Tag: Saint Francis

The Best #NECMBB All-Decade Teams and a Crossword Puzzle!

As my family and I are finishing up our sixth week of quarantine here at home, it’s been…. um fun! As we continue to navigate through the unchartered waters of no sports – and for me, copious amounts of time to do other activities instead of watching sports – I figured I would have fun in what will be my last NEC Overtime! Blog post of the 2019-20 season. I want to thank everyone for reading my stuff over the past season, which remarkably ended more than one month ago in Moon Township.

As I wrap a bow on this season, I wanted to partake in some fun with this tweet from the Northeast Conference some three weeks ago.

This exercise absolutely filled some of the “no sports” gap! But rather than just give you my favorite $15 roster, I decided to come up with a series of teams, which allowed me to reminisce further on what was a terrific decade of NEC hoops. Let’s begin!

Continue reading “The Best #NECMBB All-Decade Teams and a Crossword Puzzle!”

The Ties That Bind: Krimmel’s Life & Legacy In Loretto

This story was featured in the Northeast Conference Tournament program.

The small-town community of Loretto isn’t for everyone. Nestled on the western edge of the Appalachian Mountain trail that carves vertically through central Pennsylvania, the isolated, pine tree lined town of approximately 1,200 people can be a shock to the system of a high school athlete considering Saint Francis University as their next home. That much seemed apparent for the 17-year old Rob Krimmel, who at the time had a bevy of quality college institutions – Bucknell, Navy and Cornell, to name a few – vying for his talents on the hardwood.

Krimmel’s initial visit to Loretto in the spring of 1995 left much to be desired. As a high school basketball star who lived about one hour northeast in State College, Loretto was the polar opposite of a town that was home to a massive football school known as Penn State University.

Continue reading “The Ties That Bind: Krimmel’s Life & Legacy In Loretto”

Assessing the NEC After Non-Conference Play

The Northeast Conference is on the rise. For the first time in 6 seasons, the league’s aggregate KenPom conference ranking has moved up to 28th overall after nearly a 2-month sample size. It’s not a meteoric jump, but it’s progress and the first time in more than half a decade the league has been in this position nonetheless. Have a look.

Year

KenPom Conference Rank Non-BCS Record*

Mid-Major Record

2019-20

28 41-68 (0.376) 39-45 (0.464)
2018-19 30 35-63 (0.357)

32-44 (0.421)

2017-18

29 37-57 (0.394) 36-42 (0.462)
2016-17 30 30-71 (0.297)
2015-16 30 30-69 (0.303)

2014-15

26

36-60 (0.375)

2013-14 24 43-60 (0.417)

2012-13

24 54-61 (0.470)

2011-12

24 48-61 (0.440)
2010-11 24 52-57 (0.477)

*excludes games versus the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC

If Sacred Heart and Merrimack didn’t suffer heart-wrenching losses in the closing seconds on the final non-conference day of the season, the league would’ve finished tantalizingly close to a 0.500 finish against mid-major competition. 

I went back the past three seasons to determine the league’s “mid-major” record, although my distinction of a mid-major opponent is subjective. For this exercise, I did it by excluding all guarantee games versus the AAC, ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Mountain West, Pac 12, SEC and the WCC. This group encompasses the top 10 KenPom conferences with Conference USA (14th overall) as the 11th. What remained after this omission was a composite schedule that, in my humble opinion, represented the type of opponents each NEC member would see during league play in terms of KenPom ranking.

The overall improvement relative to Division I basketball, while slight, is likely indicative of the fact that the majority of the league’s top players are upperclassmen who’ve been with their respective programs for two-plus seasons. Ten of the conference’s top 11 scorers are in their third, fourth or fifth season at their school, whereas 7 of the top 11 rebounders have met this veteran threshold. Maintaining program continuity has been a challenge, but with fewer high-impact players leaving for other schools over the past two offseasons, the league has been able to better cultivate some of its “home grown” talent.

What does this mean in terms of future NCAA tournament seeding? Probably not much, as it’s a safe bet the NEC will wind up back in Dayton for the First Four of the NCAA tournament, yet it’s not impossible for the league to avoid the “play-in game” as a true 15 or 16-seed if the league’s top three KenPom and NET squads, Saint Francis (NET #137), Sacred Heart (NET #187) or Bryant (NET #192), have a dominant regular season and somehow finish with 15 or more NEC regular season wins. Given the competitive nature of the conference, however, I wouldn’t bet on that outcome as practically every league game will have the potential to be a dogfight. 

When examining each school individually, I like to break down the mid-major games to provide a glimpse into how the league competed against similar competition in November and December. 

Team Mid-Major Record Point Margin Opponent’s AVG KenPom KenPom Predicted NEC Finish
Saint Francis U 5-1 +11 231

12-6 (T2)

Sacred Heart 6-3 +93 281

13-5 (1)

Bryant

6-3 +43 257 12-6 (T2)
St. Francis Brooklyn 5-4 -30 273

7-11 (T9)

LIU

4-4 -1 251 10-8 (4)

Merrimack

4-6 -68 232

9-9 (T5)

Mount 3-5 -12 252

9-9 (T5)

Robert Morris

3-4 -21 237 9-9 (T5)
Wagner 2-4 -18 257

7-11 (T9)

FDU 1-4 -51 244

8-10 (8)

CCSU 0-7 -111 242

3-15 (11)

Given this data, allow me to provide tidbits across the league as we move into the first league game on Thursday.

Saint Francis University

Saint Francis won a lot of close games in non-league play, as evident from their skinny margin of victory despite being four games over against mid-major competition. Nevertheless, Rob Krimmel’s group has gotten it done of late since the Red Flash’s “embarrassing” loss to Delaware – Krimmel’s words, not mine. The group has played inspired basketball, winning four of five versus Division I with the lone defeat coming to a 11-2 Florida State program poised to compete at the top of the ACC. Breaking down those final four minutes during the 4-1 stretch, Saint Francis has scored 1.42 points per possession (PPP) and outscored opponents 62-32, a credit to the program’s veteran leadership and versatility.

Early on, Krimmel was experimenting with his rotations, exclusively using Ramiir Dixon-Conover at the point while featuring Keith Braxton off the ball. Part of that was Krimmel wanted to get as many ball handlers on the floor against aggressive defenses such as VCU and Richmond, but lately the team has slotted Braxton at the one and given more faith to playing Randall Gaskins at the three. The new dynamic has allowed Krimmel to bring Dixon-Conover off the bench as a ball handler/defensive stopper and Scott Meredith as instant offense.

It’s led to a more fluid, versatile rotation that’s nine-to-ten deep and one Krimmel doesn’t expect will shrink during league play. Most of the time these rotations tend to constrict, but barring injuries, the Krimmel doesn’t expect that to be the case. Currently, 9 Saint Francis players are in the game at least 30% of the time through 10 Division I games. This is the deepest roster Krimmel has ever had at Saint Francis.

Sacred Heart

There I was at the Sacred Heart Pitt Center, writing my Pioneer blurb for this post assuming Sacred Heart would close out Lafayette and finish with a very good non-conference mark of 7-5 against Division I competition (7-2 versus mid-major teams). It would’ve been the first time in the program’s Division I history that the Pioneers ended up with 8 non-conference victories (one came over a non-D1 program), but my narrative in the span of 16 game seconds was soon blown up.

A flurry of Sacred Heart blunders late – a missed free throw on the front end of a one-on-one, a turnover inbounding the ball, an ill-advised foul – snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, leading to an improbable 67-66 Lafayette victory. Afterwards, a somewhat stunned Anthony Latina was asked to assess the team’s performance in the season thus far.

“We have some guys that are performing at a very good level. We showed we can win on the road, which is important. We showed we can win a couple of different ways, so that was encouraging,” Latina said regarding the team’s non-conference results. “But this was disappointing, I’m not discouraged but I’m disappointed that we didn’t finish the (Lafayette) game like we have been. We get one or two more stops, that’s an eight-to-ten point win and we feel really good about it, but that’s how it works. You do this long enough you see everything.”

The Pioneers offense, as talented and versatile as they come, hasn’t really clicked on all cylinders. They’ve been able to win a number of different ways, while overcoming a particular flaw that randomly pops up. For example in wins over Brown, Presbyterian and Hartford, Sacred Heart overcame copious amounts of turnovers (24.8% turnover rate) by dominating the interior (59.2% 2PT) and sharing the basketball (59.0% A/FGM). In the other three victories, they took care of the basketball and in some cases shot lights out from 3. Yet with the exception of Quinnipiac – a 17-point road win – the Pioneers still haven’t found consistency scoring the basketball. 

They may be in the top half of college basketball in offensive efficiency (101.7 points per 100 possessions) yet there’s a higher level of play that can be achieved for a roster ready to win the league right now.

Fairleigh Dickinson

FDU has dropped more than 50 spots in the KenPom rankings since the beginning of the season. It’s the result of playing one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the league with the Knights signing up for a league-high five guarantee games versus the likes of the ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East and SEC. Xzavier Malone-Key, Jahlil Jenkins and promising rookie guard Devon Dunn all missed time due to injury, but luckily for Herenda, Malone-Key and Jenkins are back and Dunn could possibly make his return when the Knights open the NEC season at St. Francis Brooklyn on Thursday. 

Dunn is averaging 9.3 ppg and shooting 41.7% from behind the arc and should boost the team’s second unit. Though 10 Division I games this season, the Knights have been outscored 249-88 from the bench and are shooting just 30.0% from three, a far cry from the Darnell Edge led team last season (40.2% 3PT). FDU has a strong front four, but Dunn, Brandon Rush, Brandon Powell and B.J. Saliba will need to find more consistency to get the Knights back into the NEC contention conversation.

A difficult start to league play – on the road versus St. Francis Brooklyn, Bryant and LIU with one home game against Sacred Heart – could put the Knights in an early hole if the inexperienced second unit doesn’t step up. Still, I would never count a Greg Herenda coached team out, especially one that has Jenkins running it.

St. Francis Brooklyn

I descended on Brooklyn right before Christmas break to witness Glenn Braica’s Terriers, who somewhat surprisingly possess a positive mid-major record on the back of a 3-game winning streak to conclude 2019. The Terriers have pulled through in a lot of close games – three to be exact – when the contest ends within four points. 

The Terriers possess a somewhat unconventional team in the modern era. It’s a squad that relies heavily on a post-oriented big man in Deniz Celen, who wasn’t even part of Braica’s plans prior to the 2018-19 season. Now, the former walk-on turned scholarship player has become a critical focal point for a Terriers team that needs his interior production as much as they need guard playmaking from a stable of athletes including Chauncey Hawkins, Unique McLain and Rob Higgins.

Regarding the latter, I came away most impressed by the 6-foot-1 guard who hails from Middletown, New Jersey. He was under recruited playing high school ball at the Jersey Shore – these days most players out of that region settle for Division 3 offers – but luckily for him, Braica found Higgins just in time to fill Jalen Jordan’s departed scholarship. Higgins scored 17 points in the team’s victory over Delaware State, but it was his defensive impact that arguably was more valuable. His on-the-ball tenacity bothered Delaware State’s best player in the second half, and it’s a fair bet you’ll see Higgins on the opponent’s best perimeter scorer (see Adam Grant, Isaiah Blackmon, Curtis Cobb, Vado Morse) during league play. That’s how much Braica values his freshman guard.

“He can really guard, he can really move his feet laterally,” Braica said of Higgins after the Delaware State win on December 22. “His motor is unbelievable, he never stops. You can’t teach that, some guys have it or they don’t.”

Higgins isn’t being talked about yet as an NEC all-rookie team candidate, but more performances like NJIT and Delaware State, and he’ll enter the conversation quickly.

Bryant

I’ve already waxed poetic about Bryant’s defense here, but here’s more reinforcement: I went back and charted the top rim-protectors the league has seen over the past decade. 

Season

Player Team Ind Blocks Team Blocks % of Blocks NEC Wins

Reg Season Finish

2019-20

Hall Elisias Bryant 39 63 0.778 ? ?
2018-19 Jare’l Spellman SHU 96 133 0.722 11

T3

2017-18

AJ Sumbry Wagner 58 129 0.450 16 1

2016-17

Josh Nebo SFU 89 136 0.654 13

T3

2015-16 Amdy Fall SFBK 57 122 0.467 11

T2

2014-15

Amdy Fall SFBK 71 149 0.477 17 1
2013-14 Naofall Folahan Wagner 89 200 0.445 13

2

2012-13

Joe Efese CCSU 47 130 0.362 9 7
2011-12 Naofall Folahan Wagner 52 126 0.413 16

2

2010-11

Naofall Folahan Wagner 45 119 0.378 9

T6

Because of the imposing interior presence, 7 of the past 9 teams that rostered the player with the best block rate in the NEC has finished in the top 3 of the league’s regular season. That obviously bodes well for Jared Grasso as opponents figure out how to navigate the paint against the 6-foot-8 Elisias.

Because of the non-league success, Bryant has improved its KenPom ranking from 325 on November 5 to 206 currently, a startling 119 point improvement! That’s by far the best KenPom improvement within the league during non-conference play over the past three seasons (in 2017-18 Robert Morris improved 83 spots, while in the same season Wagner improved 82 spots). Bryant isn’t going anywhere, folks.

Central Connecticut State

There’s no question that Central Connecticut State struggled during it’s non-league tilt (I highly recommend Matt’s piece on it at The Blue Devil’s Den), yet there has been some progress with a roster that’s loaded with Division I newcomers. It may seem subtle, but defensively Donyell Marshall’s group has slowly improved over the past few games, and that was before sophomore guard Ian Krishnan (the team’s best perimeter defender) and bouncy 5-man Karrington Wallace (the team’s best rim protector) came back in their non-Division I victory over Connecticut College. 

  • November (4 mid-major games): 1.10 D-PPP, 56.1 eFG% defense, 18.3% turnover rate
  • December (3 mid-major games): 1.03 D-PPP, 53.0 eFG% defense, 19.3% turnover rate

The improvement makes sense given the difficulty of teaching defensive concepts to a turned-over roster. Now, Marshall has a team that could disturb some league counterparts, once their high effort level translates more into execution. Of course, context is important here, as even the defensive improvement in December lags behind the KenPom national averages of 1.00 D-PPP, 49.3% eFG and 19.7% turnover rate, respectively. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Also interesting was the recent insertion of 6-foot-0 point guard and walk-on Tyler Rowe, who over 16 minutes versus Connecticut College was a productive two-way player, logging 9 points, 2 assists and 3 steals. Rowe, a former Western Connecticut State standout who averaged 20.3 ppg and 3.5 apg in 2017-18 and was ineligible last season and the first semester this season, could give Marshall a viable playmaker at the point. If that occurs, then things should get easier on the offensive end for talented guards Trey Tennyson, Myles Baker and Greg Outlaw.

The NEC All-Decade Team – A Compilation of Greatness

While perusing my timeline on The Athletic over Thanksgiving break, I noticed many articles were dedicated toward examining the all-decade teams for teams spanning a multitude of sports. They ranged from the New York Yankees to the Michigan Wolverines to the Minnesota Wild, so I figured, why not here?!

There’s been a wealth of talent in the Northeast Conference over the past decade. To condense the greatness to a list of 10 all-timers would be challenging, which is why a 9-person panel was summoned to vote and provide their expertise. The panel contained a mix of fans/bloggers like myself, coaches who’ve been either NEC assistants or head coaches for the entire decade, NEC announcers and of course hoops guru and resident historian Ron Ratner. Here’s the full panel:

  • Glenn Braica, Head Coach of St. Francis Brooklyn
  • Nelson Castillo, Founder of Blackbirds Hoops Journal Blog
  • Joe DeSantis, NEC TV Analyst
  • Rob Krimmel, Head Coach of Saint Francis University
  • Anthony Latina, Head Coach of Sacred Heart University
  • Matt Mauro, Founder of The Blue Devils Den Blog
  • Ryan Peters, NEC Sports and Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook Contributor
  • Dave Popkin, NEC Play-by-Play Announcer
  • Ron Ratner, Senior Associate Commissioner of the Northeast Conference

The panel was given a list of 25 players to choose from and asked to vote their team “1” through “10.” To qualify for this list, each player had to compete for at least two seasons in the NEC this decade.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce to you the NEC All-Decade Team, highlighted by the NEC Player of the Decade!

 

NEC Player of the Decade
Jamal Olasewere, F, LIU Brooklyn

A staple of the Blackbirds dynasty from 2010-2013, Jamal Olasewere redefined the power forward position with an impossibly quick first step and ability to slash and attack the rim with reckless abandon. His opponents may have known what was coming, and yet they couldn’t contain the athletic and fiercely competitive wing, as evident from Olasewere’s 860 career free-throw attempts. His final three seasons in Brooklyn stack up as one the great stretches of any NEC player, checking off every box a student-athlete could hope for. He was a multi-year league champion, won the 2013 NEC POY award after a dominant senior season (18.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 51.5% FG) and finished as LIU’s all-time leading scorer with 1,871 points. He was literally unguardable.

NEC All-Decade Team

Karvel Anderson, G, Robert Morris

As the only junior college transfer of this team, Karvel Anderson was ultra-productive for Andy Toole, registering 1,123 points, 206 rebounds and 201 made 3-pointers in two highly successful Colonial seasons. The 2014 NEC Player of the Year helped guide Robert Morris to back-to-back regular season championships with a splendid 31-8 mark against NEC competition, not to mention a victory over St. John’s with a 38-point performance in the first round of the 2014 NIT. He may be remembered most as a deadly assassin from downtown (career 45.4% 3PT), yet Anderson was also adept at attacking defenders off the bounce and making the most of his opportunities inside the arc (career 55.4% 2PT). He was a complete player who could fill it up from all three levels.

 


Julian Boyd, PF, LIU Brooklyn

There’s no question that Julian Boyd, the 2009 NEC Rookie of the Year, personified grit and guile in his return from a heart ailment that forced him to miss the 2009-10 campaign. His return from that red-shirt season resulted in one of the most decorated careers the league has seen, culminating with two LIU championships and a NEC POY honor in 2012. Boyd may have been undersized as a big, yet he possessed the surest hands around the rim and grew his burgeoning game to the point where his offense from behind the arc (42.0% 3PT as a junior) served as a nice complement to his unstoppable interior game (career 55.5% 2PT). Boyd and Jason Brickman on the pick-and-roll were indefensible, resulting in the duo providing Blackbird fans much joy over the early part of the decade.

 


Keith Braxton, F, Saint Francis University

When you have a legitimate opportunity to become the first NEC player in history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds… AND compile 400 assists and 200 steals, then you deserve a coveted spot on the NEC All-Decade team even if your collegiate career isn’t over. Keith Braxton’s ability to instill his versatility, smarts and toughness is one of a kind – he doesn’t need to take over a game before providing a monster impact statistically. Furthermore, Braxton possesses an elite rebounding skill as one of only eight individuals to finish in the NCAA Division I top 30 in rebounding over the past two seasons, and this despite his “smallish” 6-foot-5 frame as a power forward. He’s a pivotal reason why Saint Francis has emerged as a routine title contender, so much so that Braxton feels like the Tom Brady to Rob Krimmel’s Bill Belichick.

 


Jason Brickman, PG, LIU Brooklyn

As the greatest pure point guard ever to play in the NEC, Brickman finished his illustrious career with the fourth most assists in NCAA Division I history with 1,009 helpers. The 3-time champion used his elite passing eye, pristine handle and efficiency from behind the arc (career 41.3% 3PT) and at the charity stripe (career 83.4% FT) to serve as the engine of the greatest offensive dynasty the league had ever seen. It’s a major reason why Jim Ferry and Jack Perri entrusted Brickman to play 89% of LIU’s available minutes over his final three seasons. There was no one who could see the court and create passing lanes out of nothing quite like Brickman.

 

 


Jalen Cannon, PF, St. Francis Brooklyn

Jalen Cannon is the epitome of someone who worked exceptionally hard at his craft, to the point where he made a linear progression throughout his four-year tenure in Brooklyn. From standout rookie, to double double machine to complete player, the undersized big steadily improved each season until he reached the pinnacle by guiding St. Francis Brooklyn to their first regular season championship in 16 years and deservedly winning the league’s 2015 POY award. The analytical metrics say Cannon is one of the best players the NEC has ever seen, and with good reason. The Allentown, PA native finished with the most rebounds in league history (1,159) and became only the second NEC player ever to log at least 1,500 career points and 1,000 career rebounds.

 


Shane Gibson, G, Sacred Heart

Shane Gibson is one of two players here that wasn’t selected as the NEC Player of the Year, even though he’ll go down as one of the most efficient volume scorers in league history. Over his final two seasons as a Pioneer, Gibson hoisted up 410 3-point attempts and impressively converted 42.4% of those, despite being the focal point of everyone’s scouting report. His 2011-12 junior campaign produced one of the greatest seasons from a NEC guard when he averaged 22.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 1.7 spg while producing the 54th best effective field goal percentage (59.8%) in Division I. He finished his career fifth overall in NEC history in points (2,079), free throw percentage (85.3%) and 3-pointers made (286). Quite simply, the man got buckets.

 


Ken Horton, F, Central Connecticut State

Based strictly on statistics, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that had a bigger impact in the league than Ken Horton, Central Connecticut State’s all-time leading scorer with 1,966 points. Once a lanky, under-recruited kid from Ossining, NY, Horton developed into a practically unguardable upperclassman, averaging 19.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.5 blocks per game over his final 59 contests. But aside from the numbers, Horton’s blend of size, athleticism and body control as a power forward trapped in a wing’s body led to an extraordinary junior season that rightfully ended with the 2011 NEC POY award. He was as versatile as they come.

 

 


Velton Jones, G, Robert Morris

If there’s a poster child of this all-decade team that encompassed heart, consistency and a ruthless tenacity on the court, Velton Jones was it. As a two-time All-NEC first team selection, the 6-foot-0 bulldog was a mainstay of a Robert Morris program that won 91 games in Jones’ four active seasons. Despite the Colonials deep basketball history, Jones left Moon Township with the fifth most points (1,588), second most assists (551) and the most made free-throws (495) in program history. More importantly, he was the heart and sole of a team that nearly shocked Villanova in the first round of the 2010 NCAA tournament and upset Kentucky in the first round of the 2013 NIT, registering eight points and five assists in the latter.

 


Junior Robinson, G, Mount St. Mary’s

Junior Robinson may have been, at times, the smallest player in Division I basketball at 5-foot-5, yet his mesmerizing blend of athleticism, playmaking skill and moxie was an absolute pleasure to witness. A sensational senior season worthy of the 2018 NEC POY award – he averaged 22.0 ppg, 4.8 apg and posted a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio – was the cherry on top of a selfless career under Jamion Christian. As an underclassman, Robinson did whatever he was asked to do by Christian, which some of the time meant deferring to others for the betterment of the team. Through it all, the ultimate team guy was a star in Mount St. Mary’s 2017 NCAA tournament victory over New Orleans (23 points, 3 assists, 9 of 14 shooting) and finished with the third most points (1,872), sixth most assists (457) and fifth most made 3s (230) in program history.