With the 2019-20 college hoops season behind us, I wanted to get out one last post before we fully descend into baseball season. Most of you have already moved onto the offseason, scouring Verbal Commits daily for the latest transfer and commitment news. Nevertheless, I was hoping to put the final bow on the season even if it’s a little late. (Hey, I needed to finish my taxes on time!)
It’s been a terrific year of NEC hoops from my vantage point, one that culminated with the tandem of Darnell Edge, Romone Saunders, Sean Hoehn and Mike Holloway making the league extremely proud. The senior foursome reached the semifinals of the 3 on 3 national championship in Minneapolis, finishing with 4 victories and earning a collective $2,000. To finish fourth overall among a 32-team crowd – defeating the Atlantic 10 and SEC in the process – was quite impressive given the roster’s effective height and stiff competition they were facing.
Watching the seniors make plays in the open floor and assume roles – Saunders as the playmaker, Hoehn and Edge as the heady shooters and Holloway as the paint presence keen on setting up his teammates – got me thinking about the NEC’s best from the past season. It made me want to hand out my unofficial awards throughout the league, because why not?
Most Difficult to Contain
Romone Saunders, Wagner – If you watched any of the 3 on 3 national tournament, you’d know Saunders was difficult to contain. In the NEC’s first two victories in Pool C over the Big West and Atlantic 10, the graduate senior made 9 of 19 (47.4%) from behind the arc. When he’s on a roll like that, good luck and God speed, as it’s going to be a long night. Throughout the real season, Saunders size, strength and offensive instincts made him one of the most difficult players to contain. His game winner at the Mount in February perfectly encapsulates his “bull in the china shop” type of game when he’s heading downhill toward the basket.
Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn – Everyone knows Clark is driving to the basket, but the thing is, he’s still impossible to stop. His 201 free throw attempts led the league by a mile. He took 71% of his shots near the rim, according to Hoop Math, and still made 59.2% of those attempts. Currently, Clark is petitioning the NCAA for a fifth year as he only played one game as a walk-on freshman under Jack Perri. If he’s granted the extra season of eligibility, NEC coaches will be groaning at the thought of containing Clark once again.
Matty McConnell, Robert Morris – This was easy, as no one exhibited the fire and drive that McConnell showcased for 30+ games in a Colonials uniform. There are some who believe he was most deserving of the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and yet, it was McConnell’s maturation on the offensive end that help mold him into one of the most respected players the league has seen in recent memory. As a senior he posted career highs in KenPom offensive rating (105.5), free throw rate (35.6% FTA/FGA) and 3-point percentage (34.0%), while anchoring a Colonial defense that led the league in efficiency. He’ll be missed in Moon Township.
Jamaal King, Saint Francis – King’s competitiveness was a sight to behold, even if Rob Krimmel at times tried to rein in his talented guard’s on-the-court fire. From a fan’s perspective, however, King cared deeply about his program and how the Red Flash performed by wearing his emotions on his sleeve.
Keith Braxton, Saint Francis University – There really isn’t much else to say about Braxton, because it’s already been said on numerous occasions (I especially like Ron Ratner’s write-up here), now that the junior has a NEC Player of the Year trophy to flaunt. His innate ability to impact the game without dominating the ball it is a special trait that few possess.
Tyler Kohl, Central Connecticut – In Kohl’s first game as a junior at Hartford, then ESPN broadcaster referred to Kohl as “the old man at the YMCA.” Trust me, that’s a complement, as Kohl’s ability create opportunities for himself and his teammates, grab rebounds, and effectively freelance on defense made him a complete player.
Sean Hoehn, Sacred Heart – Hoehn’s assortment of stutter steps, pump fakes and hesitation dribbles also peg him as a future champ at the Y, when a 55-year-old version of himself is schooling high school and college players in rec leagues. In all seriousness though, the senior guard had a wonderful final season, improving exponentially from Cane Broome/Quincy McKnight sidekick to a full-fledged top 5 NEC player and demonstrated leader. Only a player who has worked extremely hard evolving his game could exhibit that kind of improvement. It’s been a great template for the Sacred Heart freshmen guards to follow in their future seasons.
Darnell Edge, Fairleigh Dickinson – There wasn’t anyone better from long distance than Edge, who shot an obscene 54.2% in the final season against NEC competition. A former free throw percentage champion who’s made 91.8% of his freebies on 268 career attempts (just stop and think about that for a second), Edge led all NEC guards with an effective field goal percentage of 58.1%. He’ll go down as one of the most accurate shooters in league history.
Mike Holloway, Fairleigh Dickinson – I know, I’m heavy on the seniors from the 3 on 3 national tournament team, but you simply can’t overlook the fact that Holloway lead the ENTIRE tournament field with 14 assists. For the big man to embrace his role as a facilitator surrounded by long distance savants speaks to Holloway’s unselfishness. Also telling is the fact that Holloway consistently deferred to his teammates over the course of FDU’s season, posting very good numbers (12.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 51.0% FG), but statistics that he easily could have beefed up if he was more selfish with the ball.
Jalen Jordan, St. Francis Brooklyn – With all due respect to the Red Flash’s Isaiah Blackmon, Jordan is a site to behold, a fluid athlete standing at 6-foot-3 who can drain triples as well as create shots for himself. His athleticism translates up to a higher level and his size makes him a difficult match-up, particularly when Glenn Braica trotted out a 3-guard lineup of Jordan, Glenn Sanabria and Chauncey Hawkins 21% of the time over the Terriers’ final five contests. I’ll leave you with this Ron Ratner tweet below. Good luck to the rest of league containing Jordan as an upperclassman…
Some absolutely filthy moves here by Jalen Jordan on this first 3P. He followed with 2 more triples from NBA range to help @SFBKTerriers to the Battle of Brooklyn 🏆 over LIU at the Pope Center. Jordan had 16p & Lai-Lynch MVP Glenn Sanabria had 17. SFBK now 7-6 in #NECMBB play. pic.twitter.com/yYuBbzv6eN
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) February 15, 2019
Vado Morse, Mount St. Mary’s – It’s obvious Morse was the best rookie in the league. He won the league’s rookie of the week honor six times and posted double figures in scoring in 16 of 18 NEC games. But to really drive home the type of year Morse had, I put his advance statistics up against some of the best freshman guards the conference has seen in recent memory:
- Morse, 2018-19: 101 ORtg, 49.4% eFG%, 21.7% assist rate, 38.4% FTA/FGA, 8.0% def rebounding rate
- Cane Broome, 2014-15: 102 ORtg, 49.7% eFG%, 15.0% assist rate, 31.3% FTA/FGA, 11.6% def rebounding rate
- Marcquise Reed, 2014-15: 104 ORtg, 53.1% eFG%, 18.6% assist rate, 32.6% FTA/FGA, 7.9% def rebounding rate
- Kyle Vinales, 2011-12: 100 ORtg, 47.0% eFG%, 24.1% assist rate, 23.7% FTA/FGA, 5.6% def rebounding rate
- Shivaughn Wiggins, 2012-13: 115 ORtg, 51.0% eFG%, 17.1% assist rate, 60.6% FTA/FGA, 6.0% def rebounding rate
More or less, Morse stacks up against some fantastic guards, considering that the other players mentioned above had far more experience around them compared to Morse. Case in point: Wiggins had a pair of NEC top 10 players in Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack flanking him, Reed was next to Lucky Jones and Rodney Pryor and Broome had an elite facilitator in Phil Gaetano setting him up. This makes Morse’s past season accomplishments all the more exceptional surrounded by one of the youngest teams in the nation. He’s easily a NEC top 10 playing entering his sophomore season.
A Quick Look Into the Future
I’ll leave you with a little prognostication into what the NEC Preseason First Team might look like come October. I think 3 of these names are locks to appear on the list with the final spot or two up for grabs. We’ll see!
- Jahlil Jenkins, FDU – If the coaches leave Jenkins off the preseason first team after his omission from an all-conference team for the 2018-19 season, then I give up.
- Keith Braxton, SFU – Well, of course.
- E.J. Anosike, Sacred Heart – For those of you who didn’t follow the league five years ago, Anosike has a similar game to NEC great Jalen Cannon. That tells you the path Anosike is heading toward: greatness.
- Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn – I’m assuming he’s granted another year of eligibility and therefore making Derek Kellogg’s third year a lot less stressful.
- Jalen Jordan, St. Francis Brooklyn – This was a tough call between Jordan and Isaiah Blackmon. Also Adam Grant and Bash Townes may be deserving.
Enjoy the offseason and I’ll talk to you along the way!