NEC Semifinals Preview: E-Mail Discussion Style

Rather then give the fans your typical NEC Semifinal preview, John and I had a little discussion via e-mail to talk about the upcoming matchups this Saturday. In case you’re living under a rock, here are the semifinal games:

Saturday, March 9th, Noon: #3 LIU Brooklyn at #2 Wagner
Saturday, March 9th, 2:30 PM: #5 Mount St. Mary’s at #1 Robert Morris Continue reading “NEC Semifinals Preview: E-Mail Discussion Style”

NEC Tournament First Round: Recaps and Highlights

Given all of the so-called parity in the NEC this season, several teams expected to finish in the upper third of the league did just that. No one was all that surprised to find Robert Morris, Wagner and LIU Brooklyn hosting home playoff games, with Bryant serving as the Cinderella story of the group. All four clubs won at least 12 NEC games; therefore KenPom pegged each as moderate to heavy favorites for tonight’s matchups. Frankly, it isn’t all that shocking given the numbers listed below, courtesy of NEC Associate Commissioner Ron Ratner:

  • Home teams have posted a 18-2 record in the quarterfinals over the last five years.
  • All four home teams hosting tonight were a combined 43-11 in their friendly confines before tonight’s action.
  • In the last seven seasons, the #1, #2, and #3 seeded teams of the tournament were 21-0 versus their quarterfinals competition.

In other words, history was not on the underdog’s side. But this is why we play the games, so allow us to recap and highlight the first round of the fabulous NEC tournament.

#1 Robert Morris 75, #8 St. Francis Brooklyn 57
History was certainly against the Terriers heading into this one, with Robert Morris compiling an exceptional NEC tournament record of 10-2 in the previous four seasons. St. Francis did nothing to thwart that trend, as the Terriers went quietly into the night never once threatening to become the first #8 seed to win since 1984. Robert Morris was dominant on the defensive end, forcing 16 turnovers and holding Glenn Braica’s club to 0.88 points per possession (PPP). The Colonials are now 12-1 on the season when they hold their conference opponents to under 1.00 PPP. Karvel Anderson, bum wrist and all, scored a game high 20 points with four rainmakers. Senior Russell Johnson registered 19 points and seven rebounds, while Lucky Jones also grabbed seven caroms to go along with 16 points. Jalen Cannon and Dre Calloway scored an efficient 29 points on 14 shots, but the rest of the Terrier roster only managed to make nine of 33 shot attempts. St. Francis concludes their season with a final record of 12-18.

#5 Mount St. Mary’s 75, #4 Bryant 69
Mount St. Mary’s continued their hot streak by winning their eighth straight game to stun the Bryant Bulldogs, 75-69, in front of a packed house in Smithfield, RI. It was the first playoff win for the Mount since the days of Milan Brown, thanks to a second half surge that saw the Mount outscore their opponent, 47-34. The Bulldogs, led by Alex Francis and Vlad Kondratyev’s combined 20 first half points, led at the break by seven. But Jamion Christian’s defense attacked in the second half, mounting a comeback fueled by nine Bulldog turnovers, some clutch shooting, and severe foul trouble by Bryant. Overall, it wasn’t a great shooting night for the Mount, but the team made a season high 26 of 27 free throws to provide separation at the end. Four Mountaineers scored in double figures, led by Rashad Whack’s 19 points paired with eight rebounds. It was Christian’s first playoff win of his career, and now he’ll get a chance for a second victory at the Chuck on Saturday afternoon. Only five players scored for Bryant, who found themselves in severe foul trouble throughout. Alex Francis logged a game high 25 points.

#3 LIU Brooklyn 91, #6 Quinnipiac 83
For the second straight season, Tom Moore’s Bobcats fell to LIU in the NEC playoffs. Quinnipiac had second half leads in both games, but failed to hold on. After leading by as many as nine points in this one, LIU embarked on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 75 all. From there, a back and forth battle ensued leading to six players eventually fouling out. But in the end, LIU Brooklyn’s experience pulled through thanks to C.J. Garner’s 30 points. Despite playing only 25 minutes due to foul trouble, NEC POY Jamal Olasewere scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds, and handed out four assists. Quinnipiac’s season likely comes to an end (barring an unlikely invitation from the CIT or CBI), but Moore can rest assured that Ousmane Drame should be a dominant force down low next season. Drame scored 23 points in the defeat and ends his season averaging 14.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest over the final 12 games. Senior Jamee Jackson finishes his career with 10 points and nine rebounds. For Ray Curren’s guest post about the game go here.

#2 Wagner 72, #7 Central Connecticut 50
Wagner turned back the clock and played some Dan Hurley inspired defense to smother CCSU from the opening tip in a dominating first round victory. Led by Jonathan Williams’ 20 points and six rebounds, the Seahawks built a commanding 14 point lead at the half after holding CCSU to only 22% shooting. Things didn’t get any better for Howie Dickenman’s kids, as they shot 25% and committed 11 turnovers versus only four assists for the game. Kyle Vinales and Matthew Hunter combined to miss 25 of their 35 shots, with the more athletic and deeper Seahawks pestering the Blue Devils all night. Offensively, it wasn’t a great effort for Bashir Mason’s Seahawks, but they did just enough to comfortably win their 11th home game of the season. Like Christian, Bashir Mason is now in the win column for the NEC playoffs. Not bad at all for a 28-year-old.

Top Performances of the Night
C.J. Garner, LIU Brooklyn – The senior was the man with Jamal Olasewere helplessly watching from the bench, scoring 17 of his game high 30 points in the second half.
Russell Johnson, Robert Morris – The most consistent frontcourt presence for Andy Toole all season shined once again, filling up the stat sheet with 19 points, eight rebounds, and five steals. As far as game efficiency ratings are concerned, tonight was the best game of Johnson’s career.

Biggest Surprise of the Night
Mount Mayhem – After trailing by seven points at the half, Mount St. Mary’s defense dug in and shutdown the best offense of the NEC for the second half. The Mount held Bryant to only 1.00 PPP and 40.7% from the floor for the final 20 minutes, which may not seem like much, until you realize Bryant was scoring at a 1.14 PPP rate and shooting 47.9% for the NEC season.

NEC Semifinals Schedule
Saturday, March 9th, Noon: #3 LIU Brooklyn at #2 Wagner
Saturday, March 9th, 2:30 PM: #5 Mount St. Mary’s at #1 Robert Morris

Our NEC Individual Awards for the 2012-13 Season

Rather than have John and I release our consensus NEC individual awards, we decided to give each of us a say in who we would choose. As you’ll see, there was some disagreement for a couple of the categories, and we here at Big Apple Buckets support the First Amendment! Onto the five major awards… Continue reading “Our NEC Individual Awards for the 2012-13 Season”

NEC Week 2: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Week two of the NEC season has come and gone, clearing up the conference picture just a bit. The contenders are slowly beginning to separate themselves from the pretenders, but as we expect to be the case for the entire season, the NEC should be just as unpredictable from start to finish. Through 24 conference games, the home team has only gone 13-11, another indication that any team can win on any given night. Let’s sift through the positive and negative developments of the week.

The Good

  • Back to Normal in Moon Township – After enduring a surprising two game slide to open up conference play, the Colonials responded to Andy Toole’s challenge: play defense and compete with maximum effort and toughness. Robert Morris did just that during their New Jersey road trip, soundly beating Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth by 34 and 15 points, respectively. Neither game was ever in question, as the Colonials held their opponents to 0.84 points allowed per possession. The Colonials received significant contributions throughout the roster, highlighted by upperclassmen Russell Johnson and Coron Williams. Johnson, who has struggled in the past with his consistency, filled up the stat sheet as of late, registering 17 points, 21 rebounds, 11 assists (against only one turnover), and six steals in his last two games. The sharp shooting Williams has been potent from behind the arc, draining 12 of his 17 long-range jumpers this past week.
  • Officially Among the Elite – It’s time to stop being surprised by the Bulldogs’ success; they simply are for real. In four conference games – three on the road – Bryant has scored 1.15 points per possession, in large part thanks to unsung floor general Frankie Dobbs. The loyal senior has masterfully run Tim O’Shea’s offense by scoring (14.4 ppg) when necessary, while keeping his talented teammates involved (4.2 apg, 2.0 A/TO) as well. Down in the low block, Alex Francis continues to torment opposing defenses. On Saturday versus CCSU, the junior posted 26 points and a career high 18 rebounds. Throw in Starks, Maynard, and O’Shea and you have a lethal starting five. Ken Pomeroy agrees; Bryant is now rated #169 (out of 347 D-I teams) after beginning the season at #290. That is one heck of an improvement in only 15 games played.
  • Tough Terriers – Since their lopsided losses to Stony Brook and St. John’s this past December, St. Francis Brooklyn has won five of their last six contests. The Terriers impressively went into Spiro Sports Center and upset Wagner by holding the Seahawks to 0.80 points per possession. In fact, defense has been the major culprit for St. Francis’ recent run, as they are the only team to hold all four of their NEC opponents to under 1.00 points per possession. It also helps that Travis Nichols has been heating up recently. In their two most recent wins, Nicholas averaged 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. When he is able to produce from behind the arc (4-9 from three-point range versus Wagner), Glenn Braica’s offense becomes that much better. With home games versus FDU and Monmouth coming up, St. Francis could find themselves with five wins after three weeks of conference play. That notion seemed far-fetched a month ago when the Terriers were 2-7.
  • The Youth Movement – It hasn’t exactly been the year of the NEC freshmen so far (I’ll have more on that in the near future), but recently two frontcourt novices have emerged as important contributors for their respective teams. In Brooklyn, E.J. Reed has taken advantage of increased playing time with Boyd’s season-ending injury by scoring 15.6 points per game in his last five games. The athletic 6’6″ freshman has shown a propensity toward fouling (he has committed 6.9 fouls per 40 minutes), yet he’s infused some much-needed energy on the offensive glass and in the defensive post. Further north in Connecticut, Brandon Peel made a name for himself in New Britain when he put together a monster 17 point, 17 rebound, and four block performance against Sacred Heart last Thursday. Since being named as a starter in Howie Dickenman’s lineup, Peel has grabbed an average of 11.5 rebounds per game, relegating senior Joe Efase to the bench. It should only get better for the high-motored Reed and Peel in the coming weeks as they elevate themselves into the NEC Rookie of the Year discussion (along with St. Francis freshman Stephon Mosley).

The Bad

  • Still a Work in Progress – There’s a lot to be encouraged about if you’re a long suffering FDU Knights fan, but the second week of conference play probably wasn’t what their fans could have envisioned. Sure, they split the two game home stand against the Pennsylvania teams, but they never had a chance versus Robert Morris and barely edged out a victory over the feisty, yet flawed and inexperienced St. Francis Red Flash. Two NEC wins in four tries is a nice start for a team that went 3-26 last year, but you can bet Greg Vetrone is cognizant his team has been hideous at defending. In 16 games, FDU has given up 113.8 points per 100 possessions, bad enough for 10th worst in the nation. With a difficult slate of NEC games coming up, the Knights will need to dial up the defensive effort – and reduce their 23.6% turnover rate – to become a factor in this wonderfully competitive conference.

The Ugly

  • Unchartered Territory for Quinnipiac – With only one season left to earn that elusive NEC postseason title and NCAA automatic bid, it’s becoming more apparent that Tom Moore may fall short in that regard. For the first time in the Moore era, the Bobcats find themselves at 5-10. Quinnipiac is inventing new ways to lose each game, but the most troubling issues have been their poor free throw shooting (once again) and their inconsistency to score and respond when other teams make a run. Overall, the offense has performed better of late (1.18 points per possession), whereas the defense has been exceptionally porous (1.18 points allowed per possession). The optimistic approach for a Bobcat fan is to recall their team’s early NEC slump last season when they climbed out of a 2-5 hole to finish with a 10-8 NEC record. This season however, I’d be a little more skeptical that Tom Moore can somehow turn the ship around without any true playmakers. I’ll have more on their issues in the near future.
  • The Mayhem Mess – Jamion Christian is one of the most positive coaches in the conference, but even the first year head coach has to be shaking his head over his team’s recent play. The numbers have become particularly ugly during their 2-6 skid: the Mountaineers are allowing opponents to shoot 43.9% from three (worst in the nation) and 59.3% from inside the arc (2nd worst in the nation). In addition, their interior players – Krajina, Barber, Danaher – aren’t intimidating opposing big men with their puny block percentages and heavy foul rates. With an upcoming schedule that immediately includes Bryant, CCSU, Wagner, and Robert Morris, the defense needs to improve in a hurry. Right now when the Mount gives up more than 1.00 points per possession, they are 2-8 on the season. That must change if the Mount wants to get back into the NEC postseason.

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