Around these parts, we know that the real season begins January 2nd; all the games the last couple of months were just a warm-up. The truth is that no matter how well an NEC team plays in November and December, if they don't win the conference tournament in March, they're not making the NCAA Tournament. So the goal for January and February is to set yourself up with the highest seed possible and home-court advantage.
But that doesn't mean the first part of the season wasn't fun. So let's recap what we saw this far.
Team of the Year (so far): Bryant
No, if I had to bet my own money on who would win the Northeast Conference, it would probably not be Bryant. However, no team impressed me more during the last two months than the Bulldogs did. Jared Grasso's bunch improved 120 spots at Kenpom, and are currently projected by all computer systems to finish near (or at) the top of the standings come March. They finished 7-5 against D1 competition, with three losses by either two points or in overtime, are two-deep are nearly every position, and clearly have the best freshman in Charles Pride. Oh, and Bash Townes hasn't gotten healthy yet, and Pride missed essentially four games with an injury. What Grasso was able to do to turn-around a defense that was 343rd in the nation a year ago to now being the best in the NEC is a testament to his ability to coach. He'd be, by far, my Coach of the Year so far.
Others Worth Mentioning: Saint Francis, Sacred Heart
Player of the Year (so far): Keith Braxton, Saint Francis
Last year's NEC Player of the Year has done nothing to suggest he won't win this year's award; not only is he scoring 16.5 ppg, but he's taken to the point guard position while seeing his offensive efficiency essentially remain stable from last season despite taking up more possessions (24.4% usage last year, 26.2% this season). Is there another player in the NEC who could have changed positions this seamlessly?
All-NEC 1st Team (so far):
G- Keith Braxton, Saint Francis
G- Adam Grant, Bryant- A league-high 43 made threes (37.4%)
G- Josh Williams, Robert Morris- 39 of 105 from three (37.1%)
F- Raiquan Clark, Long Island- 60.4% eFG%, 20.2 ppg
F- E.J. Anosike, Sacred Heart- 5th in scoring (16.2) and tops in rebounding (10.7 rpg)
G- Cameron Parker, Sacred Heart- 8.7 apg, 31.3% from three
F- Ty Flowers, Long Island- 14 ppg, 9.2 rpg
F- Deniz Celen, St. Francis-Brooklyn- League-high 116.6 O-Rating (23.5% usage)
Rookie of the Year (so far): Charles Pride, Bryant
This one wasn't close; the Bulldog freshman leads all first-year players in eFG% (54.2%) thanks to 9 of 25 from three, is 2nd in offensive rebounding (9.1%), and is 3rd in steals (2.6%). Pride is a big reason why Bryant has seen such an improvement on the defensive side of the ball, but has been somewhat of a surprise offensively. This year's freshman class in the NEC is full of solid players, but no one has the kind of potential star-power that Pride has shown so far.
All-NEC Rookie Team (so far):
G- Charles Pride, Bryant
G- Michael Green III, Bryant- 3.2 apg,
G- Benson Lin, Bryant- 35% from three
G- Greg Outlaw, Central Connecticut- 10.4 ppg, 2.8% steal rate
F- Jordan Minor, Merrimack- 18.4% OR%, 13 blocks
Best Non-Conference Wins:
1. Merrimack 71, Northwestern 61- Northwestern has the highest Kenpom rank (107) of any team that has lost to an NEC team so far this season.
2. Saint Francis 78, William & Mary 72- Bill & Mary is currently 8-5 against D1 teams, with a close loss at Oklahoma. SFU knocked them off at a neutral court (Washington DC).
3. Long Island 82, Delaware 75- The Blue Hens had a hot start to the season by winning their first 9 games, then losing close games to George Washington and Villanova. This one was at home, but still an impressive win for the Sharks.
4. Bryant 64, Dartmouth 60- Winning on the road is never easy, and the Big Green has a solid #210 ranking at Kenpom thanks to their season-opening win at Buffalo and some close losses (Georgia St., Boston University).
5. St. Francis-Brooklyn 73, Lafayette 72- The Leopards are 7-3 this season, with losses to Rutgers, Delaware, and the Terriers (and they beat FDU and SHU). SFC got them at home back on 11/9.
Best Performances per Bart Torvik's Game Score:
1. Bryant 69, Saint Peter's 44 (away-93)
2. Merrimack 54, Jacksonville 44 (neutral-89)
3. Sacred Heart 89, Holy Cross 68 (away- 87)
4. Sacred Heart 84, Brown 63 (home-86)
5. Bryant 60, Navy 54 (home-86)
6. Mount St. Mary's 79, Coppin St. 55 (away-86)
Best Offensive Performances per Adjusted O-Rating:
1. Saint Francis (127.5)- Scored 98 points (1.22 ppp) at Richmond.
Best Defensive Performances per Adjusted D-Rating:
1. Bryant (73.8)- allowed 44 points (0.62 ppp) at Saint Peter's
2. Mount St. Mary's (79.9)- allowed 56 points (0.88 ppp) at Washington
3. Merrimack (81.5)- allowed 44 points (0.78 ppp) vs. Jacksonville
4. Bryant (82.9)- allowed 62 points (0.85 ppp) at Niagara
5. Bryant (84.1)- allowed 45 points (0.77 ppp) vs. Navy
Best Stat-Lines of the Year (so far):
1. Ty Flowers, LIU; 11/18 vs. Delaware St.- 20 pts, 17 rbs, 7 asts, 3 blks, 2 stls, 1 TO
2. Jermaine Jackson, Jr., LIU; 12/7 vs. Army- 29 pts (9-14 from three), 3 rbs
3. Cameron Parker, SHU; 11/24 vs. Quinnipiac- 16 points (5-8 from field), 16 asts, 6 rbs, 4 TO
4. Koreem Ozier, SHU; 11/19 vs. Brown- 18 points (9-15 from field), 6 rbs, 4 asts, 3 stls
5. Raiquan Clark, LIU; 11/29 vs. Cal Poly- 28 pts (7-9 from field), 12 rbs, 2 blks
Kenpom Projected Final Standings:
1. Sacred Heart (13-5)- The Pios have the league's 2nd best offensive thanks to a 33.1% OR% (58th nationally) and 79.9% FT% (5th). Defensively they don't force turnovers (just 15.5%), but have done a good job limiting fouls (22.1%, 17th).
t2. Saint Francis (12-6)- The top offense and the 3rd best defense, the Red Flash get extra possessions by limiting turnovers (18.6%) and getting offensive boards (30.6%), plus they get to the line a ton (36.7%, 78th nationally) and make them at a 78% clip (16th).
t2. Bryant (12-6)- The Bulldogs have the top defense thanks to limiting teams to a 45% eFG% (47th). Teams struggle behind the 3-point line (30.2%, 70th) and inside (44.8%, 67th) thanks to a ton of perimeter quickness and a big-time shot blocker in Hall Elisias. Offensively they shoot a ton of threes (45.5%, 31st), but have been inconsistent from there (32.2%, 203rd).
4. Long Island (10-8)- The most uptempo team in the NEC (75.5 possessions per 100 minutes, 15th fastest), the Sharks spread the floor and shoot a bunch of threes (48.5%, 11th) and make them at a 34.2% clip, but also will kill you inside (53.1% on twos, 66th). Defensively it's been a real struggle, especially on defensive boards (allowing a 32.2% OR%, 302nd).
t5. Mount St. Mary's (9-9)- Vado Morse has been hurt and/or struggling, but his best game of the season last week (22 points, 6 rbs in a win over Coppin St.). The Mount has been solid defensively thanks to grabbing nearly 74% of their defensive rebounding opportunities (98th), and limiting teams to a 49.5% eFG%. Offensively they've struggled to shoot it (just a 44.5% eFG%), but don't turn it over (18.4%).
t5. Robert Morris (9-9)- It's strange to see an Andy Toole-coached team struggle on defense, but here we are. Teams have dominated inside (56.7% 2P%, 331st) as there is really no rim protector for Bobby Mo. The offense flows through Josh Williams, but the two-point guard attack with Dante Treacy and Jon Williams has produced assists on 61.6% of made field goals (17th), and they're turning it over on just 19.5% of possessions.
t5. Merrimack (9-9)- It's all about that 2-3 zone for the Warriors, which allows Juvaris Hayes to wreak havoc and turn you over (23.9% TO%, 26th). The issue for Merrimack has been a lack of size inside, as they're allowing teams to shoot 54.3% on twos). On the flip side, they take care of the ball (18.3% TO%, 99th), but really struggle to make threes (28.3%, 328th).
8. Fairleigh Dickinson (8-10)- Perhaps the most disappointing team in the non-conference, the Knights have struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Jahlil Jenkins has been awesome, but Kaleb Bishop has struggled and the guys expected to replace Darnell Edge and Mike Holloway haven't stepped up. They're allowing opponents to grab 37.4% of their offensive rebounding chances (351st), and teams have en eFG% of 54.7% (315th). On the flip side, they're making just 30% of their threes, and are assisting on only 40.9% of their made field goals (339th).
t9. St. Francis-Brooklyn (7-11)- Despite a solid 5-6 record, the Terriers have struggled on both sides of the ball. On the offensive end, they don't take or make many three-pointers, and instead try to get it done inside (48.2% 2P%) while not turning it over (19%). They're biggest issue defensively is a propensity to foul (41.5% free throw rate, 320th), but don't expect to get many good looks from beyond the three-point line.
t9. Wagner (7-11)- Similar to Bobby Mo, who thought a Bashir Mason-coached club would struggle getting stops? They're 108 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency is 322nd nationally thanks to allowing teams to shoot 38.2% from three (326th), and allowing a 51.6% free throw rate (350th). They still do a good job on the boards on both sides of the ball, and get to the line a ton offensively (36.4% free throw rate). However, they've struggled to shoot it (44% eFG%, 319th) as they don't have a true inside presence.
11. Central Connecticut (3-15)- CCSU has the 4th worst offense in the nation and 10th worst defense nationally, as they've really struggled with shot quality on both sides of the ball. However, they just got three players back in All-Rookie teamer Ian Krishnan (academically ineligible in the first semester), starting big Karrington Wallace (ankle injury), and probable back-up point guard Tyler Rowe (scored 20 ppg at Western Connecticut St. two seasons ago, was ineligible in the 1st semester). It's a young but talented team that is experiencing growing pains.