Picking Out the NEC’s Most Underrated Players

One of my favorite posts to write during the season is the Big Apple Buckets awards. The awards could be for the preseason, midseason, end of season; I don’t really care. I simply enjoy highlighting the excellent players of the NEC! While I usually rank the top 10 to 15 players of the conference, I also take pleasure in mining through rosters to find the truly underrated, invaluable gems, using both advanced statistics and my eyes. Continue reading “Picking Out the NEC’s Most Underrated Players”

Three Thoughts: Bryant 80, Saint Francis University 54

Bryant tip off photo from Ray curren

Tim O’Shea came into the media room after Bryant’s 80-54 dissection of NEC rival Saint Francis University Thursday night and said simply, “A little better than the last game, huh?” Continue reading “Three Thoughts: Bryant 80, Saint Francis University 54”

Rob Krimmel optimistic despite tough road ahead for St. Francis

It was one of the more tumultuous offseasons in recent memory, but you would have never detected it in the voice of first time head coach Rob Krimmel.  The newly hired Krimmel has one of the most difficult jobs in college basketball these days; he’s been asked to rebuild a St. Francis team that has missed the NEC postseason in five of the past seven seasons.  Within that time span, the St. Francis Red Flash have posted a record of 50-154.

And if the job ahead wasn’t daunting enough for Krimmel, it was made that much more arduous when Scott Eatherton, the Red Flash’s leading scorer, rebounder, and NEC Most Improved Player of the Year, unexpectedly transferred to Northeastern University a few weeks after Krimmel’s hiring.

“I was a little surprised, but it wasn’t out of the blue,” said Krimmel. “It was really bigger than basketball, [Eatherton] wanted something a little different then what St. Francis had to offer.  St. Francis is a great place; it’s a beautiful school, great tradition, great academic reputation, but like a lot of other schools, it’s not for everybody.”

Eatherton’s departure leaves the Red Flash rife with inexperience in the frontcourt, but there’s now plenty of opportunity for the incumbent players to step up.  Krimmel is particularly excited about 6-foot-11, 270 pound Storm Stanley, who enters his junior season as a relative unknown.  Despite limited playing time last season, Storm has progressed nicely this offseason in the coach’s eyes.

“He’s come a long way from where he was a year ago from the injury” said Krimmel. “His development has more so been in between the ears.  He’s a talented kid, but we’re trying to get him to play with a little more confidence.  He’s benefitting tremendously from working with Eric.”

The Eric being referred to is St. Francis alum Eric Taylor, who after a 13 year professional career, joins Krimmel’s staff as a first time assistant coach.  Taylor was selected to three All-NEC teams as a member of the Red Flash, and he currently has the 4th most rebounds in school history.  His presence on Krimmel’s staff could very well pay dividends for the frontcourt in the long run.

Those also expected to benefit from Taylor’s instruction is senior tri-captain Tony Peters, sophomore Earl Brown, and incoming freshmen Ronnie Drinnon and Stephon Mosley.  Both freshmen come into Loretto as moderately hyped recruits, with Drinnon expected to eventually mature into one of the better big men of the NEC.  For now, Krimmel is cautious about projecting Drinnon’s immediate future, even though he’s been practicing with the team since January.

“Ronnie will be one of the guys that competes for [Eatheron’s] minutes,” said Krimmel. “Ronnie is a guy who brings a ruggedness, a physicality, he’s probably our best passer as a power forward.  He brings a lot of things to the table, but he’s still going to be a freshman.”

One bright spot in a tough offseason has been the progression of junior tri-captain Umar Shannon, who returns after tearing his ACL last November.  Now healthy, Shannon will be leaned upon to score for a team that averaged a meager 0.93 points per possession last season.  The 5-foot-11 playmaker averaged 15.8 points per game, with solid shooting percentages of 0.410/0.380/0.803 in his sophomore campaign.  Shannon will feature as the Red Flash’s shooting guard, but he could certainly run the point if needed.

Besides Shannon, Krimmel has a number of versatile combo guards and wings that will be asked to contribute.  Senior Anthony Ervin was the second most valuable player last season behind Eatherton, based on win shares.  Stephon Whyatt, perhaps one of the fastest guards in the NEC, will man the point more often than not this season.   Kameron Ritter isn’t much of a scorer, but his defense (he was 7th in the NEC in steal rate at 3.28%) and ability to share the basketball (assist rate of 19.5%) should make him a mainstay on the floor.  Freshmen guards Greg Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier could serve as nice scoring options off the bench, with the former making an impact with his defense and ball handling skills.

It’s a bevy of guards at his disposal, and with this roster Krimmel will implement a more up-tempo offense.  Then again, it won’t take much for the St. Francis to play at a faster pace.  Last year, the Don Friday coached Red Flash averaged 64 possessions per game.

What you have is multiple players competing for minutes at almost every position, with the exception of Shannon.  And that’s exactly what Krimmel wants to see. “If an experienced player isn’t bringing it, we have a couple of guys biting at his heels ready to take his minutes.  As a competitor, as an athlete, that’s what makes you better.”

It will be a rebuilding year, but at the very least the St. Francis faithful will have the energy of their head coach to look forward to.  Krimmel refuses to let his team settle for modest goals, even though St. Francis will probably finish 11th or 12th in the NEC preseason poll.

When asked what his team’s goals are for this season, Krimmel said, “I hope I don’t come across as being arrogant, but our goal is to win the Northeast Conference championship.  Why put the uniform on if everything you do isn’t geared toward winning a championship?  Why try to finish 4th, or 7th, or why try to finish just to make the playoffs?  I know we have a little bit more to prove than the next team, but everything we do on and off the court is geared toward winning a Northeast Conference championship.”

Maybe Krimmel’s confidence and optimism will finally push St. Francis out of a decade long slump.  This coach is just too proud to let his alma mater fall into Division I irrelevancy, although it will take quite an effort to lead St. Francis back to its glory days.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s basketball for Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

Another season of rebuilding ahead for St. Francis (PA)

St. Francis Red Flash – 6-23 (5-13 NEC), Did Not Qualify for NEC Tournament

Players Lost:
PF Scott Eatherton (transfer) – 14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg, NEC Most Improved Player
PG Chris Johnson (expelled) – 8 games, 5.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 2.3 assist/TO ratio
F John Taylor – 5.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.9 apg

Incoming Players:
Ronnie Drinnon, 6’7″ PF – Greenview High (OH)
Ben Millaud-Meunier, 6’3″ G – Vanier High (Quebec, Canada)
Greg Brown, 6’2″ PG – Archbishop Spalding (MD)
Aric Gresko (walk-on), 6’0″ G – Penns Manor (PA)
Zachary Vigneault (walk-on), 6’1″ G – Central Cambria High (PA)

Since the 2004-05 season, the St. Francis Red Flash have averaged 7 wins per season, forcing every subsequent offseason to feel like a rebuilding year.  This offseason is no exception.  After a tumultuous year that led to the unexpected firing of head coach Don Friday, the sudden hiring of Rob Krimmel, and the surprising transfer of future star Scott Eatherton, the Red Flash are once again starting from scratch.  It’s a difficult situation to be in, with the rest of the Northeast Conference improving, but first year coach Krimmel has no choice as he attempts to rebuild a long suffering program back to respectability.

The rebuilding effort, for the 8th season, begins this time around with skilled big man, Ronnie Drinnon.  The 6-foot-7 Drinnon was an accomplished player in high school, earning the honor of being named the All-Area DIII Player of the Year as a junior.  But then on Halloween night of 2011, Drinnon made the critical mistake of crashing his car while drinking.  He paid dearly for his mistake, as Greenview High suspended him for the 2011-12 season.  Despite the costly mishap, Drinnon has said and done the right things since his suspension.

Now with Eatherton’s gone, Drinnon will be expected to contribute immediately.  He has excellent footwork and a soft touch around the basket, and despite his reported lack of athleticism, Drinnon always found a way to rebound the basketball at the high school level.  He’ll need to add muscle to bang down low with the rising class of NEC power forwards, but his intensity and nose for the basketball should help him and his team, which finished a staggering 342nd in rebounds per game last season.  Playing time is plentiful in St. Francis’ thin frontcourt, so an All-NEC Rookie Team selection at season’s end certainly isn’t a stretch, given that most of the promising rookies from the NEC will be perimeter players next season.

Coach Krimmel and his staff next focused their attention on improving the backcourt.  With this in mind, St. Francis signed playmakers Greg Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier, who should form a solid rotation of guards with captains Umar Shannon and Anthony Ervin leading the way.

Of the two backcourt recruits, Brown may have more of an impact his freshman season, because of his ability to play both the “1” and “2” positions on the floor.  Chris Johnson’s dismissal from the team last season leaves the roster devoid of a true point guard, so for the time being, Brown will be asked to partially fill this role.  Based on this Youtube clip, Brown possesses a tight handle, is very shifty in the open court, and has the ability to drain the three.  He led his high school team in scoring, but now in college, he’ll be asked to facilitate more often, especially when manning the point.  It’s a nice opportunity for the versatile Brown, who has the potential to carve out a productive career in the NEC, if developed properly.

The second playmaker was discovered by the Red Flash north of the border.  There, Millaud-Meunier used his excellent court vision, high basketball IQ, and solid outside jumper to dominate in the high school ranks.  Millaud-Meunier isn’t the first Canadian, or Vanier High student for that matter, to play for the Red Flash.  Former great Deon George also hailed from Vanier, and led St. Francis in scoring and rebounding for a couple of seasons.  Perhaps Millaud-Meunier can find the same magic that George did for the Red Flash in the early 90’s.

Finally, it’s probably worth mentioning 2 walk-ons, Aric Gresko and Zachary Vigneault, who were recently added to the Red Flash’s roster.  Both players could find limited minutes on the court, especially since Coach Krimmel’s roster is barren with upper-class talent, sans Shannon and Ervin.  After all, Mount St. Mary’s walk-on Kelvin Parker narrowly missed out from making last season’s All-NEC Rookie Team, and this St. Francis club is even less experienced than the Mount was last season.

St. Francis is obviously not expected to compete in the short term, therefore these incoming freshman can garner valuable on-court experience in the hope that they’ll someday serve as the foundation of a competitive team.  It’s the first step in what has proven to be a brutal rebuilding process in Loretto, PA.  Find lesser known DI prospects that can develop after a couple of seasons.  Then, maybe their moderate success will lure better high school prospects onto the St. Francis campus, which unfortunately is a difficult place to attract basketball talent.  Krimmel now has a mammoth challenge ahead of him, yet if he can somehow pull it off, he’ll be revered as a coaching god for the remainder of his St. Francis career.

Ryan Peters covers Northeast Conference men’s college basketball on Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.  You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.