Plenty of Intrigue in the NEC Awards Race Remains with One Week Left in the Regular Season

Just one week remains in the Northeast Conference regular season! There are several major awards that could go down the wire, so I thought this was a great time to ask myself some questions! Let’s dive right into it.

As a side note: Ron Ratner does a great job here breaking down where all the teams stand with respect to their NEC Tournament positioning. 

Who Will Win the NEC Coach of the Year?

In early February, most people believed one newcomer was a shoe-in for the NEC’s Jim Phelan Coach of the Year honor. 

I’m not picking on this Twitter user, as most of us felt this way back on Groundhog Day. But Chris Kraus and Stonehill have really been cooking ever since, pushing Anderson off as a no-brainer for the award. After starting their NEC season at 3-3, the Skyhawks have embarked on a 7-2 stretch in league play to not only improbably catapult FDU in the standings, but also remain in play for a regular season championship. Those lofty goals may have been bruised considerably after their 3 OT defeat at the hands of CCSU, but Stonehill’s inspired play has made this COY honor a legitimate 2-person race, especially with FDU struggling to defend and close out games down the stretch. 

Both programs had low expectations going in. Anderson inherited a 4-win group from a season ago and had to fill 8 scholarships once he got the job deep into the spring. Stonehill was coming off a respectable albeit middle-of-the-pack NE-10 finish and had graduated 4 of their top 8 scorers. I don’t mind anyone making the argument for either guy at this point, especially after FDU was picked tied for sixth and Stonehill ninth in the preseason coach’s poll (I picked FDU fifth and Stonehill eighth in Blue Ribbon, for what it’s worth). Kraus has exceeded our expectations a little more, yet FDU has a small advantage when you break down the overall resume.

KenPom/ Torvik RankTorvik Game Score AvgD1 Non-Conf RecordNEC Record (Point Differential)Efficiency Margin in NEC Play
FDU318/317275-89-5 (+52)+5.3
Stonehill332/324253-1010-5 (+39)+3.9

It’s pretty close. If FDU and Stonehill finish with identical league records, I would assign a slight lean to Anderson given that the Knights’ have had more success in non-conference play with a dominant Quad 3 win at St. Joseph’s leading the way. The minimal edge in a myriad of analytics for league play helps bolster Anderson’s argument as well. Should Stonehill find themselves ahead of FDU in the league standings as of this weekend however, perhaps honoring Kraus off an improbable 11-5 NEC season is the way to go. 

It’s a tight race where both coaches have very good cases to be made. Both have a challenging second year ahead of them with all of their exceptional talent moving on, but neither of these coaches will sneak up on NEC competition ever again.

I should also mention that Joe Gallo’s probable regular season championship with Merrimack puts him in consideration of this award as well, as the coaches have historically rewarded the regular season champs with a coach of the year honor. Merrimack was picked first in NEC Coach’s Preseason Poll though, as many of them, and us, expected the Warriors to be here. That’s why I’d vote Gallo third in this race, although I wouldn’t put anything past a majority of coaches to vote Gallo as COY if both FDU and Stonehill stumbled in their final week. 

What About the League’s Player of the Year?

Just from what I’ve seen with my eyes this season with added weight during league play, I respect anyone who thinks this is a 3-man race between Josh Cohen, Jordan Minor and Demetre Roberts vying for the league’s most outstanding player title.

It’s fitting that all three deserving players are on teams inside the conference’s top 4, as their consistency has been a hallmark for why I’d consider them over anyone else. If you took any of them off their respective roster, that squad would be worse, as Minor’s absence in November can attest. Nevertheless, this is a player of the year award and not the most valuable player, so I’m more interested in the sheer numbers and statistical analysis between the three standouts. 

PlayerPPG / RPG / APGOffensive RatingeFG%Torvik PORPAGATU!KenPom Rank
Josh Cohen, SFU21.4 / 8.1 / 2.4119.158.3%4.8 (1st)1
Jordan Minor, MC17.1 / 9.3 / 2.3100.551.7%2.3 (5th)2
Demetre Roberts, FDU17.4 / 3.0 / 4.3108.949.6%2.9 (3rd)4

Cohen has cracked the 18-point threshold 19 times this season, Roberts 16 times and Minor has done it in 10 times (he missed 6 games in November due to injury). Minor leads Cohen in double doubles, 11 to 5, whereas Roberts has posted at least 5 assists in a game 12 times, and has averaged just 2.2 turnovers in those contests. Cohen leads the group, and the NEC, in points per possession at 1.11 despite a massive usage rate of 29%. Roberts is 18th at 0.97 ppp while Minor sits just inside the top 30 at 0.91 ppp. Minor may have the slightly less impressive scoring analytics, but he’s first among NEC individuals in offensive rebounding rate (15.1% in league play) and second in block rate at 8.1%, as he’s easily the most impactful among this trio on the other side of the ball. 

You can really slice and dice these numbers anyway you’d like, but for me Cohen is the guy. His ridiculous efficiency, wonderful consistency and clutchness in late game situations gives him the POY nod if I had a vote. That isn’t a knock on Minor or Roberts, but Cohen’s been unstoppable in the post. And he’s done it not just against NEC competition, but also versus teams like Miami (30 points on 16 shots, 9 rebounds), Hawaii (40 points on 23 shots, 9 rebounds) and St. Bonaventure (21 points on 11 shots, 7 rebounds). 

As long as Saint Francis doesn’t collapse in these final two games, the 6’10” post dynamo would be my pick. To round out my all-conference first team, I would include Nico Galette and Grant Singleton in my top 5 for those of you scoring from home. And as I alluded to in my ‘Merrimack is Awesome on Defense’ post, I do believe Minor should get the Defensive Player of the Year hardware when it’s all said and done. 

Who’s the Favorite to Win the NEC’s Most Improved Player Award?

Thanks to conference realignment and lots of turnover on NEC rosters this offseason, there hasn’t been a ton of returning players back. Despite this, there still have been credible candidates that have elevated their game to a NEC Most Improved (MIP) level. For simplification purposes, I decided to wade through the choices by using Torvik’s replacement player measure, PORPAGATU!. That metric stands for “Points Over Replacement Per Adjusted Game At That Usage.” It’s not the end all, be all by any stretch, but for this exercise I found it to be a useful measure to track a player’s improvement from one year to the next. Here were the top 6 improvers using 2021-22 as the starting point:

2021-22 PORPAGATU!2022-23 PORPAGATU!Improvement
Joe Munden, Jr., FDU-0.81.4+2.2
Josh Cohen, SFU2.94.8+1.9
Ansley Almonor, FDU0.62.0+1.4
Joey Reilly, SHU0.61.8+1.2
Davonte Sweatman, CCSU0.41.1+0.7
Bryce Johnson, SHU0.61.1+0.5

I think we have our top three MIP candidates in Joe Munden, Ansley Almonor and Joey Reilly. As last year’s NEC Most Improved recipient, Cohen will be eliminated from my consideration. As a quick aside, Cohen’s PORPAGATU! improvement is actually greater this season than it was going from 2020-21 to 2021-22 where he improved by “just” +1.3. Galette, who I thought was destined to become the 2021-22 MIP only to be denied by Cohen, actually improved his PORPAGATU! by +2.3 as a sophomore. But that’s a debate for another time…

With the pair of FDU’s players and Reilly assigned as my top 3 for MIP consideration, let’s dig a little deeper into each player’s statistical improvement from last season to now:

PPG IncreaseRPG IncreaseAPG IncreaseAnother Stat of NoteORtg Increase
Joe Munden+5.8+1.9-0.2+19.4% 2PT+33.2
Ansley Almonor+10.6+3.1+1.3+0.6 bpg-5.7
Joey Reilly+6.7+0.5+0.5+1.0 spg+7.1

As far as a floor goes, Munden is coming off the most difficult season among this threesome, registering an offensive rating of 73.6 as a sophomore after a promising rookie campaign that saw him rightfully land on the league’s all-rookie team. With that sophomore floor, Munden’s offensive rating improvement as well as his correlating shooting percentages have skyrocketed under Tobin Anderson. He’s been cast this season as a near perfect swingman in FDU’s scheme. 

Almonor’s efficiency has remained above average going from his freshman (small sample) to sophomore season (substantial sample); his biggest difference is a three fold increase in playing time that’s seen his counting numbers surge as a result.

Reilly has effectively done both – his playing time has nearly doubled to 77% of Sacred Heart’s minutes, yet he’s also enjoyed a 6.9% bump in his effective field goal percentage. His possession rate (16.8%) however, isn’t as impressive as Munden’s (24.2%) or Almonor’s (23.9%) and categorizes him more as a role player instead of the leading men that the Knights’ duo has become. 

So who is it? This is another tough call, but I’ll peg Almonor as my guy. The 6’6” center’s insertion into Anderson’s starting five has opened up the Knights offense considerably as opposing bigs must respect Almonor’s ability to make a perimeter jumper anywhere on the floor. He’s more likely than the other two to land on an all-conference team (although I think Munden and Reilly have a chance for the third team) thanks to his current top 10 finishes in scoring (14.1 ppg, 9th), rebounding (4.8 rpg, 10th), 3-pointers made (2.0 per game, 4th) and blocks (0.8 bpg, 8th).

This is nothing against Reilly and Munden, as both have had excellent bounceback seasons in their own right. But for Reilly, his usage rate dings him, whereas Munden exhibited a better level as a rookie before struggling the following season. I give the junior a ton of credit for restoring his game under Anderson, but if we’re being honest Munden’s rookie season with a PORPAGATU! of 0.9 could reasonably be assigned as the benchmark instead of -0.8 from the following year. 

With all of these awards, a lot (including my mind) could change with two games remaining. The debate should be fierce for these honors and the all-conference teams until the bitter end, giving us fans and alums even more excitement when watching the final week of the league’s regular season. There’s great intrigue no matter where you look.

From STAC to Hackensack: FDU’s Demetre Roberts Levels Up

Credit: Larry Levanti

Demetre Roberts was ready to give it another go. After weeks of deliberation with family, friends and coaches, Roberts decided that the pros outweighed the cons for returning to St. Thomas Aquinas College for a fifth season. Despite accomplishing seemingly all there was to accomplish at the individual and team level, the ECC all-conference first teamer was poised for more. A Final Four appearance. Maybe a legitimate run at the Division II national championship. But most importantly, it was a personal goal that drove his decision making process to stick around.

“I think the ultimate goal for me was getting my Masters (degree),” Roberts said when asked for his reasons for why he decided to return to St. Thomas Aquinas, also known as STAC, for the 2022-23 season. “In my family I’m the first one to achieve that goal, so I think that played a part in why I decided to stay at STAC.”

This all could’ve been part of Roberts’ fairy tale ending – right now he may have been in the midst of yet another 25-win season and would soon help STAC embark on another deep run in the Division II NCAA Tournament. It was set up that way, that is until the head coaching position at FDU opened up a few weeks later. And then all hell broke loose when then-STAC head coach Tobin Anderson accepted the job. 

“We’re going to be great next year (at STAC), we’re all fired up and then this whole thing happened,” Anderson explained. “For me personally and professionally if I don’t take this job that might be it. They don’t hire Division II coaches, they don’t do it.”

Both Roberts and his equally successful teammate Grant Singleton fully understood their coach’s reasoning for jumping at the once in a lifetime opportunity. For Anderson, it was a chance to prove himself at a quality Division I school close to home. But that didn’t make it any easier for Roberts and Singleton to digest and assess their current plight. 

“It was a big shocker, it just came out of nowhere but I wouldn’t lie, it definitely took a big hit on me,” Roberts admitted. 

After the news of Anderson’s hiring reached the team via social media prior to the coach meeting with them – the media leak was something that irked Anderson a little – Roberts, Singleton and Anderson huddled together after the team meeting. Anderson was about to leave for his Division I opportunity, although he had some unfinished business at STAC. 

Credit: Larry Levanti

“I told them ‘I love you no matter what. You don’t have to come (to FDU), but there’s an opportunity for you at Division I,” Anderson said to them in the impromptu and ultimately awkward meeting. 

For Singleton, it didn’t take long to decide that following his coach was in his best interest. “I needed a little bit of time to think about it, talk it over with my family,” the fifth year shooting guard said of the process. “It was an easier decision than I thought when I came to visit FDU, just being in the same system, better facility…”

Unlike his close friend and longtime teammate, Roberts needed more time to contemplate his options. If he was going with Anderson, a couple of weeks to figure things out were a must.

Eventually, the deliberate and thoughtful Roberts was on board. “I think the good part about that (situation) was he had the opportunity to bring us with him, so I think that kind of cooled everything down,” he said. 

The lightning quick point guard has never been one to make a rash decision. Back in high school at Mount Vernon, Anderson offered the dynamic, yet diminutive floor general as a junior despite the overall lack of interest in the 5’8” guard’s services. Back then, it really only was STAC and Division II counterpart LIU Post that offered Roberts, but nevertheless a lengthy waiting game ensued. 

“I recruited him all through his senior year and literally, he’ll tell you this too, he would not return (my texts and calls),” Anderson said with a smile of the arduous recruiting effort to sign Roberts. “I would text him 50 times for every time he returned my text, he would never return a text.”

Roberts was playing tough to get mainly for his wish to eventually garner some Division I interest. That interest never came, and soon after it was Mount Vernon head coach Bob Cimmino assuring Anderson that Roberts would eventually come around. It was late in the senior’s season, and Anderson decided to visit Roberts and his team during a state semifinal playoff game. At the time, Anderson was preparing to interview for a head coaching position at another school, and he felt confident he’d get the job and leave STAC. Despite this, he decided to attend Roberts’ game and keep his commitment to the high motored point guard. It was 12-plus months of recruiting up to that point, what was another weekend in the grand scheme of things?

The encounter turned out to be a positive for both parties, and after the job opportunity unexpectedly fell through, Anderson was told by Cimmino that Roberts was ready to visit STAC. The rest, of course, is history with a marriage between coach and player that has been greatly fruitful for both sides. The proof is in the pudding with 96 wins in four seasons and several Sweet 16 NCAA tournament appearances at STAC. 

“He wants to play professionally, so for a guy like his size and his background he’s going to have to be the hardest working guy, the toughest guy and that’s what he is,” Anderson says of his guard who’s now logged 129 career games, all with the long-time head coach. 

Credit: Larry Levanti

Now with FDU sitting at a perfect 5-0 in Northeast Conference league play, the transition from Division II to Division I hasn’t been much of an adjustment, if at all. The confident, yet humble Roberts isn’t shy to admit this. 

“I think it’s more fast paced in the NEC than the ECC, (but) we’re all basketball players, I feel like it’s the same competition,” Roberts said of the adjustment to Division I. “You just go out there and play basketball, everything else will just take care of itself.”

With more than a half of a Division I season logged, Roberts game is taking care of itself as the graduate senior finds himself third in scoring (17.0 ppg), first in assists (4.1 apg), sixth in free throw percentage (78.0%) and fifth overall in KenPom’s “Northeast Conference” rank among all NEC players. His explosive ability to score, facilitate and cause mayhem, all while staying perfectly in control – his 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio is also 5th in the league – has all of the opposing coaches on notice.

“He’s got a little (former UConn guard) Shabazz Napier in him because he has the ball on a string, he puts you on his heels with the dribble and he can shoot it from deep,” Central Connecticut State coach Pat Sellers said of Roberts, who scored 18 points on 10 shots in FDU’s recent road victory over the Blue Devils. “And he’s really quick, he’s quick and he’s a tough kid.”

With roughly six weeks to go in the regular season, Roberts still has a final chapter to write in his collegiate career. One thing is for sure though, he’ll always cherish what Anderson has given him on the hardwood. 

“He’ll risk it all just for us to succeed,” Roberts said of Anderson. “He’s a gritty coach who wants the best out of his players. Everyday he’s going to push us, obviously he’s doing it just to get positive outcomes.”

A Historical Look at Other Division II Transfers Who’ve Impacting the NEC

Given the immediate successes of Roberts and Singleton as Division II transplants, and others such as Stonehill’s Andrew Sims, Isaiah Burnett and Max Zegarowski, I wanted to take a historic look at previous Northeast Conference mainstays who were Division II transfers. Credit to NEC diehard Matt Mauro for piquing my interest on the topic:

After polling a few people, it’s clear that the Division II transfer list is decidedly small, as until recently the vast majority of dominant transfers have either come from other Division I institutions or the junior college ranks. But allow me to mine through the few impactful Division II transfers to illustrate the ones who were most successful at playing basketball in the conference.

Jare’l Spellman, Sacred Heart

Anthony Latina’s recruitment of Spellman from Division II Florida Southern went a bit under the radar, yet the 6’10” center’s impact was immediate the moment he stepped on the floor against Division I competition. He may have been lanky, yet that didn’t stop his tenacious effort at protecting the rim at an elite level. Spellman collected a school record 183 rejections and corralled 160 offensive rebounds in just 2 seasons, and it was his first season (11.9% block rate, 12th in D1) that led to a deserving NEC Defensive Player of the Year selection. Alongside rugged double double machine E.J. Anosike, the Pioneers boasted one of the most imposing 2-way frontcourts, with the duo mainly responsible for a Sacred Heart defensive efficiency that rose to the league’s top 3 during the 2019-20 campaign. 

Raekwon Rogers, Wagner

The pieces of contention were in place for Bashir Mason’s Seahawks going into the 2021 offseason, yet it was the astute recruitment and signing of Rogers, a Henderson College standout, that served as the final piece to Wagner’s puzzle in a league rife with accomplished 4th and 5th year players. Rogers, a graduate senior himself, was just what the doctor ordered for the Seahawks – he served as a stout, efficient and at times athletic post presence who embraced the physicality of being a NEC five-man. On a team loaded with stars such as Alex Morales, Elijah Ford and Will Martinez, it was Rogers among the Wagner regulars who led the team in KenPom offensive rating (116.1), offensive rebounding rate (12.7%) and 2-point field goal percentage (60.4%), leading to an all-conference third team selection in his lone year on Grymes Hill.

Tedrick Wilcox, St. Francis Brooklyn

Glenn Braica has been a champion of ushering in ready-to-contribute transfers for several years running, but Wilcox was Braica’s first real Division II signee who’s produced at an above average level. Currently, Wilcox sits inside Bart Torvik’s top 20 NEC players with respect to the replacement value metric PORPAGATU!, and it’s with good reason. Wilcox burst onto the scene last season at St. John’s with 19 points and 5 made triples, and since then the swingman has cast himself as the perfect blend of shotmaking, versatility and toughness to man the 3/4 position on the floor. He’s accepted the mantle of being St. Francis Brooklyn’s leading scorer over the past 3 contests, posting a combined plus/minus of +17 while scoring 1.27 points per possession per Synergy. The former Dominican College stud has all-conference upside, and he’s certainly flashing that now.

John Bunch, Monmouth

This one goes way back, but at 7-foot-2 and 320 pounds Bunch was surely memorable as a center in Dave Calloway’s attack. Much like Spellman, Bunch used his size and instincts to his advantage on the defensive end, swatting away and altering shots like none other in his time. During his senior year in 2006-07, Bunch registered the third highest block rate in the country at 17.6% and that was after posting a 16.2% block rate as a red-shirt junior. At Lincoln University, his prior stop before Monmouth, Bunch averaged a dominant 13 points, 12 rebounds and 7 blocks per game, while breaking the NCAA record for most blocks in a game with (get this) 18 rejections! To no one’s surprise, he also finished his senior campaign as a Hawk nationally ranked in offensive and defensive rebounding rate.

Juvaris Hayes, Merrimack

I saved the best for last, even though Hayes technically wasn’t a program transfer having spent his entire collegiate career under the tutelage of Joe Gallo at Merrimack. He did however, much like Sims and Burnett at Stonehill after him, transfer to the Division I level with the Warriors reclassification to the Northeast Conference, and did he ever dominate in his lone year. Not only did he eventually break the NCAA’s career record for steals at 457 thefts, but he also earned a spot on the NEC’s all-conference first team as well as become the league’s defensive player of the year with a league leading 121 steals and a NCAA Division I leading steal rate of 6.5%. His impact offensively was impressive as well with a 38% assist rate (12th in D1) and 19 games cracking the double digit threshold in scoring. Can someone please arrange a one-on-one contest between Hayes and Demetre Roberts, pretty please?

Bold Predictions for the 2022-23 Northeast Conference Men’s Hoops Season

The 2022-23 season is almost upon us! And I’m back to bring you #NECMBB content on the NEC Overtime! Blog.

One of my favorite writers is The Athletic contributor Eno Sarris. The baseball/fantasy baseball/craft beer scribe seamlessly blends analytics, his eyes and intel from other sources to tell an informed story. It’s what I strive to do every time I write a post! 

One of his annual columns I most enjoy is his MLB Bold Predictions piece in March. In there he’ll do his best to make an educated, albeit partly outlandish guess for where a player or team might finish. Sometimes he’s right (Logan Gilbert was the best pitcher on the Mariners), sometimes he’s close (Texas’ Nate Lowe finished 3 homers short of Sarris’ 30 HR prediction), and sometimes he – pardon the pun – swings and misses (Joey Votto did not come close to hitting 40 HRs). 

Forgive me as I try to copycat Sarris with my own bold predictions post for the 2022-23 Northeast Conference season. I’m basing my educated guesses on what the coaches have told me about their squads and underlying statistics/analytics. Here are five boldish predictions that, if things break right, have a respectable chance to come to fruition.

Sacred Heart’s Brendan McGuire Will Lead the League in Assists Per Game

When Sacred Heart lost scoring point guard Aaron Clarke to the transfer portal this spring, many wondered where Anthony Latina would go for his next floor general. There was no obvious replacement on the roster – Joey Reilly and redshirt freshman Dom Mello are best off-the-ball in my humble opinion – so Latina leveraged one of his strengths as a head coach: he recruited the transfer portal to identify talent that would immediately upgrade his roster. Enter Brendan McGuire, a somewhat atypical floor general given his 6-foot-7 forward-like frame. 

McGuire averaged 2.6 apg under Baker Dunleavy at Quinnipiac in three seasons, so why do I think the Long Island native can find another level as the main facilitator in Sacred Heart’s system? Given Latina’s insistence on re-establishing a faster tempo, McGuire will be asked to advance the ball at every opportunity and utilize his vision and playmaking skill in the open floor. Think about the Pioneer offense under freshman Cam Parker in 2018-19, or Pioneers all-time leading assist man Phil Gaetano in 2014-15. Both pass-first guards thrived offensively in Sacred Heart’s two fastest seasons (relative to DI) under Latina with a bevy of finishers/shooters to feed such as Evan Kelley, Cane Broome, Sean Hoehn and E.J. Anosike.

Point GuardYearTeam Possessions per GameTeam Offensive EfficiencyPlayer Assists per GamePlayer Assist Rate
Phil Gaetano2014-1568.5 (22nd DI)103.4 (3rd NEC)5.8 (1st NEC)30.9% (76th DI)
Cam Parker2018-1972.0 (23rd DI)104.2 (3rd NEC)6.9 (1st NEC)37.8% (11th DI)

With playmakers abound at Sacred Heart such as Nico Galette, Raheem Solomon, Aidan Carpenter and sharpshooter Mike Sixsmith, McGuire should not lack options to feed the ball to. He routinely posted assist rates in the mid 20s at Quinnipiac; it wasn’t his skill but rather his inconsistent playing time that ultimately limited his overall assist totals.

Herein lies my boldish part of the prediction – in order for McGuire to average the 5.0 – 6.0 apg likely needed to become the conference’s leader, he must stay healthy and log a career high in minutes. McGuire’s coming off a 2021-22 campaign where he missed 11 of the Bobcats’ 31 games, and that’s what reportedly has sapped the point forward’s full potential to this point. It’s a matter of good health, a 72+ possessions per game pace and a gut feeling that it will all come together for McGuire in year four of his collegiate career. With his move from the MAAC to the NEC, he also enters a conference plentiful with scoring point guards (Nigel Scantlebury, Demetre Roberts, DeLonnie Hunt, to name a few) who aren’t likely to put up an overwhelming volume of assists. Based on the league’s recent history, 5.0 apg could be the magic number for McGuire to become the league’s assist leader, and that number is possible based on what I’ve heard out of the Pioneer camp.

The Red Flash Will Regain Its Spot as the League’s Best Offense

We knew it was going to be hard for Rob Krimmel to replace his back-to-back NEC Player of the Year stalwarts in Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon after their graduation in 2020, but that was before a 100-year pandemic and plethora of injuries infected Krimmel’s roster over the past 2 seasons. The long-time coach has shuffled through 22 starting lineups since the fruitful 2019-20 campaign, greatly affecting SFU’s rotational consistency. It’s led to mediocre offensive performances:

SeasonPoints per GameAdjusted Offensive Efficiency3PT%FT%Unique Starting Lineups
2017-1879.0106.4 (1st NEC)37.177.28
2018-1976.3105.5 (2nd NEC)35.371.28
2019-2077.7107.6 (1st NEC)36.075.18
2020-21*68.994.7 (7th NEC)30.971.49
2021-2268.695.1 (7th NEC)31.564.513
*pandemic shortened season, only played 22 games

Talent always wins out, but it’s paramount to have good health and luck on your side too, and that’s been lacking in Loretto of late. During a productive four year stretch where the Red Flash made three NEC tournament finals from 2017-2020, the team’s stars routinely played at least 70% of SFU’s minutes (aka 28 minutes in every game). Red Flash players satisfied that minutes threshold 11 different times over that stretch, with the bulk of that met by all-conference first teamers Jamaal King, Braxton and Blackmon. Over the past two campaigns, junior guard Maxwell Land was the only player to cross the 70% minutes mark, achieving the feat once in 2021-22. 

Now with a healthy roster back along with reinforcements at the point guard position, Krimmel appears poised to get back to his bread and butter: efficient offensive basketball. The team’s shooting must vastly improve and return to the 35% 3PT/70% FT level during the program’s contender phase for this to happen. Several current players, in fact, have already illustrated their shotmaking prowess at one time or another in a Red Flash uniform. It simply needs to come together for one season with this collective group:

PlayerYearKenPom Offensive Rating3PT %FT %
Maxwell Land2020-2195.541.1%71.4%
Marlon Hargis2020-21125.541.7%81.2%
Myles Thompson2021-2298.538.7%63.9%
Brad McCabe2021-22111.841.3%80.0%

It’s fair to be optimistic about the Red Flash’s shooting if you assume the following: 1) mostly everyone will stay relatively healthy, 2) the guards/wings will continue to progress in year three of Krimmel’s system and 3) the players won’t be overburdened with too much on their plate given the program’s depth.

The last statement is particularly important, because if SFU can get a league average contribution at the point guard position from incoming freshmen Landon Moore and Cam Gregory and/or upperclassman Zahree Harrison, who’s considerably more trimmer this preseason, then the aforementioned veterans shouldn’t be tasked with more than they can handle on the basketball court.

“Some of it is just guys being in a position where they can play to their strengths,” Krimmel said at NEC Media Day in October. “When you have a roster that is depleted for different reasons, guys have to do on top of what they do really, really well.”

Quite simply: less is more. If every player can reduce their usage rate slightly and become more specialized toward their strengths, then the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. The program already boasts the league’s most efficient post presence in Josh Cohen (117.7 offensive rating, 57.7% 2PT), thus better playmaking and perimeter shooting could be what the doctor ordered for getting SFU back to being an elite and well balanced offensive unit once again.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s Trio of Division II Transfers Will All Land in the League’s Top 15

If you just look at the car without looking under the hood, I understand why FDU projects as a bottom third team in the conference to an algorithm. The Knights have a new coach, a roster with 8 new scholarship players, and are coming off a difficult campaign thanks to a defense that allowed 111.3 points per 100 possessions. The analytic sites such as KenPom, Bart Torvik, and others simply aren’t estimating the impact of the Knights incoming transfers, three of which come from Division II, hence the bearish projections.

For starters, Bart Torvik’s player replacement metric PORPAGATU! greatly devalues the Division II transfers in Demetre Roberts (0.3 in PORPAGATU!), Grant Singleton (0.3) and Sean Moore (0.3) despite their successes at St. Thomas Aquinas College (STAC). Let’s use Roberts as my main example: the three-time East Coast Conference (ECC) first team selection is coming off an impressive senior season. Those gaudy numbers may not translate perfectly into NEC hoops, but even a modest downtick across the board produces far better than a 0.3 rating. Comparing his Division II numbers to another diminutive, yet speedy point in Jalen Benjamin tells the story:

Demetre Roberts2021-2216.
Jalen Benjamin2021-2213.

The overall speed shouldn’t be much different between the top half of the ECC (where STAC always resided under Anderson) and the NEC, but the effective height will play up. Given this, let’s assume Roberts’ 2022-23 numbers tick downward and possibly mirror Benjamin’s production at the Mount last season. Even still, Benjamin produced a 2.0 PORPAGATU! (t-13th NEC) in 2021-22, well above Roberts’ current projection at 0.3, which doesn’t make a ton of sense.

The same case could be applied to Singleton and Moore, with the latter offering more upside defensively. As a STAC freshman a year ago, the 6’4” forward anchored the front of Anderson’s full court press and earned two Defensive Player of the Week awards. His blend of athleticism, length, and instincts – a similar profile also possessed by returning junior Joe Munden, Jr. – could wreak havoc for some NEC backcourts, and allow Roberts, Singleton and others to hunt steals for easy buckets in transition. There’s nowhere to go but up for FDU in transition – last season the Knights were last league wide in effective field goal percentage during transition opportunities with a mark of 48.9%, according to Hoop Math. That number, along with a middling defensive turnover rate of 18.2% (185th DI), should be a lock to improve thanks to the STAC talent coming to Hackensack.

It also helps that Anderson isn’t a stranger to rebuilding quickly. Back in his inaugural season at STAC, Anderson inherited a downtrodden 5-win program and engineered an impressive 10-win turnaround in year one. I’m not guaranteeing the Knights will be victorious 14 times in 2022-23, but even a more modest win output could find FDU within title contention come February. If that’s the case, the trio of STAC transfers will have emerged as leading players within the conference.

Central Connecticut State Posts Its Best Offensive Output in a Decade

While FDU’s defense has a great opportunity to improve, the same could be said for Pat Sellers’ offensive unit. The Blue Devils last season struggled at times to score, failing to convert many of their inside the arc opportunities (42.6%, 353rd DI) while also struggling with turnovers during stretches (20.6% turnover rate, 310th DI). CCSU went 5-2 in games where they averaged more than 1.00 point per possession in a contest, and posted a 3-22 mark when scoring 1.00 ppp or less. The low hanging fruit for the squad in New Britain is the offense!

As you all know, Sellers enters his second season, which usually helps when it comes to improving offense with a rebuilding program. Take a look with how these NEC programs improved in their second year of rebuilding with a new head coach:

Team/New Head CoachFirst Year Adjusted ORtgSecond Year Adjusted ORtgDifference
SFU/Rob Krimmel93.496.4+3.0
Mount/Jamion Christian102.5107.8+5.3
SHU/Anthony Latina99.3103.4+4.1
CCSU/Donyell Marshall93.098.0+5.0
Mount/Dan Engelstad94.896.4+1.6
CCSU/Pat Sellers91.5??

If Sellers’ offense trends similarly, he can take solace in that Nigel Scantlebury and Andre Snoddy return. Scantlebury, a pick-and-roll dynamo who’ll make 3s off the catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble, illustrated his scoring moxie late last season, averaging 20.8 points buoyed by a stout 48.5% free throw rate in the last 5 games of the season. The next step is to improve upon his 49.8% mark near-the-rim, while also honing his shot selection to whittle down his mid-range 2-point attempts. Those progressions are reasonable for a fifth year guy entering his second year with Seller’s “space and pace” concepts. 

Snoddy has the opposite program – his penchant for scoring inside the paint would become even more potent with a complimentary perimeter game. It’s something the sophomore – a 6-time NEC Rookie of the Week honoree last season – has assiduously worked on this offseason. I would certainly bet on Snoddy topping his 26.7% 2 and 3-point jumper percentage as a freshman by a healthy margin.

Additionally this offseason, Sellers wisely recruited more scorers to feature alongside Scantlebury and Snoddy, with Binghamton wing Kellen Amos and JUCO transfer guard Jay Rodgers joining the fray. While the two returning stars have their demonstrated strengths, Amos and Rodgers offer versatility, potentially giving the Blue Devils a more well rounded team on the floor. Amos’ lanky frame poses mismatch problems at the wing, and his “3 and rim” prowess – he made 60% near-the-rim last season per Hoop Math – will surely help a Blue Devils’ team that made just 51.5% of their near-the-rim takes last season. Rodgers, on the other hand, isn’t shy about getting downhill and finishing in traffic, and that’s complemented by a 40.1% conversion rate from deep at Cochise College last season.

Throw in second year players Jayden Brown, Joe Ostrowski, Davonte Sweatman and the expected jump they’re capable of, and I’d be very surprised if CCSU stays the same from an offensive efficiency standpoint as KenPom suggests in 2022-23. Like Saint Francis University, I see big things ahead for CCSU’s offense to the point where they could exceed the Blue Devils’ best offensive output in a decade. That would require a 6.0 jump in adjusted offensive efficiency in order to top Howie’s Dickenman’s 2013-14 squad when they posted an adjusted offensive efficiency of 97.4. That’s a big jump (these are bold predictions after all!), but nevertheless you should buy stock now on Seller’s offense. 

Rahmir Moore Will Lead Wagner in Scoring and Land in the NEC’s Top Five in the Same Category

Opportunities are plentiful in a league that lost much of its older talent, mostly via graduation. Some of those opportunities reside in Grymes Hill where after a fantastic 2021-22 campaign, the Seahawks start fairly anew after graduating five highly accomplished super seniors, including two-time NEC Player of the Year and one-time Defensive Player of the Year Alex Morales. Donald Copeland takes over the head coaching reins from friend and mentor Bashir Mason, and it’s because of those ties that I believe things stay the same for Wagner. Copeland said as much during NEC Media Day when asked if anything will change with Wagner basketball now that he’s in charge.

“I can’t say a whole lot,” Copeland admitted. “The motto is defense and toughness, so that’s what it’s going to be. Like Bash, I was raised that way within the game. It’s hard for me to just get off of it now.”

If you’re tough and willing to defend, you’ll enjoy more offensive freedom and more playing time. This is a major reason why Saint Joseph’s transfer Rahmir Moore should see the court quite a bit in his first season as a Seahawk – his defensive versatility, physical build and tenacity has been lauded by the Wagner coaching staff this preseason. The opportunity to score the ball on a team that graduated its top four scorers from a season ago is there as well.

“Those were two premier scorers in our league, Alex (Morales) and Will (Martinez), and there’s potential for that with Rahmir,” Copeland said when asked about how Moore compares to last season’s offensive talent.

Under Mason, the Seahawks thrived at attacking the rim and scoring in the mid-range, eschewing analytics and its love for ‘3 and Rim’ concepts in the process. With Morales, Martinez and Elijah Ford illustrating efficient pull-up jumpers while also thriving off the bounce, it was easy for Wagner to embrace the old-school approach while not sacrificing offensive efficiency. The same should now apply to Moore, who’s older brother Ramone was a standout player at Temple more than a decade ago.

At Saint Joseph’s under Billy Lange, Moore attempted 51.4% of his shots near the rim. Of his 58 makes by the rim in two seasons, only 15 of those were assisted, meaning Moore did well getting downhill and generating scoring looks by himself. A move from the Atlantic 10 to the NEC will make it easier for Moore to finish among opposing 4s and 5s, thus an improvement from a 46.4% conversion rate on near-the-rim attempts, per Hoop Math, makes sense.

Combine Moore’s skill set with a group of complementary guards led by Zaire Williams and DeLonnie Hunt, and he should fit in well as the off-the-bounce bull who makes a living at the charity stripe (career 73.8% FT). For me, Moore’s inevitable progression to a double digit per game scorer is exactly what Wagner needs, and if he matures to the 15 ppg level, then he’ll emerge as one of the premier scorers in the league.