1. The Final Push- Thursday's projected to have a bunch of blowouts, but this game is not one of them. While FDU is projected to be underdogs in both of their final games, the Knights can finish as high as the #4 seed (if they win both and LIU loses to Wagner and Sacred Heart), and can finish as low as #8. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are fighting for their lives, and face a closing Wagner in their regular season finale. Nothing to hold back for now.
2. Bryant's Defense- After a rough start to league play, Jared Grasso's defense had quietly put together a string of strong defensive performances, allowing just 0.92ppp in six games from 2/6 to 2/21 during which they went 4-2, including a win over 1st place Merrimack. However, Bryant allowed 1.21ppp in a 83-76 loss to Sacred Heart on Sunday thanks to allowing 10-28 from three and 20-33 from two (57.4% eFG%). The Bulldogs don't force turnovers (they rank last in the league with a 15% turnover rate), but they do a nice job of preventing good looks in the half-court (47.4% eFG%, 3rd). If FDU can pound it inside with Elyjah Williams and Kaleb Bishop, it could be a long day for BU.
3. Kaleb Bishop- Greg Herenda's 6'8" stretch-4 was absent in the Knights' win over Robert Morris on Sunday thanks to an injury suffered late in their loss to LIU last Friday night, and his status for tomorrow's game is up in the air. The senior is FDU's best inside-outside threat (31.6% from three, 48.2% from two) and is likely to find himself on one of the All-NEC teams next week, so he's a pivotal player for a team without depth.
4. Michael Green III- A freshman point guard making a late-season push to be the NEC's Rookie of the Year, Green has taken a larger role of late; he's averaged 35.6 minutes per game over his past five contests (he played greater than 30 minutes in a game just twice prior to that), and he's rewarded Jared Grasso with a 104 O-Rating on 26.3% usage (94.2/24.5% on the season) thanks to a 28% assist rate, 14.4% turnover rate, and 5 of 12 from three. He'll have his hands full with Jahlil Jenkins on Thursday night.
5. Adam Grant- Last week in my Mid-Range Jumper, I discussed players who saw an improvement in their play in league play compared to non-conference play. Well, Grant went the opposite way; on January 1st, the senior sharp-shooter was shooting 37.4% from three (51.3% eFG%), and had an O-Rating of 105.2 (26.4% usage). Since then? A still solid 35.7% from deep (49.0% eFG%), but a 93.4 O-Rating (22.4% usage). What gives? His turnover rate has increased to 20.3% (from 13.4%), and he's made just 24 of his 40 free throw attempts (72.9% in the non-league). Grant is coming off his best game in a month, in which he scored 24 points on 6-13 from three and had just 1 turnover. Bryant could use that Grant to show up this weekend to cap off a phenomenal career (Ryan Peters wrote about Grant's recruitment yesterday).
Saturday's Game to Watch: SFU at RMU
Things to Watch:
1. I previewed the first matchup between these two about ten days ago, and most of it remains valid. Here's the link to that one.
2. The Rematch- Back on Presidents' Day, it was all Red Flash; Saint Francis won 86-71, and by the 15-minute mark of the 2nd half they had a 98% win expectancy. SFU made 9 of 20 from three, but the biggest reason they were able to put up 1.21ppp was because they dominated the offensive boards; they grabbed 18 of their own missed shots, good for a 46% rate. Myles Thompson led the way with 4 offensive boards (in just 26 minutes), while Mark Flagg and Tyler Stewart had three apiece. Bobby Mo has been solid on the defensive glass; they've allowed just a 26.9% OR%, which is 3rd best in the league, while the Red Flash are 2nd in the NEC in OR% (34.6%). Can SFU repeat that? I'd bet against it.
3. The RMU Defense- This week I wrote about the Colonials' struggles, which have largely been on the defensive side of the ball. As mentioned above, SFU scored 1.21ppp back on February 18th against RMU, which was the worst defensive showing for the Colonials since allowing 1.33ppp to UNLV on December 21st. Is history likely to repeat itself? Few coaches at this level know how to coach up a defense better than Andy Toole, and I'd be willing to bet that he figures out a way to get more defensive stops this time around.
4. The Red Flash Bigs- The Red Flash have three players in their rotation 6'8" or taller; Mark Flagg (6'9"), Tyler Stewart (6'8") and Deivydas Kuzavas (6'10"), which is more than any other team in the Northeast Conference. Flagg, who tallied 19 points and 8 boards in the first contest between these two programs, has been a straight-up stud during SFU's current 7-game winning streak, with a 53.7% eFG% and 116.7 O-Rating (22.2% usage), plus a 4.6% block rate and a 12.6% OR% (2nd in the NEC during that time period).
5. The #1 Seed- No matter what happens on Thursday night, the winner of this game in Moon Township will earn the #1 seed in the NEC Tournament; if Saint Francis were to lose at home to Mount St. Mary's Thursday (the Colonials are off), the two teams would be tied going into Saturday, with the winner finishing with the higher record. If SFU knocks off the Mount (they are 10-point favorites according to Kenpom), a Robert Morris win would knot both teams up at 13-5, however RMU would hold the tie-breaker by virtue of their 69-58 win over Merrimack back on January 4th (SFU lost to MC in their only matchup on January 20th).