We're at the halfway point for every team in the league, and the standings have started to settle. Merrimack and Robert Morris have clearly been the two best teams in the league through ten games; Merrimack is 9-1 and Bobby Mo is a game back at 8-2, and both have the best Efficiency Margins (RMU is at +13.2, the Warriors +9.5) and best average Game Scores (50.2 for RMU, 49.7 for MC). There's really no argument for any other squad.
Given that Merrimack is ineligible for the NEC Tournament (which is a shame), the Colonials are the clear front-runner to secure the #1 seed. However, Sacred Heart is just 1 game back at 7-3, while Saint Francis is 7-4. That's your cream of the crop- I'd be surprised if RMU, SHU, and SFU were not seeds 1-3 (in some order) come March 1.
Which means the battle for the #4 seed between Mount St. Mary's and Long Island will be something to watch going forward. The Mount won at LIU in double overtime back on January 4th, and they match-up this Thursday (2/6). We've got a big one!
Standings: As always, sorted by Efficiency Margin. Robert Morris remains atop, but Merrimack is making a push. Slow and steady.
Team of the Week: Merrimack
At some point the Warriors have to come back to earth, right? Maybe not; the Warriors have now won eight in a row, and Joe Gallo's club put together possibly their most complete two-game stretch last week, taking care of business at home by winning both games by double-figures. Thursday night St. Francis-Brooklyn which mustered just 50 points in 70 possessions (MC's Adjusted Defensive Efficiency was 76.6 points per 100 possessions, their best output of the year). Then on Saturday, Long Island was held to 59 points in 70 possessions thanks to shooting just 3-13 from three. I highlighted that game in my Forecaster because I was interested to see if Merrimack could limit the number of good looks from the perimeter for the Sharks. I see that they were able to do that.
Merrimack heads out on the road for three in a row (FDU, LIU, SFC), and if they can go 2-1 over that stretch they can start thinking about hanging a banner.
Team Performance of the Week: SFU 84, BU 64
The Red Flash had revenge on their mind on Saturday after losing 67-63 in Smithfield on 1/4, and yeah they got it. Their defense finally showed up, holding a team below 0.96ppp for the first time since 1/9, and limiting Bryant to just 4-28 from three while Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon combined for 43 points and 10-16 from beyond the arc.
SFU struggled early in the week, needing a major come-back in Loretto to avoid disaster against Central Connecticut, but Rob Krimmel's crew ended up righting the ship and playing three strong halves in a row. A major test on Thursday at Sacred Heart awaits.
Player of the Week: Koreem Ozier, Sacred Heart
Isaiah Blackmon perhaps had more impressive numbers last week, but sometimes the narrative matters; Ozier was a stud in two Sacred Heart wins, and has picked up the slack with Cam Parker down by being exactly what Anthony Latina needs; a high-volume scorer who can create for himself.
Against the Mount, Ozier poured in 21 points on 9-16 shooting, and also had 5 assists against just two turnovers (and 2 steals). Then on Saturday vs. St. Francis-Brooklyn, he went for 18 and 4 rebounds, knocking down 3-5 from three.
Ozier has had at least 16 points in his last three games after missing the RMU and CCSU games due to the suspension from the SFU "brawl", and he's one of the main reasons the Pios are on a four game winning streak.
The sophomore is 7th in the league in scoring during league games at 15.5 ppg.
Others Worth Mentioning: Isaiah Blackmon, Raiquan Clark, Damian Chong Qui, Jaleel Lord, Ramiir Dixon-Conover, Keith Braxton
Freshman of the Week: Devon Dunn, Fairleigh Dickinson
A first time winner, Dunn was awesome in the Knights' win over Mount St. Mary's; 20 points on 8-13 shooting (4-7 from three) in 24 minutes. On the week he averaged 15 ppg, knocked down six three-pointers, and oh by the way; FDU won both of 'em.
The freshman from Washington is knocking down 41.4% of his threes during league play and has become a part of the rotation after missing all of December.
Lines of the Week:
1. Koreem Ozier, SHU 1/30 vs. MSMU: 21 pts (9-16 from the field), 5 asts, 2stls
2. Dorian Jordan-Thomas, WC 1/30 vs. FDU: 16 pts (6-7 from the field), 9 rbs, 2 stls
3. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU 1/30 vs. CCSU: 18 pts (5-12 from the field), 10 rbs, 3 asts, 2 stls
4. Ramiir Dixon-Conover, SFU 1/30 vs. CCSU: 18 pts (7-7 from the field), 5 stls, 3 asts
5. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU 2/1 vs. BU: 21 pts (5-12 from the field), 4 rebs, 2 stls
Individual Leaderboard of the Week: *PORPAGATU! in NEC Play only
*PORPAGATU! is a catch-all offensive stat created by Bart Torvik. You can read more about it here.
1. Isaiah Blackmon, SFU- 6.0
2. A.J. Bramah, RMU- 4.4
3. Damian Chong Qui, MSMU- 3.5
4. Idris Joyner, MC- 3.4
5. E.J. Anosike, SHU- 3.2
6. Raiquan Clark, LIU- 2.9
7. Kaleb Bishop, FDU- 2.9
8. Deniz Celen, SFC- 2.8
9. Josh Williams, RMU- 2.7
10. Keith Braxton- 2.5
Team Leaderboard of the Week: Turnover %
1. Mount St. Mary's- 17.2%
2. Saint Francis- 17.7%
3. St. Francis-Brooklyn- 17.8%
4. Robert Morris- 19.0%
5. Central Connecticut- 19.1%
6. Wagner- 19.4%
7. Long Island- 19.5%
8. Fairleigh Dickinson- 19.5%
9. Merrimack- 19.9%
10. Sacred Heart- 20.6%
11. Bryant- 21.6%
POY Candidates- I've been critical in the past about how the Northeast Conference (and every conference, really) selects their All-Conference teams. It's usually the guys who score the most (efficiency be damned), and it's based on the full season rather than just league play. At the end of the year, I'll select my teams based on conference-play only. Anyway, there's still plenty of time left in the season, but these guys seem to be the frontrunners (in alphabetical order) for the official award:
E.J. Anosike, SHU- Leads the league in rebounding (11.1 rpg) and 6th in scoring (15.7 ppg). Shooting 50.2% from the field and is #1 in Kenpom's league POY tracker.
Isaiah Blackmon, SFU- 2nd in scoring (18.4 ppg), 3rd in steals (1.7 spg), and shooting 41.7% from three (2nd). Plus he was clearly the league's best player in January.
A.J. Bramah, RMU- Bramah has been one of the best handful of players during league play, as he's averaging nearly 16 and 11 since the calendar turned to 2020. His issue is that he wasn't nearly as productive during November and December (he's averaging 12.7 ppg and 9 rpg on the season), and that could come back to bite him.
Keith Braxton, SFU- Pre-season POY, 5th in scoring (16.7 ppg), 11th in rebounding (7.0 rpg), and 6th in assists (3.8 apg). Switched positions to handle PG, that'll go a long way as well.
Raiquan Clark, LIU- Leads the league in scoring (20.4 ppg) and is 8th in rebounding (7.6 rpg). Third in usage at 27.1%.
Adam Grant, BU- 3rd in scoring at 17.9 ppg, leads the league in three-pointers made (76).
Juvaris Hayes, MC- The best player on the best team, Hayes is 2nd in the league with 5.9 apg, leads the league (by far) in steals with 3.9 a game, and is averaging 35.4 minutes per. The efficiency numbers aren't elite, but the narrative is there.
Other guys, like Curtis Cobb, Ty Flowers, Chauncey Hawkins, Jahlil Jenkins, Koreem Ozier, and Ty Flowers are on the outside looking in at this point, but with big Februarys (for themselves and their teams) could get into the conversation.
Other Stuff You Need to Know:
Ramiir Dixon-Conover- Early this season, I openly questioned why Rob Krimmel was giving so much playing time to the junior from Newark. Then after starting the season's first five games, Dixon-Conover largely fell out of the rotation, never playing more than 19 minutes between 11/23 and 1/4. However, RDC stepped up in a big way this past weekend, finishing 7-7 from the field (18 points) against CCSU, then scoring 11 on 8 shot attempts in the win over Bryant. Plus, he added 9 steals, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in 72 minutes. What's wild? Dude was 0-8 from three coming into the weekend, now he's 5 for 15. A wild turn of events.
Merrimack's Offense- Obviously the story has been the Merrimack 2-3/3-2 zone that causes opponents fits, but when they've needed to score they have. Against two of the better offenses in the league in recent weeks (SFU and LIU), they put up 1.11ppp and 1.09ppp respectively, and did it by knocking down threes (9-19 against the Red Flash, 9 for 22 versus the Sharks). And Jaleel Lord has been the key; sure, Juvaris Hayes gets most of the notoriety (and rightfully so), but the 6'4" senior is shooting 39% from there during league play, with an eFG% of 56.8%. And for good measure, he's 2nd in the league in steals.
Aaron Clarke- I talked about him last week in the wake of Cam Parker's injury, but it's worth a follow up; Clarke has been more than solid and is nothing close to a "fill-in". After struggling a bit against the Mount on Thursday, the 6'1" New Jersey native scored 17 points, including 9-12 from the free throw line, and had 5 assists against just 1 turnover in Saturday's win over SFC. The Pios aren't better without Parker, but the drop off has not been as steep as some feared.
Jamir Reed- CCSU's roster is dominated by freshmen, and at the beginning of the season it looked like Greg Outlaw and Myles Baker were the best of the bunch. However, it's been the 6'4" wing from Philly who has been the most impressive of late. Reed poured in 19 points (7-12 from the field) and chipped in 9 rebounds in Central's loss to Robert Morris, and since Marshall has gone largely to a 4-guard lineup he's averaged 8 rebounds per game to go along with his 14 points per night. What's impressive about Reed is his versatility; he's played the point at times, and he's also got the physicality to play the '4' (similar to Keith Braxton in terms of style and size, though obviously far from being the kind of star Braxton is). Marshall has got himself a good one.
Bobby Mo doing it in different ways- Early in the season RMU was reliant upon their three point shooting, namely Josh Williams, to get wins. However, the senior from Akron has been inconsistent over the last few weeks; he's had some good games (5-6 from three against Bryant, 7-10 on 1/11 vs. Wagner), but he's had some duds as well (0-5 from three at LIU, 0-4 vs. Sacred Heart, 1-6 against CCSU). What should make Robert Morris' opponents nervous is that Williams' struggles have largely not mattered because RMU is back to defending; they're 2nd to Merrimack in Defensive Efficiency during league play (91 points per 100 possessions), and they're allowing opponents to shoot just 28% from three. If Josh Williams gets it going again like he did in December, good luck.
Iron Man- I don't think he's having the season many of us expected, but Jahlil Jenkins has been overlooked; his assist rate is down from last season, as is his eFG% (and offensive rating) as he's been forced to take up a larger part of the offense (22.4% usage) due to the graduations of Darnell Edge and Mike Holloway. However, Jenkins leads the league in minutes played (36.8 mpg), and Fairleigh Dickinson wouldn't be anywhere near 4-6 without him.