Last night the NEC's pre-season favorites dropped to 0-3 on the young 2019-20 season, losing a two-possession game to a George Mason team that currently sits at 3-0 with wins over Navy, Longwood, and Long Island. Not exactly an NCAA Tournament resume, but still a solid team; the Patriots were 9th in the Atlantic-10's pre-season poll (our of 14 teams), and were rated #154 at Kenpom coming into this one.
George Mason's Jordan Miller scored 25 points on 18 field goal attempts, Long Island turned it over 15 times (20%) and shot just 5 for 21 from three, as the Patriots won 80-74 at EagleBank Arena. But you clicked the link for more than that. Takeaway Time!
1. We've got to talk about Ty Flowers. The 6'9" stretch-4 had yet another double-double (13 points, 14 rebounds), and is putting up eye-popping numbers through his first 3 games; 15.7 ppg,13.7 rpg, 2.7 apg, 3.7 bpg. What's more, he hasn't even found his shooting stroke yet! Flowers is shooting just .360/.185/.857 (after shooting .472/.389/.653 last season) which adds up to an eFG% of just 41% (58.1% last season). Should Shark fans be concerned with Flowers' shooting? No, of course not, it's still a small sample size. Instead, what we have is an NEC Player of the Year dark-horse candidate; once his shooting numbers improve, so will his efficiency and scoring figures. Add that to his insane rebounding numbers (he averaged 6.6 rpg last season), and Keith Braxton should be looking over his shoulder.
2. Yet again, Derek Kellogg has a clear lack of depth. After largely rolling with just seven players last season, just six players earned more than six minutes of action last night. The Eral Penn injury (he's out for the season) has clearly thrown a wrench in the depth up-front, as there is no true '5' on this roster outside of Ousmane Ndim, who has played just three minutes over the past two games. Jack Ballantyne, a 6'9" 240 lb. transfer from Detroit, is more of a stretch-4 and should provide a bit of depth, but neither he nor Flowers (6'9" 200 lbs.) are going to be confused as strong post defenders. George Mason had little issue getting the ball to the rim (42 of their 80 points came in the paint and they shot 15-19 at the rim). With Penn out, Kellogg has almost exclusively gone with a 3-guard lineup, with Clark/Flowers up front. That certainly can work, but they will struggle to protect the paint against teams with competent bigs.
3. Coming into the season, there were three transfers who figured to make an impact on the Sharks' season; Ballantyne (Detroit), Jermaine Jackson Jr. (Detroit) and Virshon Cotton (Akron). Through three games, it's clear that Cotton is at the top of the pecking order when it comes to the newcomers. He's started all three (it should be noted that Ballantyne, Jackson and Raiquan Clark did not suit up in that one), and last night played 34 minutes. The 6'1" combo-guard has struggled with his shot in the early-going (just a 37.5% eFG%), but he had 4 assists compared to just 2 turnovers in the loss to GMU, and appears to be the Sharks' best perimeter defender. Jackson, meanwhile, seems like the prototypical offensive firepower off the bench; while he's also struggled shooting the ball through two games (2 of 8 from three), he's got the confidence to shoot it.
4. In our NEC Preview, we wrote this about LIU:
Player to Watch: Coming into last season, Matt was super high on the Blackbirds, and it wasn’t because of Raiquan Clark or the addition of Ty Flowers. It was the backcourt; in 2017-18, Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts were almost interchangeable at either guard position, but had completely different styles (and were really good). Then the 2018-19 season started, and both players struggled immensely. Agosto saw his shooting numbers drop across the board, which caused his eFG% to drop from 47.3% to 42.1%. His perimeter shot, in particular, seemed to be effected; he made just 27% of his 3P attempts (down from 36.5% as a freshman and 32% as a sophomore), and even his free throw shooting decreased from 76% to 66%. So what gives? There’s been no public mention of an injury, but of course that’s always a possible explanation. And while many guys struggle with increased usage, which was necessary given the loss of Joel Hernandez, usually it doesn’t cause large of a drop in shooting numbers. Whatever the reason, who would be surprised if Agosto bounced back and shot 34%/41%/75% (like he did in his first two seasons), while also averaging close to 5 assists per game? Derek Kellogg doesn’t need him to be the team’s leading scorer; Raiquan Clark and Ty Flowers will handle that. But if Agosto can be the playmaker that he was as a sophomore, the Blackbirds…nay, Sharks…will be the favorites to cut down the nets in March.
So far so...ok? Agosto has been really good in most facets of the game; he's got 16 assists against just 7 turnovers, and he's 8 of 12 at the rim (he shot 49% on those opportunities last season). However, he's just 1 for 7 from three (0-1 Tuesday night) after shooting 26.5% last season from deep (36.5% as a freshman, 31.8% as a sophomore). Meanwhile, Julian Batts hasn't played like Julian Batts; his usage is down (17.3% to 13.8% this year), he's just 4 for 14 from three (28.6%), and he's got 4 assists and 7 turnovers through three games. On Tuesday night, Batts was just 1-6 from the field, had one assist and three turnovers. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, we are dealing with a small sample size here, and two of the three games came against Atlantic-10 foes. But this is a storyline that bears watching.
5. Has Raiquan Clark gotten even better? It's obviously too early to draw conclusions, but the redshirt senior appears much more in control and, at least on Tuesday night, didn't try to do too much. The 6'6" forward scored 26 points on 18 field goal attempts, and through his first two games is shooting 63.3% from the field (50.3% last season), which results in a 105.5 O-Rating. Clark has a bevy of talented teammates, so there's no need for him to force things. I'd like to see those turnovers come down (7 through two games, 4.4 per game last season), but if he can keep that eFG% close to 60%, that would be huge for LIU.
One for the Road: Who hates this new rule regarding flopping? I like the idea behind it, but officials already struggle with the block/charge call, now we have to add more to it? Early in the first half last night, Raiquan Clark was called for a "delay of game" for "flopping" after a George Mason player clearly committed a charging violation. I knew it while watching it in real-time, and it was confirmed via replay. Instead of going the other way, the Patriots got two free-throws out of the deal. I feel like this should only be called in the most egregious of situations.