Ten (plus one) Burning Questions Heading Into 2017-18 NEC Season

On Friday, the new college basketball season begins. In the Northeast Conference, after an offseason filled with elite players up-transferring, preseason injuries to some key players, one coaching change, a coach getting suspended for an exhibition game for arguing with his assistant, it is finally to put all the noise aside and get to what really matters, the games!

I came up with ten (plus one) burning questions that most NEC fans including myself have been debating in our minds and across social media on the eve of the 2017-18 season and share my thoughts on the NEC as the tip-off to the new season gets set to begin. Continue reading “Ten (plus one) Burning Questions Heading Into 2017-18 NEC Season”

Top NYC Players: 15-11

This post is a continuation of the Top 25 NYC Players series. Read up on 21-25 and 16-20 first.

15. Rakim Sanders, Fairfield — Sanders played the first three seasons of his career at Boston College, so when he got the chance to play with the Stags in the MAAC this season it was a sight. The 6’5″ swingman averaged 16.6 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He could’ve done even better, but he shot just 64% from the free throw line. Sanders played especially well against Iona, dropping 24, 22 and 26 points in three matches against the Gaels, two of which Fairfield won. The Stags lost in the semifinals of the CIT, but Sydney Johnson’s first season there was a success partially because of the consistent offensive support that Sanders was able to provide. It’s worth noting that Sanders had just one terrible game all season, a two-point effort on January 6, 2012 in a 73-60 loss to Siena.

14. Chris Gaston, Fordham — A double-double machine, you could make an argument that Gaston should be higher on this list. What holds him back in my mind is his lack of efficiency on offense. Yes, he scored 17.1 points per game, but he needed 15.2 shots per game to do it. Gaston though was trying to carry a pretty bad Rams offense through much of the season. Being the main focal point of every Atlantic 10 team’s defensive game plan certainly took its toll. Still, he had 16 double-doubles during the season, including 35 points and 16 rebounds in a 67-62 win late in the season over La Salle. The junior forward also had 18 points and 10 boards in Fordham’s win over then #21 Harvard and 23 and 17 in the Rams’ win over Georgia Tech.

13. D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s — Mike Dunlap seemed to be playing against loaded dice at times this season. The Red Storm’s cast of freshmen were certainly talented, but playing in the Big East with all those new players is never easy. One of the things that made it easier was the play of Harrison. A member of the All-Big East Rookie Team Harrison scored 16.8 points per game for St. John’s while shooting 36% from three and 80% from the free throw line. That’s impressive because the 6’3″ freshman shooting guard from Missouri City, Texas averaged 35.4 minutes per game. Harrison scored 20 plus points 12 times this season, including 25 points on 12 shots in a late December game against Providence. He also scored 21 at Duke, 23 versus Syracuse and 22 in a win over UCLA. Another player later on this list isn’t returning next season, but Harrison gives the Red Storm an excellent building block for the future.

12. Herb Pope, Seton Hall — Banging in the Big East isn’t easy, but Pope still managed to average a double-double this season for the Pirates with 15.1 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Like Gaston, Pope struggled a bit in his offensive efficiency, but he was even stronger on the boards. Pope did manage to shoot 47% from the field overall and he improved his free throw shooting to 62% during his senior season. For his efforts Pope was named the All-Big East Third Team. SHU will certainly miss his strength around the basket.

11. Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart — Every night the scouting report had in bold at the top “Stop Shane Gibson” as the No. 1 priority in the NEC. No one really managed to do it as the redshirt junior scored 22 points per game with the sick shooting line of 51%/43%/86% (FG%/3PT%/FT%). Those are the numbers of an elite scorer and that’s exactly what Gibson was in 2011-12. The Pioneers’ go-to guy he used 29% of his team’s possessions while on the court and still managed a 112.7 offensive rating. Gibson was named to the NEC First Team thanks to his efforts. Even the presence of Gibson though wasn’t enough to pull out a number of close games for the Pioneers this season. Sacred Heart was 4-8 in games decided by three points or less or in overtime. Then again, if not for Gibson the Pioneers probably wouldn’t have even been in such a spot. He scored 30 or more points four times this season, including a 41-point outburst in a one-point double-overtime loss to Mount St. Mary’s. Gibson was a special player that made every opponent nervous when he had the ball. He’ll be back with a vengeance in 2012-13.

Tomorrow kicks off the Top 10, which includes a number of Ivy Leaguers and a potential NBA Draft pick.

St. Francis (NY) finds a new way to win

St. Francis (NY)’s stunning NEC season continued on Saturday, but it wasn’t the typical formula for the Terriers. Even though the shots weren’t falling, SFC found a way to come back from an eight-point halftime deficit and grit out a victory on their final shot. Travis Nichols’ short put back off an offensive rebound of Brent Jones’ miss gave St. Francis a 58-56 victory over Sacred Heart at the Pope Center.

“He missed the shot and I wanted it more and I went to go for it and it made it in,” Nichols said about the final play.

That final shot also put a damper on a stellar 21-point, 12-board performance from SHU’s Shane Gibson. The star shooting guard was chased by Stefan Perunicic most of the night on Perunicic’s final regular season game at home. It took Gibson 17 shots to get the 21 points and he also committed five turnovers. It was an assist to Luis Montes to tie the game at 56 that was Gibson’s biggest play of the game.

“I felt [Perunicic] did as good a job as you could do on [Gibson],” said SFC head coach Glenn Braica. “The kid’s a great player.”

Gibson was just one of four players that scored in the game for the Pioneers. A game after playing great against LIU Brooklyn Justin Swidowski struggled against SFC. That forced Dave Bike to go small and play zone, a strategy that worked surprisingly well against a cold-shooting Terriers squad. SFC shot just 6-24 from three in the game. The Terriers didn’t score from the field during the final seven minutes of the first half.

But unlike most games where SFC has struggled to shoot the ball, the Terriers fought through it. Akeem Johnson was big inside with 16 points on 5-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 6-6 from the line. Perunicic added 11, Jones 10 (on 13 shots) and Nichols eight key points, including to big threes and the game-winner.

“We starting settling for jump shots,” Braica said. “Then we got it inside a couple times. I thought it got us going. We really didn’t get great shots. They did a good job. … We kind of weren’t ourselves tonight. We didn’t hit shots.”

The Terriers are now guaranteed of playing at least one more game in the Pope Center this season in the quarterfinals of the NEC tournament. Due to their head-to-head victory over Robert Morris, SFC is currently the third seed and would host one of Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut or Monmouth.

Nichols is excited for the postseason.

“I know this is our year this year,” he said.

Comparing Sacred Heart and St. Francis (NY)

I want to say that you should go check out this post by Ryan Peters over at Pioneer Pride that compares this season’s St. Francis (NY) team to the 2006-07 Sacred Heart Pioneers. It’s a really cool analysis and a nice walk down memory lane. Interesting side note: Those teams were very close in strength as well. St. Francis is at 193 in Pomeroy this season and Sacred Heart finished at 202 that season. The flip side is that SHU got it done with offense that season, but because of SFC’s fast pace no one realizes they’re really getting it done with a defense ranked fourth in the NEC. Great post and highly recommended reading.

LIU needs five more minutes to take down Sacred Heart

After Shane Gibson’s three to force overtime LIU Brooklyn could’ve just given up. The Blackbirds had come back from 11 down in the second half only to see their six-point lead with 35 seconds disappear. Instead LIU got even, fast, scoring the first 10 points of overtime to close out a 103-91 victory at the Wellness Center.

“I think the biggest thing was probably experience,” said Michael Culpo about what helped the Blackbirds in overtime. “We went into overtime in the finals last year so we weren’t that rattled coming into overtime. We just knew that we needed to pick it up and play better than them in that five minute segment.”

Culpo hit two threes during the initial flurry in overtime that sealed the game for LIU. That Blackbirds were up 91-81 by the time there was 3:25 remaining in the extra period. LIU’s largest lead of the game came with 36 seconds remaining in OT at 14.

The win gives LIU 20 victories on the season and keeps the Blackbirds one game up on Wagner with three NEC games left to play. Along with Robert Morris’ victory over Bryant it also gives the conference three 20-game winners for the second time in league history.

Things didn’t come easy for the Blackbirds. Jim Ferry shortened his rotation down to just seven players as thanks to the play of center Justin Swidowski, 23 points, and Gibson, 24 points, SHU kept the pressure on all game. The Pioneers also used a 2-3 zone to slow down the game’s tempo for stretches and stay within striking distance.

“I thought Sacred Heart did a good job of trying to control the tempo of this game,” Ferry said.

One of the side effects to the zone was a return to form for Culpo. The senior had been struggling lately, going 5 for 15 over his past four games, but he stepped up and went 6-10 from beyond the arc against SHU and scored 20 points.

“I don’t think anything was any different. My teammates never lose confidence in me,” Culpo said. “They’re always looking for me. As of late I’ve been struggling shooting the ball, but I’ve been in the gym getting extra shots up.”

Jamal Olasewere recorded a double-double again, with 27 points and 11 boards, and Julian Boyd added 20 points and nine boards, but rebounding will be a priority before physical Quinnipiac comes to Brooklyn for Senior Day on Saturday afternoon. The Bobcats are coming in off a 64-56 home loss to St. Francis (NY) on Thursday night.

“I’m just expecting a physical, intense game like every LIU-Quinnipiac game has been for the past four years,” Ferry said. “They’re all tough, grind-it-out games. I think we’re fortunate we’re at home. We’re going to have to play better than we played tonight to win that game.”

Fun facts you should know about the NEC

This post may sound like I was smart enough to read the weekly notes from the NEC where Jamal Olasewere was named the co-player of the week. If that’s the case that’s fine because here are some fun tidbits that the conference office figured out the time to share and I thought were pretty awesome. Note: If you think you could’ve written this post it’s probably true. Read the full notes here.

Fun fact #1: This could be just the second time in conference history that the NEC has three 20-game winners. Wagner has 21 victories, LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris each currently have 19 and seem good bets to get that final one. The last time this happened? 1995-96 when Marist, Mount St. Mary’s and Monmouth all cracked 20 wins. The NEC put two teams in the NIT that season along with an NCAA bid. It’s certainly possible that Wagner, LIU and RMU will all get postseason invitations of some sort (NCAA/NIT/CBI/CIT) when this season is over.

Fun fact #2: Wagner’s 21-4 record is the reverse of its 4-21 record just two years ago. That’s ridiculous. In the past 19 seasons Wagner has won 20 games two other times in 2002-03 (the school’s only NCAA appearance) and 2007-08.

Fun fact #3: Olasewere went 11-11 from the field to earn Battle of Brooklyn MVP honors. His 11-11 from the field tied Luke Apfeld of Vermont for the most made shots without a miss in a game this season. Note: Apfeld was also 1-1 from the free throw line and scored 24 points. Olasewere was just 9-12 from the line. Of course Olasewere also made his 11 shots against St. Francis (NY) whereas Apfeld was playing Towson.

Fun fact #4: Shane Gibson of Sacred Heart currently has the highest per game scoring average in conference play for all NEC players since 1998 at 25.9 points per game. I can only imagine that will probably go up in a shootout against LIU Brooklyn on Thursday, a game I’m excited to be attending. Gibson is using 28.7% of SHU’s possessions (72nd in the country) and has a 113.3 offensive rating (313, but 11th amongst players using at least 28% of their team’s possessions). He’s carrying that offense.

Fun opinion #1 (Technically not a fact): Kyle Vinales of Central Connecticut is the leading scorer amongst NEC freshman and probably the leader for the NEC’s Rookie of the Year award, but I’d take two players – St. Francis (NY)’s Jalen Cannon and Robert Morris’ Lucky Jones – over him.

Oh yeah, NYC NEC still lives as thanks to Wagner’s two wins over Mount St. Mary’s last week the three city schools are now 29-1 against NEC competition. The road gets a little tougher this week as St. Francis has to go to suddenly scorching Quinnipiac and LIU Brooklyn hosts the Bobcats on Saturday.

Breakdown of Stony Brook’s loss to Sacred Heart

Stony Brook lost at Sacred Heart on Tuesday night, 73-64. The Seawolves got down in the first half and never recovered. The game provides a learning opportunity. The Pioneers are the first team near the level of an America East Conference team that Stony Brook has played against. What then went wrong tonight?

Continue reading “Breakdown of Stony Brook’s loss to Sacred Heart”