1. Homecoming- The Sharks come into the week at 4-2, with four of their six games having been on the road (2-2 away from the Steinberg Events Center). However, it doesn't get any easier; Long Island welcomes Saint Francis and Robert Morris and their combined 10-3 record to town this week. If Derek Kellogg and company want to be seen as legitimate title contenders, and their +6.0 Efficiency Margin suggests they are, coming away with at least a split this week would be a step in the right direction.
2. Missing Pieces- As of this writing, we do not know how long Isaiah Blackmon and Ty Stewart are suspended for their involvement in some extra-curricular activities last week against Sacred Heart. Will they play in this one? Blackmon is the team's best outside threat (39 made threes, 42% on the season) while Stewart is an inside-outside force at 6'8". It'll be tough for SFU to come out on top in this one without those two.
3. Offense- You like points? St. Francis (77.7) and LIU (75.7) are 1-2 in the league in scoring offense and 7-8 in scoring defense. The Red Flash due it through efficiency (108.8 points per 100 possessions, 2nd in league play) while LIU does it thanks to playing at one of the highest paces (26th) in the nation.
4. Different Styles- I love games between teams who are both: a) good; and b) different, and that's what we have here on Thursday night. Long Island loves to get up-and-down and put up a ton of three-pointers; 47.6% of their shots come from behind the arc on the season, good for 14th highest in the nation. Meanwhile, Saint Francis likes to pick their spots from deep (they're shooting 36.8% from three but only take 30.8% of their shots from there), and instead like to use their size, as well as the dribble, to get the ball into the paint (42.3% of their shots are "close twos", which is 3rd highest in the league). Is one way better than the other? Both teams are well above the D-1 average in eFG% on the season (SFU is at 50.1%, while LIU is 52.3%).
5. Seasoned Veterans- Tuning into this one Thursday means you will get to see some historically great NEC players, most of whom are upperclassmen who we've gotten to watch grow before our eyes (according to Kenpom, both teams are in the top 30 in terms of experience). Keith Braxton will go down as one of the best NEC players ever, while SFU also has 5th year seniors Isaiah Blackmon (hopefully) and Scott Meredith, as well as seniors Randall Gaskins and Deivydas Kuzavas. Meanwhile for the Sharks, Raiquan Clark is a 5th year senior, while Jashaun Agosto and Julian Batts are seniors. Ty Flowers, who is a 4th year junior, started out his collegiate career at UMass and has a ton of experience.
Saturday's Game to Watch: BU at MSMU
1. Opposite Trends: Bryant and Mount St. Mary's come into this game trending in completely opposite directions; Bryant has lost four in a row, including three home games, while the Mount are winners of three in a row, and 5 of 7 dating back to 12/27. However, it's more than that; according to Bart Torvik's Game Scores, the Bulldogs are averaging a 24.2 Game Score during league play, while Mount St. Mary's average GS of 47.0 is 2nd highest to Robert Morris.
2. Injuries are Taking a Toll: As we discussed in the Mid-Range Jumper this week, the Bryant slide is not really Jared Grasso's fault. The Bulldogs have been hampered by a number of injuries, none more important than big-man Hall Elisias, who is dealing with multiple injuries. The junior big man was leading the nation in block % (17.7%), and according to Box =/- has been the team's best player (by far, as his 7.4 easily outpaces Adam Grant and Charles Pride's 2.7). Ikenna Ndugba has battled through injuries over the past couple of weeks, while Mikail Simmons has been out, Charles Pride missed time, and SaBastian Townes is still trying to knock off the rust. If fully healthy, the Bulldogs should be able to replicate what they did back in November and December.
3. Mount on the Boards- The Mount has struggled all season shooting the basketball; on the year they are making just 29.6% from three and 45.6% from inside the arc for an eFG% of 45.1% which sits 327th nationally. Yeah they've been a bit better in league play (46.4% eFG%), but that still puts them 9th. However, they've been able to keep their offense afloat by pounding the offensive glass; their 36.4% OR% in league play is 2nd as 6'9" sophomores Malik Jefferson (14.7%, 5th) and Nana Opoku (13.4%, 6th) have really gotten it done. On the flip side, Bryant has really struggled on the defensive boards, allowing opponents to grab 34.4% of their missed chances (9th worst in the league). Part of that is the glut of guards Grasso has at his disposal, which has caused him to go with 4-guard lineups during long stretches, especially with Elisias out. Can Grasso limit the 2nd chances on Saturday?
4. Block Party- If Elisas is healthy and back on Saturday, it'll be a fun opportunity to see some of the best shot blockers in the league. Mount St. Mary's actually leads the conference during league play wit ha 13% block rate thanks to Opoku's 8.3% block rate (3rd in the NEC). For Bryant, we all know about Elisias, but Juan Cardenas has come on strong offensively and has also blocked 5.7% of shots. Don't come into the paint weakly.
5. Young Guns- Thursday night's featured game has a ton of experience, but Saturday we will get to see some of the best underclassmen go at it in Knott Arena. The Bulldogs have three potential All-NEC Rookie Teamers in Charles Pride, Benson Lin, and Michael Green III, while sophomore Patrick Harding has been one of the best offensive rebounders in the league (currently 2nd with a 16.8% OR%). Mount St. Mary's, which had the 2nd least experienced team last season per Kenpom, starts 4 sophomore in Damian Chong Qui, Vado Morse, Nana Opoku, and Malik Jefferson, while freshmen Ayan Teel (PG) and Naim Miller (wing) have earned their way into the rotation. Mount St. Mary's has nary a senior on the roster, and if everyone returns next season, could be a popular darkhorse title pick.