It’s been a month since our last version of the NEC Power Rankings, so with eight conference games now completed, now was a perfect time to access the league and see where each team stands. With that in mind, enjoy our latest edition!
1) St. Francis Brooklyn (12-9, 6-2 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 2/2
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 156/190
Notable NEC Wins: at Robert Morris, 68-63, at SFU, 60-59
Disappointing NEC Losses: None
As the Terriers continue to compete in NEC play, two serious Player of the Year candidates are emerging. Both Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones are absolutely invaluable to Glenn Braica’s squad. In a single game Jones can go from amazing highs to difficult struggles (or the other way around). He basically willed SFC to a win at Robert Morris by scoring 20 second half points. Cannon, on the other hand, has been as steady as they come. He’s dominating on offense, with a 117.4 offensive rating, and he also cleans up on the glass, averaging 9.5 rpg in league play. The advanced numbers suggest, though, that Jones is the player that Braica can’t afford to lose this season.
Neither Jones nor Cannon has sat much during conference play, but the possessions they’re not on the court tell an interesting story. During Jones’ 41 possessions off the court in NEC play the Terriers have scored an average of 66 points per 100 possessions, 42.5 points worse on average than when Jones is on the court. The sample size isn’t very big — the Terriers have essentially played just two-thirds of a game without Jones — but it’s telling nonetheless. (For the record the Terriers are eight points worse with Cannon off the court.) SFC has one of the deeper frontcourts in the NEC, so the drop off from Cannon to Chris Hooper or Antonio Jenifer is palatable for short stretches of time. In the backcourt, SFC doesn’t really have anybody who can handle the point guard duties the way Jones does. He’s the focal point of their offense, and while that might lead to games where his runner in the lane goes off the mark and the Terriers pick up a loss — as it did on Saturday afternoon — Braica knows he has to trust his 5’10” senior as far as he can take SFC. -JT
2) Robert Morris (10-10, 6-2 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 1/6
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 197/177
Notable NEC Wins: at SFC, 67-65, at Mount St. Mary’s, 63-59 OT
Disappointing NEC Losses: None
Welcome back Lucky Jones! One of the big concerns coming into NEC play was how the 6’6″ senior would play after struggling during non-conference play. Craig Meyer even wrote about his struggles for the Jan. 8 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Since the first weekend of NEC play when the Colonials lost at home to Saint Francis U, things have quickly turned around for Jones. He hit the game-winning three-pointer against St. Francis Brooklyn last Saturday and unless his ankle injury is serious, Jones should be able to continue dominating NEC competition.
It’s not to say that Lucky won’t have a bad game. He did have score only three points in the Colonials’ overtime victory over Mount St. Mary’s, but in NEC play he’s looked more like the player everyone expected to see. Jones has had an offensive rating above 120 in four different games for RMU, all victories. He’s still turning the ball over on 21.4% of all his possessions, but he’s also shooting 42% from three and 40% on two-point attempts, which is much closer to his offensive numbers from a year ago.
Jones’ usage has also come down quite a bit since the opening weekend of NEC play, which makes me wonder if Andy Toole has decided that running the offense through freshman Marcquise Reed makes more sense for both this season and beyond. -JT
3) Bryant (9-9, 6-2 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 3/3
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 244/227
Notable NEC Wins: vs SFU, 80-54
Disappointing NEC Losses: vs. Sacred Heart, 83-66
It’s blind player comparison time! Here are three Bulldog profiles:
- Player A: 17.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.2 apg, 48.0% EFG%, 99.0 offensive rating
- Player B: 10.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 54.3% EFG%, 116.9 offensive rating
- Player C: 9.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 46.8% EFG%, 101.5 offensive rating
All three players will likely find themselves on an all-conference team with those numbers. Player A is currently pegged as a first teamer while Player B and C have a reasonable shot to qualify for the second and third team. But what if I also told you that the conference averages for Player B and C were 14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.3 apg and 12.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 1.6 bpg, respectively? At the very least, Player B should be in consideration for a first team honor over Player A, right?
If you’re in agreement, then Joe O’Shea (Player B) is more valuable to his team, albeit slightly, than the sharpshooting senior, Dyami Starks (Player A). Of course, no one could reasonably degrade Starks’ influence on Bryant’s overwhelming success these past three seasons, but the coach’s nephew is having one hell of a January. Many times dubbed a “glue guy” and “player who thrives in a well-integrated system”, O’Shea has taken the onus to become a major factor in the Bulldogs’ latest run. His KenPom numbers, despite a tough start to this season, are fantastic with career highs being set in offensive rating, three-point field goal percentage, rebounding rate, not to mention a career low in turnover rate.
Daniel Garvin (Player C) has also come into his own lately, posting three double doubles in his last six games. Thanks especially to O’Shea and Garvin, Bryant quietly finds themselves in a three-way tie for first place. The Bulldogs will now embark on a brutal four game conference stretch that includes three road games (Robert Morris, SFU, Sacred Heart) and a home game versus the NEC’s defending champion (Mount St. Mary’s). We’ll learn a lot about Tim O’Shea’s group in the next two weeks. -RP
4) Mount St. Mary’s (9-10, 5-3 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 6/7
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 290/220
Notable NEC Wins: vs. SFC, 71-61, vs. SFU, 52-40
Disappointing NEC Losses: at Robert Morris, 70-45
#MountMayhem has been all the rage on Twitter since Jamion Christian accepted the head coaching position at his alma mater. You know the story: The Shaka Smart assistant would install the northern Maryland version of havoc – a feverishly paced effort that forces turnovers, attempts copious amounts of three-pointers, provides unusual balance and creates an exciting brand of basketball, win or lose. By the 35th minute of the game, their opponents will be exhausted at the mere mention of Mayhem and suddenly can’t find their legs on jump shots. Well, if that’s your idea of Mayhem, then you’ve been disappointed this past month.
That’s because the Mount’s latest home victory over SFU had the feel of a Milan Brown coached basketball team; a slow, methodical, grind-it-out type of contest that’s more appropriately played in Washington D.C. at American University. The Red Flash were turned over just seven times and attempted 20 shots from behind the arch, while the Mount scored a grand total of 52 points… and yet Christian’s team was victorious by 12 points?! In eight conference games, Christian’s group has averaged 65.5 points and 64.6 possessions per game, compared to 82.6 points and 73.6 possessions at the same point last conference season. Apparently, this isn’t your older brother’s version of Mount Mayhem.
Instead, Christian and his staff have been very good at adapting to the strengths of their roster. The transition opportunities aren’t there with an incredibly young backcourt that gives moderate minutes to one junior (Chris Martin), two sophomores (Byron Ashe, Khalid Nwandu) and two freshmen (Junior Robinson, Charles Glover). But the Mountaineers are tremendously balanced – eight players score between 10.0 and 15.8 points per 40 minutes – and possess a ridiculous amount of length that’s forced conference opponents to post a paltry effective field goal percentage of 43.1 percent. It’s a major reason why the Mountaineers are the best defensive team in the NEC (0.88 ppp) at the moment. -RP
5) Saint Francis University (10-9, 4-4 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 4/1
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 202/257
Notable NEC Wins: vs. Robert Morris, 66-59
Disappointing NEC Losses: at Bryant, 80-54
Thanks to a three-game losing streak, the Red Flash are dangerously close to failing out of the conference’s upper tier. It’s a small sample size of eight games, but so far, to quote the great Dennis Green, SFU is what I thought they were: an average team with the potential to earn a home playoff game in the first round of the NEC tournament if things break right. Their point differential of -10 points in league play indicates they are a little lucky to be 4-4. And yet, why are they playing ordinary basketball after a terrific non-conference season?
The most experienced team in the conference has been surprisingly inconsistent in the past month, as evident from these NEC game splits:
- Vs. Wagner (win), 1.28 ppp off, 1.00 ppp def
- Vs. RMU (win) 1.03 ppp, 0.91 ppp
- At Bryant (loss) 0.92 ppp, 1.33 ppp
- At SHU (win) 1.14 ppp, 0.92 ppp
- Vs. SHU (win) 1.12 ppp, 1.09 ppp
- Vs. SFNY (loss) 0.98 ppp, 1.07 ppp
- At Wagner (loss) 0.92 ppp, 1.01 ppp
- At Mount (loss) 0.70 ppp, 0.94 ppp
That’s an absurd amount of variation on both sides of the ball for the 34th most experienced roster in the country. With the exception of their victories over Wagner, Robert Morris and Sacred Heart (first game), the Red Flash simply haven’t put it together offensively and defensively in the same game. From a defending standpoint, that’s a bit perplexing, but a 1.03 ppp average isn’t terribly concerning. The fluctuations on offense make far more sense, however, given SFU’s heavy reliance on the three-point jumper.
Case in point: When SFU makes at least 35% of their attempts in a contest, they are a perfect 10-0. When they fail to reach that threshold, the Red Flash are 0-9. For a team averaging 20.8 attempted triples per game, guards like Malik Harmon, Greg Brown, Dom Major, Stephon Whyatt and Ben Millaud-Meunier need to attack the rim more often to keep defenders honest. Only 21.6% of their shots are collectively near the rim. Opposing backcourts will simply camp out on the perimeter and force SFU to beat them in the lane, placing an inordinate amount of pressure on Earl Brown and Ronnie Drinnon. -RP
6) Sacred Heart (9-12, 3-5 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 8/4
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 227/294
Notable NEC Wins: at Bryant, 83-66
Disappointing NEC Losses: at LIU Brooklyn, 82-81 2OT
Last week marked a couple of noteworthy achievements for Anthony Latina. The Pioneers won both of their games – their first two-game winning streak inside the conference since the 2012-13 season — and also hurdled a couple of pseudo milestones that have been haunting this program for several years running. First off, by the skin of Darian Anderson’s fingertips, Sacred Heart escaped with a one-point overtime victory over FDU after blowing a nine-point advantage with 1:33 left in regulation. The nail-biter was Sacred Heart’s first conference victory within one possession since (get this) January 19, 2013, when the Pioneers defeated a five-win SFU team in Loretto. The red and white had lost the next seven NEC contests within one possession before finally “breaking through” against FDU last Thursday. The second milestone was far more encouraging, though – Sacred Heart put together perhaps their best effort of the season in a convincing 17-point shakedown of first place Bryant.
Despite those two wins, Sacred Heart still has work to climb out of their early season hole, and it won’t be easy. Part of the reason is their struggles closing out games, and in particular, making free throws. This season, Sacred Heart’s shooting a ghastly 59.4% from the charity stripe in league play, on pace to become only the third NEC team in 14 seasons to make less than 60% of their freebies. They’ve missed 33 of 85 attempts at the line in four NEC games that have gone down the wire.
There really isn’t a magic formula here, but Latina needs to give Phil Gaetano and Cane Broome more touches late when the Pioneers are ahead. It’s a major problem when three players Latina trusts to play in clutch situations – Evan Kelley, De’von Barnett and Jordan Allen – shoot a combined 58.1% (126-217) from the foul line. -RP
7) Wagner (6-13, 4-4 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 7/9
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 297/230
Notable NEC Wins: vs. SFU, 63-58
Disappointing NEC Losses: at CCSU, 53-50
Everyone has marveled at the job Bashir Mason has done with the 331st experienced squad in the nation, and the unanticipated success is due to none other than Marcus Burton. While playing 91% of Wagner’s available minutes the past seven NEC games, the senior guard has averaged 24.6 ppg, accounting for 33.5% of his team’s total scoring.
He’s a volume scorer, yet he’s been rather efficient, reverting back to his earlier days as the fourth or fifth best scorer on loaded Seahawk teams that included Kenny Ortiz, Latif Rivers, Mario Moody and Jonathan Williams, among others. Despite his name being in bold on every opposing scouting report, Burton has posted an offensive rating of 109 or better in six of his last seven contests.
Wagner is certainly a menace at home– 18-6 when hosting an NEC team in Mason’s career – and has been pesky, at times, on defense, but without Burton, the Seahawks would likely be 2-6 or 1-7 in the conference. The 6’0” guard may not be the best player in the league, but you can easily make the case that he’s the NEC’s most valuable player at the moment. -RP
8) LIU Brooklyn (7-12, 3-5 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 9/8
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 305/290
Notable NEC Wins: at FDU, 80-76
Disappointing NEC Losses: vs. Mount St. Mary’s, 61-54
Five freshman are playing significant minutes for Jack Perri during NEC play, which is part of the reason why LIU keeps winning NEC Rookie of the Week awards (the other part is they are pretty good). What do the top three bring to the table in NEC play specifically? And what do they need to work on? Here are some quick bullets highlighting some of those freshmen.
- Nura Zanna: As expected, the 6’7″, 240-pound Zanna has been a beast in the paint during NEC play. It’s really hard for opponents to guard him one-on-one and they just end up hacking. Zanna is a respectable 67% free throw shooter too, so two shots has a pretty good return for the Blackbirds. But he has to work on staying on the court (7.6 fouls per 40 minutes). Zanna has played 25 minutes or more in only half of his NEC games, mostly due to foul trouble.
- Martin Hermannsson: Hermannsson has been everything Perri could’ve asked for in his first collegiate season offensively. He shoots decently from all over the court (46% on twos, 30% on threes, 89% from the line), doesn’t turn the ball over much, and is LIU’s best passer (at least according to assist rate in NEC play). He even rebounds well for his position defensively. What Hermannsson hasn’t done is take games over. He’s had just one game all season where he’s used more than 25% of LIU’s possessions while on the court — a four-point loss to Lehigh. Hermannsson, though, was spectacular in that game and the Blackbirds would be better off if he demanded the ball more on offense. Maybe his 21-point performance, including 12-15 from the line, against Fairleigh Dickinson in LIU’s last game is a sign of more good things to come. Ironically, Hermannsson’s closest comparison right now according to KenPom is last season’s NEC Rookie of the Year, Malik Harmon of SFU.
- Elvar Frioriksson: The freshman point guard is getting his hands on passes in NEC play (2.2% steal percentage), while not committing too many fouls (2.2 per 40 minutes). That’s great, but he’s really struggled on the offensive end during conference play. Part of that is because Frioriksson’s shot has been off. He’s shooting just 24% on twos and 17% on threes during conference play. He’s also turned the ball over on 28% of his offensive possessions during NEC games. Young ball-handlers often struggle with high turnover rates. Penn’s Zack Rosen had a similar turnover rate during his freshman season, but turned into one of the Ivy League’s most deadly scoring point guards later in his career. Frioriksson just needs to find a way to see the ball go into the basket some more.
The development of these three players – and how they play from here on out — will go a long way towards determining if the Blackbirds manage to grab one of the final NEC tournament slots, so they can build for the 2015-16 season with one of the best foundations in the conference. -JT
9) Fairleigh Dickinson (7-12, 2-6 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 10/5
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 321/311
Notable NEC Wins: None
Disappointing NEC Losses: vs. Wagner, 82-68, vs. Mount St. Mary’s, 71-51
Things were progressing nicely for Greg Herenda and his Knights, fresh off a three game winning streak before hosting NEC preseason favorite St. Francis Brooklyn. FDU was 7-6 for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The freshmen were playing really well. Since then, however, FDU has been in a free fall, dropping six straight and giving up a mediocre 1.05 ppp in that time span.
FDU’s man-to-man defense hasn’t been terrible, but they are fouling their opponents at an insane rate in league play. 30.9% of their opponents points are derived from the free throw line, by far the worst mark in the NEC. Furthermore, the Knights’ have been getting destroyed on the backboards, grabbing 25.4% of their offensive rebounds and less than 65% of their defensive rebounds, both dead last in the NEC. Xavier Harris has produced for Herenda in the low block (7.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.1 bpg), yet no other Knight teammate has been impressingly protecting the glass, including graduate transfer Darius Stokes, the biggest player in Herenda’s otherwise small roster. His minutes have dwindled lately, so freshman Earl Potts, Jr. and the wings (Marques Townes, Matt MacDonald) need to do a better job of boxing out if FDU is going to get back to the NEC playoff picture. -RP
10) Central Connecticut (3-18, 1-7 NEC)
BAB Preseason Ranking/Last Power Ranking: 4/10
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 343/233
Notable NEC Wins: None
Disappointing NEC Losses: Pick Any Home Game
Now that the Blue Devils no longer have to worry about going winless in NEC play (it likely wasn’t going to happen anyway), they can focus on another reasonable goal given their decimated roster: making the NEC tournament. Brandon Peel’s desperation heave at the buzzer was Top Ten worthy on SportsCenter, but more importantly it brought CCSU to within two games of Sacred Heart and LIU Brooklyn for the final playoff spot. The chances of securing that eighth seed remain slim – KenPom considers CCSU a moderate to severe underdog in each of their remaining games – but Howie Dickenman and his staff at least have an opportunity to rally the troops heading into February.
To finish strong will require a stark improvement on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the paint. CCSU’s NEC opponents are making 55% of their attempts inside the arc, and while they aren’t going to the line much (24.1% free throw rate), this illustrates the Blue Devils’ defensive passiveness. That strategy may be warranted given Dickenman’s dangerously thin roster, but the coach did give his bench 50 minutes of playing time – by far a high in conference play – in their thrilling victory over Wagner. Of course, Wagner’s putrid offensive effort (0.83 ppp) may be more indicative of their inexperience rather than the Blue Devils’ defensive prowess, although my guess is Dickenman realizes his starters need to remain fresh in these second halves to give his team a better chance in earning some victories in league play. In CCSU’s previous two losses to Bryant and SFC, they were outscored 75-44 in the second half after holding their own through the first 20 minutes (64-64). -RP