NEC Thoughts From the Past Weekend

It’s been a busy week of travel for yours truly, so instead of churning out my nightly NEC recaps for the past week, I decided to offer some thoughts on the NEC season as we head into the down stretch.

Tiers are clearly evident two-thirds of the way into the regular season, but as a quick refresher, here are the current standings.

1) St. Francis Brooklyn, 10-2
2) Bryant, 8-4*
3) Robert Morris, 8-4
4) Mount St. Mary’s 7-5**
5) Saint Francis University, 7-5
6) Wagner, 6-6^
7) LIU Brooklyn, 6-6
8) Sacred Heart, 5-7
9) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-10
10) Central Connecticut, 1-11
*Bryant has tiebreaker on Robert Morris based on head-to-head record (1-0)
**Mount St. Mary’s has tiebreaker on SFU based on head-to-head record (1-0)
^Wagner has the tiebreaker on LIU based on head-to-head record (1-0)

The NEC Playoffs Will Likely Run Through the Pope Center

Up two games with six left to play, the Terriers are in good position to earn their first regular season title since the 2000-01 season, when they were victorious in 16 of their 20 regular season conference match-ups.

Who will the Terriers draw in the first round? Well, if you injected Glenn Braica with truth serum, I think he’d prefer to face Wagner. The Seahawks have struggled on the road and are a bad matchup against SFC’s stong frontcourt.

Bryant has reverted back to a (very) short rotation

Understandably so, it’s taken Tim O’Shea several years to accumulate a complete roster of Division I talent, given Bryant’s arduous transition from their prior level. But even now, three seasons removed from completing that process, O’Shea continues to play his starters heavy minutes deep into the conference season. In the Bulldogs past five games, they’ve played the following guys:

  • Shane McLaughlin – 98%
  • Dyami Starks – 96%
  • Daniel Garvin – 91%
  • Joe O’Shea – 75% (missed one game due to injury)
  • Bosko Kostur – 68%
  • Andrew Scocca – 31%
  • Hunter Ware – 27%

That’s it. No one else has seen the floor for any significant period of time recently, and O’Shea will likely continue to roll that way, even if past history repeats itself. Was Bryant’s latest second half collapse – where they led Sacred Heart by 17 at one point – due to tired legs and an action packed schedule that’s included eight games in the past 19 days? That’s impossible to answer, but the Bulldogs’ combined record of 5-10 to conclude the past two seasons indicates a troublesome trend.

On a somewhat related note…

An Unknown Freshman Has Recently Emerged

Rarely do you see a player log a grand total of 44 minutes in his team’s first 17 games, only to come out of nowhere and become a valuable member of a short rotation even though no major injuries forced him into the lineup. And yet, here’s the red-shirt freshman, Bosko Kostur. Sources inside the program have always marveled at Kostur’s talent – the bigger issue was getting the forward to put it together outside of practice and dominate “when the lights were on.”

It appears Kostur has done just that, as the 6’7” freshman is averaging 14 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest in the Bulldogs’ last five games. His ability to score both inside (48.9%) and outside the arc (55.6%) makes him a difficult player to guard for NEC power forwards, especially when his opponents are forced to stray out onto the perimeter. More importantly, O’Shea trusts Kostur to log significant minutes right next to his star (in the making) forward, Daniel Garvin. Others such as Gus Riley, Ellis Williams and Andrew Scocca had their opportunities to cement their role as Bryant’s center, but apparently failed to do so. O’Shea has now elected to ride his once inconsistent freshman, even if Kostur’s reluctance to bang down low costs Bryant a few more defensive rebounds per game.

Despite this, Kostur still has been a pleasure surprise. It may be too little too late in terms of an all-conference rookie team selection, yet he’s certainly making a case that he’ll finish the 2014-15 season as one of the six or seven best freshmen in the conference, behind freshmen such as Macquise Reed, Cane Broome, Martin Hermannsson, Nura Zanna and Marques Townes. And that’s saying a lot in a league loaded with talented rookies.

The NEC Playoff Chase is All But Over

Barring a near miracle, FDU — losers of ten straight — will fail to qualify for the NEC postseason for the fourth time in five seasons. Three games behind Sacred Heart for the final NEC playoff spot with six to play, the Knights have three of the league’s best five teams remaining on the schedule (Bryant, St. Francis Brooklyn, Mount St. Mary’s) and will travel to Staten Island to face a Wagner squad that’s 5-2 in their friendly confines versus league opponents. Good luck with that.

Sure, it’s difficult to count a Greg Herenda coached team out, but FDU has been atrocious defensively, allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions as league opponents are shooting 52.3% from two and 35.6% from three. Moreover, the Knights aggressive style and youthful roster has led to the 11th worst defensive free throw rate in the nation and they’re having tremendous difficultly keeping opponents off the offensive glass with a league worst defensive rebounding rate of 64.8%.

There’s a lot to like about this team down the road, but for now the consensus preseason projections of 9th or 10th in the conference appear to be sound at the moment. Losing critical pieces like Sidney Sanders and the underrated Scooter Gilette have been simply too much to overcome.

The Race to Get a Top Four Seed, Though, is Alive and Well

This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the teams involved in the chase for a home playoff game may be. With Wagner’s recent slide and their brutal second half schedule looming, the Seahawks are likely out of this chase and may have a better shot landing as the #8 seed, as opposed to a #4 seed. The team they are tied with, however, has a little more hope.

We’ll find out more about a LIU Brooklyn team that gives four freshmen meaningful minutes as they embark on a difficult three-game road stand, which includes Robert Morris, Saint Francis U and Mount St. Mary’s. If Jack Perri can somehow will his underclassmen heavy roster to a 2-1 record in those three, then the next three contests to conclude the regular season are far more manageable. Regardless, the impressive job Perri (and his staff) has done could make him worthy for Coach of the Year consideration if his Blackbirds can somehow surge into the NEC top five.

More than likely, though, it’s five teams for the top four spots that’ll earn them a coveted home game in the first round of the NEC tournament. How coveted is this home game? Consider this: teams seeded #5 through #8 have never won the NEC tournament in its current “better seed has the home game” format. The data strongly encourages future champions to host a least one game in the playoffs. But even so…

The Lower Seeds This Season Won’t Be a Pushover

Only 56.7% of NEC teams have won their home games during league play, which is 23rd out of 32 conferences. This comes as no surprise with the parity, and come early March, trying to go 4-0 in your first round predictions will be rather difficult.
Sacred Heart has the firepower and veteran leadership to make a run. Wagner contains the league’s most prolific scorer in Marcus Burton. LIU Brooklyn’s underclassmen, along with Gerrell Martin, are gaining more and more confidence and have won four of their last five. And one of the leftovers from the SFU, Mount St. Mary’s, Robert Morris and Bryant group will be a terrifying lower seed for the future #3 or #4 seed.

It’s going to be a fascinating tournament, but in the meantime, the jockeying for position within the regular season standings may do a lot in influencing the final outcome come early March.

9 thoughts on “NEC Thoughts From the Past Weekend

  1. Bryant’s rotation drives me nuts. Year after year they say “we have the deepest team we’ve ever had.” I understand that Bryant has some stars that deserve a lot of playing time (Starks, O’Shea, Garvin), but they need rest. In their OT loss to SHU on Saturday, this was their minute distribution:

    Starks – 45
    McLaughlin – 44
    Kostur – 42
    Garvin – 41
    O’Shea – 33
    Ware – 11
    Scocca – 9

    That’s it. Starks played the whole game and McLaughlin sat for one whole minute. I love the emergence of Kostur (been waiting for this to happen!), but the lineup needs to be diversified in order to throw different looks at the opponents. Kostur is more of a perimeter big, preferring to play the 3 spot, whereas someone like Scocca would change the lineup completely by having a banger in the middle. Why not play Hunter ware 15-20 min a night? He can certainly bring the ball up while giving McLaughlin a rest, and can take over the 2-guard spot for Starks when he needs to sit. Curtis Oakley has been productive in his minutes and provides, what coach O’Shea calls, “swag” to the lineup. He has played a total of 2 minutes in the last 5 games combined. Oakley could provide a great offensive boost when the team is flat like they were in the last 10 minutes of regulation against SHU. Overall, Bryant is on track to end the season as tired as they have been in the past. I trust coach O’Shea, but he should strongly consider utilizing players like Ware, Scocca, Oakley, and Chionuma more to help save the legs of their stars in order to make a strong playoff push.


      1. Hopefully coach O’Shea reads these and takes some advice from it! He has some fantastic starters, but he also has some big (Scocca/Riley), athletic (Chionuma), and volume scorers (Ware/Oakley) off the bench that he could use to ease their minutes strain.


      2. All valid points, Mike. Here are my thoughts regarding the bench players:

        Zach Chionuma – Not a team guy and has had trouble fitting into Bryant’s offensive system of sharing the ball. He’s a shoot first player and you can’t really pair him with Starks because of that.

        Charles Oakley – He’s a valuable team guy who can shoot and possesses a high basketball IQ, but he’s limited athletically and therefore poses as a defensive liability against the quick and more athletic forwards of the NEC. He wouldn’t be able to stay in front of guys like De’von Barnett, Greg Graves, Lucky Jones, Faronte Drakeford etc. Which is why he doesn’t play much of the time against the smaller/quicker lineups of the NEC.

        Gus Riley – If he isn’t shooting well, then his value is greatly diminished. It’s my understanding that he has not shot the ball well recently. Given this development and his youth and lack of athleticism, he’d likely struggle against most NEC 5s.

        I do believe O’Shea needs to find more minutes for Ware and Scocca, no doubt. He needs a solid rotation of seven guys logging at least 15 minutes each. But if he keeps this pattern up, those legs will get awfully weary come tournament time.


      3. Sadly, I agree on all accounts. I was optimistic about Chionuma during the year he had to sit out because to his size for the 2/3 spot, quickness, and scoring ability that I had read about. But, you’re completely right. He only looks for his own shot and doesn’t care about the flow of the offense. It would take a Starks injury for him to see floor time. Although it’s totally clear that Oakley is an under average athlete, I still wouldn’t mind inserting him into the lineup when the team needs an offensive boost. I would limit him to a quick run, but he’s worth the potential spark. Overall, though, I agree with you. Their rotation should be 7-8 people, with Ware and Scocca picking up the bulk of the minutes off the bench. Anything to save the legs of their starters for the playoffs. Keep up the good work on the site!


  2. St. Francis Brooklyn is clearly the best team in the league. I don’t think there is a close second to be honest.

    Robert Morris has a couple issues with injuries (Appolon) and suspensions (Minnie? Frederick?), and if they weren’t playing the second-worst team in the league on Saturday they probably would have lost.

    Bryant has lost 3 of its last 5 games in NEC play and I could see them losing 3 more games down the stretch too out of the RMU, SFBK, at MSM, at WC.

    Interested to see how SFU handles the next three games – two vs. CCSU and a home game against an LIU team that just beat them in Brooklyn. Arguably should be 3 wins before a tough stretch to finish the season at SFBK, MSM, at RMU.

    Mount has its next four games at home – a tough place to play for any road team – and I could see them taking 3 if not all 4. Final two games of the year are also winnable at SFU, at Wagner, but look for Mount to possibly jump into the top 3 over the next two weeks.

    LIU and Wagner are two young teams looking like they could be going in opposite directions. The Seahawks split four games with SHU and CCSU (bad loss, no matter how miraculous it was). Meanwhile the Blackbirds have won 4 of 5 and now embark on a tough 3-game road trip to RMU, SFU, MSM. Also host SFBK during that stretch. After having swept the PA schools this past week, going to be tough to get one from them this weekend but if they can they’ll be in decent shape to avoid playing a top-two seed in the NEC Tournament.

    SHU is starting to figure things out now just like LIU, but a tough three-game stretch coming up for them just like the Blackbirds before a far more manageable finishing three.

    Going to be an interesting next three weeks. Outside of SFBK, any team can beat anyone else on any given night. Should make for a crazy NEC Tournament.


    1. I agree with you that SFBrooklyn has been the best team this year, but they’ve had a tough time with the Mount. Lost to them on the road and had a miracle win at home when Mount could have iced it several times in the last minute.

      I’m biased, but I think Mount is arguably the second best team when you look at their losses in conference, 3 OT losses and a loss to Bryant when Mount had a 2 foot shot to win it in the last 5 seconds. They only have themselves to blame because they’ve missed countless free throws in the last minute or two of close games, but they could easily have 2 or 3 more wins in conference. Hopefully they play like the 2nd best team the next 3 weeks and move up to the 3, or possibly even 2 seed.


  3. Yes-Hard times have returned to FDU. the key is the Turnovers .FDU when they were playing well were only committing 8 to 10 Turnovers a game,During this horrendous streak they are committing about 15 to 20 Turnovers a game. Because of Turnovers they have been behind by 10 or more points in EVERY GAME during this losing streak. The Three Point shooting which is usually about 50% of FDU Offense has been at a 25% level during this losing streak. Despite all of these Negative Statistics FDU was close to winniing 7 of the last 10 games. Yes I’m not happy about probably not making the NEC Playoffs, but any season when FDU can beat St. Joseph, Princeton, Delaware, Towson and compete against Notre Dame, St. John, Rutgers, etc ,.It is a POSITIVE for FDU and the NEC league for this season and the future.


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