Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC.
Close games and dramatic finishes are normally the order in the NEC. The first weekend of conference play provided just that and hinted that the conference race will be an interesting affair. Quinnipiac rallied from four down in the final minute at home to defeat Mount St.Mary’s. Bobcat junior James Johnson scored eight points in the final minute, including the game winner just before the buzzer. A few hours later, St. Francis (NY) came from four down to edge defending NEC champion Robert Morris in Brooklyn. Senior guard Akeem Bennett hit two free throws with four seconds left to put the Terriers on top. Bennett then raced down court and blocked a potential game winning three-point attempt to seal the verdict.
It is going to be that type of year….
1. St.Francis (NY): (4-3) (2-0) – The Terriers are off to a fast start in conference play, beating St. Francis (PA) and Robert Morris before capping off the week with a non-conference conquest of Colgate. St. Francis plays at a moderate 65-possession pace, but their defense has managed to force opponents into a 27% TO rate. Overall defensive efficiency is at an impressive 95.
Notable: Akeem Bennett, the Co-Player of the Week in the NEC, averaged 24.6 points and 6.5 rebounds to earn the honors. A senior guard, Bennett was instrumental in conference wins over Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA).
2. Fairleigh Dickinson: (3-4) (2-0): The Knights proved their readiness for conference by toppling Bryant and Central Connecticut at home. They then went on the road, losing at Connecticut, an outcome to be expected. The offense has been the issue with an efficiency of 93 and eFG mark of 43%.
Notable : Junior forward Kamil Svdrlik earned Co-Player of the Week honors averaging 18.9 PPG and 9.3 RPG. Svdrlik has given coach Greg Vetrone the inside presence he needed.
3. Quinnipiac: (6-2) (1-0)– The Bobcats came up just short to UMass, and went on to take it out on Mount St. Mary’s and Lehigh in a pair of wins. A wild team, Quinnipiac went from giving up an efficiency of 97 to the Minutemen to 117 against the Mount. In that latter game, the Bobcats enjoyed a 120 OE of their own to pull off the win. A decisive offensive rebounding core has a major strength.
Notable: junior guard James Johnson had a well rounded week of 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game.
4. Wagner (4-4) (1-0): The Seahawks sandwiched a win over Sacred Heart in NEC play between losses to St. John’s and Columbia. Defense has been an above average trait for the Seahawks as they hold opposition to 99 OE and force a turnover rate of 21%. Offensive efficiency of 96 begs for improvement.
Notable: Freshman guard Latif Rivers earned NEC Rookie of the Week honors with a 17.3 points, 4.7 rebound per game week for the Seahawks. Junior guard Tyler Murray continues to do it all for Wagner. He enjoyed another excellent week, with 20 points per game in three games.
5. Long Island (5-3) (1-1): The Blackbirds bean conference play, dropping a tough one to Robert Morris at home before rebounding to defeat St.Francis (PA). LIU then went on the road, losing to Iona, to close out the week. Efficiency was outstanding offensively at 113 in the Robert Morris game. Unfortunately, they gave up a 115 rate to the visiting Colonials. Jim Ferry’s club is playing at a quick 75 possession pace, which is to their advantage.
Notable: Sophomore guard C.J.Garner averaged 17 points 3.5 assists and shot 50% from the floor for the week.
6. Central Connecticut (4-4) (1-1): CCSU had a rough go of it, losing three straight games. The last two, against Fairleigh Dickinson and Dayton, were heartbreakers, with a combined losing margin of four. The Blue Devils sported an outstanding 86 defensive efficiency at FDU, but the offense, struggling of late, produced a paltry 82 rating. Shooting, with an eFG percentage of 47%, is a major culprit.
Notable: Junior forward Ken Horton paced the offense, scoring 12.5 points and adding 6.5 rebounds per game.
7. Robert Morris (3-5) (1-1): RMU salvaged a split in Brooklyn, defeating LIU before dropping a close one to the Terriers. The Colonials were soundly defeated at West Virginia to close out the week 1-2. A defensively stout group, RMU forces a 24% turnover rate, which nets them extra possessions. Robert Morris was without the services of junior forward Lawrence Bridges (concussion) and sophomore guard Karon Abraham (suspension) on the Brooklyn trip.
Notable: Redshirt sophomore forward Russell Johnson averaged 17 points, 6 rebounds on the week.
8. Mount St. Mary’s (3-6) (1-1): Road games saw the Mount win at Sacred Heart before dropping tough ones to Quinnipiac and Penn State. Defense has been acceptable, with a DE mark of 99. Quinnipiac, though, was an aberration as the Mount ‘generously’ gave up a 120 OE to the Bobcats. Cutting down on the TO rate of 22% will raise the Mount’s below par OE of 96.
Notable: Junior guard Lamar Trice averaged an impressive all-around 15.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
9. Monmouth (3-5) (0-1): Three close calls – The Hawks defeated Eastern Michigan at home and North Dakota on the road. The lone loss was to the Vandals of Idaho, also on the road. The offense enjoyed a breakout 114 offensive efficiency rat at Idaho..
Notable: A pair of juniors, guard Will Campbell and forward Mike Myers-Keitt were named to the Basketball Travelers Classic all-Tournament team. The Hawks went 2-1 in the Idaho-based event.
10. Bryant (0-1) (1-7): Life in D-I is still a challenge. The 102 OE rating at FDU was the second highest of the season. The eight opponents this season have not cracked a 50% eFG percentage, which largely explains Bryant’s outrageously high 113 defensive efficiency.
Notable: Cecil Gresham had an outstanding 28-point, 6-rebound performance in a competitive conference loss at FDU. He shot 9-17 (53%) from the floor, including 6-14 from three-point range.
11. St.Francis (PA) (2-6) (0-2): A tough stretch for the Red Flash included losses at Youngstown State, LIU and St. Francis (NY). Opposing shooters are having a field day with a 51% eFG percentage. Depth is a major concern.
Notable: Sophomore guard Umar Shannon paced the team with 17 points and 3.5 rebounds per game on the week. Shannon led the Red Flash with 15 points at St. Francis (NY) and 19 at LIU.
12. Sacred Heart (2-7) (0-2): Snapped a three-game losing streak with a 56-55 win over Hartford in which they came back from a 51-31 deficit. Offensive efficiency is lacking, and a TO rate of 24% is not helping the cause. Their defensive efficiency of 99 could improve but not bad overall. It’s the offense, over 100 in OE only twice in nine games thus far.
Notable: Redshirt sophomore guard Shane Gibson scored a career high 21 points in the loss to the Mount. Gibson was 8-15 from the field (3 of 6 from three point range).
A Look Ahead:
The NEC takes a load off to attend to final exams, but the conference will hope to make a splash with games against Rhode Island (Quinnipiac), Rutgers (Fairleigh Dickinson and Monmouth) and Northwestern (St. Francis – NY).