NEC Power Rankings, V2: Reshuffling the Deck

With the non-conference portion of the season nearly over, now is a great time to evaluate the NEC and see where each team stands. 10-12 games isn’t the best sample set to go on, but it’s far better than evaluating just a few games, like we did for Version 1.

Some team identities have developed (Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s, LIU Brooklyn), others are still a work in progress (SFC, Bryant), while a few others are desperately searching for any semblance of consistency (SHU, CCSU).

Before we begin with the second version of the NEC Power Rankings and non-conference awards, I felt it was a worthy exercise to look at each team’s record against the bottom 151 according to KenPom. Without a single NEC program cracking KenPom’s top 200, this practice could serve as a useful predictor for league play. So without further ado, here are the record and point differentials for each team against the KenPom bottom 151:

  1. Wagner (4-1, +14 point differential)
  2. Saint Francis U (3-1, +24)
  3. LIU Brooklyn (5-3, -15)
  4. Fairleigh Dickinson (2-2, +8)
  5. Mount St. Mary’s (3-4, +17)
  6. St. Francis Brooklyn (3-4, -22)
  7. Bryant (1-2, -3)
  8. Robert Morris (2-5, -33)
  9. Sacred Heart (1-4, -13)
  10. CCSU (1-6, -68)

A few thoughts: Wagner and SFU have exceeded expectations by taking care of the opponents they should defeat. Neither has lost a game in their friendly confines (Wagner 3-0, SFU 2-0), which could serve as a glimpse of the near future. As recent history has indicated, when both teams are playing well, winning a game at the Spiro Center and DeGol Arena isn’t easy by any stretch. It sure seems it will play out that way for the next nine weeks.

Bryant’s overall Division I record of 1-10 is pretty hideous to look at, yet they’re only 1-2 versus teams below the KenPom top 200 threshold. With a strength of schedule sitting at 44, I still believe KenPom is underrating Bryant, who currently sit at a once unfathomable 330 and are projected to finish 7-11 in league play.

It’s been heartbreak city for Sacred Heart in Anthony Latina’s third season, as the Pioneers have dropped four games that could’ve gone either way. Defense has been the main culprit for the defeats; the Pioneers have allowed 1.11 points per possession against teams all projected to finish in the bottom half of their respective leagues.

Now, let’s throw out our non-conference awards:

Non-Conference Best Player – Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris
It’s safe to assume the Colonials would be winless without their 6’5 swingman, despite his notable drop in offensive rating, according to KenPom. The rating decrease is due to Pryor shouldering much of the offensive load with a crazy 32.1% possession rate, and yet, he’s been somewhat efficient scoring the basketball. His efficiency rating of 18.8 is tops in the league, thanks to an increase in his counting stats such as rebounds (7.2 rpg), steals (1.4 spg) and blocks (1.0 bpg). While it’s difficult to call him the MVP on a 2-win team, his overall numbers give him the edge as the NEC’s best player.

Non-Conference Most Valuable Player – Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn
Our bold preseason prediction of calling Frink an All-NEC first teamer isn’t so bold anymore, as the power forward is a virtual lock to land in the league’s top five as of this writing. His impact on both ends of the floor is evident – his two blocks at the end of the Loyola (MD) and North Carolina Central games was the difference between a winning and losing non-conference season. Frink’s impact in the paint offensively has been substantial as well, with the 6’7 junior making 66.1% of his baskets around the rim, according the Hoop Math. With a 36.7% success rate on three-pointers, it’s going to be a massive challenge for NEC coaches to figure out how to stop Frink.

Non-Conference Best Rookies – Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart and Marcel Pettway, Bryant
This is a bit of a cop-out, but both rookies have lived up to the lofty expectations in the early going. Both McKnight and Pettway have collected six of the NEC’s seven Rookie of the Week awards, and deservedly so. McKnight has been a steady presence in Anthony Latina’s backcourt, averaging 11.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Pettway has been on fire of late – in his last seven games, the 6’6 bruiser has poured in 75 points, 60 rebounds and 14 assists where shooting 54.2% from the field. There’s a long way to go, but right now these two are neck-and-neck for the coveted 2015-16 NEC ROY honor.

Non-Conference Best Coach – Bashir Mason, Wagner
Coming off a 10-win season, we speculated that Mason would be in some trouble if Wagner didn’t show significant improvement in his fourth season. One third of the way into the 2015-16 season, Mason has his Seahawks as one of only two NEC teams with a winning record heading into the new year. The schedule hasn’t been terribly difficult – KenPom calculates Wagner’s strength of schedule at 311 – yet Mason deserves plenty of credit for getting the Seahawks back to the Wagner brand of basketball: hard-nosed man-to-man defense, dominance on the glass and timely scoring.

Non-Conference Most Improved – Corey Henson, Wagner
After a very respectable freshman season, Henson has upped his game by helping Wagner in two facets: three-point shooting and assist rate. The Seahawks were in the bottom 50 nationally in those categories last season, so Henson’s 26.5% assist rate and 45.5% three-point percentage are very welcoming to a roster desperate for a scoring boost. Unlike JoJo Cooper, who was supposed to be the true point guard of the offense, Henson has been a productive facilitator without turning the ball over, as evident from his 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

And finally, the consensus NEC Power Rankings from John Templon, Nelson Castillo of Blackbirds Hoops Journal and yours truly:

1) Wagner (5-4)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 7
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 218/255
Notable Wins: at Rider, 65-64, at Fairfield, 76-64
Disappointing Losses: none

After struggling defensively last season, Wagner is back on top as the only NEC team giving up less than 100 points per 100 possessions. The Seahawks have done a nice job protecting the defensive glass (72.4% defensive rebounding rate, 85th nationally) while holding opponents to just 44.2% shooting from inside the arc.

2) Mount St. Mary’s (3-10)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 2
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 243/178
Notable Wins: vs. Bucknell, 81-73
Disappointing Losses: at Binghamton, 62-53, at UMBC, 75-63

In the last three seasons, Jamion Christian’s squad has now dropped five non-conference games to teams rated in KenPom’s bottom 50. There isn’t a reason to fear, however, because during the 2013-14 season, as season in which Mount St. Mary’s made it to the NCAA tournament, the Mountaineers inexplicably lost three games to those aforementioned bottom feeders of Division I basketball.

3) LIU Brooklyn (6-5)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 4
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 265/275
Notable Wins: vs. North Carolina Central, 78-77, at Niagara, 80-79 OT
Disappointing Losses: at Dartmouth, 79-56

4) Robert Morris (2-11)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 1
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 270/199
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: at Tennessee Tech, 85-72

If there’s a modicum of hope Robert Morris fans can cling to after this slow start, it’s this: the last time this program finished with two victories or fewer in non-conference play, they went 11-9 against NEC competition. That occurred 14 seasons ago. The previous four instances, however, weren’t as kind with the Colonials at least four games under 0.500 each time in league play.

5) Saint Francis University (3-6)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 9
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 243/276
Notable Wins: vs. American, 68-48, vs. Lehigh, 84-73
Disappointing Losses: at Maryland Eastern Shore, 70-57

6) Fairleigh Dickinson (3-7)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 8
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 278/320
Notable Wins: vs. St. Peter’s, 77-62, vs. Towson, 69-68
Disappointing Losses: None

Earl Potts could have easily been called our Non-Conference Most Improved Player. As a sophomore, he’s making an incredible 70.4% of his shots around the rim and is third overall among NEC individuals in effective field goal percentage (56.3% EFG%).

7) St. Francis Brooklyn (3-9)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 5
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 295/209
Notable Wins: at Lafayette, 69-62
Disappointing Losses: none

8) Bryant (1-10)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 3
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 330/241
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: at Harvard, 80-45, vs. Brown, 76-68

Here’s the odd stat of the non-conference season for you: Hunter Ware’s has something of a “reverse split” when you compare his statistics between the KenPom top 100 programs and lesser opponents.

  • Against Tier 1 Opponents (4 games): 17.8 ppg, 100.5 ORtg, 44.1% FG
  • Against All Others (6 games): 11.5 ppg, 81.5 ORtg, 38.9% FG

I’d expect to see more of the Tier 1 version of Ware in league play now that he’s played more than 75% of Bryant’s available minutes.

9) Sacred Heart (1-10)

BAB Preseason Ranking: 6
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 289/219
Notable Wins: vs. Quinnipiac, 76-64
Disappointing Losses: at UMass Lowell, 87-84, at Hartford, 80-71

Not a lot has gone right for the Pioneers thus far, but one bright spot has been the recent play of freshman guard Sean Hoehn. The 6’2 combo guard has posted an offensive rating of 96 or higher in his past four games, posting averages of 6.8 ppg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 spg while making 36.4% of his 3s. Overall that may not sound like much, but Hoehn’s insertion into the starting lineup has allowed Cane Broome to focus on playing off the ball without having to completely concern himself with running the offense. The subtle change has seemed to help thus far; Sacred Heart has an assist to turnover ratio (A/TO) of 1.00 in their last two games – both of which Hoehn started – after posting a poor A/TO of 0.72 in their previous nine contests. At this point, any kind of a spark is welcome, even if it means the optimistic Anthony Latina has to start two freshmen (Hoehm and McKnight) and one sophomore (Broome).

10) Central Connecticut (1-9)
BAB Preseason Ranking: 10
KenPom Ranking (Current/Initial): 347/340
Notable Wins: none
Disappointing Losses: vs. Binghamton, 81-75, vs. Maine, 81-74

Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant wrote a terrific piece on Howie Dickenman after the Blue Devils’ home victory over UMass Lowell that’s definitely worth your time. In there, the long-time head coach offered his optimism given the wide open nature of the NEC, and to a certain degree, I agree with him. But here’s some cold water: One reason why KenPom rates CCSU as the fifth worst program in the country is because of their poor strength of schedule, currently listed at 339th overall. Barring a major upset vs Yale tonight, the Blue Devils will only have one non-conference victory heading into league play on Saturday. To me, they currently sit alone in the bottom tier of the league.

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.

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