It’s been a quiet offseason for yours truly for a number of reasons that you probably could care less about. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t kept track of the league; in fact, just the opposite! I was on the scoop for Blue Ribbon, so allow me (and John) to muddle some thoughts together for my NEC 2015-16 season preview.
Let me begin by presenting to you my preseason standings. Lo and behold…
- Robert Morris, 13-5
- Bryant, 12-6
- Mount St. Mary’s, 11-7
- LIU Brooklyn, 11-7
- St. Francis Brooklyn, 10-8
- Sacred Heart, 9-9
- Wagner, 7-11
- Fairleigh Dickinson, 7-11
- Saint Francis University, 6-12
- Central Connecticut, 4-14
The Favorite – Robert Morris
Yes, I picked Andy Toole’s team again. Boring! But at this point, how could I not? Sure, the loss of Lucky Jones and Marcquise Reed and their 30.7 ppg is a lot to overcome, but Robert Morris brings in one of the best, if not the best recruiting classes of the conference. Matty McConnell may score in double figures as a heady freshman, Isaiah Still possesses good size and athleticism on the perimeter, and JUCO transfer Billy Giles is a Jay Bilas dream – he has a HIGH MOTOR around the basket. And I’m not even including freshman guard Jordan Lester, who has impressed the coaching staff enough this preseason to earn point guard minutes as Kavon Stewart’s backup. Throw in the star potential of both Rodney Pryor and Elijah Minnie and you probably have a roster that’s destined to win another 12-14 league games during the regular season, which would improve Toole’s already insane league record of 75-27. Here’s another fun fact: Robert Morris has only lost four NEC games by double digits in the past three seasons combined. Toole has his team ready to play every single night and this season will be no different.
(I’m still predicting an angry Toole tirade at the end of a sloppy non-conference loss, though. Maybe we’ll even see the return of the Chair Drill!)
Another Favorite: Mount St. Mary’s
The most complete roster and the deepest stable of guards currently comprised in the league. A backcourt of Junior Robinson, BK Ashe, Khalid Nwandu, Charles Glover and incoming freshman and former Florida Gulf Coast commit Elijah Long is scary good on both ends of the floor. Greg Graves and Taylor Danaher are grizzled vets who have each posted offensive ratings north of 100 over the past two seasons. Will Miller is deadly from behind the arc, even if he can’t do anything else. And behind them Jamion Christian has an intriguing group of raw, albeit extremely athletic underclassmen who can fill in as the ninth and tenth men of his rotation.
Speaking of playing 10 guys, Christian is looking to return to his Mount Mayhem roots—or so he says—so buckle up for a more aggressive style of basketball, at least compared to last season. The boring days of the Mount’s suffocating half court defense with just 63 possessions per game could be over. Instead, please give us lots of threes, bucket loads of turnovers, hockey substitutions and a frenetic pace that would make Shaka Smart’s head spin. Give us Mayhem, Jamion! Or else the Mount athletic department is no longer allowed to tease us with these Youtube videos.
(Also it isn’t a great look when you’re showing an aggressive trap against Seton Hall with your team trailing 66-36. They should probably just cut that clip out if you ask me…)
One Last Favorite: Bryant
In Tim O’Shea I trust. Over each of the past three seasons, only Bryant and Robert Morris have finished in the top three of the regular season. That’s impressive. Also impressive is how O’Shea and his staff continue to replace studs like Alex Franics, Corey Maynard and Frankie Dobbs. Now the challenge is making up the graduated production of Dyami Starks, the reigning NEC scoring champ at 18.6 ppg, and glue guy, clutch shot-making extraordinaire Joe O’Shea. Quite frankly, O’Shea is the bigger loss due to his versatility and efficiency – Starks was, at times, a glorified ball hogger.
With Starks no longer in the mix, Hunter Ware enters. My man! All signs point toward a breakout for the sophomore guard with the two and three wide open for someone to occupy it. Last season when Ware was given at least 20 mpg, he averaged 12.5 ppg. He certainly has double digit scoring potential. Throw in POY candidate Daniel Garvin, wily veteran Shane McLaughlin at the point and Bosco Kostur and you have a recipe for another top 4 NEC finish. Now if only they can break through in the NEC tournament…
Top Darkhorse: LIU Brooklyn
The Blackbirds are the trendy pick of the offseason despite a combined record of 21-38 the last two seasons. Allow me to explain: two transfers in Jerome Frink and Akeem Saintil enter the program with a chance to inject Jack Perri’s club with some critical experience. Frink has some double doubles in his future, while Saintil, a former South Alabama player who averaged 23 mpg as a freshman there, has the coaching staff excited about his defensive prowess. If Frink and Saintil can produce around the young talent base already there, then look out. Martin Hermannsson was rumored to leave the bright lights of Brooklyn, but he’s back along with his fantastic free throw rate and versatile game. Nura Zanna is a man-child down low. With more discipline on defense, he could be a future star. The Woods twins and Joel Hernandez give Perri a dimension most NEC teams can not enjoy – length and athleticism at the three, which should force opponents into difficult shots in the half court.
With a season of good health – that has been hard to come by in Perri lately – the Blackbirds are indeed a program on the rise. 11-12 conference victories could be enough to catapult them to a #2 seed in the NEC tournament, which is only three NEC wins off last season’s total of eight. Nevertheless, I’m tempering my expectations for a fourth place finish. Optimism is in the air!
One More Darkhorse: Sacred Heart
I just picked them to finish sixth overall, but maybe that’s just the pessimistic alum in me. It’s hard to ignore one of the best young frontcourts in the region with Cane Broome and incoming freshman Quincy McKnight. At the wing and forwards positions, however, the Pioneers’ depth has slowly eroded away. Several players are banged up, including the presumed starting three for Anthony Latina: Matej Buovac. His sharpshooting on the perimeter serves as a nice compliment to Allen’s slashing around the rim and Tevin Falzon’s rebounding, yet everyone must stay healthy for this to happen. Throw in the oft-injured Filip Nowicki as the backup center and there’s plenty of potential, but also lots of injury risk.
Latina certainly understands the importance of getting healthy for January, so it could be rough sledding for Sacred Heart in the early going.
Other Questions to Ask Yourself
Can St. Francis Brooklyn keep their toughness and dominate defensively?
Losing one of the great power forwards in Jalen Cannon is a monster loss, but I feel good about what Glenn Braica returns, at least on the defensive end. Amdy Fall is a game changer, as is the underrated Tyreek Jewell. Along with red-shirt freshman Keon Williams, the Terriers should keep their edge defensively and rebound the basketball. Will they grab 39% of the available rebounds off their own misses again? Probably not, but with Fall, Chris Hooper and Antonio Jenifer down low, they should be fine protecting the glass. And maybe they’ll actually shoot a little better from downtown too.
Will Wagner Have Enough Experience to Break Through? – That’s the million dollar question in Staten Island. After trying to incorporate 6 freshmen into the mix in what was clearly a rebuilding year, Bashir Mason’s squad, as athletic as they were, simply didn’t have the meddle to stay competitive over the course of the season. Their 2-15 record away from the friendly confines of the Spiro Center was evidence of that. Now, with fifth year senior Henry Brooks, transfers Michael Carey and Marques Salmon and the return of defensive stud Dwaun Anderson, Mason is hopeful this group will inject some leadership into the program.
Perhaps more importantly is Wagner’s return to defensive relevance. Last season, they lacked a rim protector and saw their team block rate plummet from 18.4% to 7.1%. With Anderson, Carey and a healthy Mike Aaman in the mix, Mason is attempting to guide Wagner back to the stout defenders they once were under Dan Hurley.
Can Saint Francis University Continue Their Momentum? – Earl Brown was a beast, there’s no denying that. Ollie Jackson was an underrated role player who had the versatility to play and defend multiple positions. Without those two, Rob Krimmel must hope his trio of veteran guards – Malik Harmon, Ben Millaud-Meunier and Greg Brown – are consistent enough on a night in and night out basis.
For what it’s worth, Krimmel sounded really optimistic regarding his group of guards. He said Millaud-Meunier had the best offseason of his career. He’s confident the days of inconsistency are behind Harmon. And he firmly believes Ronnie Drinnon will provide the senior leadership, along with Brown, to guide this team back to a top 5 finish within the NEC. I’m certainly skeptical, but if those four live up to expectations, the Red Flash will be a factor once again.
10,000 Sims – NEC Edition
[Editor’s Note – From John] Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings a few weeks ago. If you look at the NEC’s page you’ll see that those rankings tell a different story than Ryan’s preseason standings. (Though the rankings released by SI.com really like LIU Brooklyn.) I ran 10,000 simulations of the NEC season and here were the win percentages (including ties, which occurred in an astounding 27% of seasons):
- Mount St. Mary’s: 41%
- Robert Morris: 27%
- Sacred Heart: 20%
- St. Francis Brooklyn: 19%
- Bryant: 11%
- Wagner: 8%
- Saint Francis University: 5%
- LIU Brooklyn: 5%
- Fairleigh Dickinson: 0.4%
- Central Connecticut: 0.04%
Because of the parity that KenPom predicts throughout the league this season and the fact that NEC teams play 18 conference games there’s very little chance that a team will go undefeated or winless throughout the entirety of conference season. These numbers could change dramatically during non-conference play—if for instance LIU or Bryant sees their rating rise—so we’ll check back in on the 10,000 sims right before conference play in January.
Ranking the Players
Rather than give you my standard all-conference teams, I decided to rank the top 20 players and present some useful tidbits. Obviously players 1-5 make up my first team, 6-10 my second team and so on. Just wait until you see my third team!
- Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris
Of the NEC players who had a possession rate greater than 20% last season, Pryor was second to only Jalen Cannon in offensive rating (118.0). His silky smooth lefty stroke produced a fantastic 57.5% eFG% in league play, which may even improve if he shores up his consistency.
- Daniel Garvin, Bryant
Once considered “a raw and athletic talent,” Garvin made more than 58% of his field goal attempts in NEC games… as a sophomore. Quite possibly, he’s the most difficult forward to guard in the conference.
- BK Ashe, Mount St. Mary’s
If Mount Mayhem is truly back, Ashe’s numbers may regress, albeit slightly, for the betterment of balance. Still, the 6’1 guard will be relied upon to guide the Mount late in games – Jamion Christian would be foolish not to.
- Cane Broome, Sacred Heart
I don’t remember who the last sophomore was to land on an all-conference preseason team (sorry I’m too lazy to look it up), but being here says a lot about the respect Broome already has among the NEC coaches. As the smoothest guard in the league, he’s basically a further along Julian Norfleet.
- Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn
My first “surprise” is sticking Frink among my first teamers. As a freshman at FIU under Richard Pitino, Frink sank more than 50% of his twos while attacking the offensive glass remarkably well. And that was nearly three years ago.
- Martin Hermannsson, LIU Brooklyn
You can take this to the bank – Hermannsson will EASILY improve upon his 27.5% 3PT% from last year. If he does that and somehow breaks the 40% barrier, I’m not quite sure how teams will contain him.
- Gregory Graves, Mount St. Mary’s
As an underclassman, the Mount beat writers would shake their heads at Graves at least once a game when he committed a bonehead play. Now, those brief glimpses of comical relief are a thing of the past – Graves deserves all the praise he’s received this offseason.
- Tyreek Jewell, St. Francis Brooklyn
Some people can’t get past the mediocre shooting percentages from a season ago, but if he can improve his perimeter shot selection and scoring somewhat, he’s the complete package. I can’t think of another NEC guard who’s a better rebounder and defender than Jewell.
- Mike Aaman, Wagner
Assuming good health, which for Aaman is a big assumption, it’s nearly impossible to match up with Aaman physically. In Wagner’s last 11 games of the 2014-15 season, the 6’8 center averaged 12.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg and 1 bpg.
- Brandon Peel, Central Connecticut
A double double machine, who’s finished in the top two of rebounding and blocked shots in each of the past two seasons. If he was on a better team, his insertion into the top 10 would be a near no-brainer.
- Elijah Minnie, Robert Morris
His NEC numbers as a rookie are insane – 68% on his 2s, a 19.5% defensive rebounding rate and a 5.5% block rate. After the terrific trio of Reed, Broome and Hermannsson, there wasn’t a freshman who performed better last February and March.
- Amdy Fall, St. Francis Brooklyn
His ceiling is limited due to his inability to take over a game on the offensive game, but man can he scare opponents around the rim on the defensive end. His block rate of 12.4% was ranked tenth in all of college basketball and his rebounding rates aren’t too shabby either.
- Junior Robinson, Mount St. Mary’s
After struggling a bit in his first non-conference campaign, the 5’5 lightening quick guard found his form during league play, posting a very respectable 104.1 offensive rating and 30.9% assist rate. He may be the best athlete in the conference.
- Marques Townes, Fairleigh Dickinson
The super talented NJ native finished 97th nationwide in two-point percentage… as a 6’4 freshman guard! With an offseason to add strength, Townes profiles as the program’s cornerstone.
- Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart
I went into a little more detail about McKnight here. I think he could have a Marcquise Reed type of season, and remember Reed was rewarded with an All-NEC second team selection for that excellent effort.
- Kavon Stewart, Robert Morris
Like Jewell and Hermannsson, Stewart’s breakout potential is dependent on his outside shot. His 37.7% eFG% as a sophomore is poor by any standard, but an 8-10% improvement in year three would make Stewart one of the best point guards in the conference.
- Jordan Allen, Sacred Heart
He has all the tools and opportunity to emerge as a very good contributor this season, and yet, his inability to make a shot 15 feet away from the basket could restrict his upside. Despite that, Allen is one of the most versatile athletes the NEC has to offer.
- Malik Harmon, Saint Francis University
With 60 starts under his belt as an underclassman, the time is now for Harmon to rise to the top of the point guard class. Personally, I’d like to see him attack the rim more and not settle for jump shots as much.
- Bosko Kostur, Bryant
The sophomore was finally able to mentally cope with the rigors of Division I college basketball, scoring in double figures during nine of his last 14 games. He doesn’t provide a lot of value defensively, but then again Tim O’Shea is an offensive minded coach.
- Ronnie Drinnon, Saint Francis University
For whatever the reason, Drinnon’s efficiency tumbled as a junior, yet a return to his 2013-14 numbers could find himself among the NEC top 15 at season’s end. He’s a nice weapon for Rob Krimmel to deploy in the high post.
Also considered: Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson; Tyrone O’Garro, Fairleigh Dickinson; Nura Zanna, LIU Brooklyn; Hunter Ware, Bryant; Matty McConnell, Robert Morris, Chris Hooper, St. Francis Brooklyn
[Note on Sunday, November 22: I inexplicably omitted Sacred Heart’s Tevin Falzon from my top 20 list, which likely occurred because of Falzon’s sprained ankle which kept him out the first three games of the season. If I had a do-over, I’d most definitely sneak Falzon into my top 15, likely ahead of his teammate, Quincy McKnight. If a healthy Falzon isn’t on an All-NEC conference team by season’s end, then I’d be surprised.]
Front Row Preview
And finally, check out the NEC preview hosted by Ron Ratner on NEC Front Row. Because time was limited for yours truly, I wasn’t able to write as much as I wanted, but my thoughts on every team were captured in this production. It was a pleasure to join Ron in the new NEC studio to discuss hoops! You can find the 20 minute preview here.
Happy Opening Day everyone! Enjoy the hoops!