NEC Team Primer: #2 Mount St. Mary’s

Head Coach: Jamion Christian, 2nd Season (18-14, 11-7 NEC)
Last Season: 18-14, 11-7 (NEC), Lost Finals of NEC tournament to LIU Brooklyn, 91-70
RPI/KenPom: 118/195
NEC Preseason Poll: 6th out of 10 teams
State of Program: NEC Contender
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Shivaughn Wiggins (9.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.6 A/TO), Raven Barber (5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 57.9% FG%), Kelvin Parker (5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Josh Castellanos (4.3 ppg, 3.2 apg)
Incoming Players: Khalid Nwandu (G), Byron Ashe (G), Charles Glover (G), Will Miller (F)

LogoProjected Starting Lineup:

PG: Julian Norfleet (10.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 A/TO)
G: Rashad Whack (13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.1 spg, 35.9% 3pt%)
F: Sam Prescott (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 spg)
F: Gregory Graves (1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
C: Kristijan Krajina (5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 62.7% FG%)

Key Reserves: Taylor Danaher (C), Khalid Nwandu (G), Charles Glover (G), Byron Ashe (G), Will Miller (F)

Major Storylines:

  • Building on the Momentum – Lost amid the NEC chaos last season was Mount St. Mary’s superb run of basketball in the month of February. After losing on the road to Robert Morris, The Mount won 12 of their final 14 contests in impressive fashion. Before their defeat in the NEC title game, Jamion Chrisitan’s squad outscored their opponents by an average of 8.3 points while extracting an average of 13.8 turnovers per game during the stretch. Can the vaunted Mayhem pressure continue to reek havoc come NEC time? It remains to be seen if the new defensive rules and coaching adjustments will trim down the effectiveness of a team that had the 23rd highest turnover rate in the nation last season.
  • Assembling a Solid Second Team – Mayhem is minimized without a deep rotation, yet the Mount lost a sizable chuck of their roster this past offseason due to graduation and transfers. The statistics of Raven Barber, Kelvin Parker, and Josh Castellanos may not seem like much, but they were intregal parts (at times) of a deep rotation Christian liked to employ. Now without them and future star Shivaughn Wiggins to lean back on, Christian’s roster has thinned out with only 11 eligible scholarship players (Marshall transfer Chris Martin must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules). In order to comfortably play nine to ten guys, injuries and the under achievement of the underclassmen must be avoided.
  • The Big Three – Much of the onus falls out the terrific trio of seniors in Emmitsburg. We highlighted the importance of Norfleet previously, and it goes without saying how important Whack and Prescott are as well. All three are obviously vital, given that they make up sizable chuck of their total scoring and three-pointers made last season. Their versatility and athleticism gives Christian the ability to employ a trapping, pressing, up-tempo brand of basketball, so it’s imperative they produce and stay healthy. An injury to one of the big three could be crippling.

The Skinny:

Jamion Christian was the jolt of energy this program badly needed after being led by a lackluster Robert Burke the previous two seasons. After serving as Shaka Smart’s assistant at VCU, Christian was handed the keys to a Mount program that had lost its way since Milan Brown departed for the Patriot League.

Predictability, the installation of Mayhem had its ups and downs in the early going. A surprising upset at Atlantic 10 foe George Washington instantly energized the fans, but after that the Mount struggled to find any kind of consistency. After a decisive loss to FDU in early January, two things happened soon thereafter. Julian Norfleet was given the point guard role and freshman Shivaughn Wiggins emerged. What ensued was pure Mayhem – turnovers were being forced, aggressive guards were raining threes and the big man combo of Krajina and Barber were securing the middle. The Mount may have fallen short in the end, but it was a fantastic season nevertheless, especially when considering where they were a year prior.

The offseason came with some disappointments, however, as several players – a few of them already in Christian’s doghouse – transferred out of the program. The most notable was the late departure of Wiggins, who’s loss was not only difficult to swallow, but it also left another scholarship unfulfilled.

Despite the exodus, though, Christian has several pieces to compete for another NEC championship, immediately. Norfleet, Whack, Prescott, and Krajina all return as starters and possess a wealth of invaluable experience. Taylor Danaher and Gregory Graves both added muscle to their lanky frames this offseason and appear poised to increase their role. Perhaps most important is how the four freshmen newcomers perform; after all, at least two will be expected to produce if Christian truly wants to boast a deep rotation. Of the group, Khalid Nwandu has a chance to disrupt opposing guards with his athleticism and 6’9″ wingspan. Byron Ashe and Will Miller are terrific shooters, but their lack of bulk could hinder a possible breakout performance as rookies. Charles Glover projects as a future glue guy, but those type of players sometimes take a while to develop at the Division I level.

Together, there are a lot of questions surrounding this team. Yet their Mayhem style and experienced guards should lead them into the upper half of the NEC once again. It’ll be rotation spots five through nine that may very well determine if Christian’s team goes dancing two years removed from a dismal eight win season.

Coach’s Quotes:

“We play so many guys. The new rules are going to make for the tempo to go way up and we play a high-tempo game, so I think it’s really going to benefit teams with a lot of depth that really pride themselves on guard play. We’re going to have to make some adjustments as far as playing some guys with two fouls… I don’t think it’ll change our defensive identity at all.”
– Christian, on how the new defensive rules could affect his team

“If you’re going to be a great team your post players have to be a factor. They have to be able to score one-on-one on the block. I love the guys we have in Kristijan Krajina and Taylor Danaher. Kristijan’s up to 250 pounds now so he’s much bigger, has great touch and can really score around the basket.”
– Christian, on the potential of his big men

“Growing up my dad always taught me how to play basketball the right way and I really took pride in that. He really taught me how to use my mind on the court and how to use my IQ. You might not see it in the numbers, but there are a lot of things that I do on the court that go unseen.”
– Norfleet, talking about how he developed into a selfless, versatile player


Ryan – If there’s one team I’m going back and forth on, it’s Mount St. Mary’s. They’re loaded with experienced athletic seniors, but may really miss reigning NEC ROY Shivaughn Wiggins on both sides of the ball. Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher could take steps forward, but if they (and the freshmen) don’t, does Christian have a viable second team? With many questions and few answers this early, I’ll deviate to the middle. While I expect them to fall a little short of a championship, a top four finish in the conference is probable. (18 wins, 10-6 NEC)

John – 
I really like this system and I really like what the Mount did at the end of the season. I believe Jamion Christian is one of the brightest young minds in college basketball coaching and that his Mayhem system will be even better this season. The loss of Wiggins certainly hurts, but this is a system team that has talented players like Julian Norfleet accepting different roles to help the team win. It took this team a bit of time to get their feet wet last season, but once it happen they challenged the top of the NEC. The Mount should be right back in the thick of the title hunt again. (19 wins, 11-5 NEC)

Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers

#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils
#3 Robert Morris Colonials

Monmouth Continues to Struggle on Offense, Loses to Mount St. Mary’s

In just two and a half minutes, seven turnovers were already committed. Given Mount St. Mary’s and Monmouth’s ability to force turnovers (each team is in the top ten nationally in that category), this early development wasn’t surprisingly in the least bit.

Unfortunately for Monmouth, another thing that wasn’t surprising was the Hawks’ inability to put the ball in the basket. It wasn’t from a lack of effort, or even execution on the offensive end. The open looks just wouldn’t fall for the struggling Hawks, and it cost them once again as the Mount pulled away in the second half for a 71-59 victory. After the loss, King Rice was surprisingly upbeat, despite his team now in the midst of a seven game losing streak.

“I told my kids after we’re still a work in progress,” said Rice. “I feel so bad for them, because Jesse [Steele] got good looks, Dion [Nesmith] got good looks … and the ball hasn’t fallen for them yet. So I told our guys, we played hard enough today to be able to win. Now we have to execute and make shots and those types of things, but that’s the type of effort I’m looking for.”

To the Mount’s credit, they hit some shots right out of the gate. After settling down from the initial frenetic pace, the Mount sank 13 of their 27 shots in the first half to take a 31-25 lead into halftime. Big man Kristijan Krajina led the attack with nine first half points on five shots, while Sam Prescott looked comfortable hitting three of four three-pointers.

Said Jamion Christian after the game on his suddenly emerging low post scorer, “[Kristijan] has really given us a consistent low-post scorer. Our guys have done a great job getting him the ball in key situations and I expect him to keep playing the way he’s been playing.”

The tenacious Hawks – clearly taking on the identity of their head coach – predictably came out swinging in the second half. Monmouth used a 8-0 run to pull within one point with 10:34 remaining, but that was the closest the Hawks would get. A 20-6 Mount St. Mary’s run to conclude the game ultimately broke the back of Monmouth.

In those final ten minutes, Monmouth missed nine of their final 11 shots and ended the night with a now league worst 0.81 points per possession and 41.3% field goal percentage. Jesse Steele, in particular, still hasn’t found his stroke (shooting 26.8% from the floor for the season), yet Rice isn’t ready to take the ball out of his hands.

“Last year Jesse wasn’t in shape, last year Jesse didn’t try hard all the time, and Jesse had a great year for us last year,” said Rice. “Now Jesse has gotten in great shape, he’s put in more time on his game then he ever has since high school, he’s doing all the right things, he’s trying his best to be our leader, and the ball hasn’t fallen. But I told Jesse over and over and over, keep shooting the ball, son. When you score the way you score, it’s going to start happening at some point.”

Andrew Nicholas led the Hawks with 19 points, although he needed 19 shots to score those points. Despite the losing streak, Rice is still confident enough to believe his team will get through this rough patch and become a factor once again in the NEC.

“I like our team,” said Rice. “I probably messed in scheduling in having the three high major games in a row. We were playing at a high level before the Navy game and we lost our mojo a little bit.”

“They are great kids. If they weren’t buying in then it would be a different story, but our kids are bought in and we need some things to break for us, and I believe they will.”

After what appears to be a brief reprieve with St. Francis (PA) coming to the MAC, Monmouth will then embark on a difficult three game set with Robert Morris, St. Francis Brooklyn, and LIU Brooklyn. Those open looks need to fall soon, or Monmouth will find themselves in a deep, deep hole by late January.

Robert Morris, Wagner’s Jonathan Williams shine on NEC Saturday

Thanks to finals week, it has been a fairly light week of Northeast Conference basketball. With four games on the docket today, it was the first time in seven days that more than two NEC teams played on the same day. Therefore, I felt it was appropriate to briefly breakdown each game on the second to last Saturday before Christmas.

Wagner 77, Coppin State 65
It took a career game from senior Jonathan Williams (33 points, 17 rebounds, 3 steals) just to push this non-conference battle into overtime. Coppin State, who according to KenPom came into the matchup as a 90% underdog, used Wagner’s aggressive defense to their advantage by getting to the charity stripe an astonishing 22 more times than Wagner in regulation. Once Williams was able to will his team into overtime, however, Wagner’s defense and Marcus Burton took over. Burton quickly hit two three-pointers in the extra frame, and left little drama late (other than the lights going out) at the Spiro Center. All together, Williams and Burton (17 points) combined to score nearly 65% of the Seahawks’ total points. A big-time upset was averted, and as I always like to say, a win is a win. Hopefully for Wagner’s sake, Latif Rivers will soon return from a knee injury to add a much-needed dimension to the offense. Defensively, though, the team is clicking quite nicely. Mario Moody was once again impressive off the ball, registering seven rebounds, three steals, and three blocks in only 22 minutes.

St. John’s 77, St. Francis 60
The problems continued for Glenn Braica’s group, as the Terriers have fallen to 2-7 on the young season. Tabbed fifth in the NEC Coach’s Preseason Poll, St. Francis Brooklyn has really struggled in the backcourt and today was no exception, especially when faced with the superior athleticism of St. John’s. John shared his thoughts on the game here.

Loyola (MD) 79, Mount St. Mary’s 57
The Catholic in-state battle was over right after it started, as Jamion Christian witnessed the ugliest loss of his young career tonight in Baltimore. Loyola jumped out to a 33-11 lead, and never looked back, winning comfortably at home. The first half stats painted a brutally dim picture for the Mountaineers: seven field goals, eight turnovers, 15 personal fouls, and an awful shooting percentage of 24%. Even worse, the MAYHEM was anything but that, as the Mount secured their first steal of the game 35 minutes in. Kristijan Krajina was the lone bright spot for the Mount, scoring 14 points while corralling seven boards in only 15 minutes. Everyone else struggled mightily, including a player I recently praised, Rashad Whack. Even though a beat down like this never happens at a good time, I’m willing to bet Christian secretly preferred it happened now rather than during the conference season. Loyola continued its excellent non-conference run, pushing their record to 9-3. Erik Etherly, who was sidelined with a shoulder injury for five games, came back to contribute 16 points. Senior Robert Olsen tormented the Mount’s defense inside and out, with a game high 22 points.

Robert Morris 91, Duquesne 69
I saved the best for last. The Andy Toole and Jim Ferry reunion ended badly for the first year head coach of the Dukes, as Robert Morris cruised in the second half to win their fourth straight against Duquesne going away. After a close battle through one half, the Colonials were able to control the pace (something Toole couldn’t do against Ferry in last year’s NEC title game) and go on a decisive run. Velton Jones had one of his best games of the season with 22 points and six assists. Robert Morris’ defense forced 25 turnovers and made 51% of their shots, including 13 of 28 from behind the arc. The victory is the Colonials fourth straight and seventh overall and has them rolling into late December. Starting with their upset victory over Ohio, Toole’s squad has easily looked like the best team in the NEC. For what it’s worth, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi agrees, having pegged Robert Morris as a future 14 seed. That may be a tad bullish, but a road win over Arkansas later this month would certainly cement that future seeding.

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