With less than three weeks remaining from the first jump ball in the college basketball season, Ken Pomeroy was gracious enough to unveil his highly anticipated rankings this past weekend. Prognostication is usually a fool’s game for the most part, yet breaking down a well-respected advanced statistics projection system such as KenPom is a fun exercise nonetheless.
So here’s some fodder for you as we all eagerly await the NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll on Tuesday morning at 11 AM.
2015-16 KenPom NEC Projections
- Mount St. Mary’s (16 wins, 12-6 NEC)
- Robert Morris (16 wins, 11-7 NEC)
- St. Francis Brooklyn (17 wins, 11-7 NEC)
- Sacred Heart (14 wins, 10-8 NEC)
- Bryant (14 wins, 10-8 NEC)
- Wagner (14 wins, 9-9 NEC)
- Saint Francis U (12 wins, 9-9 NEC)
- LIU Brooklyn (13 wins, 8-10 NEC)
- Fairleigh Dickinson (9 wins, 6-12 NEC)
- Central Connecticut (7 wins, 4-14 NEC)
I’d be surprised if Mount St. Mary’s and Robert Morris aren’t in the top 2 for Tuesday’s preseason poll and the KenPom projections fall right in line with this train of thought. Last season, Jamion Christian’s Mountaineers were terrific on defense, allowing conference foes to score just 93.9 points per 100 possessions, fueled by their above average length and athleticism at the wing and power forward positions. While sustaining that defensive dominance is unlikely in Christian’s fourth year, KenPom still considers the Mount a top 3 defensive team moving forward. Throw in the loss of just Kristijan Krajina, Andrew Smeathers and Chris Martin, all of whom posted mediocre offensive ratings of 93.5 or lower, and it’s easy to understand why the Mount leads these projections amid a league full of turnover.
St. Francis Brooklyn finishing in a deadlock for second may come as a surprise to some, especially given the firepower the Terriers lost in Jalen Cannon, Brent Jones and defensive role players Kevin Douglas and Lowell Ulmar. However, a solid core remains and since the Terriers were dominant in league play last season (they won the regular season title by three games with 15-3 mark), a four win drop still has them hosting a game in the NEC tournament quarterfinals. In this century, only three regular season champions (CCSU ’02, FDU ’06, CCSU ’07) have dropped more than four NEC wins from their prior season. Something also to consider: KenPom probably likes the minutes both Glenn Sanabria and Tyreek Jewell logged last season — an uptick in their production is a good bet to make.
For the Sacred Heart Pioneers, who sit at fourth in these projections, KenPom isn’t aware of De’von Barnett’s potential season ending injury. If the projection system simply dropped Barnett from the roster, it’s fair to assume the Pioneers would fall one or two spots. Sixth place is where I’m picking them at the moment and I expect they’ll be in that position come Tuesday at NEC Media Day. Then again, if freshman guard Quincy McKnight is as awesome as everyone assumes — and the reports out of the Sacred Heart camp are that he’s the real deal — then a fourth place finish is a reasonable goal, even without the ultra efficient Barnett.
One team KenPom is slightly sour on is Bryant, despite landing in third place for each of the past three regular seasons. The loss of Dyami Starks and Joe O’Shea is a blow to Bryant’s offensive projection, as KenPom predicts a sizable offensive rating drop from 102.7 to 98.7. Personally, I don’t believe the Bulldogs will score four points less per 100 possessions, mainly because I believe in Hunter Ware and Bosco Kostur becoming reliable scorers for Tim O’Shea. That remains to be seen, but O’Shea has been able to consistently exceed expectations in past seasons. I don’t believe the 2015-16 campaign will be an exception to that rule.
While I have no issue with where Wagner, Saint Francis U and Fairleigh Dickinson are projected, LIU Brooklyn’s eighth place prediction comes as a major surprise. With significant Division I experience already under their belts, Jerome Frink and Akeem Saintil could emerge as good, if not above average contributors, although I’m not sure how much KenPom values their presence at the moment. One guess for the poor projection is that KenPom believes the Blackbirds defense will once again be near the bottom of the league. Preventing the opposition from scoring hasn’t been a strong suit of a Jack Perri coached team, yet LIU Brooklyn improved mightily in that facet last season. The Blackbirds finished fourth in the NEC in defensive efficiency (101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) and excelled at preventing opponents from hurting them from behind the arc (29.7% 3-point defense). With another season of roster continuity and the addition of Saintil, who’s considered a good on-the-ball defender at the point, I’d expect Perri’s group to finish in the top half of the league defensively. Hence why I think KenPom is off with its projection.
If Central Connecticut does indeed finish with seven victories, then this is likely the end for Howie Dickenman, who earlier this preseason said he had no interest in retiring. With a team of seven newcomers, some of these unknowns will need to emerge for the Blue Devils to qualify for the NEC tournament. I like some of their incoming recruits such as point guard Eric Bowles, guard J.J Cratit and 6-9 power forward Evan Phoenix, but losing Matt Mobley and Malcolm McMillan is an enormous hurdle to overcome. I don’t consider the Blue Devils a threat to crack the NEC top six at the moment.
Do you disagree with KenPom’s projections? Feel free to voice your opinion below!