KenPom Rank/RPI: 313/255
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Multipurpose Athletic Center, West Long Branch, NJ
History between teams: 66th meeting. LIU Brooklyn leads the all-time series, 34-31. LIU beat Monmouth 75-65 back on January 19th. LIU has won five of the last six and nine of the last eleven meetings.
Who to watch for on Monmouth:
#2 Jesse Steele – 5’8″ – G – Sr. – 11.6 ppg/3.5 apg/34.4 FG%/78.4 FT% – Scored season and career-high 28 pts vs Fairleigh Dickinson in last game.
#1 Dion Nesmith – 6’0″ – G – Sr. – 11.6 ppg/2.4 rpg/37.2 FG%/84.3 FT% – Scored season-high 21 pts vs Fairleigh Dickinson, scored 14 pts at Fairleigh Dickinson in last game.
Matchups to watch:
Jesse Steele vs LIU defense. Monmouth is without their leading scorer Andrew “Red” Nicholas who has missed his teams’ last three games and seven of their last eight. Steele has been picking up the scoring slack of late, averaging 22.6 points per game in his last three games and hitting on nearly 49% of his shots. In two of the last three games, he has scored 20+ points twice for his second and third such scoring games of the season. The LIU defense will really need to focus on keeping Steele from having a big game. Last season at the MAC vs LIU, Steele finished with 14 points and 10 assists in that game. This year, he has yet to record a 10 assist game.
I have to make an admission. I was wrong about the Monmouth Hawks this season. No, I’m not perfect. I thought coming off a 10-8 NEC season they had last year in King Rice’s first year as head coach at the shore that the Hawks will take another step forward this season. My reason for it mostly came from watching point guard Jesse Steele play last season.
The 5’8″ Army transfer was outstanding every time I watched him play last season. Coming into his senior season, I thought Steele would make a case to be on one of the all-NEC teams. It just didn’t happen for him. He started the season banged up and played through it but his shooting and overall production has fallen off this season. This season, Steele is averaging 11.6 points per game, down a point from last season. His field goal percentage is 34.4% this season, down from the 39% he shot last season. His assists are also down slightly at 3.5 apg, down from 4.2 apg last season. Also, his playing time has decreased by nearly 5 minutes per game this season to 30.6. Last season, Steele was easily the team leading scorer and best player. This season, both of those titles have passed on to sophomore Andrew “Red” Nicholas.
Nicholas has played in one game since January 12. Nicholas has been sidelines with a foot/heel injury for most of the conference season. Without their leading scorer, Monmouth has been rather challenged offensively. The Hawks are currently tenth in the NEC in scoring offense (64.7 ppg) and last in the NEC in offensive points per possession (0.88). They are ranked last in total field goal percentage, 2-PT field goal percentage, 3-PT field goal percentage, and effective field goal percentage. They are though the second fastest team in the NEC with 73.2 possession per 40 minutes which is ahead of LIU who is in third (70.7). Obviously, Rice who played and coached at the University of North Carolina, where all they know is too play fast, likes his team to play more up-tempo.
Monmouth is still a decent defensive team. They are seventh in the NEC in scoring defense but are third in points per possession allowed at an even 1.0 ppp. There are a middle of a road team in terms of field goal percentage allowed in both twos and three-pointers. What they do well is force turnovers. They have an NEC-best 17.6 turnovers forced per game. They are also second in the NEC in steals. What they are bad at is fouling. They foul the most of any team in the NEC at 20.5 fouls per game.
The other Hawks to keep on eye on other then Steele is senior guard Dion Nesmith and undersized senior forward Ed Waite. Both players are coming off of double digits scoring games against FDU and Waite had a double-double. Freshman Christian White has a good game vs LIU Brooklyn last time out in his first career start.
Monmouth is in desperation mode. Currently, they are in tenth place in the NEC, a game back of eighth place St. Francis Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s. The Hawks need wins to get themselves into the NEC playoff picture. They had lost four in a row and five of six before their win vs FDU in their last game. Of their six remaining games, three of them are against teams in the top five of the NEC. Two of them are against teams in eighth who they’ll need to beat to get ahead of. They are facing must-win games pretty much through the rest of their schedule.
LIU Brooklyn is chasing after something else entirely. LIU Brooklyn currently sits in third, a game and half behind first-place Bryant and a game behind second-place Robert Morris. LIU with six games to play still has a good chance at winning the NEC regular season and getting the one-seed for the NEC tournament. The Blackbirds who have gone 8-1 in their last nine games, need to stay focused this week and keep winning games to make up ground. This game versus Monmouth is a tricky game for the Blackbirds. First, it’s on the road. Second, it is against a team looking for any win possible to keep their playoff hopes alive. Last season, LIU was blown out of the MAC on the last day of the NEC regular season, 106-78, in a game they felt they didn’t need. The Blackbirds will definitely need this game Thursday.
LIU regressed a bit defensively this past Sunday against St. Francis Brooklyn. They gave up 75 points in only 68 possessions. LIU’s defense had gotten better over the past several games. They had allowed over 1.0 points per possession defensively just twice in the last eight games. Monmouth has scored above 1.0 ppp just six times in 25 games this season. LIU can’t afford to let them get their seventh such game against them.
Jamal Olasewere is coming into the game as the NEC Player of the Week for the second time this season. Olasewere last week averaged 22.5 points per game and nine rebounds per game in 34.5 minutes per game. He also has eight double-doubles this season which puts him tied for third in the NEC with SFU’s Earl Brown. He has shown great poise and discipline of late staying out of foul trouble. He hasn’t fouled out in the last nine games and has only fouled out three times this season. He has been for the most part staying out of the early foul trouble, not getting that first foul in the first five minutes of the game which usually spells trouble.
Jason Brickman is now first in the NCAA in assists as Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams slipped to second Wednesday night. Brickman is averaging 8.4 assists per game this season. Teams of late have been trying to take away his passing lanes and are giving him lanes to the basket. Brickman has been taking what the defense gives him. He has scored in double-digits on three of last five games while still getting at least nine assists in five of the last six games.
C.J. Garner has also been playing great averaging 17 ppg in the two games last week. Brandon Thompson’s up and down scoring continues as he continues to alternate single-digit and double-digit scoring games over the past six games. He had eight points last game vs SFC so let’s see if gets double figures against Monmouth.
LIU Brooklyn committed 17 turnovers last time vs Monmouth so they will need to take care of the basketball in the rematch. LIU were down six at the half before outscoring the Hawks by 16 in the second half. LIU need to get up early and not let the home crowd get involved. One thing the Blackbirds haven’t done lately is put a complete two halves together. The closest they have come to it was against St. Francis (PA) six games ago. LIU needs to just continue playing good basketball and win games they should win. These kind of games are always dangerous because they are games LIU should win and need to win especially with a one or two seed still in play.
Ken Pomeroy’s Game Projection:
Ken Pomeroy on his website has LIU Brooklyn beating Monmouth by a projected score of 78-73 with a 67% probability of a LIU Brooklyn win.
The Blackbirds return back to the Wellness Center on Saturday, February 16th to face the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights for the second meeting of the season. Tip is scheduled for 4:30 pm.