Preseason Awards – All-NEC First Team

Throughout the week, Big Apple Buckets will post their NEC preseason awards prior to the NEC Media Day on Tuesday, October 23rd. Today, we list our consensus selections for the All-Northeast Conference First Team. For a summary of our All-NEC Third Team, click here, and for a summary of our All-NEC Second Team, click here.

Continue reading “Preseason Awards – All-NEC First Team”

Robert Morris preparing for life after Velton Jones

Walk up to any college basketball fan with a limited knowledge of the Northeast Conference and ask him or her to tell you something about Robert Morris basketball. What would their answer be?

For starters, they may recall the Colonial’s near-upset over the two-seeded Villanova Wildcats in the 2010 NCAA tournament. Robert Morris was a whisker away from giving the NEC their first ever NCAA tournament win (excluding play-in games).

The second thing the fan may recall about Robert Morris? None other than senior leader and All-NEC first teamer Velton Jones.

Because of his leadership, passion, and undeniable motor on the hardwood, Jones is revered by most college basketball enthusiasts. More than likely, Jones is the most well-known active player in the NEC, even though fellow stars Julian Boyd and Shane Gibson possess better overall statistics, and in Boyd’s case, more accolades. Still, the fiery Philly native deserves the publicity he receives, because he’s the heart and soul of a team that preaches toughness, defense, and chemistry. Everyone is fully aware of the value Jones brings to Robert Morris, both on and off the court.

With Jones set to graduate next May, one would assume Robert Morris would probably take a step back. How could they make up for the departure of their senior leader without falling out of contention?

Meet Colonial backup point guard Anthony Myers. A junior this season, Myers may be the best second-string player in the conference. Last season, he averaged 23 minutes per game and was in the NEC top 10 in assist rate (26.6%), steal rate (3.3%) and three-point percentage (40.7%). A closer look at Myers’ sophomore stats reveals how underrated he is, especially when you compare his numbers to Jones’ statistics his sophomore season:

Velton Jones, 2010-11: 101.8 ORtg*, 45% EFG, 29.8% assist rate, 3.2% steal rate, 25.7% usage rate
Anthony Myers, 2011-12: 111.5 ORtg, 51% EFG, 26.6% assist rate, 3.3% steal, 15.8% usage rate
*Offensive rating – estimates the number of points produced per 100 possessions

The numbers show us that Myers and Jones are closer than you think, at least in terms of value on the floor. With a higher usage rate and the ability to get to the free throw line, it’s expected Jones will handle the ball a majority of the time this season, but head coach Andy Toole enjoys having two strong point guards on the roster. It’s certainly a nice luxury to have, especially when they’re on the floor at the same time.

“With [Jones and Myers] being playmakers on the floor together, I think sometimes that helps our offensive flow,” said Toole. “And I would expect those guys will be on the floor together again this year…and especially coming down the stretch ending games. They are really aggressive, strong ball handlers, they are both physical and solid defenders who understand what we are trying to do.”

This offseason, Myers has been working hard to improve various facets of his game, in particular his shot and his aggression. Sometimes last season, the reserved guard might have been a touch too passive when opportunities arose.

“I’m looking forward to and Anthony is looking forward to being more aggressive and making more plays,” said Toole. “I want him to be more aggressive getting the ball down the floor. I want him more aggressive in our motion offense. I want him to be more aggressive all around.”

Given the talent of Myers, who once had verbally committed to Fordham, it’s safe to expect an improvement in his already impressive numbers. Myers’ game and statistics, however, are overlooked in large part because of the player Myers is behind on the roster.

When asked if he’s comfortable handing the starting point guard reins over to Myers once Jones graduates, Toole didn’t hesitate in his response. “There’s no doubt. [Anthony] has done everything we’ve ever asked of him. The biggest challenge for him that following year – and it’s very premature for me to be talking about it now – is the vocal aspect of things. He provides a great example, he shows a great leadership in his work ethic and in his understanding of what we’re doing. I just think he’s just has to get a little more vocal and a little more energetic in practice as well as in games, to give guys something to feed off of.”

Toole then further explained why Velton is … well Velton. “That’s one of the things with Velton that makes him unique a little bit, is his demeanor and his toughness that he gives to the rest of his teammates. Our team has great confidence in him – as they do for [Anthony] – but I think [Anthony] has to do a little more to have everybody understand that he’s going to be the one leading the charge next year.”

While Myers is running the team his senior season, Robert Morris will have freshmen Britton Lee and Kavon Stewart on the roster, backing Myers up. Both players are considered excellent gets for Robert Morris, yet NCAA rules prevent Toole from commenting on recruits who haven’t signed a National Letter of Intent.

Add it all up, and Robert Morris is set up nicely once the great Velton Jones graduates. The Colonials are obviously in win-now mode, but with Myers leading the charge next season, and a couple of talented freshmen behind him, it may be premature to knock Robert Morris down a level for the 2013-14 season. If Myers can continue to progress – and I expect he will – perhaps he will get some of the recognition he deserves, but only once Jones leaves campus for good.

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

The Best Mid-Major Guards

Today Jon Rothstein, whose work I actually really like for the most part, wrote Ten Mid-Major Guards to Watch Next Season on CBS New York. It’s worth noting that he didn’t explicitly say the 10 best, but, considering he ranked them 1-10, it is sort of implied. Most of the names on the list make a ton of sense. I mean Isiah Canaan was a Second Team All-American last season and has his own Wikipedia page. I think he deserves to be #1. But some of the other names on the list make me think I’ve slipped into an episode of Punk’d.

Continue reading “The Best Mid-Major Guards”

LIU is dancing again

Often the sequel doesn’t live up to its original. That was the case on Wednesday night at the WRAC, but LIU Brooklyn is just as happy with the ending.

The Blackbirds captured their second straight NEC tournament title with a 90-73 home victory over Robert Morris in front of a jubilant sellout crowd.

Unlike last season, when the Blackbirds needed overtime to secure the title, LIU took much of the drama out of this game early. RMU’s star point guard Velton Jones went down hard after a layup just a minute into the game. He returned, but never really seemed the same.

In the meantime the Blackbirds went about establishing a game plan that was far removed from the one they failed to execute when they lost at Robert Morris during the regular season. Midway through the first half the Colonials looked to be in control, up 19-15, but the Blackbirds exploded for 13-straight points to take a lead they’d never relinquish.

The reason LIU was able to hang onto the lead was the spectacular play of sophomore point guard Jason Brickman. Early in the season the Blackbirds struggled a bit while Brickman worked to define his role in the offense. As conference play started he seemed to get more comfortable taking on a scoring role as well as a playmaking one. In the NEC tournament that experience was on full display.

“I think just playing more games and getting practice in,” Brickman said about how he turned it around. “Just getting chemistry together in my first year as a starter and playing with these guys more minutes.”

Brickman set single game, championship and tournament records for assists as the Blackbirds rolled through the competition for the title. In the championship he had 18 points and 11 assists. While teammate Julian Boyd was named tournament MVP, he gave his credit for all his success.

“I definitely wouldn’t have got player of the year. I wouldn’t get all the accolades and we would not be where we are without him,” Boyd said.

As Jones struggled with injured ribs the Colonials struggled to find anyone that could contain LIU’s dynamic triggerman. Whether it was getting into the lane for layup, or firing a pass out onto the wing Brickman made the right decision more often than not during his 35 minutes on the court.

“He was incredible,” said RMU head coach Andy Toole about Brickman. “He has an uncanny ability to read a defense.”

Brickman said he developed that ability by watching NBA point guards like Steve Nash and Jason Kidd play. Knicks super fan Spike Lee, who was in attendance on Wednesday, would certainly approve.

Now that LIU has conquered the mountain of back-to-back NEC titles, a new challenge begins. The NEC hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2008 when Mount St. Mary’s defeated Coppin State in the play-in game. Next weekend LIU will have a chance to change that, hopefully as a 15 seed or better. Whatever higher seed awaits is in for a difficult challenge. Brickman, Boyd and Jamal Olasewere can cause matchup problems for any team.

“One of my goals at the beginning of the season was to win a game in the NCAA tournament,” Brickman said. “I think with a lot of guys back from last year we have experience. I think we’re going to be a lot more comfortable going in.”

Now they’ll have that shot.

Four Questions for the NEC Championship

Tonight on ESPN2 LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris will meet again with the NEC title, and the NCAA tournament automatic bid that comes with it, on the line. Last season the Blackbirds pulled out the home victory in overtime. Earlier this season though the Colonials got the 75-66 win at the Charles L. Sewall Center. Looking back on that game here are four key questions and things to watch.

1. Will someone else step up? — The last time these two teams played Julian Boyd scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Jamal Olasewere added 18 points and that was about it. The Blackbirds scored 66 points that night, the third fewest this season and the fewest when Boyd was completely healthy. Michael Culpo was 0-10 from the field and the LIU shot 3-16 from three as a team. That can’t happen again. LIU’s defense just isn’t good enough to score fewer than 70 points and win. Thus someone else is going to have to step up. Whether it’s Jason Brickman getting involved offensively, C.J. Garner slicing down the lane or Culpo knocking down jumpers, a third scorer must emerge.

2. What happens at the free throw line? — One thing that might help LIU’s offense is that the Blackbirds will be playing at home. Last time LIU shot 19-20 from the free throw line, but Robert Morris actually had more attempts, going 17-27 from the line. LIU has lost all three games in which its opponent shot more free throws (at Hofstra, at Norfolk State and at Robert Morris). How the officials call the game will impact this contest just as much, as it completely destroyed the rhythm of RMU’s semifinal against Wagner. If officials call the touch fouls it could be a long night for the Colonials. During the conference season RMU was the worst in the NEC in defensive free throw rate. LIU was the best at getting to the line. A parade of free throw shooters wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing, but it’d certainly get the job done.

3. Who guards Velton Jones? — Jones scored 25 points in the win over Wagner, including 14-16 from the free throw line. He also scored 23 points the last time these two teams met. Jones is RMU’s heart. If you can contain him there’s always a shot. Robert Morris is 2-3 when Jones scores fewer than 10 points this season. A big, physical point guard he’s a bad matchup for LIU. It’s likely the Blackbirds come out in a zone and hope that RMU has a cold shooting night from three.

4. Can LIU hang onto the basketball? — At the beginning of the season it seemed like LIU couldn’t stop itself from turning the ball over. When LIU turns the ball over on more than 25% of its possessions there’s a ton of vulnerability. Last time against RMU that number was 26.9%. Brickman, Garner and Olasewere each had four turnovers in the last game and Boyd had five. That can’t happen tonight.

Bonus tip: LIU was the best three-point shooting team in the NEC during conference play at 37.5%. Robert Morris was the worst team at defending the three during conference play allowing opponents to shoot 39.1%. If playing at home is the magic formula from beyond the arc it should help the Blackbirds.

Extra bonus tip: Check out these articles on potential NEC seeding and the NEC title game by the numbers from Colonials Corner.

This should be a great game. If you can’t make it to Brooklyn be sure to watch.

Wagner’s season ends too quickly

In stunningly swift fashion a special Wagner season that had taken months to build came to a crashing end on Sunday afternoon against Robert Morris at the Spiro Sports Center in the NEC semifinals. Robert Morris’ Velton Jones controlled play and led the Colonials to a 71-64 win.

The game was a story of two halves. In the first the officials dominated play, calling 29 personal fouls. Both teams struggled offensively, but Wagner came out of the first 20 minutes with a 31-29 lead on its home court.

But at the opening of the second half it all disappeared. RMU scored 10 of the first 11 points of the second half to build an eight-point lead, 40-32, and never looked back, pushing the lead to as many as nine and withstanding a late Wagner charge for the victory.

“We’ve been a great start of second half team all year,” said Wagner head coach Dan Hurley. “We weren’t tonight. We had some opportunities for some finishes around the basket. We could’ve maintained control of the game. We didn’t make the plays. They made the plays.”

Jones was the best player on the court. Robert Morris’ junior point guard 25 points on 5-10 shooting and 14-16 from the free throw line. He picked up three fouls in the first half, but managed to avoid picking up his fourth until 1:24 remained in the game. It was a foul he drew against Kenneth Ortiz with 1:03 remaining, the shot clock expiring and the Colonials hanging onto a three-point lead that was the biggest play of the game. He calmly knocked down all three free throws and RMU finished out the game.

For Wagner it was the culmination of two seasons of hard work under Hurley coming to their first crest. The Seahawks finish with a record of 25-6 (15-3), a place no one could’ve imagined them being two seasons ago.

“Coach came in here with a style two years ago and we bought it right away,” said senior Tyler Murray. “To make a such transition, it’s incredible.”

Part of the resurgence has been the leadership and play of Murray. He scored 15 points on 6-11 shooting in 26 minutes on Saturday before fouling out. Sophomore Latif Rivers led the way with 18 points, most of them coming on 11-12 shooting from the line.

Unfortunately, Wagner didn’t have the post play to complement those two against Robert Morris’ talented trio of Mike McFadden, Lijah Thompson and Russell Johnson. Thompson in particular helped RMU dominate on the boards with eight offensive rebounds. The Colonials grabbed 21 offensive rebounds and won the overall rebounding battle 45-30. If Thompson had been able to make more of his 10 point-blank shots RMU would’ve had an even bigger cushion to work with.

The Colonials also displayed the maturity that comes with being in this situation multiple times in the last four seasons. As RMU struggled with fouls in the first half they didn’t let the game get away. In the second Andrew Toole expertly shuffled his lineup. The Colonials committed 30 fouls in the game, but not one player fouled out. Six players ended up with four fouls.

“I think [the experience] helps us a lot,” Jones said. “We’ve played in big games like this throughout our years here. I think that helped us a lot to be able to finish out the game and be composed even though they made a run at the end.”

On the other side the youthful Seahawks often forced things that weren’t there in transition. Wagner had just four fast break points off 12 RMU turnovers and shot 27-40 from the line. It’s those types of things that Hurley will have to continue to work on.

“Sometimes you want it so badly, you get in your own way,” Hurley said. “It’s tough to take, but you’re just so proud of who these guys are.”

Hopefully Wagner will get a bid to the NIT. The Seahawks, with road wins over Pittsburgh, Princeton and Penn and just one bad loss (at Central Connecticut) certainly deserve to be considered. Hurley hopes his team will get that chance.

“We hope for the opportunity to play in [the NIT] because of everything that we’ve achieved throughout the year,” Hurley said. “I think we’ve earned it. Hopefully the committee feels the same way.”

It’ll be another opportunity build towards what looks like a bright future.

Final tempo-free NEC, plus awards

All the games have been played and the final weekend provided a big shake up! Not only did LIU Brooklyn fall at Monmouth, a bunch of other teams got knocked out too. Fascinatingly enough, Robert Morris almost caught LIU after the Blackbirds’ disaster, but since it only mattered in tempo-free world LIU will still hang onto home court throughout the conference tournament, which at least gives Jim Ferry’s team a fighting chance at repeating as champions. I’ve also included my All-NEC First and Second Teams and conference awards at the end of this post.

Continue reading “Final tempo-free NEC, plus awards”

Tempo-free NEC: What to make of St. Francis (NY)

St. Francis (NY) is the surprise of the NEC season. After upsetting Robert Morris at the Sewall Center, in pretty convincing fashion, the Terriers sit tied for second place with Wagner. Both of those teams are hanging out right behind LIU Brooklyn in the traditional standings. The tempo-free standings though continue to make us wonder if this is all a mirage.

Continue reading “Tempo-free NEC: What to make of St. Francis (NY)”

Robert Morris reels LIU Brooklyn back into NEC race

Winning at Robert Morris was going to be a difficult task for LIU Brooklyn. The Colonials are one of the more talented teams in the NEC and guard Velton Jones has been on a roll lately. It was Jones and the rest of the RMU backcourt that outplayed Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner and Michael Culpo and led the Colonials to a 75-66 win that tightened up the NEC race.

Continue reading “Robert Morris reels LIU Brooklyn back into NEC race”

Q&A about Robert Morris with Colonials Corner

Coming into NEC play it looked like the Robert Morris Colonials were one of the teams to beat. Even without Karon Abraham, Andrew Toole had built a team that managed to take out La Salle, Duquesne and Ohio during non-conference play. Then NEC play started and things got a bit dicier, having just escaped Monmouth 81-73 in overtime, the Colonials sit at 6-2 in the conference with LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis (NY) coming to visit this week. Andrew Chiappazzi of offered his insight into RMU and what has happened this season.

Continue reading “Q&A about Robert Morris with Colonials Corner”