NEC Week 4 Recap: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The NEC had their best overall week of the young season. For once, I had to really search for topics to place in the bad and ugly sections! It was a banner week across the board; some of the preseason top teams and some of the bottom teams elevated their level, so let’s sift through it all in our fourth edition of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good

  • The Big Upset – Despite a lackluster effort versus Savannah State early in the week, Robert Morris headlines this section because of their upset victory over Ohio. Jim Christian’s Bobcats came in with a perfect 6-0 record and a #30 rating courtesy of Ken Pomeroy, but could not overcome the amazing performance of Colonial guard Karvel Anderson. The JC transfer hit all ten of his shots – eight from three-point range – to score 28 points in the win. Heading in, Ohio was a team of many strengths but Robert Morris wisely exploited one of their biggest weaknesses by staying aggressive on the offensive end. The Colonials made a season high 28 free throws on 35 attempts. The win gives Robert Morris a fighting chance to earn a non-16 seed should they represent the NEC in the big dance. For now though, it’s one of the biggest NEC victories in recent memory and could ultimately serve as the moment that turned the Colonials season around.
  • The Brooklyn Boys Are Back – Well well well. It’s nice to finally see the defending NEC champs in this section. After losing their first four contests – two of them as favorites – Jack Perri’s squad took care of business at the Wellness Center by defeating Columbia and Lafayette. Offense had never been the issue during the early skid, but as John explained here, the defense was in lock down mode for the week. In the two victories, LIU has held their opponents to only 0.87 points per possession, quite an improvement over their 1.21 points allowed per possession in the first four games. Julian Boyd, after suffering through a back injury and some untimely cramps, appears to be back to full strength. A healthy Boyd, along with major contributions from Jamal Olasewere, Jason Brickman, and C.J. Garner, has the Blackbirds poised to do some damage in the near future during their non-conference tilt. Getting frontcourt backups Kenny Onyechi and Booker Hucks will also help in that regard.
  • A Young Beast in the Middle – With almost a fifth of the regular season completed (I know, crazy huh?), it’s finally appropriate to highlight the phenomenal early play of St. Francis Brooklyn sophomore Jalen Cannon. Through five games, Cannon leads all NEC players in efficiency rating, rebounds per game (9.6), and is third in effective field goal percentage (66.7 eFG%), trailing only Brickman and teammate Kevin Douglas. It’s Cannon’s scoring, not his rebounding, that’s the biggest surprise early on. He has scored in double digits in four of five games and is averaging 16 points per game. If he keeps this pace up, he may very well make a run at the NEC Player of the Year as a mere sophomore. I see a lot of All-NEC first teams in his future.
  • Mayhem Has Arrived – Jamion Christian’s MAYHEM system has captured the attention of the league, but the Mayhem officially took hold on Monday when the Mount impressively upset the George Washington Colonials on their home floor. The Colonials were caught off guard with the Mount’s pressure, coughing up the ball 25 times and failing to hit a single three-pointer in the ugly loss. Afterwards, the Mount held on for an equally ugly one point victory over Binghamton, who may be one of the worst programs in the country. But, a win is a win, and the two game winning streak pulls the Mount back to 0.500. They’ll certainly be a tough out any night for future NEC opponents.
  • Hawks Soaring by December – At this point last season, King Rice’s Hawks were still searching for their first victory. In fairness, Monmouth had a brutal non-conference schedule – including Villanova, Virginia Tech, George Mason, and Vanderbilt – that was too difficult to overcome for a first year head coach. With a season now under their belt, Monmouth and their vaunted pressure defense (seventh nationally in turnover rate) has them at 4-3 on the season, with a three game winning streak. The offense is still hit or miss, but the Hawks will be a difficult matchup for any team on any given night with their in-your-face defense. If Monmouth shoots the ball well from the perimeter, then they’ll win more often then not. When they’ve shot better than 33% from beyond the arc this season, they have yet to lose.

The Bad

  • The Same Issues – Quinnipiac’s rebounding and defense has been good enough in the early going, yet the Bobcats are still having difficultly creating offense in the half-court set. The Bobcats are shooting 43% from the floor, which isn’t all that bad, yet they’ve had difficult closing games out late in the second half. The double OT loss to UConn was a prime example, and last week the Bobcats had a few opportunities to grab the lead from Lehigh, yet they failed to do so (you gotta make your free throws, Mr. Shaq Shannon). It’s the same problem that plagued the Bobcats last season, but without All-NEC second teamer James Johnson, the problem is exacerbated somewhat. Whether it’s creating more opportunities in transition or juggling around his crunch time lineup, Tom Moore needs to figure how his team can score more efficiently when the game is on the line.

The Ugly

  • On the Mend in Fairfield – If it wasn’t for a couple of improbable comebacks against Yale and Stony Brook, the Sacred Heart Pioneers could find themselves in the same company as the St. Francis Red Flash. As in winless. Currently, the backcourt is near shambles with Chris Evans and Evan Kelley out indefinitely with knee injuries. It got even worse before their eventual loss to Brown, when Steve Glowiak sat out with a sprained ankle and Shane Gibson hurt his knee diving for a loose ball in the first half. The rash of injuries forced Dave Bike to play freshman walk-on Louis Cramer nine minutes in the second half of the Brown game. Sacred Heart needs their guards to get healthy fast, but at this point it wouldn’t be the worst idea to wait until the conference season begins to get some his guards completely healthy. If their backcourt depth is this compromised come January, the Pioneers will certainly struggle to even make the NEC playoffs. That’s not what this fan envisioned for his alma mater in Gibson and Justin Swidowski’s senior season.

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

Top 10 Recruits of the Northeast Conference – The rich get richer

With many of the top NEC programs returning most of their talent, playing time will be scarce for a majority of the recruits coming in.  Nevertheless, we here at Big Apple Buckets painstakingly created our consensus list of the top 10 NEC recruits.  Ranking them wasn’t easy – information on most newcomers is limited at best and there are easily 20 players that could have an immediate impact on their team.

We apologize in advance if your favorite recruit missed the list.  This is the time of year when every fan-base believes their newcomers will push their team to great heights.  Just remember, all of those Youtube clips of your favorite team’s recruits are highlight videos.  Everyone looks good on those.  They edit out the bad plays for a reason.

(Cut to the confused Monmouth fan asking, “Wait, you mean to tell me Tyrone O’Garro won’t finish every play this year with an alley-oop jam??”)

Later this week, we’ll submit our NEC recruiting class rankings for all 12 teams.  For now though, we give you our 2012-13 Top 10 preseason newcomers of the NEC!

10) Ronnie Drinnon, PF, St. Francis (PA) – With Scott Eatherton heading to Northeastern, Drinnon will see significant minutes in a brutally thin Red Flash frontcourt.  There will be struggles early on, but Drinnon’s high basketball IQ and nose for the basketball should serve him well in his freshman season.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that Drinnon practiced with the team a semester early.

9) James Ford, SG, Quinnipiac – Ford does one thing that none of Quinnipiac’s other newcomers can do as well – shoot lights out from beyond the arc.  With the Bobcats’ need for a shooter to stretch the defense, Ford should occupy a niche role as he improves in other facets during his rookie season.

8) Eric Fanning, SG, Wagner – We have difficulty placing Fanning any higher on this list, due to Bashir Mason’s crowded backcourt.  Nevertheless, Fanning should have the opportunity in limited minutes to display a wide array of scoring abilities, which allowed him to score over 1,000 points at two different stops in high school.  His athleticism and length at 6-foot-4 should also help on the defensive end.

7) Tariq Carey, SG, Quinnipiac – Tom Moore made it a priority in the offseason to bolster his backcourt, and Carey may have been his best acquistion.  The moderately recruited combo guard has a chance to make up part of James Johnson’s production on both ends of the floor, given his ability to attack the basket, get to the charity stripe, and defend with tenacity.

6) Matthew Hunter, F, Central Connecticut – After two very productive seasons at junior college, Hunter persevered to earn a Division I scholarship after a difficult upbringing.  The “stat filler” – as Howie Dickenman likes to call him – should help Kyle Vinales make up 56% of the scoring CCSU lost due to last year’s graduating class.  After all, Hunter was offered by three DI schools for a reason.

5) Shivaughn Wiggins, PG, Mount St. Mary’s – Wiggins is the type of player Jamion Christian covets – a celebral athlete that makes excellent decisions with the basketball in transition and the half-court set.  This season, he’ll most likely share time with Josh Castellanos, but make no mistake, Wiggins is the player with more potential.

4) Vaughn Morgan, PF, Robert Morris – An athletic freak who reeks havoc in the paint, Morgan will contribute to a deep Robert Morris team that returns their top seven players in terms of efficiency.  Morgan should see the majority of Lawrence Bridge’s minutes if he can grasp the mental aspect of the game and let his athleticism shine.

3) D.J. Griggs, SG, LIU-Brooklyn – The Blackbirds lost a potential NEC star in Waller-Prince, but Griggs is certainly a nice consolation prize.  LIU has a thin bench, so the opportunity is there for the Texas native to grab the final spot of LIU’s backcourt rotation with Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner, and Brandon Thompson.  As a high schooler Griggs was a high-scorer, averaging 22.6 points per game and scoring 2,590 points, so he should provide a spark off the bench for the Blackbirds.

2) Karvel Anderson, SG, Robert Morris – A prolific, yet efficient scorer at every level he’s played at, Anderson should serve as a nice offensive weapon off Andy Toole’s bench.  His insertion into the Colonial’s rotation will take pressure off of Coron Williams – who struggles at times creating his own shot – and will give Robert Morris the reliable deep threat they dearly missed last season.

1) Dwaun Anderson, SG, Wagner – This was the easiest pick by far.  It’s not very often when Tom Izzo has recruited and signed a future NEC player.  Anderson’s athleticism will make him an impact player immediately, especially when he’s allowed to create in transition or off the dribble in half-court sets.  We’d be shocked if he wasn’t a finalist for NEC Rookie of the Year at season’s end.

Other newcomers we considered:
E.J. Reed, G, LIU-Brooklyn
De’Aires Tate, PF, Sacred Heart
Jalen Wesson Palm, PG, Monmouth
Aleksandar Isailovic, G, St. Francis (NY)
Sekou Harris, PG, Fairleigh Dickinson

Robert Morris reloads for another shot at the Big Dance

Robert Morris Colonials: 26-11 (13-5 NEC), Lost in NEC Finals to LIU-Brooklyn, 90-73

Players Lost:
G Brandon Herman (transfer) – 1.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.7 apg
F Lawrence Bridges – 3.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.0 apg
SG Karon Abraham (dismissed from team) – Did not play

Incoming Players:
Karvel Anderson, 6’2″ G – Glen Oaks CC (MI)
Vaughn Morgan, 6’6″ F – Southwestern Christian College (TX)
Stephan Hawkins, 6’9″ PF – Bowman Academy (IN)
Jervon Pressley, 6’7″ PF – Towson University (MD)

For the fourth straight March, the Robert Morris Colonials found themselves in the NEC Championship game with an opportunity to clinch an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.  For the 2nd consecutive time, however, they fell victim to the offensively gifted LIU Blackbirds – this time by succumbing to a tempo more suited for Julian Boyd, Jason Brickman and company.

The defeat exposed some weaknesses of Robert Morris, most notably their inconsistent outside shooting and somewhat thin frontcourt.  It was a difficult setback, but head coach Andy Toole and his staff regrouped to sign a splendid recruiting class addressing their most glaring needs.

The first recruit of note is 6-foot-2 combo guard Karvel Anderson.  Anderson is a gifted scorer who comes from a difficult background, yet despite his troubles, he persevered to finally earn a Division I scholarship.  This past season at Glen Oaks, Anderson averaged more than 24 ppg, even though he played with a pin in his surgically repaired wrist all season.  His natural ability to score, however, wasn’t the most impressive thing about his game.

“One of the things I really like about Karvel is his efficiency,” Toole explained. “The thing that jumps out at you is his scoring average, but what I really liked was the fact he shot 46% from the floor and 43% from three.”

Anderson should play significant minutes right away, mainly as a “2” who can stretch the defense with his range.

“We needed to bring in another outside shooter, someone else that could really knock it down from the parameter to complement Coron (Williams),” Toole said.  “We hope that Karvel pushes Coron and we hope they compete for minutes, because competition obviously gets the best out of everybody.”

With their need for a long-range shooter filled, Robert Morris turned their attention to acquiring some frontcourt depth.  Junior college transfer Vaughn Morgan and true freshman Stephan Hawkins were signed, and each player has the potential to contribute right away.

The 6-foot-6 Morgan is an exceptional athlete who plays above the rim with his freakish leaping ability (seriously watch that clip and tell me if anyone else in the NEC can do that).  Because of his physical gifts, Morgan should reek havoc around the basket at both ends of the floor.  He can also knock down the mid-range jumper, something the now graduated Lawrence Bridges couldn’t do.  His athleticism is remarkable at the NEC level, but Toole is cautiously optimistic when talking about Morgan’s upside.

“Vaughn is extremely gifted athletically.  The learning curve with him will be all of the concepts and some of the teaching points that we’re going to deal with.  The sooner he picks those things up, the easier it will be for him to let his athleticism shine through.”

When asked if Morgan is the best athlete he’s ever signed at Robert Morris, Toole added, “From a jumping perspective, yeah.  It’s not even close.  He’ll have some highlights this year, I’m pretty positive of that.”

The other newcomer competing for time at the “4” will be Hawkins, who held his own at the Pittsburgh Summer Pro-Am while banging bodies with stronger and more experienced big men.  According to Toole, Hawkins makes up for his lack of strength with excellent instincts, great length, and a nice 12-to-15 foot jumper to keep defenders honest.  He positions himself well around the basket and should serve as yet another valuable piece to the Colonials deep rotation.

The last piece of the recruiting puzzle is Towson transfer Jervon Pressley.  Pressley is ineligible this season due to NCAA transfer rules, but a year off will benefit the North Carolina native.  He struggled in a difficult situation at Towson, so Pressley will help his cause by practicing with a seasoned and physical frontcourt for a full season.  It was only a year ago that Pressley was graded as an 87 by ESPN Recruiting.  To put that number in perspective, only Dwaun Anderson, the super recruit heading to Wagner, ranked higher among all 2012 NEC signed recruits.

Coming off a 26 win season, the Colonials return their top 7 players in terms of efficiency rating.  Add 3 potential impact newcomers for 2012, another year of development for Lucky Jones, Mike McFadden, and Anthony Myers, and you have the makings of a very deep and talented team.  The other teams of the elite tier certainly won’t back down, but Robert Morris has as good a chance as any to capture their 3rd NEC championship in the past 5 years.  With senior Velton Jones leading the charge, you can bet he and his Colonials won’t go down easy.

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