NEC Power Rankings – Version 1

To put it honestly and succinctly, the NEC has been a mess in what could be construed as the 1st inning of the 2015-16 season. As of this post, the 10 programs of the conference have combined to win 10 games in 52 tries against Division I competitors, sinking the league’s standing among the 32 conferences to 30th overall, ahead of only the lowly MEAC and SWAC, according to Ken Pomeroy.

The NEC’s current standing two spots from the bottom may actually be the lowest the league has ever been in the advanced guru’s eyes.

With much of the league’s youth being thrown into the fire, the non-conference wins should eventually come with more experience. In the meantime, though, the lack of success has jumbled KenPom’s NEC projections, so much so that nine teams – sans the hapless Central Connecticut Blue Devils – are projected to finish within three games of each other in final NEC regular season standings. Now wouldn’t that be something if those projections came to fruition?!

This mind-numbing jumble of tiebreakers likely won’t occur, as one, two or maybe three teams will distinguish themselves from the pack come early January. We’ll have a clearer picture by then, but for now, allow me to determine the current order in my first version of the NEC Power Rankings. In addition to my input, John Templon and Nelson Castillo over at Blackbirds Hoops Journal also rated the teams. Below is our overall conscious.

(Please note: non-Division I victories were not counted toward each team’s overall record.)

1) Robert Morris (1-6)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 1
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 258/199
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: at Tennessee Tech, 85-72

Repeat after me: The Robert Morris Colonials will be fine. Andy Toole will have his team ready to defend their championship by January. THERE’S NO NEED TO PANIC.

Everyone take a deep breath. Yes, the results haven’t been good and Colonials barely snuck by a winless Mississippi Valley State club coming off a 6-26 campaign, but Toole deserves the benefit of the doubt as he tries to integrate several newcomers into the rotation. If anything, the lack of progression from Kavon Stewart’s game is mildly concerning (Chris Cappella of Chronicling the Colonials goes into great length here), but even I believe he’ll be better around the rim against the smaller lineups of the NEC.

For now, keeping everyone healthy should be the biggest concern. If Rodney Pryor, Stewart, Billy Giles, Matty McConnell and Isaiah Still can stay upright and mold into a cohesive unit, the Colonials will find a way to finish in the upper third of the league. They always do.

2) Mount St. Mary’s (0-6)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 2
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 243/178
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: none

We’ll find out a lot more about this team in December when they play host to American (tonight!), Loyola (MD), Bucknell and travel to UMBC, Binghamton, Lehigh and James Madison. Anything worse than three wins would be a little concerning; otherwise the non-conference turbulence is par for the course as Jamion Christian gets his team ready for league battle.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned thus far, it’s that Mount Mayhem is truly back based on the following team statistics:

  • Tempo – 73 possessions/game (66th nationally)
  • Defensive Turnover Rate – 22.8% (29th nationally)
  • 3PT attempts per FG attempts – 42.0% (51st nationally)
  • 3PT attempts allowed per opponent’s FG attempts – 30.6% (62nd nationally)
  • Players averaging at least 10 minutes per game – 9

3) LIU Brooklyn (3-2)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 4
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 286/275
Notable Wins: vs. North Carolina Central, 78-77
Disappointing Losses: at Dartmouth, 79-56

Castillo, Templon and I dove into LIU Brooklyn plenty in episode 3 of our podcast, but this bears reiteration: Aakim Saintil appears to be an above average regular in Jack Perri’s rotation. The 6’0 point guard is getting to the line at an extremely high rate, drawing 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes, and making the most of those opportunities by sinking 86.2% (25 of 29) of his freebies. On the other side of the ball, Saintil is reeking havoc as evident from his top 10 nationally steal rate of 5.8%.

It’s only been a five game stretch, but Saintil’s play has made LIU fans completely forget about the transfer of Elvar Frioriksson and the difficult start to junior Iverson Fleming’s season. At this rate, a Saintil/Martin Hermannsson backcourt could emerge as one of the best in the NEC by season’s end. (Hermannsson is a whole other type of awesome.)

4) Sacred Heart (1-4)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 6
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 231/219
Notable Wins: vs. Quinnipiac, 76-64
Disappointing Losses: at UMass Lowell, 87-84

With four players – Cane Broome, Tevin Falzon, Chris Robinson and Jordan Allen – posting an offensive rating north of 100, putting the ball in the basket hasn’t been the main problem for the Pioneers poor start. Rather, the culprit has been the defense. Part of the reason could be blamed on Sacred Heart’s depleted frontcourt in the early going, but even after Falzon and Matej Buovac returned to the starting lineup, Anthony Latina’s group has allowed average at best offenses (at least as perceived right now) in Fairfield and Holy Cross to post 1.01 and 1.13 points per possession, respectively.

Things will likely get better for a team trying to optimize its rotation and subsequently, its potential, but freshman Quincy McKnight needs to refrain from his high rate of fouling (5.5 fouls committed per 40 minutes) while other unproven players such as Robinson, Buovac and Sean Hoehn need to solidify the rotation around studs Broome and Falzon. With Broome on your side, anything is possible, yet the diminutive combo guard will need help from his teammates. I don’t care how good you are – 30-point performances don’t grow on trees and won’t become the norm in Fairfield.

5) Bryant (1-5)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 3
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 298/241
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: at Harvard, 80-45

With last night’s eight point loss at New Hampshire, Bryant is now in unchartered territory –  the Bulldogs have their worst KenPom rating since the beginning of the 2012-13 season, when they just finished their Division I transition and were finally eligible to compete in the postseason. Their current four game stretch of scoring less than 1.00 points per possession is only the second time in the past three seasons plus that this has happened. The other time was last season when Bryant plummeted to 1-5, before going 15-10 to close out the season.

While past history may provide some hope for Bulldogs fans that a turnaround is coming, the offense’s performance has been particularly concerning. Their inability to make a perimeter shot (28.0% 3PT) and a free throw (55.6% FT) is something a Tim O’Shea coached team hasn’t had a problem with in recent years. Perhaps they are missing Dyami Starks more than anticipated?

6) St. Francis Brooklyn (1-4)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 5
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 266/209
Notable Wins: at Hartford, 74-67
Disappointing Losses: none

This offseason, Glenn Braica felt this team would shoot the ball better than the 23-win juggernaut from a season ago, yet that prediction hasn’t come to life. Instead, the Terriers have morphed into one of the worst shooting teams of the nation with an effective field goal percentage of 40.8%. Only six teams in the country have a worse shooting percentage. With their rebounding numbers down across, St. Francis desperately needs the following guards to make shots:

  • Tyreek Jewell – 43.2% 2PT, 25.0% 3PT
  • Glenn Sanabria – 28.6% 2PT, 28.0% 3PT
  • Dagur Jonsson – 48.6% 2PT, 28.6% 3PT

7) Wagner (1-2)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 7
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 240/255
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: none

Three games may be an absurdly small sample size, yet the progress Corey Henson has made thus far as a sophomore has been noteworthy:

  • 2015-16 season: 122.5 ORtg, 45.5% 3PT, 28.6 FT rate, 1.9 A/TO
  • 2014-15 season: 97.5 ORtg, 32.8% 3PT, 16.2 FT rate, 0.9 A/TO

Even with two of Wagner’s three games coming against Big East competition, Henson has seen a spike in his offensive numbers across the board. According to Hoop Math, Henson’s shot distribution numbers aren’t much different – the sophomore has simply been more efficient shooting the basketball. Most promising is his depressed turnover rate despite taking up nearly 25% of the Seahawks’ possessions.

One big question mark for Bashir Mason coming into the season was replacing Marcus Burton and his 17.5 ppg average. So far, Henson has filled the void perfectly. If anything, though, Mason is hopeful that his team will eventually become more balanced scoring the basketball; therefore other Seahawks must step up (I’m looking at you, Mike Aaman).

8) Fairleigh Dickinson (1-5)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 8
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 302/320
Notable Wins: vs. St. Peter’s, 77-62
Disappointing Losses: None

The Knights haven’t notched their notable non-conference victory yet, although there’s still time. More importantly, Greg Herenda’s squad hasn’t rebounded the ball very well, as they sit in the bottom 50 of Division I basketball in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate. Opponents have made a staggering 60.5% of their 2s against FDU.

9) Saint Francis University (1-3)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 9
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 282/276
Notable Wins: vs. American, 68-48
Disappointing Losses: at Maryland Eastern Shore, 70-57

For the Red Flash to continue the positive momentum generated from back-to-back NEC semifinals appearances, one thing is certain: the Red Flash guards not named Greg Brown – aka Malik Harmon and Ben Millaud-Meunier – will need to demonstrate some semblance of consistency. So far this hasn’t been the case; in fact, both have struggled mightily to make shots. If you rightfully exclude the Red Flash’s victory over Division 3 doormat Westminister PA, the two upperclassmen have combined to shoot a stunning 18.6% (13 of 70) from the field and have more turnovers (14) than made field goals. That isn’t good.

When Harmon and Millaud-Meunier have the 5th and 7th best efficiency ratings on the team behind unproven, yet intriguing freshmen Isaiah Blackmon and Josh Nebo, that’s a major problem for Rob Krimmel. Brown, Ronnie Drinnon and the newcomers can’t do all of the heavy lifting if SFU wants to compete for a top 4 finish in the NEC regular season. Harmon and Milluad-Meunier must provide a positive impact or else the Red Flash will continue to hover around a mediocre offensive output of 0.93 points per possession, especially given SFU’s past reliance on the three-point shot.

10) Central Connecticut (0-5)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 10
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 347/340
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: vs. Binghamton, 81-75, vs. Maine, 81-74

I’ll end on this sour note derived from the KenPom logarithms – the Blue Devils are currently underdogs in every remaining game on the schedule. Will they go 0-29? Absolutely not! But scrapping together 8-10 victories should be incredibly challenging for a roster that’s allowing opponents to score 110.6 points per 100 possessions in five losses this season.

Ryan Peters is the NEC contributing writer for Big Apple Buckets and wrote the NEC previews for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.

7 thoughts on “NEC Power Rankings – Version 1

  1. Regarding St. Francis Brooklyn, think that Yunus Hopkinson has opened the eyes of most observers of the program with his scoring off the bench. In retrospect, that shouldn’t be a shock, though. Hopkinson came out of the NYC PSAL with the reputation as a solid shooter and gradually worked his way into Coach Braica’s rotation over the last two years. Think that he showed a bit of that ability in the NEC playoffs last year. He’ll certainly see even more minutes if the outside shooting doesn’t improve. However, don’t think that the entire trio of Jewell, Sanabria and Jonsson will stay at those early-season three point percentage levels. Sanabria’s and Jonsson’s prior numbers (in the NEC and the Icelandic league, respectively) are far more impressive than that. Both should improve as the season rolls on, playing against opposing guards with a little less length. Jewell’s outside shooting numbers has improved only slightly from last year and remains somewhat puzzling. Believe that you’ll see far greater contributions in long-range scoring from Olafsson and from Doss, Williams and perhaps Alcindor, off the bench. Coach Braica is the first to admit there’s some work left to do during the non-Conference portion of the schedule. Think they’ll be ready when the gong sounds for the opening round of NEC games.

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    1. I was going to mention Yunus, but he’s really only had two good games thus far (sorry I’m not counting the Mount Vincent thrashing). His turnover rate is still up, but if he can provide some scoring behind the arc then I think he’ll be a regular rotation guy. I need to see more, though, given his history.

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    2. Think the Terriers are starting to get on track. Managed a neat 7-point win on the road against Lafayette without their starting point guard. Glenn Sanabria was on the bench, likely sitting out due to a shoulder injury he suffered earlier in the season. Combination of Hopkinson (10 points) and Jonsson (15 points) successfully stepped into that role. Also looks like Jewell is showing some positive signs offensively. Big game coming up at MSG vs St. John’s on Sunday. That will be a pretty good barometer of where the Terriers’ season could be headed.

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  2. I think you may reconsider the Mount as they love to shoot the three pointer, however, they are stone cold this year shooting about 23%. Will Miller averaged about 40% in past years and this year he shoots as many air balls as he makes buckets. Byron Ashe, another big 3 point shooter, cannot seem to get it going from the three, but is still making things happen with his athleticism,
    Mount had no chance in first four games: Maryland, Ohio State, Gonzaga and U of Washington, however, had late leads against both Furman and Elon but were awful from the free throw line in both games. As a Mount fan i Hope they get find a way out of this shooting slump as they can’t rebound either – last in the country.

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    1. The Mount will be fine. Like you said, you can’t judge them based on that ridiculous November schedule. The opponents are quicker, taller and more athletic and that increase in speed can mess up any shooter’s rhythm if they’re used to “mid-major” speed. I think Ashe, Miller and the sharpshooters will be fine.

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  3. The Mount is going to be really good (I am biased, I know). Danaher has been most impressive lately, if Graves can continue to find his groove and get a little tougher on the boards, they will be really tough to beat in league play. My concern is that BK Ashe is playing a little reckless and can be a detriment at times. And to think ahead to next year’s recruiting class… 🙂

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  4. I actually feel a lot better after watching last night’s game against American. They did shoot the ball better from the outside. Danaher was outstanding and Chris Wray is going to be a good one. Graves looked a little sluggish missing several layups (as did others), but I think I did panic in my earlier post.

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