badly outrebounded on a nightly basis and their defense has seen better days, as evident from their 1.11 points allowed per possession. It doesn’t help that opponents are shooting twos at a sizzling 54.7%, which is exacerbated by Sacred Heart’s puny block rate of 4.5%.

Plus, Evan Kelley is out indefinitely with an apparent shoulder separation. The word was that Kelley’s injury will “take weeks, not months” to heal, which is hardly reassuring with the injury occurring nearly three weeks ago. The last time we heard that kind of timetable out of Fairfield, Justin Swidowski missed the remainder of the season after a shoulder separation in January. A similar plight for Kelley will have the Pioneers struggling to make the NEC playoffs. — Ryan

9) Fairleigh Dickinson, 3-10

You’ll have to excuse Sidney Sanders, Jr. if he thinks he’s looking into the mirror when he tries to guard Julian Norfleet during FDU’s first NEC conference game this season. Norfleet’s 2014 season is Sanders’ most similar comparable according to Ken Pomeroy. No, a hole isn’t going to open in the space-time continuum when the two face off in Hackensack, NJ on Thursday. Instead, it just goes to show how far Sanders has come in his first (and only) season under new head coach Greg Herenda. The 5’11” dynamo has blossomed under his new head coach averaging 19.6 points, 4.9 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game this season. He has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and thrived in FDU’s upsets of Rutgers and Seton Hall. Sanders is at his best when he’s getting to the rim and that’s become the norm more and more. He’s attempted at least 10 free throws in five of FDU’s last seven games. Once at the line, Sanders is a 73% shooter from the charity stripe. Maybe the man across from him is going to have a tougher time than people think.

When Herenda took over there was a lot of work to do and while FDU has wins over RU and SHU those are two of the program’s three Division I wins this season. Part of the problem is that the easier games in the schedule were mostly towards the beginning of the season. FDU proved that by beating Hofstra by 19 at home on Sunday after losing to the Pride by 22 on Nov. 10. A lot of progress has been made. Continuing to show progress is going to be the key for Herenda this season. Instilling confidence in younger players who are playing key roles such as Matt MacDonald and Jayde Dawson is another one. This was always going to be a rebuilding year for the Knights, but if Herenda can sneak the team into the NEC playoffs it would be a great block to build upon. — John

10) Saint Francis (PA), 2-11

Here are two quick player profiles for you to peruse:

  • Player A: 109.8 ORtg, 16.6 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.9 bpg, 56.1% FG%
  • Player B: 109.8 ORtg, 12.6 ppg, 2.0 apg, 36.4% 3PT%, 93.3% FT%

Player A is Northeastern’s Scott Eatherton and Player B is Quinnipiac’s Umar Shannon. If neither had transferred from St. Francis, they’d be seniors in Loretto. (Cue the angry Red Flash fan who’s now cursing me out.) While it’s particularly cruel to bring this up, it gives us a better understanding of St. Francis’ offensive woes. When you lose two all-league players of this caliber, replacing that production is never easy.

For the moment, the Red Flash are scoring 91.9 points per 100 possessions, only 12 teams in the country have been less efficient offensively. No one, with the exception of Earl Brown, has an offensive rating above 100. Perhaps due to their lack of size (349th nationally) and inability to create off the dribble, the team hasn’t been converting many of their two-point jumpers (23.8% versus the national average of 35.7%) and shots around the rim (52.2% vs. 60.9%). They’re even barely making 60% of their freebies at the line!

Despite the offensive troubles, Brown continues to progress as a junior. He’s just shy of averaging a double double at 14.2/9.9, and has been able to stay on the floor recently. He’s just one man, however, as he’ll need serious help from the rest of his underachieving cast if St. Francis is going to make any kind of run to decency. Players like Stephon Mosley, Ronnie Drinnon, Greg Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier have been disappointing to say the least, though, it’s fair to expect a little progression to the mean in terms of the offense. — Ryan

One thought on “NEC Power Rankings – Conference Preview

  1. If you look at Coach Herenda past accomplishments at U Mass- Lowell and look at the game against Hofstra on Jan. 5th picking FDU to not make the NEC Tournament is a prediction you should reconsider.

    Like

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