Folks, I know it's difficult to believe, but we are now halfway through the conference schedule. It's no longer a small sample size; teams are what they are.
The thing we've learned? That never again should we pay attention to the pre-season NEC coaches poll, or any poll for that matter. The Northeast conference has some head guys who can really coach, but apparently they cannot prognosticate.
RMU? Picked 5th. Sacred Heart? 9th. St. Francis-Brooklyn? 7th. My wife probably could have done a better job by picking teams based on their nicknames ("Terriers are cute!").
Let's get to it:
Tier 1- The All By Themselves Tier
1. Robert Morris (7-1) If you saw this coming, raise your hand. OK, if you do not live in western Pennsylvania, then put your hand down, because you are lying.
The Colonials are on a 4-game winning streak after taking care of business against Sacred Heart and Wagner at home. They boast the league’s best defense (by a wide margin), and are currently tied for the best efficiency margin in the league (8.4). They are two games clear of 2nd place St. Francis-Brooklyn, and have been the best team in 2019 no matter which objective measurement you’d like to use.
Tier 2- The Teams Built With Quick Guards Tier
2. Sacred Heart (4-4) The Pios have the 3rd best offense and the 2nd best defense, yet are just 4-4? It’s a bit deceiving, however; they’re 0-4 on the road, but all four losses have come by single digits against good teams (RMU, SFC, SFU, Wagner). If Kareem Ozier can get going again, watch out.
3. Fairleigh Dickinson (4-4) The Knights appear to have righted the ship, as they are on a 3-game winning streak, which includes a home win over 5-3 St. Francis-Brooklyn and a blowout victory over Bryant in Smithfield. The offense has been running on all cylinders (league high 108.7 points per 100 possessions).
4. St. Francis-Brooklyn (5-3) Maybe SFC is the new cardiac kids? All eight games have been decided by 10 points or less, and their last two losses have been by 5 points combined.
Tier 3- The Inconsistent Tier
5. LIU-Brooklyn (4-4) The Blackbirds have a positive efficiency margin thanks to their offense, which is scoring at a 1.04 PPP clip in conference play. But they remain one of the more inconsistent teams in the league, as evidenced by dropping a road game to Mount St. Mary’s, then turning around and putting up 52 points in the first half on a desperate CCSU team on Monday.
6. Wagner (4-4) The Seahawks are 4-4 with a -3.1 efficiency margin, yet have played the league’s most difficult slate to date; they’ve already went on their western PA trip, and they’ve played Sacred Heart twice. Of course, they also gave Mount St. Mary’s their first win, losing to them by 14. The offense has been downright dreadful, scoring just 97.8 points per 100 possessions. Only Central Connecticut as been worse.
7. St. Francis U. (4-4) Man, I just don’t get how a team with this much talent could be just 4-4 with a negative scoring margin. Their offense is still good (2nd in the league), but it’s not as good as it was last year, and the defense has been atrocious. Squeaking a 1-point home win against Sacred Heart on Saturday was a step in the right direction, but a road game at Robert Morris awaits on Thursday night.
Tier 4- The Rebuilding Tier
8. Bryant (4-4) No, I’m not a believer; Bryant has been terrible on the defensive end, and has played just two road games so far (they’re 3-3 at home). With that said, they look primed to make the NEC Tournament, which didn’t look likely a month ago. So kudos to Jared Grasso in quickly improving the program.
9. Mount St. Mary’s (2-6) According to Kenpom, the Mount has the 2nd least experienced team in the entire country (averaging just 0.45 years). So for them to have two league wins is impressive in its own right. Dan Engelstad can coach.
10. Central Connecticut St. (2-6) Things have gone off the rails in New Britain. There’s no objective measurement that would place them anywhere other than 10th; they are last in offensive efficiency, last in efficiency margin, have dropped 50 spots in Kenpom since conference play started, and they’ve had a Game Score south of 13 (out of 100) in six of their eight NEC games, according to Bart Torvik (Mount St. Mary’s has five). Not to mention, Tyler Kohl is just 15 for 60 from the field in his last four games (25%).