With just a few shopping days left until Christmas and with teams either entering or in the middle of their finals hiatus, it is a good time to check up on how some of the other teams in the NEC are getting through their non-conference season with three and half weeks left until the start of conference play. Let’s take a look at who is playing up to expectations, not doing as well as they probably should or in the words of former NFL head coach Dennis Green, “They are who they thought they were”.
The Over-.500 club: Coming into today, there are just two teams in the NEC who have a record above .500. They are Bryant at 7-5 and St. Francis Brooklyn at 6-5. Bryant was expected to be good this season so it is no surprise they have a winning record but St. Francis Brooklyn being one game above .500 through eleven games of their season is a surprise. If you look at the two teams schedules, you have to say St. Francis Brooklyn’s 6-5 looks better than Bryant’s 7-5. St. Francis has beaten Miami (FL) and Stony Brook on the road and Canisius at home and nearly pulled off a major upset at Syracuse. Bryant best wins are the three versus Ivy League teams (Dartmouth, Brown and Yale) plus their home win against Vermont who are 3-7. Bryant gave Notre Dame a game at their place before losing to the Irish. At the end of the day, color me more impressed over the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers than any NEC team at this stage.
What’s up with RMU?: The Robert Morris Colonials are currently 4-7 and just snapped a five-game losing streak at Duquesne on Saturday. Their Achilles’ heel so far this season believe it or not has been their defense. Their trademark tenacious defense that has been a staple of the RMU program has been mostly MIA this season. During their recent five-game slid, they were giving up 83.6 point per game. In their seven losses this season, they given up 82 ppg to the opposition. In their four wins, they’ve given up just 72.7. That is still high for a team that has been first in the NEC in scoring defense the last three seasons and has finished those seasons allowing between 63 and 66 ppg. The Colonials’ offense is scoring points at a 73.1 ppg clip which is currently third in the NEC behind the new fast-paced offense of Sacred Heart and LIU Brooklyn. If the Colonials can figure it out defensively, they will still be a team to watch out for during conference play.
Is FDU better than most thought and have you heard of Sidney Sanders Jr.?: If you go by their record at 3-9, then your answer might be yes since two of those wins came against both Seton Hall and Rutgers on the road in back-to-back games. Even though I think these are great wins for FDU in their current rebuilding process, it would be terribly premature to think that they are a team that can sneak their way into the NEC Tournament. Before these two wins, their only win other win was against a Division II school at home. This season they have lost to Hofstra by 22, who is also a rebuilding program, they’ve lost to Hartford by 14 and lost to Division II Metro State by 11.
They have a nice story right now in senior point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. who out of nowhere is currently second in the NEC in scoring with 18.7 ppg. Last season, Sanders Jr. had just three games in which he scored over 10 points in 27 games including 23 starts. This season, he has yet to score less than 10 points in a game and he just had a seven straight game scoring streak of 19 or more points. How much of a surprise is this? Sanders Jr. in our just-for-fun NEC Fantasy Draft before the season was drafted 40th overall. Players who were drafted ahead of him: Wagner’s Naofall Folahan and Dwaun Anderson, SFBK’s Kevin Douglas, FDU’s Mathias Seilund, SFU’s Ben Millaud-Meunier and RMU’s Anthony Myers-Pate.
Is the Mount worst than we thought?: Mount St. Mary’s is off to a rough 3-7 start and they have been hit hard with the injury bug. First they lost big man Kristijan Krajina seven games in after he tore his ACL and is out for the rest of the season. Then they lost freshman guard Bryan Ashe for their last two games due to a concussion. Also senior guard Sam Prescott is not yet producing at the same level he did last season. He is 1.5 ppg under his season total of last season and shooting just 27.7% from three. Senior Julian Norfleet has been trying to carry the Mount this season with his 18.6 ppg average, 3rd in the NEC. Yet, Mount Mayhem has to hit on all cylinders and injuries and lack of depth could prevent head coach Jamion Christian from using mayhem for the full 40 minutes. Grant it, the Mount has play a difficult non-conference schedule this season playing the likes of West Virginia, Villanova, BYU, and Michigan State and tough mids like Bucknell and Loyola (Md.). The Mount will be interesting to watch come NEC play.
Is Wagner still the team to beat in the NEC?: I would have to say yes although their grip on that mantle is not as tight as it was before the season started. It is no doubt that are likely the most athletic team in the NEC with several high flyers and playmakers. It just seems like they have been very inconsistent through the non-conference season. They have a couple of nice wins against Vermont and Penn but also have losses to Illinois-Chicago and Lafayette. Wagner has also had guys out due to team suspensions and even head coach Bashir Mason was suspended a game this season after getting ejected from the UIC game last month. They have plenty of weapons on offense with Latif Rivers, Kenneth Ortiz and transfer Jay Harris. Wagner has had trouble adjusting to the new rules on defense in college basketball. They are given up 7 more ppg on defense so far this season then they did last season for a team that can play solid defense, it is something to take from early on.
Is CCSU still considered a dark horse in NEC?: If I’m being quite honest, I think the answer has to be no. Most of the NEC coaches and several people who cover the NEC year-round thought CCSU had the pieces to make a surprise run this season but this team has looked more like last season’s team who struggled through the season. Kyle Vinales although he is putting up 17.7 ppg and has four 20+ scoring games this season, is not putting up the same shooting numbers he did a year ago. He is only shooting 32% from three, down 4% from last season. He has gotten more help this season scoring with guys like Faronte Drakeford, Matt Hunter and Malcolm McMillan providing a scoring punch. At 3-7 and scoring just under 69 ppg, it seems like things have not gone as expected for the Blue Devils.
Early Rookie of the Year check-in: The Rookie of the Year race looks like it’s going to be a good one all season long. Last season, it was really a two-person race but this season there are several candidates making a run for the award. You have SFU’s Malik Harmon who is first in scoring among freshman in the NEC at 11 ppg. You also have SFBK’s Wayne Martin whose had some bigs games early on this season. Also his teammate Sheldon Hagigal is getting himself into the picture with four straight games in double figures scoring. Add on Jeremiah Worthem at RMU and CCSU’s Khalen Cumberland to that mix. Also, LIU’s Iverson Fleming out of nowhere had a coming out show at NJIT with 22 points. This is going to be a fun race to watch out for this season.