After the Northeast Conference went a cumulative 3-19 in the first week, the second week of non-conference play was much better from a record standpoint; 6-19 overall, which actually met expectations (5.7 wins) according to Kenpom.
Team of the Week: Saint Francis
After opening up with two close losses in "buy games", including a two-point overtime loss at Richmond, the Red Flash continued to play well in two wins over mid-majors. On Wednesday, SFU took care of a Morgan State squad that three days later beat George Washington by a score of 71-65, then avenged last season's loss to American (who has also beaten George Washington) in Loretto 79-76 on Saturday. Since the start of the season, Rob Krimmel's bunch
have seen their kenpom ranking improve from #236 to #212, and have clearly been the class of the league to date.
What's more, this week they showed an ability to win in multiple ways. Against Morgan St., the Red Flash defense held the Bears to a 40.4% eFG%, including 2 for 13 from three. Then against American, in a slow-paced 64-possession game, the Red Flash scored a season-high 1.23PPP by shooting 7-13 from three and taking care of the basketball (8 turnovers, just 12.5% of their possessions). As a team they are shooting 43.1% from three on the season (18th nationally), as well as 72.4% from the charity stripe (97th nationally).
Others Worth Mentioning: Merrimack, Bryant
Best Win: Merrimack 60, UMass-Lowell 58
Is this the best case scenario for Joe Gallo and Merrimack College? The Warriors currently sit at 3-2, with wins over Northwestern, UMass-Lowell, and Jacksonville.
On Saturday, as part of the River Hawk Invitational, Merrimack took down the host River Hawks thanks to a last-second runner by Juvaris Hayes. UMass-Lowell, which was picked to finish 5th in the America East pre-season poll, already have a win at Long Island, and had looked solid in losses to UMass and Ohio St. Kenpom gave Merrimack just a 28% Win Expectancy. I get the feeling the Warriors are going to prove people (and computers) wrong all season.
Others Worth Mentioning: Bryant over Saint Peter's, Saint Francis over American
Player of the Week: Keith Braxton, Saint Francis
In a week during which no one truly stood out (I'm not including games against non-D1's, and a bunch of teams only played one game), why not go with "old reliable"?
In two wins, Braxton averaged 19.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game while shooting a whopping 22-25 from the free throw line. On the season he's second on the Red Flash in scoring (17.5 ppg), and is first in rebounds (7.8) and assists (3.5), and has a 107.4 O-Rating on 26% usage. He's got some early competitors for NEC POY (Juvaris Hayes and Ty Flowers, to name two), but he's still the belt holder for best player in the league as far as I'm concerned.
Others worth mentioning: Ty Flowers, Kaleb Bishop, Cameron Parker
Freshman of the Week: Michael Green III, Bryant
The Bulldogs played just one game against D-1 competition this past week, but that one game was an impressive 69-44 win at Saint Peter's. In that game, the freshman point guard scored 16 points on 7-11 shooting, and also chipped in 4 rebounds and 4 assists (a 102 O-Rating and 29% usage).
Green has quickly evolved into one of Jared Grasso's most valuable players; leads the team with 5 apg, is 3rd with 10.4 ppg, and is 3nd on the team with 27.2 mpg. With the return of Ikenna Ndugba, Grasso has been playing the two point guards together for large stretches, and Green has excelled in the open floor.
Others worth mentioning: Jordan McCoy,Charles Pride, Rob Higgins, Ziggy Reid, Greg Outlaw
Lines of the Week:
1. Cameron Parker, SHU, 11/16 at Binghamton; 23 points (2-6 from three), 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 120 ORTG, 31% usage
2. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU, 11/16 vs. American; 28 points (3-5 from three), 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 128 ORTG, 36% usage
3. Ty Flowers, LIU, 11/13 at George Mason; 13 points (5-10 from the field), 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks
4. A.J. Bramah, RMU, 11/16 at Toledo; 10 points (4-8 from the field), 16 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals
5. Raiquan Clark, LIU, 11/13 at George Mason; 26 points (10-18 from the field), 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 105 OTRG, 32% usage
Fun With Game Scores:
One of my favorite data points during non-conference play is Bart Torvik's Game Scores. Simply put, his algorithm rates a teams performance based on its quality of opponent and location. Since teams are not playing the same, or even similar, opponents, it's difficult to do an apples to apples comparison. Thus, Game Scores are a great proxy to judge a team's performance. The Game Scores range from 0-100, with 100 being the best possible performance. It should be noted that Game Scores can, and will, change over the course of the season.
Saint Francis currently has the highest average Game Score of 58.5, thanks to their back-to-back 74's in their 2-point overtime loss to Richmond and their win at Morgan State. Bryant is second at 53.3, followed by Merrimack (48), Mount St. Mary's (45), and Fairleigh Dickinson (44).
If you thought that Long Island and Sacred Heart had not been very impressive through two weeks, you are correct! The teams most expected to finish 1-2 in the Northeast Conference each have an average Game score of 31.7 (LIU) and 11.7 (SHU), which places them 6th and 10th, respectively.
So far this season, there have been seven performances that had a Game Score above 70. They are:
1. 93- Bryant's 69-44 win at Saint Peter's
2. 84- Merrimack's 71-66 win at Northwestern
3. 81- Merrimack's 54-44 win over Jacksonville (neutral court)
3. 76- Mount St. Mary's' 81-68 loss at Georgetown
4. 74- Saint Francis' 100-98 (OT) loss at Richmond
5. 74- Saint Francis' 71-65 win at Morgan St.
6. 71- Robert Morris' 85-65 win over Howard (neutral court)
Other story-lines you should know:
1. Ty Flowers is other-worldly right now; dude leads the league in rebounding (13.7) and blocks (3.7), plus he's chipping in 15.7 points per game. Oh, and by the way, he hasn't gotten hot from the field yet; he's shooting just 5-25 from three (18.5%) after making 39% of his three-point attempts last season (75-193). When, not if, he gets going from deep, his scoring numbers and efficiency will only improve.
2. The guy who is currently second in the league in rebounding you may not have heard of. Sophomore forward Patrick Harding, who averaged just 17.5 mpg last season, has been a monster on the boards; he leads the league in defensive rebounding rate (32.9%) and is second in offensive rebounding rate (14%), and has double-figure rebounding totals in four of the team's first five games, including 19 in the Bulldogs win over Cornell. He's currently averaging 12.6 rpg in just 22.8 mpg.
3. Sacred Heart has struggled out of the gate, but it's not Kinnon LaRose's fault. The 6'3" senior, who often sees time at the '4' for Anthony Latina, has been one of the bright-spots for the Pioneers. Through three games, LaRose has an eFG% of 60.4% and an O-Rating of 130.8, which is the highest among all NEC players who have played more than 55% of available minutes. LaRose is shooting 5-13 from three (12-24 overall), and has turned it over just three times in three games. He'll never be a high usage guy (just 14%), but he's been a phenomenal role player so far this season.
4. Merrimack is currently turning the ball over on just 16.3% of their possessions, which ranks 57th nationally and tops in the Northeast Conference. Meanwhile, Sacred Heart (25.2%), Central Connecticut (28.6%) and Fairleigh Dickinson (30.8%) are all turning it over with in more than 25% of their possessions. It's difficult to be efficient offensively when you're struggling to even get shots off.
5. Last season, Bryant really struggled on the defensive end; their Adjusted Defensive Efficiency was 115.1 (343rd nationally), and they allowed teams an eFG% of 54.9% (331st). Through four games against D1 teams this season, things are decidedly different. The Bulldogs are holding teams to a 42.2% eFG%, which ranks 40th nationally, and that's resulted in a 103.1 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. If that can hold, Jared Grasso's club is a contender.
Games To Watch This Week:
1. Sacred Heart at the Bobcats Invitational, 11/22-11/24- The Pios will play Presbyterian, Albany and Quinnipiac next weekend, all of which are winnable games for a team expected to finish near the top of the Northeast Conference. Kenpom projects the Pios to finish 1-2, but if Sacred Heart can avoid the turnover bug, doing better than that is certainly possible.
2. LIU at Delaware St., 11/18- The 0-3 Sharks could really use a win, and there won't be a better opportunity than Monday's trip down to Dover. The Hornets are also 0-3, with losses to Rider, Manhattan and Georgia, and are currently rated #351 in kenpom. LIU hasn't played nearly as poorly as their 0-3 record indicates, and Sharks fans should still feel good about this squad, though depth will continue to be an issue.
3. Wagner at Saint Peter's, 11/20- Wagner is also 0-3 against Division-1 competition, and gets a Saint Peter's squad that just took a 20-point loss at home to Bryant. Wagner's had some tough sledding so far; Seton Hall and Penn St. have reasonable NCAA Tournament hopes, while NJIT should compete for an Atlantic Sun title. Curtis Cobb scored 40 against Wesley College, but he's got just a 79.8 O-Rating against D1 competition. It'd be nice to see him break out with a big, and efficient, game.
4. Saint Francis vs. Delaware, 11/19- As we wrote earlier, no team has been more impressive in the early going than the Red Flash. The Blue Hens are currently 4-0 against D-1 teams, including three neutral-court victories over Oakland, Southern Illinois, and Texas-San Antonio. The Red Flash will have their hands full with 6'5" junior Nate Darling, who transferred in from UAB and is currently averaging 26 points per game. Believe it or not, SFU is favored in this one (63% Win Expectancy, according to Kenpom).
5. Merrimack at Hartford, 11/24- I could have gone a few different directions with this one, but I'm so into this Warriors team. Hartford is 2-1 with wins over CCSU and Marist, and they also take on St. Francis-Brooklyn, Sacred Heart, and Wagner in December. Pitt transfer Malik Ellison, who was expected to be the Hawks' best player, has yet to play this season due to injury, and while he may or not be available for this game, it's a nice opportunity for the Warriors to continue to pick up another win, while we get a decent barometer to see how they will stack up against the rest of the league