It was a quiet week here in our favorite conference in America, with just 16 Division-1 games on tap. While no team won more than 1 game, there were a bunch of high-quality wins. However, no team played better in their one win than Sacred Heart.
The Pios went on the road and faced an admittedly weak Holy Cross team that has just one win on its ledger (an 81-67 triumph over Mercer), and just hammered them 89-68 by scoring 1.26 ppp thanks to 10-28 from three (and 25-40 from two). The dominant road performance moved Anthony Latina's bunch up 16 spots at Kenpom, which now has SHU as the projected league champion at 13-5 (it projects Saint Francis to finish 12-6).
Others Worth Mentioning: Bryant, Wagner, Saint Francis, St. Francis-Brooklyn
Best Win: Bryant 64, Dartmouth 60
While Sacred Heart had the best performance last week, Bryant had the most impressive win; a 64-60 road win at Dartmouth, which is currently #196 at Kenpom. In fact, Dartmouth is the second highest rated school to lose a home game to an NEC program this season (Northwestern, which lost to Merrimack back on November 8th, is currently ranked #100.)
The Bulldogs did it by limiting the Big Green to 3-17 from three for a 41.8% eFG%, while sinking 12 three-pointers of their own (on 27 attempts). An impressive season continues for Bryant, which is now projected to finish 13-5 at Torvik (tied with SFU) and 11-7 at Kenpom (3rd).
Others Worth Mentioning: LIU 82, Delaware 75; Robert Morris 83, Central Michigan 79; Saint Francis 78, William & Mary 72; Wagner 82, Army 62
Player of the Week:Josh Williams
Josh Williams is officially on fire; the 6'2" senior made 10-21 from three in two games, scoring 20.5 ppg, and also chipping in 6.5 rpg and 2.5 apg in the Colonials solid week. And when Williams plays well, so does Robert Morris; he's been the Kenpom MVP in each of their 4 wins.
Williams now has an offensive rating of 108.5, which is 4th highest among NEC players with a usage 20% or greater (behind Deniz Celen, Charles Pride, and E.J. Anosike), and his 39 made three-pointers is tops in the league (he's shooting 37%, which is right at his career average).
Others Worth Mentioning: Alex Morales, Julian Batts, Deniz Celen, Isaiah Blackmon
Freshman of the Week: Tyler Thomas
In the Pios dominant win over Holy Cross last week, Thomas tied his career-high with 17 points thanks to 5-7 from three, and also added 3 rebounds and a steal. A 73% eFG% gets you this award more often than not.
The freshman from New Haven hasn't gotten a ton of playing time this season, as he's currently playing 41% of available minutes, however he's stepped in for the injured Zach Radz and has shown an ability to make shots; he's currently shooting 29% from three, but is 6 for his last 10, and hasn't been shy about getting shots up.
Others Worth Mentioning: Rob Higgins, Jordan Minor, Trey Tennyson, Greg Outlaw
Lines of the Week:
1. Josh Williams, 12/17 vs. Central Michigan: 24 points (5-9 from three), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals
2. Deniz Celen, 12/22 vs. Delaware St.: 27 points (11-17 from the field), 11 rebounds
3. E.J. Anosike, 12/22 vs. Holy Cross: 19 points (9-11 from the field), 14 rebounds, 3 steals
4. Alex Morales, 12/21 vs. Army: 21 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists
5. Jahlil Jenkins, 12/21 vs. La Salle: 21 points (3-6 from three), 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals
Rather than the usual "Storylines" section, given that the non-conference is just about complete, I wanted to take a look at how team's are experiencing their success (or lack thereof). Below is the Conference Efficiency Map, courtesy of Bart Torvik.
The teams more reliant upon offense are toward the bottom right, while the teams who are defense-heavy are are up towards the top left. That Brown dot is Bryant, which is strange if you followed the NEC last season; the Bulldogs had the worst defense in the league in 2018-19, yet this year they have the league's best defense. The other two teams up there, Mount St. Mary's (blue) and Merrimack (black) are little surprise.
On the flip side, the other three primary title contenders (in addition to Bryant), do it with good offense; St. Francis U. (light red), Sacred Heart (dark red), and Long Island (black).
This graphic also shows how competitive the league should be during NEC-play, and how far behind CCSU (bottom-left) is from the rest of the league.
The folks over at Dribble Handoff developed a proprietary metric called ShotQ that quantifies a team's offensive and defensive shot quality. Is there a perfect correlation between shot quality and eFG%? Not necessarily; some teams have really good shooters who can make more difficult shots, while others may have poor shooters who haven't been making easy shots. Defensively, however, the correlation should be stronger as teams are facing different players every game.
It's not gospel, but it's a nice measure to see which programs are getting good looks (or allowing good looks), as well as which teams could see some regression.
Now we see why Sacred Heart is so good offensively; they get great shots. Their 50.1% eFG% is currently 2nd in the NEC, though they're making just 30.8% from three. A large part of their offensive performance, which is only partially captured here, is their 34% offensive rebounding rate, which is 44th nationally.
Merrimack is certainly struggling to make shots, but there is hope for the future; they are getting good looks, which means Joe Gallo's offensive strategy works. It should be no surprise they have had difficulty knocking down shots; many of their players were recruited for the Division-2 level. Once Gallo improves the overall quality of the roster, they will be a force to reckon with.
Long Island has really good shooters who can make tough shots. We shouldn't expect their 52.2% eFG% to regress; in fact, we should expect it to improve as Ty Flowers gets going from three.
The Mount is getting good looks but just isn't capitalizing; Vado Morse, who has been hobbled by a knee injury, has seen his eFG% drop from 49.4% last year to 34.5% as a sophomore, while Jalen Gibbs has also seen some regression (46.5% to 40.8%). Long-term, they should be fine.
Both Wagner and Central Connecticut aren't getting much from their offensive systems, and until the shot quality improves, they won't see much of an improvement.
Bryant is certainly performing well on the defensive side of the ball, as we talked about earlier, but some regression should be expected as they're holding teams to a 44.3% eFG%, which likely isn't sustainable. It should continue to be really good, however.
Sacred Heart, similarly, has some regression coming, as their defensive shot quality is ranked just 242nd, while their defensive eFG% is 145th.
It's surprising to see an Andy Toole-coached team allowing so many good looks.
Similar to their offensive performance, Donyell Marshall and his staff are going to have to figure out how to limit the number of open shot opportunities opponents are getting.
Games to Watch This Week
There are literally just five games this week, all of which are next weekend. Here are those five, in order of the NEC team's Win Expectancy (per Kenpom):
1. Mount St. Mary's (67%) vs. Coppin St., 12/27: The Mount has played one of the tougher non-conference schedules you'll find around these parts (117th toughest overall), and they close it out against a Coppin St. team expected to challenge for the MEAC title. The Eagles have won three road games against, and all of them were solid; #106 Loyola Chicago, #228 James Madison, and #256 East Carolina. Former NEC Rookie of the Year Koby Thomas (Robert Morris) starts at the '3' and is averaging 10.2 ppg and 7.2 rpg.
2. Sacred Heart (64%) at Lafayette, 12/29: The Leopards are 6-3 against D-1 teams, and should be involved in the Patriot League race thanks to a 57.2% eFG% (40.3% on threes, 54.7% on twos). Remember when I said Sacred Heart could be due for some regression on the defensive side of the ball? It could come next weekend.
3. Merrimack (48%) vs. Boston University, 12/29: The Terriers have been hot-and-cold this season; they won at South Carolina, but lost games to #314 UT Martin and #306 Binghamton, though they've won two straight. We all know Merrimack likes to turn you over, but BU has a strong sophomore backcourt that really takes care of the ball, and they have a really good big in 6'8" senior Max Mahoney who should test the Warriors' frontline.
4. Wagner (48%) vs. Fairfield, 12/28: I'd love to see Curtis Cobb get going against his former school; after missing two games due to an injury, he struggled in losses to Hartford and La Salle, However, against Army over the weekend he scored 18 points (4 of 8 from three) and had 8 rebounds. The Stags beat Texas A&M back on December 1, and are coming off a road win at Oakland.
5. Bryant (2%) at Maryland, 12/29: Maryland has a star in point guard Anthony Cowan, and 6'10" sophomore Jalen Smith will be very difficult for the Bulldogs to handle in the paint. The Terps are currently #8 at Kenpom, though they are coming off consecutive road losses (their only two of the season) to Penn State and Seton Hall. This isn't the ideal matchup for Bryant.