I know we all say that we love parity, but do we? Maybe it's because my team is currently sitting at 1-8 in league play, but I had been hoping that there would be two or three (or even four) teams that would rise above the rest and battle it out with inflated records (15-3 or 14-4). But no, that's not what's happening; instead, all the teams we expected to contend back on January 1st (Saint Francis, Sacred Heart, Bryant, Long Island) all have at least three losses, while Merrimack, Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary's occupy the top of the standings. In fact, there are seven teams with a .500 record or better, which means we have no idea how the standings will look on March 1st. All seven have shown that they are capable of winning this league, but all seven have flaws. A quick run-down:
Merrimack (7-1)- They've won six in a row and have a veteran roster with a star PG. Plus, their zone defense just causes havoc for opponents. However, their offense is ranked 9th in efficiency (99.2 points per 100 possessions) and four of those six wins came by 4-points or fewer (including a home win over FDU that came in double overtime). This is a good team that has also gotten a bit lucky.
Robert Morris (6-2)- The Colonials are ranked 2nd in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and have answers at every position, including two POY candidates in Josh Williams and A.J. Bramah. Plus they've played the league's most difficult schedule. However, Robert Morris looked nothing like a title contender in a 78-57 loss at St. Francis-Brooklyn and they've failed to score more than 0.95ppp in three of their past four games. Hello, regression.
Mount St. Mary's (5-2)- The Mount has won four in a row and Vado Morse finally appears to be healthy (he's made 12 of 31 from three in league play), plus fellow sophomores Nana Opoku and Damian Chong Qui (more on them in a bit) have really taken off. But, three of those 4 came at home against teams with a combined record of 7-17, and three of their five league wins were either in overtime or by fewer than three points.
Sacred Heart (5-3)- Sacred Heart has the most imposing front-line in the league in E.J. Anosike and Jare'l Spellman, plus the Pios have already gone on their Western PA trip, and they took care of business last week at CCSU and at home against Fairleigh Dickinson. But it's never easy to lose your point guard, especially when he's as good as Cameron Parker has been this season. Aaron Clarke is a good player, but the loss of Parker will be tough to make up for.
Long Island (5-3)- The Sharks can be dynamite offensively and have shooters all over the court, plus they have a double overtime loss to Mount St. Mary's (on the road) on their ledger. However, there's also a road loss to Wagner and a home loss to Robert Morris, plus they've struggled from three so far in league play (33.3%, 7th) and Jashaun Agosto has been injured for the past two games.
Saint Francis (5-4)- The Red Flash were the best team in the league in November/December, have two of the best players in the league (Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon) and they were without the services of Blackmon and Tyler Stewart in the loss to Merrimack. But they've been atrocious defensively over the last three games (allowing 1.10ppp or worse in all three, including giving up 1.24ppp to SFC on Saturday), and that's no way to go about winning a league title.
St. Francis-Brooklyn (4-4)- When you sweep Saint Francis and Robert Morris at home, you deserve to be paid attention to, especially when you can roll out a three-headed force like Chauncey Hawkins, Unique McLean, and Deniz Celen. However, their Efficiency Margin (-0.4 points per 100 possessions) suggests they are nothing more than a .500 team in this league, and they have a tough road ahead at Merrimack, at home against Sacred Heart, and then heading out to Smithfield to take on a now-healthy Bryant squad.
It's anyone's league! But if I were a betting man, I'd still be looking out west at Robert Morris and Saint Francis. Of course, Merrimack winning this league would be a hell of a story. I'd love to be Joe Gallo's agent.
As always, sorted by Efficiency Margin. You'll notice that Merrimack is currently third with Sacred Heart close behind. There's likely some regression coming, folks.
Team of the Week: St. Francis-Brooklyn
The Terriers started out 2-4 in league play, but if you took the glass half-full approach, it's not like the schedule makers did Glenn Braica any favors; their first six games featured just two home games, the Western PA trip, and visit to Emmitsburg. Not easy. This past week, SFC welcomed two title contenders (Saint Francis and Robert Morris) to the Pope Center and swept the weekend, hammering the Colonials 78-57 before hanging on for a 86-79 win over the Red Flash.
Their dynamic inside-outside combination of Chauncey Hawkins and Deniz Celen led the way as the Terriers averaged 1.20ppp on the weekend, and now currently sit at 4-4 in the league and are certainly within striking distance of the all-important Top 4. However, a trip to North Andover and the Merrimack Warriors await them on Thursday, followed by a home matchup against Sacred Heart. A big week ahead.
Team Performance of the Week: SFC 78, RMU 57
Speaking of the Terriers, their win over the Colonials on Thursday was one of the more dominating games so far during league play. They held Bobby Mo, who had the most efficient offense in the league entering the week, to just 0.84ppp thanks to an eFG% of 41.3% (4-18 from three). They also blocked five shots (3 by Christian Roehlehr and two from YaYa Evans).
Offensively, St. Francis-Brooklyn had 5 players in double-figures, including Unique McLean who led the way with 13 points and 10 boards and Chauncey Hawkins (15 points, 5 assists, 4 boards). SFC made 12-15 from the free throw line, turned it over just 11 times (16%), and assisted on 60% of their made field goals (18).
Player of the Week: Adam Grant, Bryant
Adam Grant was coming off back-to-back single-digit scoring nights, and we all knew that wouldn't continue. The Bulldogs' sharp-shooter averaged 23.5 ppg in Bryant's 1-1 week, making 11-18 from three while barely coming off the floor (he averaged 36 minutes per game).
The 6'1" senior has seen his numbers improve almost across the board this season; he's shooting 40.4% from three (up from 38.6%), his offensive rating of 107.8 is up despite an increase in usage and he's done a better job of making plays for others (15.8% assist rate). He's certainly on the short list for NEC Player of the Year.
Another week, another Bulldog freshman. Green came up huge in Bryant's win over Wagner on Thursday, scoring 15 points thanks to making 7 of 8 from the free throw line, and adding 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Then on Saturday he got the start, and while he only scored 4 points, he did have 5 assists against just 2 turnovers.
Green is currently 6th in the league in Assist rate (26.7%), and once he becomes more consistent with his jump shot (he's making just 24% of his three-point attempts, but 31% in league play), he could become one of the best point guards in the Northeast Conference.
Others Worth Mentioning: Charles Pride, Rob Higgins, Benson Lin, Jamir Reed
Lines of the Week:
1. Raiquan Clark, LIU vs. SFU- 28 points (8-17 from the field), 13 rebs, 3 asts
2. Jermaine Jackson Jr., LIU vs. SFU- 24 pts (5-11 from 3), 7 asts, 5 rebs
3. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU vs. LIU- 26 pts (11-20 from the field), 6 rebs
4. Adam Grant, BU vs. MSMU- 26 pts (5-8 from 3)
5. Adam Grant, BU vs. WC- 21 pts (6-10 from 3), 4 rebs, 3 asts, 3 stls
Individual Leaderboard of the Week: % of shots taken from the Mid-Range, full season, minimum 30 field goal attempts (FG% on mid-range shots)
1. Tyler Rowe, Central Connecticut- 61.1% (36.4% FG% on mid-range shots)
2. Rosel Hurley, St. Francis-Brooklyn- 56.5% (30.8%)
3. Will Martinez, Wagner- 48.1% (29.4%)
4. Jamir Coleman, Central Connecticut- 47.1% (45.3%)
5. Karrington Wallace, Central Connecticut- 46% (30.4%)
11. Xavier Wilson, Central Connecticut- 38.1% (26.7%)
12. Zach Newkirk, Central Connecticut- 38% (37%)
Team Leaderboard of the Week: % of shots taken from the mid-range (overall eFG%)
1. Central Connecticut- 30.4% (42.9%, 350th nationally)
2. Wagner- 28.1% (45.4%, 323rd)
3. Saint Francis- 27.1% (50.4%, 126th)
4. St. Francis-Brooklyn- 26.9% (47.3%, 260th)
5. Mount St. Mary's- 25% (45.9%, 310th)
6. Robert Morris- 23.6% (50.3%, 132)
7. Fairleigh Dickinson- 22.6% (48.4%, 217th)
8. Bryant- 21.5% (49.9%, 155th)
9. Sacred Heart- 20.7% (49.6%, 175th)
10. Long Island- 17.7% (52.2%, 65th)
11. Merrimack- 15.5% (47.4%, 255th)
Other Stuff You Need to Know:
Normally we use this space to talk about stories or players that caught my eye during the week. However, I wanted to take some time out to take a look at some players who have improved from last season. Where were those improvements made?
Dante Treacy, Robert Morris- Andy Tool's point-man was barely part of the rotation as a freshman, playing just 30.5% of available minutes. This season? Dude is entrenched; only Josh Williams has been on the floor more than Treacy (nearly 75% of minutes). After putting up a 1.1:1 Assist:Turnover ration last season, the Florida-native is currently 3rd in the NEC with a 2.1:1 ratio and he's making 40% of his threes (his 59.5% eFG% in league-play is 11th). I'd be shocked if Treacy doesn't win the league Most Improved Player award.
Damian Chong Qui, Mount St. Mary's- Another sophomore PG, Chong-Qui is currently 7th in the league in assist rate (24%), but that's not where the improvement lays. In 29 games last season, the former walk-on made 23 three-pointers (26.7%). This season? He's already made 23 in just 19 games, and is making them at a 38% clip. Add in his 81% from the free throw line (70% a season ago) and he's got a 110.0 O-Rating on 19.9% usage (94.5 and 17.3% as a freshman). Dan Engelstad has to be thrilled.
Nana Opoku, Mount St. Mary's- Maybe Dan Engelstad just knows how to develop basketball players? Opoku was a role-player last season after red-shirting, but didn't really stand out; he was 2nd in the NEC in block rate (10.9%), but offensively he simply wasn't good; 47.9% eFG%, 23.9% from 3, 23.9% turnover rate. This year he doesn't even resemble the same guy; at 6'9" he's become a stretchy-4 (31% from three), he's getting to the line a ton (56 attempts in 19 games), he stopped turning it over (7.5% turnover rate in league play) and he's killing it on the boards (13.9% OR% in league play, good for 4th). Oh, and he leads the league in block rate at 9.5%. Last season he was an elite athlete at 6'9", this season he's a very good basketball player.
Isaiah Blackmon, Saint Francis- Blackmon has been good is entire career, but his missed the 2017-18 season with a knee injury and just didn't look the same last season; he made "only" 37.2% of his three-point attempts and eFG% fell accordingly from 56.8% as a sophomore to 49% as a junior. Perhaps it was just learning to trust his knee, or rust, or the leg-brace he has since shed. Whatever it was, Blackmon is having his best season in Loretto. His 3P% is back up to 44% (he's 28 for 56 since the calendar turned), his eFG% is 54.5%, and his FT% is at a career high 81.2%. In league-play, his 137.2 O-Rating is the highest among all players with a usage rate north of 23%. If the season ended today, he'd get a lot of support for being the league's Player of the Year.
Josh Williams, Robert Morris- Williams is like Isaiah Blackmon in that he was pretty damn good last season, but has really exploded in his senior year. The former Akron guard his knocking down threes at a 41.3% clip (36% a season ago) and has cut his turnover rate from 18.9% to 12.7%. As a junior his eFG% was just 48.8% overall, but this year it's 55.9%. Part of that might be playing with two point guards (his brother, Jon, as well as Dante Treacy), but not many guys can shoot like he can.
Deniz Celen, St. Francis-Brooklyn- Like Chong Qui, Celen is a former walk-on who has become an integral part of his team's success. At 6'8" 235 lbs., the Turkey-native is one of the premier big men in the Northeast Conference; his eFG% is 65.2% (3rd), he's blocking 4.9% of shots (5th), he's shooting 83% from the free throw line (8th), and he's even assisting on 16.8% of made field goals. Oh, and he's made 15 of his 31 three-point attempts after shooting just 25% a year ago. Celen was certainly good last season, ranking in the top 10 in eFG%, blocked and defensive rebounding rate, but he's taken it to a whole new level this season.
Patrick Harding, Bryant- The 6'9" Harding has been a dominate force on the offensive boards this season, grabbing 14.8% of his chances (15.9% in league play, which rates 2nd) which is up significantly from his 8.8% rate as a freshman. What's more, he's shooting 48% from the field and 63% from the free throw line, vast improvements on his 36%/54% a season ago. Harding isn't the rim protector Hall Elisias is, but he's shown that he's more than capable of being a starting big in this league.
Julian Batts, Long Island- We all knew how good Raiquan Clark and Ty Flowers would be for the Sharks, but coming into the season my big question for Long Island was; could Julian Batts and Jashaun Agosto bounce back after down junior seasons? Batts has done exactly that; he's upped his 3P% from 32% to 43% and has cut his turnover rate from 21.3% to 17.4%. One could argue that the presence of Jermaine Jackson Jr. has taken some pressure off of Batts, but he's knocking down shots and taking care of the basketball, which is what Derek Kellogg needs out of him.
Jashaun Agosto, Long Island- Like Batts, Agosto is back to shooting the ball well; he shot 26.5% on threes as a junior, but that's up to 36.4% this season, and his eFG% is at a career high 56.4% (it was a career-low 42.1% in 2018-19). He's continued to struggle from the free throw line (74% as a freshman, 75.5% as a sophomore, 66% as a junior, and 61% this season), and his assist rate is down from last year. However, overall he's bounced back in a big way and hopefully the injury he's currently dealing with doesn't take long to heal.
Cameron Parker, Sacred Heart- I know he's out for the season with a broken foot, but it's worth mentioning the Pios point-man. We all know about the big time assist numbers, but Parker showed progression in multiple areas, specifically cutting down on his turnovers (39% a year ago, 33% this season), and he also showed more of an ability to finish around the rim (47% as a freshman, 57% as a sophomore). His offensive rating improved from 92.1 to 96.5 despite a significant increase in usage (from 18.9% to 23.7%), and he's primed to be a star as a junior assuming he comes back 100% from this injury.