Tag Archives: Saint Francis

Summarizing the Best #NECMBB Players of the 2018-19 Season

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.

Most Gritty/Competitive

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.

Best Stat-Stuffers

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.

Best Leader

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.

Best Sharpshooter

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.

Best Teammate

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.

Best Athlete

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…


Best Rookie

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!

Fairleigh Dickinson’s First Ever NCAA Tournament Victory Highlights the NEC’s Great Night

Tuesday night marked a magical night for the NEC. Three teams were in action, and all three played well, representing the league as best as anyone could have imagined going into the night. Please allow me to offer my thoughts on the action, starting with the biggest win in FDU’s history.

Good Luck Keeping the Knight’s Offense at Bay for 40 Minutes

Fairleigh Dickinson started their first NCAA tournament game since 2016 with 9 turnovers versus 2 field goals. The Prairie View Panthers, the SWAC champions, came out on fire, hitting 10 of their first 14 shots from behind the arc. Even the team’s starting 6’7″ forward, Devonte Patterson, made 3 of 5 from way downtown after going 10 of 58 (17.2%) from 3 for the season.

The Panthers’ quickness was bothering the Knights, bottling up passing lanes and preventing Jenkins and others from dribble penetrating to create. They came into the night sixth in the country in defensive turnover rate, and their early extractions only bolstered their case.

In other words, it didn’t seem to be Fairleigh Dickinson’s night. Trailing by double figures early in the second half must have felt like a 20-point deficit, but then Greg Herenda’s offense started to settle down like they did over the final eight minutes of the first half.

Great offenses can be contained for stretches, but rarely will they be held down over the entirety of 40 minutes. Such was the case on Tuesday night. In the Knights final 26 possessions, they scored 44 points for a pristine 1.69 points per possession mark. Yes, I’m acutely aware of my proclivity to cherry pick good-looking data, but this data represents a meaningful sample size. When you look over the Knights past four postseason appearances, in fact, the offensive explosive has been a marvel to watch. Case in point:

  • NEC Quarterfinal vs Wagner: 43 points in 24 possession to close first half (1.79 ppp)
  • NEC Semifinal vs Robert Morris: 27 points in 18 possessions in a second half comeback (1.50 ppp)
  • NEC Final vs Saint Francis U: 60 points in 40 possessions in the meat of the game (1.50 ppp)
  • NCAA tournament First Four vs Prairie View: 44 points in 26 possessions to close game (1.69 ppp)

And they are doing this all with a 6-man rotation!

After an ominous start to the second stanza, Jahlil Jenkins took over. Despite misfiring on his first two shots of the half, Jenkins dazzled to convert 8 of his final 10 field goal attempts, en route to a scorching hot 20-point, 4-assist and 2-rebound performance in what amounted to be 19-plus breathtaking minutes. The Panthers did an admirable job stymying the lightning quick floor general in the early going, but like he did in the second half of the NEC semifinals, Jenkins’ will and elite agility got the best of the opposition.

It comes as no surprise – the diminutive floor general was a winner in high school, leading Virginia Academy to a Division 3 state championship as a junior. It was a big reason why Herenda was recruiting Jenkins in the first place!

Along with his partner in crime Edge, the duo combined for 55 points on 29 shots – quite efficient to say the least – while turning the ball over just four times in the game. The last statistic impresses when the ball was seemingly in both guards hands at every waking moment. Guard play wins big games, and the First Four opener in Dayton is living proof of that.

While Edge’s play in the first half should be lauded for keeping the Knights in the game – his 18 points was more than the rest of his teammates combined (16) – the other senior was pivotal down the stretch. Mike Holloway had a difficult 25-plus minutes – he appeared to be pressing, unable to finish around the rim (2 of 6), catch the ball cleanly and find open teammates when Prairie View collapsed on him near the rim (5 turnovers). At one point, Reggie Miller even suggested on the nationally televised broadcast that FDU should stop giving Holloway the ball!

The great 3-point shooter turned announcer hadn’t ever witnessed the senior’s resolve and heart, and knew little about the bruiser from Essex County, New Jersey. When it mattered most, Holloway buckled down and provided the Knights with the dominating interior presence the team was lacking throughout the contest. After committing 3 turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half, Holloway settled down to pour in 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocks. The first rejection came at an opportune time, as Jenkins’ transition basket off the Holloway block was the start of a much-needed 14-3 spurt that gave FDU their first lead (61-59) of the contest.

Overall, it was a terrific second half comeback, even if this story was written before in the NEC semifinal. It was deja vu in a way, with Edge and Jenkins willing the Knights and keeping the team’s magical season alive. Onto Utah to face the #1 seed Gonzaga!

The Red Flash Conclude a Successful Season

It was supposed to be another ho-hum victory for the Indiana Hoosiers. Yes, they were part of the first four teams out of the NCAA tournament field, and thus their motivation would understandably be in question, right? But surely they’d make quick work of Saint Francis after demonstrating their dominance against programs from smaller leagues this season. In six home games against mid-major competition in 2018-19, the Hoosiers won all six contests by an average of 31 points.

Indiana needed to work harder that they anticipated for win number seven.

The start was promising enough – a 14-0 run after falling behind 7-2 early seemed par for the course. The lead would extend to nine points, 22-13, before the Red Flash made their run, much of it having to do with the play of senior star Jamaal King. The 5’10” NEC all-conference first teamer was awesome in the first 20 minutes at Assembly Hall, registering 16 points on 9 shots to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. His ability to make perimeter jumpers and convert at the stripe (4 of 4) was a big reason why Saint Francis held a surprising 6-point advantage at the half.

Indiana came out swinging after the break, presumably in response to head coach Archie Miller’s stern lecture in the locker room. The Hoosiers went back to using their size advantage, outscoring the Red Flash 56-18 in the paint. They stopped settling for ill-advised 3s and they won going away.

Despite the season ending setback, Saint Francis and King in particular have a lot to be proud of. The program’s NIT appearance is their first since 1958, back when that postseason tournament was the premier event in college basketball. For Rob Krimmel, this year’s NEC Coach of the Year, to turn Saint Francis into a league powerhouse is a remarkable accomplishment. And the head coach casts much of the credit to King.

“He’s a big part of why the program is where it is right now, because of his willingness to stick with us, to challenge guys to be better,” Krimmel said in the postgame press conference at Assembly Hall. “And as I’ve said before, the best thing that this team did all year, is that they were close… and it was Jamaal King that was responsible for that.”

Prior to that, Krimmel praised King in more ways than one. “I don’t know if I’ve coached a more competitive kid. To see where he’s comes as a freshman and where he is now as a player and a person, it’s – you know when you hear the saying ‘good things happen to good people,’ he’s right there by that definition in the dictionary.”

King finished his excellent career with 1,536 points, 391 assists, 290 rebounds and 138 steals. He, along with Andre Wolford and Luidgy Laporal, will be missed on a Red Flash roster that won its first NEC regular season championship since 1991.

For Krimmel’s complete press conference, go here. His video begins at the 9:20 mark.

Robert Morris Keeps Their Season Alive

The Colonials saved their best for last from an offensive standpoint, at least for the time being. Robert Morris scored a season high 98 points and 1.24 ppp against Division I competition in their CIT opening round victory on Tuesday night. The trio of Matty McConnell, Josh Williams and Jon Williams were sensational, combining for 83 of the team’s 98 points (84.7%).

It wasn’t a consistent defensive effort by any stretch, but Andy Toole was pleased the team made the stops when needed, especially in overtime.

The Colonials will live to see another day in the CIT, with their next matchup to be determined.

In the meantime, the NEC gets to showcase St. Francis Brooklyn at the CIT on Thursday night, along with an exciting FDU matchup in Utah against Gonzaga. Enjoy the action, NEC postseason basketball in mid March: there’s nothing better!


Thoughts and Reflections on the NEC Tournament Quarterfinals

March Madness has officially begun! For me, it honestly doesn’t get any better than watching four NEC tournament quarterfinals games on a weekday evening. The chaos that ensues for three hours is something to behold.

I did my best to absorb all of the Wednesday night action and wanted to record my thoughts of each contest. Even if it was with a heavy heart after my Pioneers lost a tough one to a veteran LIU Brooklyn squad. In fact, let’s start with the game in Fairfield…

Three-Point Shooting Carries LIU Brooklyn in NECT Upset

In one of my first years as a “glorious” blogger for NYC Buckets, I went to a game in Maryland. The road team lost that December matchup, mainly because they couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn. Afterwards, I sought out the head coach, but he wasn’t in much of a mood to talk to me. (And I don’t blame him.) His money quote to me that night ending up being something like, “If you don’t make shots on the road, you aren’t going to win.”

Ok, then.

As simplistic as that is – obviously the coach wasn’t about to share any of the hairy details for why his team shot so poorly – Anthony Latina likely felt the same way after the game last night. The Pioneers were hosting a NEC tournament quarterfinal for only the second time in nine seasons, and what unfortunately transpired was one of their worst shooting performances of the season. They converted a meager two triples out of 20 attempts after making 36.9% in 18 regular season games. Many of those misses were open looks, not necessary a product of LIU’s defense.

The charity stripe was unkind to the Pioneers as well – they left eight points off the scoreboard after shooting 63.6% in the contest, a far cry from their league leading 79.3% mark versus NEC competition. There may be no explanation other than the moment was possibly a little too big for the second least experienced team in the NEC.

On the flip side, a veteran LIU Brooklyn squad made the most of their opportunities from behind the arc, draining 11 of 24 (45.8%).

These two programs share some recent history in the NEC tournament, as each were exactly in the same position three years ago, at least with respect to their seeding. Back then in the 3-seed/6-seed matchup, the hosting Pioneers watched role player Iverson Fleming torch them in the first half, finishing the playoff contest with 18 points on 7 shots. Fleming had as many 3s (3 for 3) in the game as Sacred Heart had combined (3 for 20). This time around was almost like deja vu for Latina.

After making just two triples all season, Eral Penn made 3 of 5 from long distance. Jashaun Agosto, known far more for his ability to go downhill and attack the rim, made all three of his 3-point attempts. One of those buckets came at a critical time. With the shot clock winding down and the Blackbirds up three late, Agosto’s attempt at the top of the key found nothing but nylon, giving LIU a 2-possession cushion. As the old saying goes, guard play wins championships.

In all, six of Derek Kellogg’s players hit a 3-pointer and their free throw shooting down the stretch was just enough to keep the charging Pioneers at bay. When you hold a 27-point advantage from 3 and shoot 14 percentage points better from the charity stripe, you’re winning most of the time. You can afford to lose the battle on the backboards (-6), score less points in the paint (-12) and commit more turnovers (-5) as long as you do one thing significantly better than your opponent. The Blackbirds made shots on the road, and they won. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.

A Highlight Reel in Hackensack

The Knights came into the NEC tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 11 of their last 13. They won those 11 by an average of 10 points per victory. They shot a blistering 51.1% (214 of 418) on their 2s, 47.3% on their 3s (88 of 186) and dished out 165 assists against 131 turnovers for a splendid 1.26 A/TO on those victorious nights. Their offense had basically matched the program’s incredible level three years prior, when a core of Darian Anderson, Stephon Jiggetts, Marques Townes and Earl Potts lead the league in offensive efficiency. The high flying, shot-making, crisp passing Knights under Greg Herenda were back and seniors Mike Holloway and Darnell Edge were a part of it for the second time.

Wagner was up against an offensive juggernaut, but if anyone could quell FDU’s attack it would be defensive mistro Bashir Mason, right? The start of the game were promising enough for Mason’s Seahawks. Two triples by Romone Saunders and Elijah Davis and two empty possessions by FDU spotted Wagner a 6-0 lead more than 3:30 in. And then the fireworks started in Hackensack. What transpired was an offensive masterpiece – the Knights closed the first half out with 43 points on their next 23 possession for an absurd 1.87 points per possession. In those 23 possessions, the Knights came up empty just four times, while scoring in their final seven times down the court.

When the dust settled, Wagner didn’t know what hit them, trailing 43-14. Five Knights scored in double figures led by NEC all-conference second teamer Holloway and his 18 points on 7 shots. The ever versatile Elyjah Williams had 17, while sharpshooter Darnell Edge “only” contributed with 15. Jahlil Jenkins was his heady floor general self, dishing out six assists versus just one turnover. How he didn’t make an all-conference team is beyond me, but I digress.

Greg Herenda now possesses a career record of 5-3 in the NEC tournament, including a perfect 3-0 mark at home. That flawless record at the Rothman Center will be tested with Andy Toole and the defensive minded Colonials coming to town. Does Matty McConnell guard Darnell Edge? Who do you match up on the suddenly resurgent Holloway? What is Toole’s game plan for keeping Jenkins in front of his defenders?

It’ll be a fascinating chess match on Saturday, but for now, let’s sit back and admire the beautiful team basketball Herenda’s group has exhibited over the past six weeks. It sure is fun to watch them in transition…

On the offensive glass…

And in the half court with the sick stepback…

This is a special offensive unit.

Robert Morris Finds a Way

Coming into tonight, the Terriers haven’t been good on the road (3-6 in NEC play) whereas the Colonials have taken well to the cozy NAC gym with a 7-2 mark against conference foes. Andy Toole had bested Glenn Braica twice this season, and has gone 7-2 at home in the NEC tournament. Conversely, Braica is 2-7 in the conference playoffs with his only two victories coming during the Terriers magical 23-win season in 2014-15.

Want more kindling on the fire? The best defense in the NEC is a perfect 11-0 in league play when they hold their opponents to under 65 points or less. St. Francis Brooklyn could only muster 0.88 points per possession in their two losses (49 and 62 points, respectively) to their Pennsylvania rival. Throw in a 400 mile trip from Brooklyn to Moon Township and all signs point toward an easy victory for the hosting Colonials. Right?

Not so fast.

(Image of KenPom Chart)

At that point in the contest, the Terriers held a 55-47 lead with 4 minutes remaining. KenPom gave them a 95% chance to pull out it out and would have given the program their first NEC tournament victory since their memorable 2014-15 campaign.

But then, Matty McConnell happened.

McConnell was awesome in what could’ve been his final game as a Colonial – he finished with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks (!) in what turned out to be an overtime victory. But it was also the Colonials defense that kept them alive in regulation, holding the Terriers to one point in their final 7 possessions in regulation. Malik Petteway, the modern day Chris Wray, put his stamp on the defensive effort.

The defense continued the momentum into the overtime, holding the shellshocked Terriers to one 3-pointer in five possessions. By then, the Colonials had a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. It was a phenomenal comeback led by McConnell and, surprise suprise, an Andy Toole coached defense. The victory was Toole’s 13th NEC tournament win against seven defeats.

Survive and Advance

It’s not easy having a bullseye on your back. Saint Francis University learned that lesson the hard way in last season’s NEC tournament when the 7-seeded FDU Knights upset the 2-seeded Red Flash in Loretto. In a similar situation yesterday, Rob Krimmel’s team jumped out to a comfortable 18-point lead at the half on the visiting Bryant Bulldogs.

One sluggish second half later and the Red Flash survived with a 4-point victory. It wasn’t pretty in that second stanza, but like Mount St. Mary’s (over Sacred Heart by 3 points in 2017 NECT QF) and Fairfield Dickinson (over SFU by 2 points in the 2016 NEC QF) before them, all you have to do is survive and advance. And that’s exactly what the kids from Loretto did. They may have only scored 1.03 ppp against the league’s worst defense from an efficiency standpoint, but the name of the game is to win.

The big four of SFU – Keith Braxton, Isaiah Blackmon, Jamaal King and Andre Wolford – combined for 54 of the team’s 67 points. They’ll be tested on Saturday when the defending NECT champions come to town having won 5 of their last 6.

The road to a NEC tournament championship is never easy.


NEC Tidbits Before the Final Week

For my final post before the NEC regular season ends, I felt like talking about a myriad of topics. There’s really no theme here, other than the Q&A I’m about to engage myself in.

What do we know going into the final week?

Well, it’s looking like my over/under prediction will wind up short, but not by much.

Historically, the best team in the NEC regular season standings has routinely crossed the 14-win threshold, even during the 2013-14 campaign when the league’s schedule was cut to 16 games. Below are the NEC regular season champions over the past decade:

Season Team NEC Record
2017-18 Wagner 14-4
2016-17 Mount St. Mary’s 14-4
2015-16 Wagner 13-5
2014-15 St. Francis Brooklyn 15-3
2013-14 Robert Morris 14-2
2012-13 Robert Morris 14-4
2011-12 LIU Brooklyn 16-2
2010-11 LIU Brooklyn 16-2
2009-10 Quinnipiac 15-3
2008-09 Robert Morris 15-3

Going back another five years, you’ll find the last time a team finished in first place with 12 wins. Both Monmouth and St. Francis Brooklyn in 2003-04 were tied atop the standings at season’s end with a 12-6 conference record.

Will we see this happen again by the end of Saturday’s set of games? According to KenPom, Saint Francis has a 44% and 36% chance to win at Wagner and Sacred Heart, respectively. For the Red Flash to sweep their final two contests, the odds drop to 16%. The good news for Rob Krimmel’s group is being on the road hasn’t been a detriment to Saint Francis’ success of late; they’ve won five of their last seven outside of their friendly confines.

As for the rest of the league’s odds, I highly recommend diving into Ron Ratner’s weekly update. Some of the teams still have a wide range of outcomes; for example, Sacred Heart can finish anywhere from first all the way to seventh depending on what goes down this weekend. LIU Brooklyn could possibly host a NEC tournament playoff game (#4 seed) or not make the tournament all together.

Who’s the next NEC Jim Phelan Coach of the Year?

I honestly don’t know, and can’t confidently answer this with an educated guess until the regular season is finished. For me, there are four legitimate candidates at the moment. And their chances all hinge on the regular season results for the final week.

Rob Krimmel, Saint Francis U – The 7-year head coach and long-time NEC participant would’ve been the logical choice for the award had the Red Flash kept their winning streak alive last Saturday against the Blackbirds. But in NEC fashion, LIU Brooklyn was powered behind 35 points from Ty Flowers and Raiquan Clark to pull off the upset in Loretto. Now, the Red Flash must win the league title the hard way, on the road against two programs looking to finish in the top four. If the Red Flash can claim the championship outright, it will be hard to keep Krimmel from earning his first ever COY honor, even though the Red Flash were expected to be at the top during preseason prognostications back in the fall. That didn’t stop the coaches from voting for Glenn Braica after the Terriers’ 15-3 masterpiece in 2014-15.

Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson – Like Krimmel’s squad, many pundits expected FDU to be at or near the top by late February. A 9-2 run after a 1-4 start has put them in a good position – they’re hosting at least one NEC tournament game at worse – with winnable games at the Mount and Central Connecticut looming. If the Knights sweep the mini road stand and acquire a share of the NEC regular season title, I’d have no qualms if the COY is awarded to Herenda.

Anthony Latina, Sacred Heart – The Pioneers were picked ninth in the NEC Coach’s Preseason Poll, so Sacred Heart’s overachieving relative to their expectations would play a huge role in Latina winning the COY award. His team needs to finish strong at the very least. A sweep against Saint Francis and Robert Morris – two programs he’s a combined 0-10 against over the past three seasons – would guarantee at least one home playoff game, if not possibly more. Finishing with a 10-8 or 11-7 regular season is fairly impressive given they are the 298th most experienced roster in Division I and rely on three freshman, one sophomore and one Division II transfer.

Andy Toole, Robert Morris – We can’t forget about the league’s 2013-14 COY recipient, who currently has an opportunity to earn his third regular season championship in nine tries. Despite experiencing a crazy amount of turnover the past few seasons, Robert Morris has routinely been a defensive juggernaut with this season as no exception. At 10-6, Toole has engineered an impressive return to the top third of the standings despite losing Koby Thomas for much of the season. The Colonials have forced a turnover on 22.5% of their opponent’s possessions, good for 22nd in Division I basketball. This is the fifth straight year the program has been in the top 30 – that’s remarkable consistency with the roster fluctuations.

So who’s going to be the next NEC Defensive Player of the Year?

Like the COY discussion, I have no idea where the coaches will lean for this one. There are a number of candidates they could reasonably look at:

Matty McConnell, Robert Morris – The heart and soul of Robert Morris defense has that infectious energy about him when in a defensive stance. He’s the best perimeter defender on the league’s number one defense (at least according to defensively efficiency numbers) and possesses a steal rate that’s in the NCAA top 100 at 3.4%.

Malik Petteway, Robert Morris – Speaking of steal rate, Petteway actually leads the league in that category as well as sporting the eighth best block rate. His Chris Wray like ability to affect the game a multitude of ways has guided the Colonials.

Jare’l Spellman, Sacred Heart – The 6-foot-10 center came as advertised from Florida Southern as a former defensive player of the year. Spellman’s 89 blocks leads the conference by a country mile and he has an opportunity to become the first NEC player since 1996-97 (Richard Lugo, St. Francis Brooklyn) to accumulate at least 100 rejections in a campaign. His rim impact is a major reason why Sacred Heart is in the upper half of the league in defensive efficiency.

Juan Cardenas, Bryant – Whether it’s tough man-to-man defense or providing help when an opponent infiltrating the paint, Cardenas has been a master at blocking or altering shots around the rim. His game changing length, versatility and lateral quickness has led to 8.4% block rate, good for 84th in the country.

Randall Gaskins, Saint Francis – Gaskins is perceived to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, serving as a very useful “3 and D” type of complement to Krimmel’s assortment of play-makers. While I view him as a long shot to win the DPOY, his name deserves mentioning here nonetheless.

What has surprised you this season?

Here’s are some random tidbits for each team that I can honestly say I didn’t expect coming into this season…

  • E.J. Anosike and Jarel Spellman are the best two-man frontcourt duo in total putbacks. They have 72 combined putbacks, greatly exceeding any other NEC duo. After graduating a very good frontcourt in its own right with Matasovic, Lopez and Barnett, Anosike, Spellman and LaRose have put together one of the best big man rotations in the NEC. I don’t think anyone saw that coming.
  • This shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I’m still impressed by the Mount’s resolve this season. The second youngest roster in the nation has now boasted five freshmen who’ve been selected at one point as NEC freshmen of the week (Vado Morse, Dee Barnes, Malik Jefferson, Nana Opoku and now Damian Chong Qui). Dan Engelstad’s group may have been eliminated from qualifying for the NEC tournament, yet the Mountaineers have been very respectable over the past several weeks, knocking off Sacred Heart, Wagner and Robert Morris. They surely will emerge as a trendy sleeper next season. Everyone will be back!
  • Bryant has turned into one of the slower NEC programs with respect to tempo. The Bulldogs are sixth among their counterparts at 68 possessions per game. That’s not a snail’s pace, but it’s not Iona racing down the floor either. In the preseason, Grasso expected his team would mimic the Gaels model, a model that was consistently in the top 60 nationally in KenPom’s adjusted tempo. At NEC Social Media Day, however, Grasso did add in the caveat that they “have to get guys to understand how to play with pace all the time.” He further explained that it takes time to program your team to get in that mindset of fast pace day in and day out. Clearly, Grasso had enough time to evaluate his talent and understand that a fast tempo wasn’t conducive to winning. In games where the pace gets at 70 possessions or more, the Bulldogs are 1-11 (1-4 NEC) whereas they are 9-6 when a slower tempo is implemented. Running much of the offense through Bash Townes, who thrives in pick and roll situations and isn’t exactly none as a rim runner, also likely plays a role in Grasso slowing down the team’s pace of play.
  • Raul Frias (125 ORtg), Eral Penn (124 ORtg) and Ty Flowers (118 ORtg) lead the Blackbirds in offensive efficiency during league play. I know, right?! I talked about Frias’ improvement last week, yet Flowers has really emerged as LIU Brooklyn’s x-factor. Over the last six games, Flowers has been deemed the KenPom MVP four times, averaging 20.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4 blocks and 1.8 steals in those situations. Not surprisingly, LIU Brooklyn is 3-1 when the Waterbury, Connecticut native breaks out. For Penn, the sophomore’s tenacity around the rim on both ends has caused havoc. He’s currently second among league mates in 2-point field goal percentage (66.7%), fourth in block rate (8.6%) and eighth in offensive rebounding rate (10.3%).

That’s all I have for now. Enjoy the action this weekend. The NEC tournament is nearly upon us!

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.

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