It was said at one time a team couldn’t win the Northeast Conference without great guard play. Although that edict still may be true today, it has become clearly apparent that NEC teams also need quality big men on their squads if they have plans to hoist the NEC championship trophy up above their heads come March.
Over the last several years, big time forwards have come to the forefront in the NEC, making big waves and leaving their mark on the conference. Players like LIU’s Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd, Bryant’s Alex Francis, CCSU’s Ken Horton, Quinnipiac’s Justin Rutty, and Wagner’s Jonathon Williams among others established themselves as dominated forces on the interior and for some on the exterior as well.
This upcoming season, there are some big names in the front court returning back to help try and lead their teams to a NEC championship as well as some emerging players who could potentially play big roles in their teams’ success in 2014-15.
Let’s take a look at some of the key front court names who you will hear and see plenty of in the NEC and who are some of the guys you should probably take notice of once this upcoming season tips off.
At the very top of this list are three forwards who return who will likely factor in the NEC Player of the Year discussion from day one. These three players are St. Francis Brooklyn’s Jalen Cannon, Robert Morris’ Lucky Jones and Saint Francis U. Earl Brown.
Jalen Cannon returns for his senior season at St. Francis Brooklyn as the only returning All-NEC first teamer from last season. He also returns as the leading returning scoring forward from a season ago where he averaged 14.9 ppg. He also led the NEC in rebounding with 8.2 rpg along with Bryant’s Alex Francis and had nine double-doubles. He has started in all but one game the last two seasons. Although last season, Cannon finished with a career-low 49% FG percentage, he is a career 52.8% shooter who further enhanced his game by adding a three-point shot to his arsenal. He took a career-high 48 threes last season and connected on 13 of those attempts. Cannon is averaging over 8 rpg for his career and he will look to boost those numbers this upcoming season. Don’t be surprised to see Cannon averages finish around 17 ppg and 9 rpg this season as he tries to help his team win the NEC for the first time ever.
Lucky Jones also returns for his senior campaign at Robert Morris. The versatile 6’6″ forward returns to lead the Colonials after an outstanding 13.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg season which earned him a All-NEC second team selection. Jones can do it all. He can score from inside and outside, rebound, get steals, and makes his free throws. He shot just under 40% from the floor last season while making 70 threes and draining over 80% of his free throws. He also had five double-doubles. This will be the first season though that Jones will be the main man on the offensive end with former teammates like Karvel Anderson, Velton Jones and Coron Williams no longer around. Jones has been preparing himself to take his game to another level if you go by his summer league stats. This is one player I’m expecting a monster year from where he will blow away his career numbers in nearly every category.
Earl Brown hasn’t gotten the notoriety of the other two in his career but last season people started to take notice of his play as the Red Flash started climbing up in the NEC standings. Brown went from a 10 and 8 player two seasons ago to a 14.4 ppg and 8 rpg player last season in starting in all of 31 of SFU’s games and there is still room for him to grow in his senior season. He was selected to the All-NEC second team and shot a career-high 53.1% from the field last season. He is the one player of the three who plays almost exclusively on the inside. All but ten of his shot attempts last season came from within the three point arc. Brown had nine double-doubles a season ago and has twenty double-doubles for his career. If Brown increases his numbers this upcoming season, there is no doubt SFU will be a likely NEC contender this season.
Another forward to take notice of next season is CCSU’s Faronte Drakeford. The 6’7″ senior forward had a very good first season in the NEC, averaging 13.4 ppg and 5.3 rpg in 30 starts and earning a All-NEC third team selection. He was second on CCSU in scoring and third in rebounding. He had two double-doubles on his way to shooting 48.7% from the field in just 27 minutes per game. He finished with 20 or more points eight times including a pair of 25-point performances. He should once again be a key contributor to the Blue Devils offense this season.
Sacred Heart’s sophomore De’von Barnett missed the first month of his freshman campaign but made immediate contributions to Anthony Latina’s squad upon his arrival in December. The 6’4″ forward was inserted into the starting lineup upon the start of the NEC season and remained there the rest of the way. In 22 games (15 starts), Barnett averaged 11.0 ppg and 4.6 rpg including a 24-point performance versus Mount St. Mary’s. He shot 52.8% from the field in 199 shot attempts while getting 27.5 minutes of action his freshman year on his way to being named onto the All-NEC All-Rookie team. He had a offensive rating of 102.5 which was third on his team. Barnett will likely be a starter from game one this upcoming season and will be a go-to scoring in the paint with the departure of Louis Montes.
LIU Brooklyn’s senior Landon Atterberry had to fill big shoes last season. More of a “4” forward, Atterberry played a lot at the “5” position last season due to season-ending injuries to Julian Boyd and Nura Zanna. Atterberry filled in admirably, averaging 10.8 ppg and 4.1 rpg in his first season with the Blackbirds. He shot 52% from the floor and showed an ability to make the three when needed with 15 triples made. He went for 22 points in a win versus Texas State and 20 in a win in the Battle of Brooklyn game versus St. Francis Brooklyn at the Barclays Center. Atterberry will likely see more minutes back at the “4” spot this season with the LIU featuring both redshirt freshman Nura Zanna and sophomore Glenn Feidanga more at the “5”.
Another SFU forward to keep an eye out for is Ronnie Drinnon. The 6’7″ junior forward only averaged 7.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg in 27 games (18 starts) last season. Midway through the season a year ago, his game started to take off. It began with an 8 points/12 rebounds game vs Mount St. Mary’s in January which got the ball rolling. Then a 14 points/10 rebounds game against FDU in February before going berserk in the NEC tournament with a 20 points/18 rebounds game at Bryant in front of a raucous road crowd. If he carries that momentum into this upcoming season, it gives the NEC something else to think about when they face SFU.
Here are some other NEC bigs to watch out for this upcoming season: CCSU’s junior Brandon Peel (’13-’14: 7.1 ppg/6.3 rpg/54.6 FG%, 2nd in NEC in Blocks), SFC’s sophomore Wayne Martin (’13-’14: 7.0 ppg/4.9 rpg/48.3 FG%), junior Amdy Fall (’13-’14: 5.2 ppg/3.9 rpg/ 45.6 FG%/3rd in the NEC in Blocks), Bryant’s Dan Garvin (’13-’14: 6.0 ppg/4.8 rpg/47.3 FG%), and RMU’s junior forward Stephan Bennett (formerly Hawkins) (’13-’14: 4.6ppg/2.9 rpg/46.1 FG%)
The Mount return a ton of size in their front court in junior 7’0″ center Taylor Danaher (’13-’14: 7.1. ppg/5.0 rpg/ 60.4 FG%), junior Gregory Graves (’13-’14: 6.5 ppg/5.5 rpg/47.1 FG%), sophomore sharpshooter Will Miller (’13-’14: 5.6 ppg/1.3rpg/39.3 FG%/39.9 3FG%) and sixth-year grad student Kristijan Krajina (’13-’14: 5.7/4.3 rpg/60.7 FG%).
As you can see, their will be no shortage of quality bigs in the NEC this upcoming season. It should see some really good front court battles all over the NEC in 2014-15.
Also check out the first two installment of our 2014-15 NEC Previews. Part One: Manning the point: 2014-15 NEC Point Guard Preview and Part Two: Get Out the Three Goggles: The NEC’s Best Returning Three-Point Bombers.