The KenPom preseason rankings for the 2016-17 season have arrived! Leaves are turning colors, the air is getting chillier and practices have been underway for several weeks now. Before you know it, November 11 will be upon us!
Unfortunately for the Northeast Conference, the mood likely turned sour given Ken Pomeroy’s educated guess into how the conference would pan out. Yesterday, the noteworthy statistician ranked the NEC teams in the following order:
- Wagner, 252 (12-6 NEC)
- Fairleigh Dickinson, 263 (11-7)
- Mount St. Mary’s, 290 (10-8)
- Robert Morris, 299 (10-8)
- LIU Brooklyn, 304 (9-9)
- Bryant, 309 (9-9)
- St. Francis Brooklyn, 324 (8-10)
- Saint Francis U, 326 (8-10)
- Sacred Heart, 327 (8-10)
- Central Connecticut, 349 (5-13)
There’s not a single team that cracks the KenPom top 250, which makes up roughly the top 70% of the college basketball landscape. That’s not a good spot to be in, but given the recent precipitous drop in the league’s overall ranking, these rankings aren’t surprising in the least bit.
- 2011: KenPom team average 218
- 2012: KenPom team average 221
- 2013: KenPom team average 232
- 2014: KenPom team average 249
- 2015: KenPom team average 255
- 2016: KenPom team average 290
- 2017: KenPom projected team average 301
It’s been a linear drop for the conference since the 2010-11 season, when LIU Brooklyn represented the conference in the NCAA tournament as a 15 seed. For four straight years, in fact, the NEC has been part of the NCAA First Four play-in game in Dayton. And there’s little evidence that will change in the immediate future. But rather than continuing to bemoan the NEC’s overall ranking of 30 out of 32 conferences – only the SWAC and MEAC are projected lower – allow me to offer some quick thoughts and predict whether each team will overperform, underperform or match the preseason KenPom ranks. As you’ll see, I’m generally more optimistic than Pomeroy is.
Wagner: Only two defensive units, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s, had a KenPom defensive rating that landed in the top half of college basketball last season. This time around KenPom isn’t as bullish, ranking the Seahawks as the 200th best defensive unit. Losing Dwaun Anderson and his nationally ranked steal and block rate probably has something to do with this, but if JoJo Cooper and Michael Carey continue to mature, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bashir Mason’s defensive group land in the top 150 once again. (RP Prediction: Overperform)
Fairleigh Dickinson: I’m rather surprised with the Knight’s offensive projection here. Sure they’re expected to lead the conference in Adjusted Offensive Rating (98.8 points per 100 possessions), but I didn’t expect them to be projected 5 points per 100 possessions worse than their final 2015-16 output. Only Marques Townes has left the campus, and I expect a core of Stephan Jiggetts, Darian Anderson, Earl Potts and Mike Holloway will continue to score with the best of them. Defense is another story, but this team is built to outscore and outrun opponents. (RP Prediction: Overperform)
Mount St. Mary’s: The dirty little secret with the Mountaineers the past two seasons has been their inability to score (92.5 points per 100 possessions), and I bet that’s depressing their overall KenPom ranking here. What also hurts: Jamion Christian’s need to schedule a brutal non-conference season (take a look at Howard Megdal’s VICE Sports piece on the Mount here) most definitely sinks their overall metrics. Even if November is brutal, I fully expect the Mount to be in the thick of it come late February – that’s the Christian way. (RP Prediction: About Right)
Sacred Heart: When you lose the greatest scorer in program history in Cane Broome, you’re going to get punished. It’s that simple. What KenPom fails to do with the Pioneers though is appropriately predict the value of starting point guard Charles Tucker Jr. and power forward Joe Lopez. Both players are coming from the JUCO ranks after having productive freshman campaigns at the Division I level. If they are impact transfers (which I expect), then Anthony Latina’s group will easily eclipse the 327 ranking. After playing just one non-conference game in their friendly confines last season, Sacred Heart will host Hofstra, Hartford, UMass Lowell, Yale and Holy Cross this season. They have a realistic chance to win 3 of those games, which could help the overall ranking. (RP Prediction: Outperform)
Saint Francis U: It all depends on the overall health of Malik Harmon and Isaiah Blackmon. Even if those two play well though, Rob Krimmel will have difficultly replacing Ronnie Drinnon, Greg Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier, who made up more than half of the team’s scoring, rebounding and three-point production. This just feels like a transition season in Loretto. (RP Prediction: About Right)
LIU Brooklyn: Martin Hermannsson was a KenPom legend (so many national ranks!) but Jerome Frink isn’t too far behind after posting an impressive 106.0 offensive rating despite handling more than 24% of the team’s possessions. Frink is undoubtedly keeping the Blackbirds projected conference record right at 9-9. A lot will depend on how Frink and Joel Hernandez (wow a 4-year senior!) shoulders the offensive load and whether Jack Perri’s team defends better than they’ve historically shown. (RP Prediction: About Right)
Bryant: You might be surprised to see Bryant 40 spots higher than their finish last season (346), but I’m not. Shane McLaughlin and Curtis Oakley weren’t efficient players, so their departures are addition by subtraction in the statistical sense. It also helps that Nisre Zouzoua and Marcel Pettway, two stars in the making, return as sophomores after leading the team in offensive rating as rookies. (RP Prediction: About Right)
Central Connecticut: There’s nowhere to go but up for Donyell Marshall, after his predecessor finished dead last in KenPom and RPI last season. Can they match the KenPom projected record of 7-23 after winning nine games total the past 2 seasons? It’s possible with home games versus Hartford, Maine, Brown, UMass Lowell, even if the Blue Devils are listed as underdogs in every game. Honestly, I think 7.5 games is a fair over/under mark for wins at the moment – this team will have its moments much like Greg Herenda’s Knights did in year one. (RP Prediction: About Right)
Robert Morris: Never before has an Andy Toole coached team scored less than 98 points per 100 possessions and shot worse than 35.0% from three in a season, until last season’s forgettable campaign (90.6 points per 100 possessions, 27.6% 3PT). Without Elijah Minnie and Rodney Pryor chucking up ill-advised 3s, can a team led by Kavon Stewart, Matty McDonald, Isaiah Still and Billy Giles push the Colonials offense back up to respectability? KenPom envisions a small improvement (92.6 AdjO), but I believe defense and rebounding could the hallmark of this roster, especially if Aaron Tate and transfer Roberto Mantovani are playing big minutes in the paint. (RP Prediction: Underperform Albeit Slightly)
St. Francis Brooklyn: Who will grab rebounds on this roster? After finishing the 2014-15 season with a 158 mark, the Terriers open the 2016-17 season in the bottom 30 of college basketball. Just remember: Glenn Braica is very good at exceeding expectations and he’s never had a team finish lower than 284 in his six seasons under the helm. In order to avoid sinking before the 300 mark this time around, the Terriers will need to defeat teams like Brown, Army, Savannah St and Lafayette during the non-conference. I consider this to be a rebuilding year. (RP Prediction: About Right)
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St. Francis Brooklyn just had some bad news: 6-9, 270-pound sophomore center Cori Johnson is likely out for the 2016-17 season with a knee injury. That’s unfortunate for a number of reasons. Johnson had really worked his tail off getting into playing shape after sitting out last year as a redshirted freshman — only to get this setback tossed in his path. This injury also depleted an area for the Terriers that was in the process of being rebuilt. The frontcourt had lost a lot of talent to graduation and Johnson was to shore that up a bit. They could have really used his size and bulk in battling the NC State, Virginia and Providence forward lines. Guys like Jahmel Bodrick (6-6/245 soph), Rob Montgomery (6-6/225 frosh), Josh Nurse (6-10/215 soph) and Jagos Lasic (6-8/225 senior) are going to have to raise their game to make up for losing Johnson for the year. This apparently puts a bit more pressure on a very talented backcourt group, especially early in the season.