Tag Archives: Sacred Heart

A Look at the NEC’s Most Improved

As someone with two young kids, I’ve really come to appreciate efficiency. Getting everyone out the door, in the car, safely to daycare, and then to work in time for a 9:00 AM meeting poses major challenges without efficiency. And it increases my disdain for those who schedule 9:00 AM meetings.

If I make my lunch the evening before, that buys me five extra minutes to invest in the morning routine. If I lay out my clothes for the next day, there’s another two minutes. Change our toddler into his day clothes right after he wakes up in the morning, another minute. Back the car into the driveway the evening before so I don’t have to backout into the street the next morning, there’s 10 extra seconds! OK, maybe I’m a little crazy with this time efficiency stuff.

My love for efficiency extends to NEC hoops. I’m visiting KenPom.com more times each day than I’m going to my Facebook page. (Trust me, it’s better this way.) For this latest Overtime! Blog post I’m scouring KenPom to find some players who’ve greatly improved their efficiency numbers from last year. Consider this a compilation of the unofficial All-NEC Most Improved Team.

Let’s start with the most notable improver.

E.J. Anosike, Sacred Heart (87 ORtg in 2017-18 to 118 ORtg this season)

At NEC Social Media Day, Anthony Latina specifically targeted Anosike as someone who should strive to win the NEC’s Most Improved Player award. This declaration is close to coming to fruition, as Anosike, who no longer sits on the bench behind Joe Lopez and Mario Matasovic, has illustrated a stark improvement. The sophomore has excelled as the team’s primary power forward, improving his effective field goal percentage by almost 17 points in conference play! And that’s with far more usage. He’s expanded his shooting range (39.5% 3PT on 43 attempts), developed a much improved touch (60.3% on shots near the rim) and continues to rebound at a high level. Anosike’s statistic profile (14.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), size, position and bull-in-the-china shop game had me wondering how he stacks up next to a NEC all-time great when he was a sophomore:

  • Anosike, 2018-19: 118 ORtg, 22% possession rate, 55% eFG, 18% def rebound rate, 57% FTA/FGA
  • Jalen Cannon, 2013-14: 117 ORtg, 24% possession rate, 51% eFG, 20% def rebound rate, 55% FTA/FGA

Wow, that’s a heck of a comp for Anosike!

Adam Grant, Bryant (94 ORtg in 2017-18 to 104 ORtg this season)

On the surface Grant’s counting numbers over his 3-year career (13.4 ppg as freshman, 15.6 ppg as sophomore, 15.4 ppg as junior) doesn’t illustrate improvement, but a look under the efficiency hood depicts a different tale. We have always respected his ability to drain clutch perimeter shots, a skill that makes him one of the more talented guards in the conference. His quick release that requires very little separation is impressive to watch. Case in point:



Honestly, you can fall into a Twitter wormhole watching clips of Adam Grant clutch 3s (trust me, there’s plenty of them)! He’s always been a shotmaker from day one, but the addition of freshman Joe Kasperzyk and grad transfer Byron Hawkins into the backcourt has helped reduce Grant’s burden, putting him in better spots to succeed. The talent infusion has led to Grant shooting a career best 37.4% from behind the arc (41.2% in league play), while sporting a career low turnover rate (14.1%). He basically isn’t sacrificing scoring despite fewer shot attempts. Efficiency!

Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson (102 ORtg in 2017-18 to 108 ORtg this season)

Jenkins is the lifeblood of the Knights, handling the point guard duties while playing nearly 92% of the team’s minutes this season. That’s A LOT of playing time, and yet Jenkins has managed to take a page out of the uber-efficient Glenn Sanabria book – post an assist rate north of 20%, turn the ball over infrequently with respect to a floor general and offer consistent production from behind the arc (37.8% in NEC play) and at the free throw line (88.6%, 37th nationally). It comes as no surprise that FDU is one of the most efficient offenses in league play, with the multi-faceted Jenkins playing a vital role.

Raul Frias, LIU Brooklyn (107 ORtg in 2017-18 to 120 ORtg this season)

The senior guard from Miami is the epitome of instant offense off the bench. With his long-range moxie as the focal point, Frias is posting the third highest efficiency rating in league play while also registering a solid 2.7% steal rate. He’s made a three-pointer in 17 of his last 18 games, a remarkable sign of consistency for someone who plays just 48% of the LIU Brooklyn’s minutes. Compared to last season, Frias has improved his scoring production by 290% (3.0 ppg to 8.7 ppg) and his rebounding numbers by 231% (1.3 rpg to 3.0 rpg), while improving his defensive profile as well. On a Blackbirds squad that prides itself on getting out in transition, Frias has emerged as the reliable scoring threat camped out behind the three-point line.

Kinnon LaRose, Sacred Heart
(112 ORtg in 2017-18 to 135 ORtg this season)

This tweet was probably what spurred the idea for me to write this post in the first place:


LaRose has always been an efficient player – competent three-point shooters who don’t turn the ball over usually are – but this year has been exceptional. He’s clearly the beneficiary of more talent around him, compared to last season when he and Sean Hoehn were forced to do much of the heavy lifting in the backcourt. Now with Cam Parker, Koreem Ozier and Aaron Clarke in the mix, LaRose has slotted into an off-the-bench, stretch-four role which has enhanced his strengths. There’s more space for him to make outside shots, he’s able to finish near the rim by blowing by bigger defenders and his savvy positioning has made him a sneaky good offensive rebounder (8.2% offensive rebound rate).

And now for an unconventional bonus selection…


Vado Morse, Mount St. Mary’s (111 ORtg this season)

Yes, the probable NEC Rookie of the Year obviously didn’t play for the Mount last season, yet his improved efficiency has been noteworthy from an intra-season standpoint. The Mount played a difficult non-conference schedule full of bigger, physical defenses which surely impacted Morse’s play from the start. Mount coach Dan Engelstad agrees, but he also believes there are other factors at play besides the non-conference schedule.

“Yeah I think that’s part of it, but I also think the game’s starting to slow down for him,” he said with respect to Morse’s improvement against NEC competition. “I think he’s done a lot of film study, I think he’s really become a student of the game, finding out where he can best put himself and our team in good situations and I think that’s showing up lately.”

In league play, Morse has been unguardable at times, showcasing a lethal quick release on the perimeter while flying by defenders when he puts the ball on the floor. Truth be told, he’s one of the toughest players to guard one-on-one, a scary predicament down the road for opposing NEC coaches. He’s posted a KenPom offensive rating of 100 or higher in 10 of 16 league games, compared to 4 of 10 in non-conference play. Any player who’s showing his productivity by shooting 56% from 2, 37% from 3 and 76% from the free throw line in league play, should be viewed as a serious candidate for an all-conference team.

And now for some honorable mention guys:

Deion Bute, Central Connecticut (102 ORtg in 2017-18 to 111 ORtg this season)
Joe Hugley, Central Connecticut (105 ORtg in 2017-18 to 109 ORtg this season)

Both junior college transfers have seen a steady growth the second year in Donyell Marshall’s system, although for Bute, it could be argued that he would’ve been more efficient in 2017-18 had he not injured his knee halfway through league play.

Elijah Davis, Wagner (95 ORtg in 2017-18 to 101 ORtg this season)

As awesome as Romone Saunders is, Davis may be just as critical to Bashir Mason from an offensive standpoint. In games where Davis has posted an offensive rating north of 100, Wagner is 10-3.

Chris Coalman, Robert Morris (93 ORtg in 2017-18 to 108 ORtg this season)

Coalman may have a limited role in Andy Toole’s rotation, yet something is going right when you’ve made 61% of your shot attempts, some of which came from downtown.

Randall Gaskins, Saint Francis U (intra-season improvement)

Gaskins struggled with his offense during the non-conference campaign, but has since rebounded big time to post a 64.3% effective field goal rate against conference foes.

#NECMBB Thoughts on Two Elite Defenses: Robert Morris and Sacred Heart

Defensive wins championships. Or something like that.

While there isn’t one avenue to winning the NEC championship and punching your ticket to the NCAA tournament, playing exceptional defense will certainly improve your chances. There have been countless examples over the past decade of teams finishing in the top half of the league, thanks in large part to a tenacious defensive effort.

One third of the way into league play, Robert Morris and Sacred Heart stand tall as the two best defensive squads, at least in terms of KenPom’s defensive efficiency. I find it interesting that both programs are going about their defensive excellence in different ways. With their much anticipated match-up on the horizon this Thursday, allow me to examine what has made each program difficult to score on during the six-game sample size.

Sacred Heart – 2nd in NEC Defensive Efficiency

On a team that’s fairly inexperienced going into the season, depth and balance weren’t expected to emerge as strengths for Anthony Latina’s squad. Instead, the new look roster that routinely features three freshmen and one sophomore improbably leads the league in scoring (81.1 ppg), assists (15.2 apg) and is second in field goal percentage (46.4%) and rebounding margin (+5.1 rpg). If you factor tempo into the equation, as any good statistician would, Sacred Heart has the best raw offensive efficiency after scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions through 18 Division I games.

While the Pioneers offense has gotten a lot of attention this season, it’s actually their defense that’s been noteworthy of late. Through six NEC games, the Pioneers find themselves 2nd among their league counterparts in defensive efficiency at 93.2 points allowed per 100 possessions. In four home victories, the Pioneers haven’t let an opponent score over a point per possession and have been relentless in their defensive ball pressure. Case in point: road opponents are shooting just 16.9% on their 3s and they’re shooting less of them (37.4% 3PTA/FGA) compared to the league average.

One focus of Anthony Latina and his coaching staff has been to restrict 3-point attempts – remember the discussion we had regarding St. Francis Brooklyn? – by focusing on the team’s defensive tenacity in practice. The blueprint: Stay in front of your defender, challenge the shot and mix up your defensive schemes to cause discomfort. Because of the Pioneers’ focus on staying in front, they’re taking less chances in turning opponents over (aka less risk and less fouling), as evident from their league worst 16% turnover rate. Thus far the formula has worked well, especially after holding CCSU, Bryant and Wagner to 61, 70 and 38 points, respectively.

Let’s be perfectly honest, though. The philosophy employed by Latina and his staff surely helps when you have a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate guarding the paint in Jare’l Spellman. Coming off an incredible 9-block effort versus Wagner, Spellman is now 21st in the country in block rate, swatting away 11.4% of the opponent’s shot attempts when he’s on the floor. For a little perspective into this stat, here are the five best block rates from an NEC player since Ken Pomeroy kept track of the stat starting in 2003-04:

Player/Team (Yr) Block Rate % Team Minutes Played Fouls Committed per 40 min
John Bunch, Monmouth (’06-07) 17.6% 49% 4.0
Naofall Folahan, Wagner (’13-14) 14.2% 52% 6.0
Amdy Fall, SFBK (’14-15) 12.2% 49% 4.9
Jare’l Spellman, SHU (’18-19) 11.4% 64% 4.5
AJ Sumbry, Wagner (’17-18) 10.6% 48% 7.2

Just from purely a shot blockers standpoint, Spellman’s effort has been historic. Not only is he on the floor more often than the other four defensive standouts in their peak seasons above, but he’s also done a decent job staying out of foul trouble, unlike a couple on the list. He’s committed a modest 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, which is a respectable number given the 6-foot-10 center’s activity around the rim. There’s no doubt his presence is a major reason why teams are converting just 45.5% of their 2-point takes against Sacred Heart.

It’s also worth noting that the Pioneers have done well to eliminate their opponent’s second chance opportunities, which is where the team’s positive rebounding margin comes into play. With Spellman (21.4% defensive rebounding rate) and EJ Anosike (18.4%) leading the charge, as well as some guards who aren’t afraid to attack the defensive glass in traffic (Koreem Ozier, 16.4%; Cam Parker, 13.1%; Zach Radz, 11.7%), there’s another reason why the opponent’s field goal percentage inside the arc has been depressed. Putbacks are high percentage opportunities to score and this current roster has limited the damage their opponents can do with respect to that.

Wet blanket alert: there is some room for regression in the Pioneers’ defensive efficiency numbers, unless you truly believe Sacred Heart will hold league opponents to just 26.6% shooting from behind the arc all season (spoiler alert: I don’t). But even as these percentages progress more toward the mean, the overall metrics still portray a defensive unit that’s on the rise thanks to their perimeter tenacity, grittiness and their defensive play down low.

Now the true test is upon them: can Latina’s group continue this effort away from the friendly confines of the Pitt Center? Their 1-6 road record against mid-major opponents this season is glaring and must be improved if this team intends to compete for the NEC championship. We should learn a lot with trips to Robert Morris, Saint Francis and Mount St. Mary’s in their next three. The Pioneers are 3-13 at these venues over the last half decade.

Robert Morris – 1st in NEC Defensive Efficiency

Death. Taxes. Andy Toole coaching elite defense. The nine-year Robert Morris coach is a master at stopping opponents from scoring and this season is no different. Their current trend of allowing just 92.5 points per 100 possessions in league play would be the best mark a NEC program has achieved since the 2011-12 Wagner Seahawks, coached by Dan Hurley, permitted just 90.1 points per 100 possessions.

Can the Colonials realistically keep up their current pace? Based on Toole’s history of repeatedly finishing in the league’s top three defenses year after year, I believe so. And this year it’s partly because of one critical senior.

I’m in awe of Malik Petteway. Allow me to explain with some tweets.

While I don’t have copious amounts of time to determine if these numbers are unprecedented, they are incredible to look at on paper. Petteway is among the NCAA individual leaders in block rate (8.2%, 61st nationally) and steal rate (4.5%, 22nd nationally), while grabbing 23.0% of the opponent’s misses. His athleticism, defensive anticipation and hustle have turned him into the next Chris Wray of the NEC. We all became aware of Petteway’s defensive prowess in Robert Morris’ first conference game of the year.

While the coast-to-coast action was impressive on its own, Petteway’s performance at Bryant last Thursday was fantastic in all aspects. He literally did it all in his 14-point, 9-rebound, 4-steal and 1-block effort in 19 minutes that evening:

Among this highlight reel of plays, I was most impressed with Petteway’s ability to step up when Robert Morris needed him too. In the above clip at the 0:22 second mark, Petteway aggressively hedged on a high pick and roll, stole the ball from the very reliable Adam Grant (13.1% turnover rate) and dunked it home in the open floor. The highlight play halted a 10-2 Bulldog run and essentially stopped the Bulldogs in the midst of their furious comeback attempt. And if that wasn’t enough, Petteway threw in an emphatic block (0:38 in the clip) on the very next possession to stick the nail in the coffin and deliver the Colonials yet another road victory.

In the team’s televised road game against the 4-2 Terriers, Petteway logged a couple of thefts in a critical part of the game on back-to-back possessions. The two takeaways, around the 4-5 minute mark of the second half in a tight contest, led to four Robert Morris points, which can’t be understated in an offensive slog of a contest decided by just three points. Again, Petteway did it with his anticipation and exceptional defensive awareness.

It’s clear Petteway has added another dimension to the Colonials defense. His ability to generate turnovers along with backcourt teammates Matty McConnell (3.5% steal rate) and Jon Williams (2.5% steal rate) gives Toole a trio that has taken the rock away on 23.5% of their opponent’s possessions, good for 16th in the country. The turnovers have given the Colonials more opportunities in transition, where they’ve been more efficient shooting the basketball. According to Hoop-Math, Robert Morris has posted an effective field goal percentage (eFG) of 60.0% in their transition opportunities. For a team that averages 48.1% eFG overall, that’s a massive boost to the Colonials offense.

Three of Robert Morris’ next four games feature potent offenses in Sacred Heart, Fairleigh Dickinson and Saint Francis U. Will the Colonials continue to impose their will and turn these contests in half-court affairs focused on execution, or will high tempo win out?

We will learn a lot about these two defenses in the coming weeks. Enjoy the upcoming action!

🏈 Kickoff 2017 🏈 Reading List

NEC football is BACK for a 22nd season. All seven teams lift the lid of the 2017 campaign with games on Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week.

Plenty was written about #NECFB this summer and the word counts have increased with the arrival of GAME WEEK.

We have done all the work for you and constructed your End-of-the-Summer NEC Football Reading List.



Bryant begins new era under up-tempo Perry – Woonsocket Call (Branden Mello)

EXCERPT: A number of other Bryant leaders who were on 2014 team see some similarities, but they know how hard it will be for the squad to replicate that start.


Get to know Central Connecticut State, Syracuse football’s first opponent – Syracuse.com (Staff)

EXCERPT: SU head coach Dino Babers called opening against the Blue Devils a “very dangerous situation.” How much of that is truth and how much is coachspeak?


Duquesne Football Faces Stiff Test To Open Season On Thursday — CBS Pittsburgh (93-7 The Fan)

EXCERPT: “It’s new for us to go up to that part of the country, but a couple years we opened against Old Dominion, they put 25-30,000 people in their seats and two years ago, we went up and playing Buffalo and actually were leading that game in the 4th quarter at one point in time,” said Schmitt.


Duquesne Dukes bringing FCS playoff contender to Brookings – Argus Leader (Matt Zimmer)

EXCERPT: The Dukes are the first team to get a shot, and while they’ll be decided underdogs against the defending Missouri Valley Football Conference champions, they are not an early-season sacrificial lamb. This is an FCS team with some momentum of its own.


Stetson to honor Blakely at season opener – YAHOO! Sports (STATS)

EXCERPT: Sacred Heart is planning to hold a moment of silence before the nonconference game.


Fenimore to start for Red Flash – WTAJ (Alex Cawley)

EXCERPT: Coach Chris Villarrial pointed to the Houston transfers’ progression in camp, as well as his ability to check out of plays at the line of scrimmage, as the reason for his decision.


Alex Thomson, Wagner College football team set for opener Thursday – Staten Island Advance (Advance Sports Desk)

EXCERPT: Last season was about recovery and rebuilding for Wagner College, which won one game in Jason Houghtaling’s first year as head coach in 2015.


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