How great was it to finally be able to finally watch some college basketball, after these last few weeks of just talking about the teams and players in our favorite league? The NEC's new streaming app "On The Run" is great, and we had some really intriguing story-lines over the season's first week.
I'm sure the Northeast Conference's cumulative 3-18 record against D-1 competition is going to get some publicity, and I guess that's somewhat fair. However, based on Kenpom's Win Expectancy, NEC teams were only expected to win about 4 games over the season' first week. So, sure they under-performed slightly, but it's not like there were a ton of winnable match-ups. Plus, there were some really nice performances in losses against high-major opponents.
Team of the Week: Merrimack
Was there an argument for any other team? Bryant had a great week beating Cornell on Sunday after losing a one-possession game at Rutgers, but it's the Warriors who get the nod here.
After getting drubbed at Maine by 20 in their first game, it was reasonable to question what kind of success Merrimack could have in their first D1 season. However, the Warriors went out to Evanston and took down the B1G's Northwestern 71-61 on Friday night as Juvaris Hayes went for 19 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists (1 turnover), and the stifling MC defense held the Wildcats to 1 for 16 from three.
Best Win: St. Francis Brooklyn 73, Lafayette 72
Obviously Merrimack had the "Best Win", but since we highlighted them above, let's give some love to the Terriers. Glenn Braica has had to replace both Jalen Jordan and Glenn Sanabria this season, which is no easy task, but his squad has looked solid in the early going.
On Saturday, Chauncey Hawkins scored 24 points, Deniz Celen went for 16/5, and UMass transfer Unique McLean had 9 points and 10 rebounds as St. Francis Brooklyn held the Leopards to 8 for 28 from three and grabbed 81% of their defensive rebounding opportunities. Lafayette, who was ranked #245 in Kenpom coming into this one, won their first game at home against Columbia, and was picked 8th in the 10-team Patriot League during the pre-season.
Player of the Week: Juvaris Hayes, Merrimack
This one wasn't close. The 6'0" point guard averaged 14.5 points, 8 boards and 6 assists in 37 minutes per game in his first week as a D-1 player, turning it over just twice in the two games.
Others worth Mentioning: Adam Grant, Bryant; Jalen Gibbs, Mount St. Mary's; Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson; Keith Braxton
Freshman of the Week: Charles Pride, Bryant
"Chucky" was scoreless in just 12 minutes in his collegiate debut in Bryant's loss to Brown, but apparently he was just waiting to play a high-major team to have his coming out party. Pride came off the bench to score 22 points (5 of 7 from three), and grab 7 rebounds in Bryant's two-point loss to Rutgers. Then in the Bulldogs win over Cornell, the 6'4" freshman scored 12 points and grabbed 4 boards. Overall he averaged 11.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg to go along with a 67.4% eFG%. Add in his stellar defense (he guarded four different positions), and he was instrumental in Bryant's strong first week.
Others worth Mentioning: Michael Green, Bryant; Jordan Minor, Merrimack; Ziggy Reid, Merrimack; Greg Outlaw, Central Connecticut
2. Keith Braxton, SFU, 11/8 at Richmond; 20p, 11r, 8a, 2to
3. Ty Flowers, LIU, 11/8 at UMass-Lowell; 19p, 15r, 3a, 8b, 3s
4. Adam Grant, BU, 11/7 at Rutgers; 23p, 6r, 6a
5. Charles Pride, BU, 11/7 at Rutgers; 22p, 7r, 2a
Other story-lines you should know:
1. Charles Pride wasn't the only impressive freshman for Bryant. Michael Green was one of the best players on the floor in Bryant's opening-season loss to Brown, putting up 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. The diminutive point guard played at least 29 minutes in all three of Bryant's games, and saw himself on the floor in crunch time. Meanwhile, after a quiet two games, 6'4" wing Benson Lin scored 16 points (all in the first half) in the win over Cornell, knocking down 4 of 9 from deep. The future is bright in Smithfield.
2. The Red Flash had a solid week, despite currently sitting at 0-2; they played VCU (#38 in Kenpom) closely before succumbing 62-48, then lost a heartbreaker at Richmond (#99 in Kenpom). SFU led 88-78 with 1:41 left, which amounts to a 98.5% Win Expectancy (according to Bart Torvik), yet allowed a VCU 12-2 run in regulation to force Overtime. One interesting thing of note; reigning NEC POY Keith Braxton largely played off the ball in the VCU game, as Ramiir Dixon-Conover saw 32 minutes of action. However in Game #2, Braxton ran the point for large chunks of the game, while Dixon-Conover played just seven minutes.
3. The league's top teams coming into the season, at least according to the coaches, had a rough first week. LIU, who took the #1 spot in the pre-season poll, were without Raiquan Clark, Jermaine Jackson and Jack Ballantyne in the Sharks season-opening loss to Rhode Island. However, all three were back on Friday night when LIU lost a home game to UMass-Lowell, shooting just 8 for 33 from three, and allowing UML's Christian Lutete to go for 51 points. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart got their doors blown off by both Providence (by 46) and Connecticut (by 22). Sophomores Koreem Ozier (3 for 21 from the field) and Cam Parker (9 assists and 12 turnovers) struggled against the high-major opponents, as the Pios turned it over on 28% of their possessions. Better days are ahead for both teams.
4. Mount St. Mary's was most impressive in a loss last week, holding a 46-27 lead with 17 minutes remaining against Georgetown before the Hoyas got hot from three and ultimately won by 81-68. Jalen Gibbs was a star for the Mount, scoring 19 points on 13 field goal attempts, while Vado Morse chipped in 18.
5. Andy Toole has a bunch of newcomers at his disposal, and I certainly wasn't alone in being intrigued as to how his rotation would look. In Robert Morris' two losses last week (to Marshall and Notre Dame), Toole turned to a triumvirate of returning guards in Josh Williams, Jon Williams, and Dante Treacy, all three of whom are the only players averaging more than 24 mpg. Meanwhile, D.J. Russell, who many prognosticators projected as the NEC's Newcomer of the Year, has seen playing time hard to come by; he's averaged 1.5 ppg and 4rpg in 15 minutes per game.
6. Bryant isn't the only team with some impressive freshmen; Merrimack had a pair of first-year players, 6'8" Jordan Minor and 6'6" Ziggy Reid, look impressive in the seasons first week. Minor averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds in the Warriors first two games, while carrying a 81.5% eFG% (6 for 8 from the field), while Reid chipped in 10.5 ppg (3 for 9 from three). CCSU's Greg Outlaw leads the Blue Devils in scoring (12 ppg) and assists (4.5 apg), while chipping in 4.5 rpg; Fairleigh Dickinson's Devin Dunn scored 8 points on 2-3 from three in the Knights' loss to DePaul; and St. Francis Brooklyn's freshman point guard Rob Higgins averaged 7.5 ppg and turned it over just twice in 43 minutes.
Games to Watch:
1. Pittsburgh at Robert Morris, 11/12- Robert Morris is not only opening up the new UMPC Events Center, but is welcoming an ACC team to Moon Township, which warrants top billing this week. Pittsburgh, under new coach Jeff Capel, opened up its season in impressive fashion knocking off Florida State at home. Then, on Saturday, the Panthers dropped a buy game to Nicholls St. 75-70. Pitt has been led in the early going by 6'2" Charlotte-transfer Ryan Murphy, who scored 28 points against Nicholls St. and has a nice 69% eFG%.
2. Saint Francis vs. American, 11/16- Last season, American beat the Red Flash 95-82 as Keith Braxton shot just 4 for 13 from the field, so this is a nice opportunity for SFU to enact some revenge. The Eagles are currently 0-2, with losses to Siena and William & Mary, but were picked 3rd in the pre-season Patriot League poll and are led by senior guard Sa'eed Nelson, who averaged 19.2 ppg and 5.2 apg last season and was the pre-season Patriot League POY. Nelson did not play in the Siena loss, but scored 22 points against Williams & Mary. Kenpom gives SFU a 66% Win Expectancy, which represents the best opportunity for an NEC win this week.
3. Sacred Heart at Binghamton, 11/16- The Pios first two games are in now way indicative of their 2019-20 prospects; teams generally lose buy games, that's the nature of the beast. Finally on Saturday we will get to see Sacred Heart get someone their own size; Binghamton, who was picked tied for 6th in the America East poll, is currently 0-2 with a 20-point loss at Cornell on their ledger. However, the SHU will have their hands full with 6'0" sophomore Sam Sessions, who won the America East Rookie of the Year last season while averaging 17.8 ppg and 3.5 apg. This should be a nice opportunity for Parker and Ozier to get going for Anthony Latina's bunch.
4. Merrimack at the River Hawk Invitational, 11/15-11/17- Fresh off their stunning win over Northwestern, Merrimack gets three games in Lowell, MA, all of which are winnable; Dartmouth (#174 in Kenpom), UMass-Lowell (240), and Jacksonville (288). It should be a good opportunity for the Warriors to see different types of teams; Dartmouth likes to slow it down, while the River hawks and Dolphins will look to speed MC up. Kenpom projects Merrimack to go 1-2, but few would be surprised if they did better than that.
5. Fairleigh Dickinson at Fordham, 11/13- Fordham won a nail-biter over St. Francis Brooklyn in their one and only game thus far, and most who follow the Northeast Conference would suggest that FDU presents a greater challenge than the Terriers did. The Rams were picked last in the 14-team Atlantic-10 Conference, and are known more for their former players who have up-transferred (like Eric Pashall) than for actually winning games. The Knights frontcourt should have their hands full with 6'9" junior Chuba Ohams, who had a 19 point/13 rebound double-double against SFC. Kenpom gives Fairleigh Dickinson a 30% Win Expectancy, and could be another notable win for the Northeast Conference.