Two weeks left in the regular season, folks. Every team has either four or five games remaining and things are far from determined. Robert Morris, Saint Francis and Sacred Heart have clinched berths in the NEC Tournament, and can probably start printing tickets for a Quarterfinal home game, but outside of that there's still a lot of intrigue over the final couple of weeks.
Standings: As always, sorted by Efficiency Margin.
Team of the Week: Fairleigh Dickinson
Don't look now, but Greg Herenda has this ballclub clickin'. According to Haslametrics "Momentum" metric, which measures how well a team is playing compared to its baseline performance, the Knights are the third hottest team in the entire nation. Last week FDU hammered Wagner 106-73, then upset Robert Morris on the road 72-71. Sure, the ending of the RMU game was controversial (there probably should have been a foul there), but there's no guarantee Jon Williams makes two free throws (or even one). Plus, the fact that Knights were even up one with less than two seconds left shows how far this team has come.
So what has changed since they started 2-6 in the league? Well, for starters Jahlil Jenkins is playing like a straight-up stud (more on him in a minute). Secondly, as a team they've started knocking down their three-pointers, which has led to them scoring at least 1.05ppp in each of their past four wins (yes, they scored 0.84 ppp against Merrimack, but that defense is on a different planet). Over their last five games, they've made 46% of their three-pointers (well above their season average of 35%).
Fairleigh Dickinson has entered the race for a Quarterfinal home game; they're one game behind Long Island, but host the Sharks in February 21st, which is the 2nd of five very winnable games (at CCSU, vs. LIU, vs. RMU, vs. BU, at Mount). And I'll never bet against Greg Herenda in a big game.
Team Performance of the Week: RMU 77, MSMU 60
Bobby Mo went on the road and just hammered Mount St. Mary's last Thursday, scoring 1.26ppp (their best output since scoring 1.37ppp against Wagner on January 11th) thanks to knocking down 11-20 from three-point range and turning it over just 8 times. A.J. Bramah, as he often has been, was the best player on the floor that night, scoring 25 points (11-16 at the rim) to go along with 7 rebounds and 4 assists.
Player of the Week: Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson
In two games last week, Jenkins played like the guy I expected to be involved in the league's Player of the Year race at the beginning of the season. The junior point man averaged 26 points and 5 assists per game in the Knights' two win, making 8 of his 14 three-point attempts and turning it over just 3 times.
Since January 30th, Jenkins is averaging 18.4 ppg and 4.8 apg, and is shooting 46% from three. It's no coincidence FDU is 4-1 in those games.
Others Worth Mentioning: A.J. Bramah, E.J. Anosike, Ty Flowers, Elyjah Williams
Freshman of the Week: Jamir Reed, Central Connecticut
CCSU's freshman wing is making a late push for the league's Rookie of the Year award thanks to his ability to shoot the rock and rebound it. In Thursday's loss to Long Island, Reed made 7 of his 8 three-point attempts (21 points) to go along with 8 boards. While he struggled from the field in the Blue Devils' win over Bryant (2-8 from the field), he still managed to grab 7 boards and added 4 assists and 2 steals.
In league play, Reed is shooting 43% from three to go along with 9.6 points and 5 rebounds per game. Among Freshmen in league play, Reed is 2nd in 3P%, 3rd in eFG% (56.9%), 2nd in DR% (16.6%), and 2nd in minutes (72.0%).
Others Worth Mentioning: Devon Dunn, Michael Green III
Lines of the Week:
1. E.J. Anosike, SHU 2/15 vs. LIU- 26 pts (8-17 from the field), 22 rbs, 3 asts
2. Jahlil Jenkins, FDU 2/13 vs. WC- 31 pts (12-15 from the field), 7 asts, 5 stls
3. Ty Flowers, LIU 2/13 vs. CCSU- 21 pts (8-13 from the field), 13 rbs, 5 blks, 3 asts
4. Tyrone Nesby, WC 2/13 vs. FDU- 25 pts (10-23 from the field), 8 rbs, 3 stls
5. A.J. Bramah, RMU 2/13 vs. MSMU- 25 pts (11-18 from the field), 7 rbs, 4 asts
Individual Leaderboard of the Week: Free Throw Rate (FTA/FGA)
1. Damian Chong Qui, MSMU- 55.4
2. Raiquan Clark, LIU- 50.4
3. A.J. Bramah, RMU- 49.8
4. E.J. Anosike, SHU- 48.1
5. Juvaris Hayes, MC- 42.7
6. Chauncey Hawkins, SFC- 41.5
7. Keith Braxton, SFU- 41.4
8. Chase Freeman, WC- 40.0
9. Nana Opoku, MSMU- 40.0
10. Xavier Malone-Key, FDU- 39.5
Team Leaderboard of the Week: Momentum (Measurement of team's last 6-10 games vs. season-long performance, per Haslametrics)
1. Fairleigh Dickinson (+11.62)
2. Merrimack (+8.14)
3. Central Connecticut (+6.25)
4. Sacred Heart (+4.09)
5. Robert Morris (+0.98)
6. St. Francis-Brooklyn (+0.37)
7. Saint Francis (-2.19)
8. Long Island (-4.73)
9. Mount St. Mary's (-7.39)
10. Bryant (-9.09)
11. Wagner (-9.91)
Other Stuff You Should Know
What's happened to Bryant?- In November and December, the Bulldogs looked like one of, if not the, best teams in the Northeast Conference (I wrote this back on December 12th). However, since opening the league-slate with a 67-63 win over Saint Francis in Smithfield, the Bulldogs have lost 9 of 12, with their lone wins at home against Wagner, St. Francis-Brooklyn, and Central Connecticut. They're 0-6 away from home, after losing to CCSU on Saturday, and aren't even guaranteed to qualify for the NEC Tournament.
So what's gone wrong? It's largely been on the defensive end; In the non-conference portion of their season, Bryant had an Adjusted Defensive Efficiency of 98.3 points per 100 possessions, good for 155th nationally (and 2nd in the NEC). However, in league play that number has been 104.2, which is just 5th in the league. The Bulldogs are last in the conference in forcing turnovers (15.6% of possessions, down from 18.8% of possessions in November/December), and haven't been able to make it up on the offensive end as they have the 9th ranked offense in the NEC and have turned it over on 21.3% of their possessions.
The thing I wonder about most in regard to this Bulldogs team is; Is Ikenna Ndugba healthy? The Redshirt Junior missed last season thanks to a shoulder injury, and while he appeared healthy early in the season, he did miss the January 30th game at Robert Morris, and played just 33 minutes in the two games preceding that. The numbers show a clear contrast:
No I'm not suggesting Ndugba is the reason Bryant's season has gone in the opposite direction, but it certainly hasn't helped, especially when he's Bryant's primary facilitator and best perimeter defender. Add in guys like Elisias, Simmons, and Pride missing time due to injury, plus SaBastian Townes never has never gotten healthy, and it's no wonder Jared Grasso's 2nd season has taken a turn for the worse.
Wagner's Defense- In NEC play, the Seahawks are allowing 98.5 points per 100 possessions, which is ranked 7th in the league. While on the face that's not particularly notable, head coach Bashir Mason has made a career as a defensive dynamo. In fact, since taking over for Dan Hurley in 2012-13, he's had just one season where is squad was outside of the top 234 in the nation in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (in 2014-15 they were 311th). However, on the season their 114.5 Adjusted Defensive Efficiency ranks 344th nationally. Why? it's largely due to three-point defense; they're allowing teams to take more three-pointers this season (42.4% of the field goal attempts they've allowed have come from deep, which is 308th nationally) and they're allowing a national worst 40.1% from three (last season those numbers were 41.1% and 35.2%, respectively, despite the fact that the three-point line was pushed back this season). Mason is going to have some work to do this off-season.
Tyrone Nesby- Speaking of the Seahawks, Tyrone Nesby scored 25 points and added 8 rebounds in last week's loss to Fairleigh Dickinson, both of which were career-highs. The 6'5" sophomore came in with a reputation as a knock-down shooter, though he made just 2 of his 16 attempts in the non-league portion of schedule as a freshman (he shot 34% in league play). This season he's similarly struggled, making just 26% of his three-point attempts. It appears Mason is giving him an opportunity to show his stuff, as he's averaged just under 33 minutes per game over the past three contests.
Mount St. Mary's FT Rates- It appears Dan Engelstad places a high value on free throw attempts; Mount St. Mary's is 2nd in the league with a 39.0 free throw rate (SHU leads the league at 39.7), and leads the league in defensive free throw rate (just 24.9). Outside of an open layup, there's not a better bang for your buck than getting to the charity stripe, and Mount St. Mary's is taking that to a whole new level on both sides of the ball (though they're making just 68.2% of their free throw attempts)
Kinnon LaRose- Shot Selection
How can you not love the Sacred Heart senior's shot profile? The man has taken just six (6!) shots from the mid-range, and instead has taken 62% of his shots from three and 35% at the rim. No wonder the 6'3" versatile wing has a 58.9% eFG% in league play. LaRose is someone who always appears to be getting the most out of his abilities; he's often playing the '3' (and sometimes the '4'), which means he's undersized, and his athleticism doesn't exactly jump off the screen (he's never dunked in a game in his career). But he plays harder than anyone, and it appears he knows the difference between a good shot and a not-so-good shot. Pios fans will be sad to see him go after this season.
Avoiding the Mid-Range- LaRose, at 2.8%, is taking the fewest share of his shots from the mid-range, according to Bart Torvik. Who else takes less than 10% of their shots from the mid-range?