WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – The last time reigning Atlantic Sun champions North Florida saw a team from the NEC, it was on a neutral court, just as it was Saturday at Hartford’s Chase Family Arena.
Of course, there were quite a few more people in attendance back in March when Robert Morris upended North Florida in an NCAA Tournament play-in game. It could have been St. Francis Brooklyn with a break here or there in the NEC finals, remember.
But a season later, North Florida – with most of its core group returning – appears ready to make a return NCAA run, while the Terriers – like most of the NEC – are still trying to find their way, as the Ospreys scored a whopping 1.63 points per possession in the first half to build a huge lead and coasted to a 78-65 win in front of about 100 diehards on a neutral floor.
(Hartford, St. Francis Brooklyn, and North Florida were all part of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational, so to finish up the exempt games, are playing a three-team round robin at Hartford this weekend.)
“We’ve got a very tough schedule and we just have to get better as a team,” said St. Francis Brooklyn coach Glenn Braica said. “It’s as simple as that.”
The Terriers (1-4), who will play host Hartford on Sunday, didn’t get anywhere near North Florida shooters early in the game, as the Ospreys (5-2) made eight three-pointers (on just 11 attempts) in the first 10 minutes to build a massive advantage. Seeing as North Florida markets itself as the “Birds of Trey” and ranked 24th nationally in percentage of threes per field goals attempted (and 30th early this season), that’s not executing a scouting report very well.
But if Braica and St. Francis Brooklyn can take any consolation, none of their losses against Boston College, Saint Louis, Louisville, and North Florida can be considered bad ones, and NEC play is still more than a month away.
What else did we learn from Hartford Saturday night?
- Whom does Braica eventually trust?
The biggest dilemma St. Francis Brooklyn continues to have is who to put on the floor. Tyreek Jewell is now just 4-19 from three and shooting just 33.3% overall from the field, but isn’t getting help from players like Glenn Sanabria, who was 1-7 shooting again Saturday. Jon Doss is coming off an injury, and Dagur Jonsson made all three of his shots, but played only 17 minutes.
A player perhaps earning a key role might be junior Yunus Hopkinson, who is now 8-16 from behind the arc (although he’s just 2-9 inside it). The two people Braica seems to be able to count on are Chris Hooper and Amdy Fall, who combined for 17 rebounds. But scoring from the guard position will be key.
“We still have to evolve as a team,” Braica said. “We have to play hard all the time and be the aggressive team, but we’re not there yet. Hopefully, the second half is a step in the right direction. Give them credit, they shot the ball about as well as you can shoot in the first half. Some of that was us, some of that was them.”
2) North Florida is extremely fun to watch
And you can see them on Jan. 23 at the Fleischer Center in Newark for what looks like a battle of the top two teams in the Atlantic Sun (how awesome is that?).
Obviously, you have to be efficient to get to 1.64 ppp for an entire half (North Florida also at 81.5 eFG% in the first half).
“I tell you why we’re fun to watch it’s because of the way we love each other,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. “I’ll tell you why, because they hold each other accountable. They coach each other, and tell each other what they need to do. They pick each other up. If you could have been in the room on Thanksgiving, just seeing the emotions that were poured out, this is a special group of guys. I know sometimes it doesn’t look like I’m having fun on the sidelines, but I really am.”
Dallas Moore – who doesn’t get enough publicity nationally and came in averaging 21.0 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.3 rebounds per game – got 12 points early and then spent much of the rest of the contest getting his teammates involved. Driscoll insists he could have scored more if the wanted, but he finished with 16, 4, and 4, and had plenty of help from guys like Beau Beech, Trent Mackey, and Chris Davenport, all of whom can shoot threes, of course.
“I’m going to play within the offense,” Moore said. “I’m going to take bad shots just because I don’t have that many points. I want to get other people involved anyway, I trust all of my teammates with the ball. Everybody can shoot on our team, we have some very versatile players.”
It’s too bad more college basketball fans didn’t take the opportunity to watch them play.
3) The NEC is going to be wide open
For you KenPom fans, at the conclusion of Saturday’s play, their algorithms were predicted a seven-way tie for first at 10-8 in the NEC this season (Sacred Heart, Mount St., Mary’s, Wagner, Robert Morris, LIU Brooklyn, St. Francis Brooklyn, and St. Francis Univ.). Sacred Heart is the top ranked team, but really who knows? So while there are a lot of frustrated coaches and players right now, those Thursdays and Saturdays in January and February should be a blast with everyone having a chance to win.
“The two teams that were picked 1 and 2 in the league (Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s) are 0-6 (Robert Morris did win later Saturday night),” Braica said. “At this level of Division I, that’s what you deal with. Even the games at our level, we’re playing the top teams in their league like we did tonight. We’re a developing team, we’re not the team we were last year, but remember at this time last year, we still had a lot of work to do, too. So it’s still early.”