Our All-NEC Conference Teams: A Difficult Exercise Indeed

It was the year of parity and unpredictably in the NEC, and that notion certainly extends out to our all-conference awards. There are several worthy candidates, so it was a challenging exercise for John and I to sort out our All-NEC first, second, and third teams. For our individual awards, including Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year, etc., go here. So without further ado, let’s begin! Continue reading “Our All-NEC Conference Teams: A Difficult Exercise Indeed”

NEC Thursday: The Valentine’s Day Recap!

With my wife out of town, I was able to keep my eye on the NEC basketball scene for what turned out to be a special Valentine’s Day recap! Enjoy…

Mount St. Mary’s 84, Bryant 70
Sam Prescott had the performance of his life with 44 points on 16 of 24 shooting to help lead the Mount to an impressive drubbing of league leader Bryant. After the Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead thanks to Dyami Starks’ three points, two assists, and one rebound in four minutes, Bryant struggled offensively when Starks was saddled with two quick fouls. After that, a Prescott onslaught from behind the three-point line guided the Mount to a double-digit lead at the half. In all, Prescott tied a Mount record for the most threes scored in a game (10-14), while also breaking the school’s D-I record for most points in a game. Perhaps quietly, Shivaughn Wiggins and Julien Norfleet did a wonderful job fasciliating on offense. The duo dished out 16 assists versus only one turnover. Bryant shot the ball well, but couldn’t overcome 15 turnovers and a porous effort defensively on the perimeter that allowed the Mount to sink 50.9% of their shots. Alex Francis scored a team high 25 points to go along with ten rebounds, but it simply wasn’t enough to overcome Prescott’s special night.

St. Francis (PA) 64, Sacred Heart 60
In the upset of the night, St. Francis (PA) notched their third win of the season by knocking off a significantly banged up Sacred Heart team on the road. Phil Gaetano was out with the flu leaving the Pioneers devoid of a true point guard on the roster and limiting Dave Bike to seven healthy scholarship players and walk-on Louis Cramer. Shane Gibson did his part registering 26 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and five steals, but it wasn’t enough as no other Pioneer logged a game efficiency rating higher than a six (for non-stat heads, a six isn’t very good). Four players scored in double digits for Rob Krimmel’s club, led by double-double machine Earl Brown with 13 points and 11 boards. St. Francis lost the edge on the boards, but shot well enough from the perimeter (7-16 behind the arc) and at the charity stripe (19-26) to pull through. The win moves St. Francis (PA) out of the cellar with a 3-10 record, while Sacred Heart nows find themselves only up 1.5 games on the 9th place team in the conference. With no more “cupcakes” on the schedule, it’s now or never for the Pioneers coming up.

LIU Brooklyn 82, Monmouth 66
A nearly down-and-out Monmouth team hung tough and even led the back-to-back defending champs with 11 minutes left in the second half, 52-51. But then a 20-5 LIU run put the game out of reach and made certain the Hawks would lose for the fifth time in six games. The offensive numbers won’t make Jack Perri all too happy (1.02 PPP, 14 assists versus 24 turnovers), yet the defense stepped up to force 17 turnovers and a mediocre 40% shooting mark for Monmouth. In addition, the Blackbirds won the rebounding battle 35-27 and hit 14 more freebies from the line. Jamal Olasewere led the team with 23 points, but C.J. Garner was equally as excellent with 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals. Ed Waite led Monmouth with 24 points, but he needed 19 shots to get there. After him though, only two Hawk players – Jesse Steele and Stephen Spinella – scored more than five points.

Wagner 101, Central Connecticut 82
If Wagner scores the basketball like that the rest of the season, then I’m pretty confident they’ll join Robert Morris, Bryant, and LIU Brooklyn in the upper third of the league at season’s end. Wagner shattered their season high in points per possession with 1.32 PPP, while draining over 61% of their shots in a blowout home win over the suddenly defensively challenged Blue Devils. Seven Seahawks scored at least eight points with Marcus Burton claiming 23 points on only nine shots. The game moved at a feverish pace with 155 total possessions, but it was Wagner who benefitted the most from the tempo. Central Connecticut, led by Kyle Vinales’ 42 points on 24 shots, cut Wagner’s lead to seven points early in the second half, but a 15-0 run by the Seahawks essentially turned the game into a laugher. Odd enough, CCSU falls to 4-8 on the season when they average more than 73 possessions in a game. Is it safe to say the lack of depth hurts CCSU in these games that turn into track meets? Whatever the reason, Howie Dickenman shouldn’t be happy that Wagner outscored his club in the paint, 44-24, while also allowing the Seahawks to drill nine of their 15 long-range jumpers. It was a lousy defensive effort whichever way you slice it.

St. Francis Brooklyn 85, Fairleigh Dickinson 61
When it rains it pours, and right now it’s pouring losses for FDU. The Knights dropped their ninth straight to a struggling St. Francis team, as they were unable to overcome 21 point efforts from both Akeem Johnson and Travis Nichols. The Terriers were efficient on offense, and while that may be from FDU being in the bottom 10% of the nation defensively, Glenn Braica certainly has to be pleased with 16 assists versus a mere five turnovers, a 25-28 shooting performance from the free-throw line, and the fact that his team surged despite a zero point overcome from Jalen Cannon. Kinu Rochford had another monster game for FDU (what else is new) with 20 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t nearly enough to prevent FDU’s slide into the NEC basement.

Quinnipiac 63, Robert Morris 61
In perhaps their last meeting before Quinnipiac departs for the MAAC, the Bobcats outlasted the banged-up Colonials in a ridiculously tight game throughout. Velton Jones supposedly did his best Willis Reed impersonation (OK, maybe not) by suiting up right before tipoff, yet he struggled with only six points on 13 shots. Evan Conti led Quinnipiac with 18 points, six rebounds, and two assists and has been the unsung hero in this recent run for Tom Moore. Conti has scored in double figures in four straight, while also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game. The big difference in the game was free throws, as Robert Morris uncharacteristically went to the charity stripe just 13 times (and missed eight of them). On the other hand, Quinnipiac had 17 points from the line and also doubled the Colonials output on the boards (44-22). The Bobcats are officially the hottest team in the NEC, winning five of their last six contests to move into a tie for fifth place. A home playoff game is now absolutely within reach.

NEC Standings
1) Bryant, 9-3
2) Robert Morris, 9-4
3) LIU Brooklyn, 9-4
4) Wagner, 8-5
5) Sacred Heart, 7-5
6) Quinnipiac, 7-5
7) Central Connecticut, 6-6
8) St. Francis Brooklyn, 6-7
9) Mount St. Mary’s, 6-7
10) Monmouth, 4-9
11) St. Francis (PA), 3-10
12) Fairleigh Dickinson, 2-11
*Robert Morris holds tiebreaker on LIU based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*Sacred Heart holds tiebreaker on Quinnipiac based on head-to-head record (1-0)
*St. Francis Brooklyn holds tiebreaker on Mount St. Mary’s based on head-to-head record (1-0)

Fairleigh Dickinson’s Kinu Rochford Making the Most of His Senior Season

Ask any Northeast Conference basketball enthusiast to name the best big man of the conference and you’ll likely receive several different answers. Some may bring up the terrific scoring duo of Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere at LIU Brooklyn. Others may stay in the borough to mention St. Francis Brooklyn’s super sophomore Jalen Cannon. The rest may venture north across Connecticut lines to highlight Quinnipiac rebounding sensation Ike Azotam.

Kinu Rochford is among the NEC leaders in scoring and rebounding (photo courtesy of Gotham Hoops)

Continue reading “Fairleigh Dickinson’s Kinu Rochford Making the Most of His Senior Season”

Fairleigh Dickinson Makes a Statement Over Mount St. Mary’s

If you didn’t believe there was parity in the NEC prior to Thursday’s round of conference opening games, then you surely do now.

Fairleigh Dickinson (FDU) is the prime example of that, as the Knights – who had a total of five NEC victories in the past two seasons – went into Emmitsburg, Maryland and dominated the favored Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers, defeating them 72-65 in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. Continue reading “Fairleigh Dickinson Makes a Statement Over Mount St. Mary’s”

NEC Team Capsule: Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

Head Coach: Greg Vetrone, 4th year (19-71)
Last Season: 3-26 (2-16 NEC), failed to qualify for the NEC tournament
NEC Preseason Coach’s Poll: 11th out of 12 teams
State of Program: Rebuilding on the fly
Key Players Lost: George Goode (12.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg), Briahn Smith (6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Mohammed Lo
Incoming Players: Sekou Harris (PG), Sidney Sanders (G), Myles Mann (PF), Kyle Pearson (G/F), Xavier Harris (G/F)
Previous Posts: FDU Recruiting Recap

Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Sidney Sanders (played JC last season)
G: Lonnie Hayes (13.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.1 apg, 2.0 spg)
G: Melquin Boldin (15.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 76.4% FT)
F: Lonnie Robinson (6.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 35.4% 3PT)
PF: Kinu Rochford (9.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.9 bpg, 55.9% FG)

Key Reserves:
Mostafa Jones (G), Yves Jules (G), Mathias Seilund (F), Xavier Harris (G/F), Sekou Harris (PG)

Major Storylines:

  1. Stay Away from the Doctor – Vetrone’s Knights were bitten by the injury bug last season, both in the nagging and season-ending department. The latter got a hold of starting point guard Lonnie Hayes, who broke his foot 11 games into the season and was lost for the year. Hayes and Lonnie Robinson, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus, need to play at full strength in the conference season. To say their health is paramount for FDU would be an understatement.
  2. Chemistry May Trump Talent – Vetrone was on record last November saying his 2011-12 roster was the most talented it’s ever been since his arrival at FDU. That may have been true, yet none of the talent meshed particularly well, even before Hayes’ injury. This season, the pressure is on Vetrone to integrate this group into one cohesive unit, and it won’t be easy, especially with three transfers and three freshmen added to the roster.
  3. Who’s Playing the 4? – Senior Kinu Rochford is locked in as FDU’s starting center, but who will take over for the departed George Goode? Junior Mathias Seilund has the offensive skills, yet lags behind defensively and on the glass. 6-foot-6 freshman Myles Mann is out for the season with a torn ACL. Xavier Harris, Kyle Pearson, and Ayotunde Oyeniyi are also possibilities, yet they are unproven. Playing small – with Robinson at the “4” – is probably the most logical idea, but then how will this team match up against the terrifying frontcourts of LIU, Quinnipiac, and Robert Morris?

Team Analysis: Vetrone’s pivotal third year was a season to forget right off the bat. FDU was defeated in 10 of their first 11 games, and to make matters worse, the Knights lost their only point guard when Hayes broke his foot. A team predominantly made up of transfers never played as a cohesive unit, and nagging injuries limited the performances of George Goode (back) and Lonnie Robinson (knee). Heading into this season, Vetrone has much more depth and athleticism in his backcourt with point guards Sidney Sanders and Sekou Harris joining Hartford transfer Mostafa Jones and Hofstra transfer Yves Jules. Look for Sekou Harris, who has impressed Vetrone this preseason, to play a major role by logging 20+ minutes per game as a freshman. Along with Hayes and Melquan Bolding, Vetrone plans to employ a three-guard set with Sanders as the primary ball handler. Hayes, who may miss the first couple of games with an undisclosed injury, will play primarily off the ball in order to limit the pounding on his foot. Bolding, who averaged 15.1 inefficient points per game last season, will not be asked to do too much in an attempt to optimize his performance. In the frontcourt, opportunities are aplenty with Kinu Rochford as the only experienced presence. Harris and Seilund have a chance to contribute, but the athletic Pearson is likely a season away before becoming a factor. Most likely, Vetrone will implement an athletic small-ball lineup, with Robinson and Rochford as the big men down low. Right now, several Knight players are banged up (Jules – sprained ACL, Xavier Harris – shin splits, Hayes – undisclosed), so the goal for Vetrone is to get everyone healthy for the start of the season.

Coach’s Quotes:

“I went out and recruited three point guards to never have that problem again … I’m not going to ever get caught in that position again to not have a point guard play. I realized very quickly that if you don’t have a point guard play at any level, it’s tough.”
– Vetrone, when asked if recruiting point guard depth was a target for his last recruiting class 

“My expectation is that from day one we have to figure out how to get into the conference playoffs. That’s our goal. I don’t know how many games its going to take … how we are going to do it, but we’ll find a way. This year, I will say as a coach, I’m finding a way to get into the conference playoffs.”
— Vetrone, when asked if making the NEC playoffs was a reasonable goal for FDU
Ryan – If FDU’s athletic backcourt can finally gel as a unit, things will improve considerably in Teaneck. Other factors such as the play of Jones, Jules, and Seilund will determine if this roster is an injury or two away from complete disaster once again. The best case scenario probably lands FDU into the playoffs, but for now, I pessimistically think FDU doesn’t win more than 5-6 NEC games, which sadly may cost Vetrone his job.
John – There are plausible scenarios you can envision where FDU suddenly makes a big jump in the standings, but it’s just tough to predict. The more likely scenario is another tough season. Escaping the cellar of the conference will show progress and the Knights have to have better luck with health and point guard play this season.