NEC First Look: Mount St. Mary’s

This is the ninth installment of our NEC First Look series in which we take a early glance at all ten Northeast Conference men’s basketball teams for the 2015-16 college basketball season. Here are my first eight posts on CCSUBryantSt. Francis BrooklynSacred HeartSaint Francis U., Fairleigh DickinsonWagner and Robert Morris.

Gone:

Kristijan Krajina (F) – 6.4 ppg scorer as a sixth-year senior. Started all 30 games last season.

Andrew Smeathers (F) – Injuries only allowed him to play in 14 games last season. Averaged 8.7 ppg in his only season with the Mount. Earned his degree at Mount. No longer playing basketball due to injuries.

Chris Martin (G) – Finished fifth on the team in scoring at 7.4 ppg. Started in seven of 24 games last season but was a DNP in five of the team’s last six games. Transferred to Savannah State.

Additions:

Elijah Long (G)
Bryce Thurston (G)
Troy Henderson (F) – Redshirted last season
Chris Manning (F) – Redshirted last season

Pluses:

The Mount return back three significant pieces to a team that went 11-7 in the NEC last season. Their top two scorers from a year ago return in junior guard Byron Ashe (11.9 ppg) and senior forward Gregory Graves (10.1 ppg). The Mount also has sophomore point guard Lamont “Junior” Robinson (8.2 ppg) back who started in every game for them last season and was second in the NEC in assist percentage. These three guys will be big contributors to Mount once again this upcoming season.

Head coach Jamion Christian Mount Mayhem system caused…well, mayhem once again on the defensive end and with the three-ball. The Mount finished in the top 50 in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, getting turnovers on 21.6% of opponent’s offensive possessions. Mount finished third in the NEC in defensive points allowed with 64.8 points per game. 42% of their shots last season came from behind the three-point arc which equated to 36% of their points. That made them the top scoring team from three in the NEC. It will be more of the same this season as Christian’s team, since he arrived at the Mount in 2012-13, has been the top three-point shooting team in the NEC.

The Mount will also have a good blend of youth and veterans next season. They will have just two true freshman on the roster while also having two redshirt freshman who was with the team last season. The rest of team comprise of mostly upperclassmen and sophomores who got a good amount of playing experience as freshman.

Minuses:

The losses of Mount’s three big seniors from their NEC Championship two seasons ago was felt on the scoring end last season. The Mount went for the highest scoring team in the NEC in 2013-14 at nearly 76 points per game to 63.1 points per game, second-lowest in the NEC.

Although they don’t lose a great amount in terms of personnel, they did lose a long-time veteran in the program in Kristijan Krajina who finally exhausted his eligibility and they also lost a pretty good player in Andrew Smeathers who only played a season at Mount after transferring in from Butler but injuries has unfortunately ended his basketball career.

The Mount due to the nature of their mayhem system, shooting a ton of threes, didn’t get to the free throw line as much as you might have expected, ranking 326th in the nation in free throw rate (FTA/FGA).

Potential Starting 5: 

Junior Robinson (G) – Started all 30 games as a freshman. Averaged 8.2 points and 3.3 assists per game. Had a 30.9% assist rate which ranked him second in the NEC.

Byron Ashe (G) – Mount’s leading scorer last season at 11.9 ppg mostly coming off the bench. Started in just four of 29 games. Shot 36% from three last season.

Khalid Nwandu (G) – Averaged 4.7 points last season and shot 44.1% from the field but just 25% from three. Made 13 starts in 29 appearances.

Gregory Graves (F) – Finished second on the team in scoring at 10.1 ppg. Led Mount in rebounding with 7.4 rpg. Started in all 27 games played. Shot 42.3% from field and 38% from three.

Taylor Danaher (C) – Came off the bench mostly last season, made just four starts in 30 appearances. Averaged 4.5 ppg and 3.8 rpg. Shot 56.8% from the floor. Blocked 1.3 shots per game.

Early Outlook:

The Mount surprised some last season getting to .500 overall and getting themselves an 11-7 NEC record with a team that lost a large amount of returning minutes from the previous season. Credit goes to head coach Jamion Christian who continues to do a fantastic job with this Mount program, so much so that other programs began sniffing around the head coach this offseason.

Look for Bryon Ashe to likely have a huge season for the Mount and improve upon his All-NEC third team season of a year ago. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him land on an All-NEC first team in March. Gregory Graves could be the next double-double machine in the NEC this season. He finished with five last season and could likely double that number this season.

The Mount are going to be a dangerous team this season because they have upperclassmen who are ready to step up this season, they got good young guys to integrate into their lineup which in this system is necessary because of the amount of energy and exertion needed to execute it to the way Jamion Christian wants it played, which usually wears down their opponents. I believe the Mount have enough pieces currently in place to at least be a top two team in the NEC next season.

As usual, the Mount since Christian’s arrival has played an insane non-conference schedule and next season will be no different. Although the Mount has yet to release their schedule, the non-conference games they will play will have your head spinning. Their first four games are against four of the nation’s powerhouse teams on the road. They start the season at Maryland (Nov.13) in some people have them already listed as one of the top two or three teams in the country next season. Then they play at Ohio State (Nov. 15), at Washington (Nov.19) and then at Gonzaga (Nov. 21). They also have home tilts against Loyola (Md.) (Dec. 5) and Bucknell (Dec. 8).

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