It was a busy weekend in the NEC world, so let's get to it!
Team of the Week: Sacred Heart (3-1)
The Pios hosted Brown early in the week, then participated in the Bobcat Invitational at Quinnipiac over the weekend, which featured three games. According to Kenpom, SHU’s win expectancy was ~1.8 over that 4-game slate, so going 3-1 should be considered a major success.
Sacred Heart opened the week hammering Brown 84-63 (the same Brown team that is currently 4-1 with wins over Bryant, and NJIT), then demolished Presbyterian 83-57 and won on the road against Quinnipiac 97-80. Sandwiched in between the Presbyterian and Quinnipiac wins was a loss to Albany in which the Pioneers shot just 5-20 from three.
No it wasn’t a perfect week for Anthony Latina’s bunch, but according to Bart Torvik’s Game Score, they had three of the NEC’s best five Game Scores all season. Sacred Heart’s ‘89’ Game Score in their win over Brown is 2nd only to Bryant’s ‘92’ at Saint Peter’s back on November 13th, and their ‘84’ (Presbyterian) and ‘82’ (Quinnipiac) ranked 4th and 5th, respectively. After a slow start, the Pioneers look like clear title contenders.
Best Win: SHU 97, Quinnipiac 80
Coming into the week, according to Kenpom Sacred Heart had ~40% Win Expectancy at Quinnipiac, with the Bobcats coming in as 2-point favorites.
Instead, the Pios took it to Quinnipiac early, jumping out to a 9-point halftime lead and cruising 97-80. SHU shot 13-27 from three and 25-33 from two for a season-best 70.8 eFG%, which led to a season-high 1.35ppp (no other NEC team has scored above 1.30ppp in a single game yet this season). No, the defense wasn’t great in this one (they gave up 1.11ppp) after some impressive performances against Brown and Presbyterian, but when this offense is clicking like it did on Sunday, their defense may need to just be "okay".
Cam Parker paced the Pios with 16 points, 16 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 32 minutes, while SHU had 6 players in double-figures.
Continuing with the theme, our Player of the Week is Sacred Heart’s junior forward. No, he didn’t have the kind of single-games that Parker had at Quinnipiac, or Ozier had against Brown (28 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), but Anosike was consistently really good all week, and we like consistency.
The 6’7” New Jersey product averaged 15.5 points and 10.3 rebounds in the four games, and had en eFG% of 64.3%. The pre-season NEC 1st teamer is now averaging a double-double on the season; 14 points and 10 boards, and appears to be getting his perimeter shot going (4-10 on the week from three).
Others Worth Mentioning: Kaleb Bishop, Charles Pride, Myles Thompson, Tyrone Nesby, Koreem Ozier, Ty Flowers
Freshman of the Week: Charles Pride, Bryant
I’m thinking Pride is going to win this award quite a bit. The 6’4” wing averaged 17.5 ppg (including 25 in a loss to Drexel) on 13-19 shooting, and also chipped in 5.5 rebounds per game in Bryant’s 1-1 week.
Pride currently leads all freshman in scoring (12.7 ppg, 13th in the NEC), and is also 5th in the league with 2.4 offensive rebounds per game. Throw in the superb defense he’s able to offer, and he may win the league’s award going away this season.
1. Ty Flowers, LIU, 11/18 vs. Delaware St.; 20p (8-17 from field), 17 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 1 turnover
2. Cam Parker, SHU, 11/24 at Quinnipiac; 16 points (5-8 from field), 16 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 turnovers
3. Koreem Ozier, SHU, 11/19 vs. Brown; 18 points (9-15 from field), 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 5 turnovers
4. E.J. Anosike, SHU, 11/19 vs. Brown; 16 points (7-10 from field), 13 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists
5. Elijah Ford, WC, 11/20 vs. Saint Peter’s; 18 points (2-5 from field), 13 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 assists
No, I’m not going to rank teams weekly; that’s a fool’s errand (I learned that last season). Instead, I will utilizes the objective data found in Kenpom and Bart Torvik (and later, the NET rankings) to come up with tiers.
Tier 1: Sacred Heart struggled through its first three games, but appears to have righted the ship on the strength of a new-fangled 2-3 zone, while the Red Flash have been the league’s most consistent team since the beginning of the season.
Tier 2: My pre-season favorites, LIU, fall back to the 2nd tier as I’m worried about their depth (and defense) with Eral Penn, and now Jack Ballantyne, out. You could make a case for Bryant in Tier 1, but I’d like to see them be a bit more consistent. Similarly, Robert Morris has looked like a Tier 3 team in the early going, but Andy Toole gets the benefit of the doubt as he’ll likely get that defense turned around.
Tier 3: Both the Terriers and Seahawks have looked decent at times, and outright bad at other times. St. Francis-Brooklyn is clearly ahead of Wagner in this writer’s opinion (which would mean that 8th and final NEC Tournament slot), but for now we’ll keep them in a tier together.
Tier 4: Central Connecticut St. Enough said.
Storylines You Need to Know
Through their first 7 games at the D-1 level, Merrimack leads the NEC in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, checking in at 100.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 205th nationally. Where they’ve been in getting it done is forcing turnovers; they rank 38th nationally in forcing turnovers (23.9%), and 11th in steals (14.4% of possessions). It should come as no surprise that Juvaris Hayes (3.1 spg) and Mikey Watkins (2.9 spg) lead the NEC in steals per game.
Staying on the defensive theme, my big question for Bryant was; could they could somehow figure out how to get stops? In Jared Grasso’s first season as a D1 head coach, his team ranked 343rd in the nation with a 115.1 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency. This year? They have improved to 103.5 though six games, and have held their opponents to below 1.00 ppp in three of those six. Their opponent’s eFG% is currently 44.8% (75th nationally) after checking in at 54.9% (331st) a season ago. How much of that is small-sample-size luck, and how much is good defense? We'll know more in a few weeks.
Robert Morris, meanwhile, has seen the opposite trend. Andy Toole has been a defensive genius over his head coaching career, and perhaps (probably?) he will figure it out, but so far the results have not been good; the Colonials have an Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 102.6, which ranks 267th nationally, and they’re allowing teams an eFG% of 53.3% (280th). Where they’ve really struggled is protecting the rim; they’re allowing teams to show 55.2% on two-pointers, and they have a miniscule 4.2% block rate (329th nationally). If the season ended today (FYI, it doesn’t), this would be BY FAR Andy Toole’s worst defensive team. Of course, they did just hold Marquette to 0.92ppp over the weekend, so maybe all of this is moot.
One of the more surprising things in the NEC so far is Fairleigh Dickinson’s 0-4 record against D-1 competition, especially considering the Knights were returning Jahlil Jenkins and Kaleb Bishop, have a star coach in Greg Herenda, and have some really nice pieces around those players. However, things aren’t as bad as they appear; all four games were road games against teams ranked in the top 261 in Kenpom, they lost by just three at Fordham and by five at Lafayette, and they’ve yet to have a game in which they were at full strength. Xzavier Malone-Key, a 6’4” junior wing missed the first three games, though he returned to score 15 points at Lafayette. Meanwhile, as Malone-Key was welcomed back, Jahlil Jenkins missed the Lafayette game for reasons that are unknown to me. The Knights have some winnable games coming up in December; Quinnipiac (home), Saint Peter’s (away) and Princeton (home), sandwiched in between some very difficult matchups (Notre Dame and Kentucky). FDU will be fine.
Juts five players in the NEC average more than 4 assists per game, and two of them play for Wagner. What’s more interesting, however, neither guy is a prototypical point guard, and both are Junior College transfers. Yes, 6’6” Alex Morales (4.8 apg) and 6’5” Will Martinez (4.2) rank 3rd and 4th in the league in assists. While neither has shot the ball well so far this season (Morales has a 41.2% eFG%, while Martinez checks in at just 31.4%), both rank among the top 123 nationally in assist rate, and have shown an ability to create offense for their teammates.
Trivia Time! There are 18 players in the NEC with a usage rate north of 24% and have played at least 40% of available minutes. Of those 18, who has the best offensive rating? No, it’s not Keith Braxton or Adam Grant, nor is it Raiquan Clark or Juvaris Hayes. Rather, it’s Merrimack freshman Jordan Minor. The 6’8” stretchy-4 has largely come off the bench (he’s playing just 48.6% of available minutes), but he’s been uber-efficient when he’s in the ballgame. He’s shooting 17-32 from the field, including 3-4 from three, he’s 2nd in the league in offensive rebounding (14.9%), and he’s gotten to the free throw line 29 times already (shooting 69%). It looks like Joe Gallo has a good one.
Five games to Watch this week:
11/26- Utah Valley at Mount St. Mary’s: The Mount currently sit at 0-5 against D-1 competition, but it’s not like their schedule did them any favors. All five were on the road, with only Lamar sitting outside the top 150 at Kenpom. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been bad. They were up big on Georgetown in the second half, hung with Washington and UAB, and weren’t exactly blown out by Kentucky (sans Vado Morse). The Mount has a bunch of winnable games through December, and it’d be nice to see them get on a roll.
11/26- Bryant at New Hampshire: The Wildcats love to get out and run; they currently have an adjusted tempo of 71.2 possessions per 40 minutes, which ranks 106th nationally. Of course, that’s nothing for the Bulldogs, who are averaging 74 possessions per 40 minutes. This game could get up into the 80s, with Kenpom giving Bryant a 54% win expectancy. If sports gambling were legal in Connecticut, I’d take Bryant and the over. But it’s not, so I would never do such a thing.
11/28-29- Long Island at Las Vegas Invitational: The Sharks get North Florida on Thanksgiving out in Orleans Arena, then will take on either Tennessee St. or Cal Poly on Friday in the Championship or Consolation Game. North Florida is the best team in the field, at least according to Kenpom, as the Ospreys are currently ranked #169 with wins over Georgia Southern and Southern Miss, while their three losses all came to high-major opponents; Florida, Iowa and Creighton. If LIU can limit the three-pointers and hammer North Florida on the boards, Derek Kellogg’s bunch have a great shot at winning this thing.
11/30- St. Francis-Brooklyn at Saint Peter’s: The Terriers are 1-3 coming into the week, but it’s not like they had many opportunities for wins; they lost road games to Fordham, Longwood and North Carolina St., and took care of business at home against Lafayette (by 1). Saint Peter’s has already lost home games to Bryant and Wagner, and they’re really struggling offensively (37.5% eFG%). Kenpom gives SFC a 51% win expectancy, and it’s a nice opportunity to get their first road win of the year.
11/30- Robert Morris at Cleveland St.: After a home game against Geneva, RMU heads to Cleveland to take on the Vikings. CSU has won two straight (UNC Wilmington and Eastern Kentucky), though they’ve really struggled offensively (they’re shooting just 19.2% from three). As we discussed earlier, the Colonials have not been as good defensively has they have been over the past decade. If RMU can’t shut down Cleveland St., we can begin to worry about.