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

St. Francis Brooklyn Outlasts Colgate to Break Losing Streak

It sure as hell wasn’t pretty for St. Francis Brooklyn, especially after trailing the three win Colgate Red Raiders by three points at the conclusion of the first half. But a win is a win and these days, St. Francis head coach Glenn Braica will certainly take it. Continue reading “St. Francis Brooklyn Outlasts Colgate to Break Losing Streak”

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.

Quick thoughts from St. John’s vs. St. Francis (NY)

The battle of the boroughs was a pretty one-sided affair for the boys from Queens. St. John’s ran out to an early lead and had a comfortable working margin for the entire game against St. Francis (NY) before capturing the 63-48 victory. Below is the shot chart from the second half and some thoughts about the game in general.

Continue reading “Quick thoughts from St. John’s vs. St. Francis (NY)”

SGOTW: St. Francis (NY) at Hofstra

This week’s Saturday Game of the Week features two local teams, Hofstra and St. Francis (NY) battling it out on Long Island. The Pride are coming off a tough loss to Oregon State earlier in the week, but they started the season out by defeating Long Island. The Terriers have lost two close games by a combined 10 points, is this the game St. Francis finally gets over the hump?

Continue reading “SGOTW: St. Francis (NY) at Hofstra”

Kates and Nichols win awards

The season has started and awards have started to be handed out. Congratulations to Manhattan’s Donovan Kates, who was named the MAAC Rookie of the Week for his 10-point performance against NJIT, and Hofstra’s Nathaniel Lester, who was named the CAA Player of the Week after scoring 33 points against Long Island. Also, Travis Nichols, who was named the NEC’s Player of the Week by College Sports Madness for his 25-point, 14-rebound game in the overtime loss to Seton Hall on Saturday.

Saturday Round Up

Be sure to check out my recap of the Princeton-Wagner game below, but there were four other games involving area teams yesterday, including three against Big East teams. St. Francis (NY) came oh so close to scoring the first major upset of the season, but fell 75-71 in overtime to Seton Hall last night. Read more about that game and the other three contests after the jump.

Continue reading “Saturday Round Up”