With NEC play excitedly beginning tomorrow, John and I felt now was a perfect opportunity to revise our NEC Power Rankings from a few weeks ago.The month of December was much kinder to the conference, with Saint Francis University, St. Francis Brooklyn and Fairleigh Dickinson notching some notable victories for the conference. While some have pushed their way toward the top, the conference still projects as one of the most unpredictable leagues heading into 2015. Let’s begin.
After enduring a rough start to the season at Cincinnati and American, Earl Brown has become the dominant power forward everyone had envisioned when he was a preseason all-conference first team selection. In his past nine games, the senior has logged 17.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, while shooting a fantastic 61.5% from the floor. He’s been nearly unstoppable at the rim; converting 69.6% of those attempts according to Hoop Math, and has even hit five of his 12 three-point attempts. It may not seem like much that Brown is attempting one three-pointer per game, but this added dimension makes it even harder for NEC power forwards to contain the potential NEC Player of the Year.
If there’s one weakness to Brown’s game, it’s his turnover rate at 28.1%. Someone else on the roster will need to take on a bigger load offensively to take some of the burden off the 6’6” forward. Ronnie Drinnon has been a monster on the boards (10.7% offensive rebound rate and 22.6% defensive rebound rate), yet his offensive skills have regressed some. There was stark difference in Drinnon’s non-conference (3.9 ppg, 46.9% FG) and conference splits (9.2 ppg, 54.6%) last season, so the cerebral Drinnon may enjoy an improvement in scoring and efficiency when facing the small frontcourts of the NEC. – RP
After wandering through the wilderness during non-conference play the Terriers find themselves right back where they started as NEC play begins. KenPom has the preseason favorites as No. 1 in the NEC in his rankings as the season kicks off Saturday. One of the keys for SFC staying there is Brent Jones. Last season Jones had a breakout campaign, finishing with an offensive rating of 109.1 and the third best assist rate in the country. He’s regressed a bit this season. The assists are down a bit and Jones’ two-point shooting, which is notoriously finicky for smaller players, has dropped. As the Terriers started the season with a five-game losing streak, Jones struggled too — he had just one game with an offensive rating over 100. He’s also been the reason SFC has turned things around lately. Jones has been on a tear, grabbing a larger share of the offense and playing the point guard position as efficiently as possible. Glenn Braica has also been experimenting with some really small lineups, including Glenn Sanabria, Tyreek Jewell, and Jones. The three of them together makes little sense when playing La Salle, Rutgers or Georgetown, but up against an NEC squad they could cause real panic.
“We’ve got pretty good chemistry. For small guards we’re kind of quick,” Jones said after SFC’s win against Columbia. ” A lot of non-conference games we had a lot of tall guards going against us so we tried to use our speed and quickness to finesse our transition offense. It’s kind of clicking now for us.”
It also took head coach Glenn Braica some time to feel comfortable with that lineup on the defensive end, but he said after the game against the Lions that Jewell and Sanabria have made big strides during non-conference play in terms of understanding how to play defense at the Division I level. Considering the forward talent SFC has inside — especially now that Amdy Fall appears to be healthy — the three-guard look might be here to stay. – JT
Things were moving along nicely, until an unexpected home loss to Dartmouth thwarted Bryant’s progress heading into conference play. The 17-point defeat at the hands of an Ivy League team – their third loss in three tries to members of that conference this season – sunk Bryant’s KenPom ranking a whooping 54 spots. Still, December victories over Army (9-3) and Denver (6-7) away from their friendly confines mustn’t be ignored, hence their top three ranking here.
Concerns on the offensive end remain, however. The Bulldogs have only mustered 96.7 points per 100 possessions in nine non-conference games, easily a three-year low for Tim O’Shea’s program. The rotation seems far from set, and with the exception of a crisp victory over Army, Bryant isn’t efficient scoring the basketball inside the arc. Furthermore, the half-court offense appears out of whack with O’Shea’s group posting a mediocre effective field goal percentage of 40.9% when they attempt their first shot 11 to 35 seconds into the shot clock.
Daniel Garvin’s sophomore line seems particularly concerning – his offensive rating and effective field goal percentage has dipped considerably from his freshman campaign and he’s turning the ball over more than ever. Most of his shots are coming at the rim (68.8%) and he’s only made half of them to this point. Progression to the mean is certainly possible in that regard, but he or Hunter Ware will need to become the Robin to Dyami Starks’ Batman for Bryant to improve their offensive profile. – RP
4) Sacred Heart (6-7)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 8
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 209/294
Notable Wins: vs. Holy Cross, 81-68, at Colgate, 71-70
Disappointing Losses: vs. UMass Lowell, 57-54, at Rutgers, 79-54
After winning five of six games, the Pioneers have stumbled a little losing their last three. They faced a formidable tilt against Rutgers (who were angry and motivated after the Red Flash upset them a few days prior), Brown and Yale, but their defense has seemed to struggle a bit after an encouraging start. They’ve given up 1.09 ppp, which given the structure of this club, won’t lead to many wins.
Whether Anthony Latina likes it or not, Sacred Heart’s success is predicated on scoring the basketball – when the Pioneers score 1.00 ppp or more, they’re 6-2 on the season. When scoring less, they’ve dropped all five of those decisions. In order to be successful in conference play, the Pioneers will need to continue to attack opponents off the dribble and get to the rim with their athleticism. It’s hardly a coincidence that the Pioneers are successful when guys like De’von Barnett are playing at a high level – when he posts an offensive rating above 100, Sacred Heart is 6-2. Extrapolating that out to the rest of the team, they’re shooting 56.2% inside the arc in five Division I wins, 43.4% in their seven defeats. – RP
The Knights have a lot of signs of being a well-coached team. They barely take two-point jump shots, instead maximizing their possessions by kicking out for threes or heading right to the rim. They don’t turn the ball over much on offense (and force a bunch on defense). They have a 4-6 record against Division I opponents playing what KenPom claims is the 36th hardest schedule in the country thus far. All of that’s great, but apparently Greg Herenda can’t figure out how to make the non-transition offense more sustainable. Here’s a table showing what I mean:
|Possession Length||Points Scored||Possessions||PSPP|
|0 to 7||156||131||1.19|
|8 to 14||151||154||0.98|
|15 to 21||168||175||0.96|
|22 to 28||108||120||0.90|
|29 to 35||105||110||0.95|
If FDU can get into transition they’re absolutely deadly. Those 1.19 points per possession are great. And the Knights do get into transition a lot — mostly thanks to live-ball turnovers from the hectic defensively style they play, but when they don’t, things get ugly fast. The natural curve of this efficiency looks similar to most Division I basketball teams (things get real bad in that 22 to 28 second range for almost every team), but the drop-off between those quick transition possessions and everything else is stark. LIU’s offense actually shows a similar trend, as the Blackbirds are way better in transition. Perhaps, FDU and LIU will run a bit more in conference play than their 111 and 117 rankings in adjusted tempo would suggest. – JT
Robert Morris leads the bottom half of our power rankings with their sixth place finish, because frankly it’s so difficult to make sense of their wildly inconsistent non-conference results (ditto for the next team on this list). Is this finally the year Andy Toole doesn’t win at least 12 conference games and earn a top three seed in the process?
It all depends on the play of their senior leader, Lucky Jones. The athletic forward has been a mess this year, posting a career low turnover rate (20.3%, up from 16.8% last season) and effective field goal percentage (41.5%, down from 48.2% last season). Whether his struggles are due to his nagging finger injury and/or trying to do too much as the perceived go-to-scorer is anyone’s guess, yet he’ll need to find the consistency that made him an all-conference player during his first three seasons.
There are other players on the team in Rodney Pryor and Marcquise Reed – who’s currently neck and neck with Cane Broome as the NEC’s best rookie – that will provide the Colonials with offensive firepower, but Jones will ultimately need to revert back to his 2013 self in order for The Chuck to host another NEC quarterfinal game. – RP
7) Mount St. Mary’s (4-7)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 6
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 290/234
Notable Wins: at Bucknell, 73-69
Disappointing Losses: vs. Maryland Eastern Shore, 53-41
As confused as I am about Robert Morris, I’m even more befuddled regarding the Mountaineers. What’s most puzzling about Jamion Christian’s group is their inconsistency scoring the basketball. They poured in everything in between 1.16 ppp to 0.59 ppp, with the latter coming in their last putrid effort on the road against Old Dominion, when they scored 35 total points!
At the moment, no one embodies the Mount’s inconsistency more so than sophomore guard Bryon Ashe. After draining two pressure packed three-pointers in an overtime victory over Norfolk State on December 13, Ashe has made 1 of 18 shots in 30 minutes of play with a curious “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision” attached to his name for a near disastrous loss to Binghamton. He’s certainly pressing and Christian has other options now with Andrew Smeathers in the fold, so you can’t help but wonder if Ashe will become the next Kelvin Parker, a once promising talent who struggled to fully embrace the Mount Mayhem system. – RP
Last week I wrote 1,600 words about why the Blackbirds are going to be fine during NEC play. Then they were obliterated by Hofstra at the Barclays Center. Quite frankly I don’t think that changes much of anything. The Pride are a top 100 basketball team this season and a legitimate challenger for the CAA’s NCAA tournament berth. The game against Hofstra was LIU’s third hardest this season, according to KenPom. What’s also convenient is that LIU has a rather soft schedule to open NEC play. The Blackbirds have their first three games at home and don’t play either of the top contenders — Saint Francis U. and St. Francis Brooklyn — until Jan. 31. In some ways this might put some pressure on Jack Perri’s team to get wins early in the schedule, but also don’t be surprised if LIU has a gaudy record through the first month of NEC play.
One player the Blackbirds are going to need to play well in order to succeed is Joel Hernandez. The burly 6’3” sophomore wing is sometimes being asked to play power forward. I’m sure Perri doesn’t want to do that a lot, but I have some concerns that the deployment is also hindering Hernandez’s offensive game. This season 48.3% of Hernandez’s shots have been two-point jumpers, according to Hoop-Math. There’s no universe in which this is a good idea with the two-point jumper being the least efficient shot in all of college basketball a. Despite this, Hernandez takes one almost half the time (and makes about NCAA average at 37%). It might be because he’s being guarded by bigger players and finding it difficult to get to the rim since he’s playing out of position, but I don’t particularly care. Go to the rim Joel! All of those jump shots are a big reason why Hernandez has the second lowest offensive rating of any Blackbirds regular and turning a few of those ill-advised looks into drives to the basket — where I might add Hernandez is pretty good at drawing fouls — would be a huge help, especially against smaller NEC lineups. – JT
I penned a feature on Wagner this week, focusing on Wagner’s youth movement and Bashir Mason doing his best to stay positive as his team continues deep into the rebuilding cycle. The possible insertion of a recovered Dwaun Anderson into the lineup will surely help, but the Seahawks will also need a healthy season out of Mike Aaman, who’s currently listed as “day-to-day” with a head injury. If those two are playing at full strength by February, Wagner will be a pesky #7 or #8 seed no one would wish to draw in the first round of the NEC tournament. Until then, though, this will be a squad that should experience some crazy ups and downs due to the construction of its roster and Mason’s reliance on several underclassmen. – RP
10) Central Connecticut (2-10)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 4
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 327/233
Notable Wins: at Hartford, 56-47
Disappointing Losses: vs. Fairfield, 71-63, vs. Bethane Cookman, 65-60
As one coach recently told me regarding Central Connecticut, “I don’t care what their record is going into our conference game with them, you can never ever count out or take for granted a Howie Dickenman coached team.”
This may be true, but after defeating hapless UMBC a few weeks ago, the Blue Devils have dropped four straight – three at home – and may have finally plummeted to their nadir. In the four setbacks, Central Connecticut has trailed for nearly 133 of a possible 160 minutes, while allowing their opponents to shoot a scorching 59.9% on their two-point attempts. And this is despite the fact that NJIT, Brown, and Hofstra aren’t exactly creating a size mismatch for the Blue Devils. It’s simply due to a poor effort on the defensive end, which unfortunately for Dickenman, can’t be tolerated given the team’s offensive woes minus Kyle Vinales and Malcolm McMillan.
On the positive end, Matt Mobley currently leads the Blue Devils in scoring at 17.9 ppg and is only second in the NEC to senior Dyami Starks. A closer look at Mobley’s statistical profile, in fact, shows that the sophomore has morphed into a similar version of what Vinales once was.
- Kyle Vinales, 2013-14: 38% 2PT, 40% 3PT, 78% FT, 99.6 offensive rating, 17.7% turnover rate
- Matt Mobley, 2014-15: 41% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 77% FT, 99.6 offensive rating, 18.9% turnover rate
Mobley has done his part in replacing the all-conference type of production Vinales had provided. It’s the rest of his supporting cast though that hasn’t stepped up to efficiently absorb some much-needed possessions. Khalen Cumberlander, Faronte Drakeford, Brandon Peel and Kevin Seymour have offensive ratings hovering in the mid 80s, which is poor especially for regulars who have played at least 59% of Central Connecticut’s available minutes. With McMillan and now Cumberlander on the mend indefinitely, it’s tough to see the Blue Devils winning more than 6 conference games. It may very well be a “dumpster fire” in New Britain, as one source put it when accessing the team’s current situation. – RP
Ryan also spoke with NEC Associate Commissioner Ron Ratner on Friday to preview the upcoming NEC season. You can view the video here.