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 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 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.
- 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