Week 2 of the NEC season is complete, and while we're still dealing with a relatively small sample size, things are starting to come into focus. Robert Morris is the lone undefeated team at 4-0, and while three of those games have come at home (plus a road win at CCSU), they've looked very impressive.
Below are the standings sorted by Efficiency Margin. When you have the league's top-rated offense and defense, you are naturally going to be head and shoulders the rest of the league in Efficiency Margin.
Team of the Week: Robert Morris
For the second week in a row, Bobby Mo is my Team of the Week, but this time it's not by default. Saint Francis, Long Island, and Merrimack all went 2-0 this week, but no team looked as impressive as the Colonials, who beat St. Francis-Brooklyn by 26, then followed that up with a 32-point blowout win over Wagner. Sure, both teams are expected to finish near the bottom of the standings, and both games were at the UPMC Events Center, but wow those were some impressive showings.
In their two games, RMU scored 1.27 ppp thanks to making 25 of 50 from three. Perhaps what's more impressive, however, is that they held Wagner and St. Francis-Brooklyn to just 0.84 ppp. Maybe Andrew Toole is finally getting this team to buy-in defensively? Either way, as you might expect from a Toole-coached team, the Colonials have been getting better since the start of the season, as evidenced by their Game Scores trends according to Bart Torvik (below). While I won't fully buy-in until they beat a non-CCSU team on the road, it appears they are here to stay.
Team Performance of the Week: RMU over SFC (83)
On Thursday, it was a battle of the last two unbeaten teams remaining in the NEC, and the Colonials made it clear which one of them was better. Robert Morris held SFC to just 0.79ppp (their best defensive performance of the season) by limiting the Terriers to making just six three-pointers (in 24 attempts), and holding them to a 39.7% eFG%. Offensively they had a 61.9% eFG% on their way to scoring 1.19ppp.
Player of the Week: Josh Williams, Robert Morris
I normally hate it when I spend a lot of time writing about one team, but this Robert Morris team is fun to dig into, and Josh Williams is the #1 reason why. The 6'2" senior guard averaged 20.5 ppg last week, but that's not that interesting. What is? My man attempted just two two-pointers last week. That's right; Williams was 1-2 from inside the three-point line and 13-18 from beyond it. If I were shooting 45% from three, I wouldn't do anything else either. Oh, and for good measure Williams chipped in 13 boards and 6 assists (against just 3 turnovers) on the week.
As a senior, Williams has improved in nearly all facets of the game; his assists are up (15.7% to 16.2%), his turnovers are down (18.9% to 13.3%), and oh by the way his eFG% is 59.4% this season, which is just outside the top 100 nationally (114th). He's a legitimate league Player of the Year candidate.
Others Worth Mentioning: A.J. Bramah, Robert Morris; Malik Jefferson, Mount St. Mary's
Freshman of the Week: Michael Green III, Bryant
Bryant only played one game last week, but Green was a big reason why the Bulldogs nearly pulled off a come-back win against Mount St. Mary's. Starting for the first time since November 26, Green had 6 assists against just 1 turnover, and also added 7 points in 28 minutes.
Green has had an up-and-down season; he began the season by scoring double-figures in three of the team's first four games, but he's really struggled from the field; the first-year point guard is shooting just 19.4% from three (41.7% eFG%). However, he's got a 24.9% assist rate on the season, which is good for 6th in the league, and 1.3 Assist/Turnover ratio.
Others Worth Mentioning: Benson Lin, Mikel Derring, Jordan Minor, Charles Pride, Rob Higgins
Lines of the Week:
1. Josh Williams, RMU vs. WC- 21 pts (7-10 from 3), 5 rbs, 5 asts, 1 TO
2. Ty Flowers, LIU vs. CCSU- 19 pts (4-9 from 3), 9 rbs, 5 asts, 1 TO
3. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU vs SFC- 19 pts (7-10 from the field), 7 rbs, 4 asts, 1 TO
4. Jahlil Jenkins, FDU vs. SHU- 24 pts (4-7 from 3), 4 rbs, 2 asts, 0 TO
5. Julian Batts, LIU vs. CCSU- 20 pts (6-9 from 3), 6 rbs, 3 asts, 1 TO
Individual Leaderboard of the Week: Usage rate (full season)
1. Alex Morales, WC- 28.5% (95.5 O-Rating)
2. Raiquan Clark, LIU- 27.5% (102.3)
3. Chauncey Hawkins, SFC- 27.0% (97.7)
4. Adam Grant, BU- 26.1% (108.4)
5. Keith Braxton, SFU- 25.7% (106.1)
6. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU- 25.7% (112.8)
7. Curtis Cobb, WC- 25.6% (97.0)
8. Jordan Minor, MC- 25.6% (100.0)
9. Jamir Coleman, CCSU- 25.4% (85.2)
10. Koreem Ozier, SHU- 25.3% (96.2)
Team Leaderboard of the Week: Defensive eFG% (conference play only)
1. Merrimack- 46.5%
2. Bryant- 47.0%
3. Robert Morris- 47.1%
4. Saint Francis- 47.5%
5. Mount St. Mary's- 48.3%
6. Sacred Heart- 50.6%
7. Wagner- 51.2%
8. Long Island- 53.0%
9. Fairleigh Dickinson- 53.0%
10. St. Francis-Brooklyn- 54.6%
11. Central Connecticut- 60.2%
Other Stuff You Should Know:
Malik Jefferson- Mount St. Mary's had one of the more unlikely victories of the NEC slate so far, a 67-65 overtime victory over Bryant in Smithfield. And one of the biggest reasons why was Malik Jefferson. The 6'9" sophomore seemingly grabbed every big rebound down the stretch, finishing with 9 overall (plus 15 points on 7 of 9 shooting and 3 assists). Jefferson is currently 5th in the league in Offensive Rebounding Rate (11.4%) and 8th in Defensive Rebounding Rate (20.6%). Plus, the Virginia-native is shooting 56% from the field and managed to cut his foul rate from 6.1 fouls per 40 minutes last season to just 4.2 this year, which means he can be on the floor down the stretch with more frequency.
Bryant Struggling- After Bryant took care of Saint Francis on the opening night, no one would have believed you if you suggested they'd lose their next two games, both of which were at home against Fairleigh Dickinson and Mount St. Mary's. Yet here we are, with the Bulldogs sitting at 1-2 in the league. So what's the problem? Well, during the non-conference Bryant was the best defensive team in the Northeast Conference. Over these last two games? Not so much. They allowed FDU to dominate the paint on their way to scoring 1.08ppp, then Mount St. Mary's put up 1.13ppp on Saturday thanks to grabbing 43% of their misses.
Should the Bryant faithful be nervous? Yes and no. Losing two consecutive home games is no way to go about winning a league title, but at the same time Hall Elisias missed the majority of the FDU game due to injury (he returned to face the Mount), and Mikail Simmons didn't play against Mount St. Mary's. The Bulldogs are favored in each of the their next 4 games before they head to western PA on 1/30 so there's plenty of time, but they do have some ground to make up.
Merrimack Freshmen- Most of Merrimack's starter's are upperclassmen, with the exception of sophomore Mikey Watkins. However, Joe Gallo's bench is made up almost entirely of freshmen, and they've all shown that they will be real difference makers for the Warriors in the future. 6'8" Jordan Minor has been one of the most efficient offensive players in the league, dominating the offensive glass (16.9% OR%), getting to the free throw line (52 attempts, making 62%), and carrying a 4.9% block rate. Ziggy Reid has shown some ability to be a stretch-4, making 15 of 45 (33%) three-point attempts and grabbing 13.6% of his defensive rebound opportunities, and Mykel Derring has shown an ability to knock down threes (he's shooting just 26% on the season, but has made 8 of 21 in league play). Finally, 6'5" Jordan McKoy hasn't played a ton, but has a 3.1% steal rate and has shown an ability to stretch the defense. No, this Merrimack program isn't going away after Juvaris Hayes, Jaleel Lord, and Idris Joyner graduate.
E.J. Anosike- Cameron Parker and Koreem Ozier seem to get the majority of the publicity for this Sacred Heart team, but make no mistake about it E.J. Anosike is the team's most important player. In their two-point win over Fairleigh Dickinson on Thursday, the 6'6" Anosike struggled a bit from the field (5-15), but managed to knock down 7 of 8 at the free throw line and grab 12 rebounds. His eFG% has fallen from 55.3% last year to 49.5% this season due to increased usage (and defenses keying on him more), but he's improved upon his rebounding numbers (8.1 rpg last year, 11.1 rpg this year), and he's converting 77% of his free throw attempts. I expected the three-pointer to become more of a factor after he made 36.5% of his attempts last season, but he's made just 12 of 42 (28.6%). Despite that, he's got an excellent chance of being an All-League player.
NEC at Kenpom- According to Kenpom's Conference Ratings, the Northeast Conference is ranked #28th out of 32 conferences, just ahead of the Big South and Southland Conferences. While #28 isn't impressive, it's the highest they've been since 2015 when it finished #27. There were fewer "up-transfers" during the last off-season, plus there was no coaching turnover, and that's resulted in the league's best season in a few years.
Offensive Efficiency- The NEC is an offense-first league? Through two weeks, the league's cumulative O-Rating is 103.2, which is the 5th highest of any league in the country, just below the Horizon League (104.3). The NEC has historically been known for strong defensive teams (Howie Dickenman's CCSU squads of the 00s, and more recently Andrew Toole's RMU teams come to mind), and they haven't finished inside the top 10 in conference Offensive Efficiency since it was 2nd back in 2013. It's not necessarily good or bad, but as a fan watching good offense has certainly been more fun this year.