Blogs > Extra Points

Thoughts, news and notes from the sports staff of The Saratogian newspaper, located in historic Saratoga Springs, New York. The gang in the corner office on Lake Avenue give you the post-game wrap-ups, news and notes from the games we cover and opinions about the sports we read about every day.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012-13 College Basketball Preview: NEC

We return with a preview of another mid-major conference that’s produced a few sneaky-good teams the past several years. Last year, three Northeast Conference teams won 25 games or more, and the top teams in the league are usually very solid squads. Here’s the breakdown of this year’s conference.

1) Long Island
Last season: 25-9 (16-2)

The scouting report: After an 0-3 start, the Blackbirds responded by winning 25 of their final 31 games, and even stayed within five points of Michigan State after a half in the NCAA Tournament. That team’s top four scorers return, and a group of six seniors will be looking to get back to the Big Dance.
The best-case scenario: An offense that averaged over 81 points per game a year ago continues to run roughshod with the team’s uptempo style of play. Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere retain their crown as the top 1-2 punch in the league, the Blackbirds go 18-0 in the league, and the team wins a game in the NCAA Tournament.
The worst-case scenario: The team feels the loss of Jim Ferry, who took the head job at Duquesne after last season. The offense doesn’t have the same zip under first-year coach Jack Perri, and the defense, one that allowed over 77 points per game last season, doesn’t come to fruition. The pure talent here is hard to deny, but because of the defensive shortcomings, the Blackbirds lose a game they shouldn’t in the NEC Tournament.
The rational scenario: Perri comes in after seven years as an assistant with the program, so the style of play shouldn’t be too different. The Blackbirds have won 52 games over the past two seasons, due in large part to the current senior class, and there’s little doubt that Long Island is the team to beat for at least one more year.

2) Wagner
Last season: 25-6 (15-3)

The scouting report: Like Long Island, Wagner had a coaching change in the offseason, and like Long Island, the Seahawks filled it with a former assistant coach. Bashir Mason inherits a fairly young group with just two seniors, but Wagner does return their top two scorers from a year ago, Latif Rivers and Jonathon Williams.
The best-case scenario: Rivers and Williams lead an offense that was extremely efficient a year ago and only improves on it in 2012-13. Rebounding, the team’s lone tangible weakness from last year, improves, and a Seahawk squad that split two games with Long Island last year beats them for the NEC title.
The worst-case scenario: The team misses former head coach Dan Hurley, now the bench boss at Rhode Island. Rebounding doesn’t get better, and again no Seahawk averages more than five boards a game. Rivers and Williams get their points and play well, but a third scorer doesn’t emerge, and the Seahawks regress to the 3 or 4 seed in the conference tournament before bowing out.
The rational scenario: This is a team that didn’t do one thing fantastically a year ago, but did a lot of things well. The Seahawks won 25 games despite an average rebounding edge of just 0.6 caroms a night, which tells you how efficient they were in other facets of the game. They may not be the most exciting team, but I’d be shocked if Wagner was outside the top three at season’s end.

3) Robert Morris
Last season: 26-11 (13-5)

The scouting report: Robert Morris, essentially, was the third-best team in a three-team league last year. The Colonials had six losses outside the conference, but two were to Pitt and Memphis. Additionally, Robert Morris got better as the year went on, advancing to the third round of the CIT after dropping the conference title game. Velton Jones returns for a fifth year, and he could wind up the NEC Player of the Year.
The best-case scenario: Jones improves on his 16 points per game from a season ago, and a complementary scorer emerges following the graduation of Coron Williams. Jones, Second Scorer X, and a balanced output from the rest of the rotation push Robert Morris into the race for a league title, though they may not have the horses to hang with Long Island for 40 minutes.
The worst-case scenario: No secondary scorer emerges. Jones turns into a volume scorer, and is double-teamed in every close/late situation. As a result, Robert Morris’s offense sputters, can’t improve off of last season, and isn’t a threat to win the conference title.
The rational scenario: Everything here depends on a secondary scorer emerging to take some of the load off of Velton Jones. If that happens, the Colonials will be a very tough team to beat. If it doesn’t happen, though, Robert Morris could regress back towards much of the conference. For now, they still sit pretty highly, but the first few games will say a lot about their chances going forward.

4) Quinnipiac
Last season: 18-14 (10-8)

The scouting report: The good news is that Quinnipiac graduated just two seniors from last year. The bad news is that one of them was James Johnson, who led the Bobcats by averaging 16.5 points per game. By and large, though, the Bobcats were very young in 2011-12, and if they can replace the scoring output Johnson gave them, Quinnipiac should improve pretty considerably.
The best-case scenario: Ike Azotam steps up to lead the offense a year after averaging a little over 15 points per game, and a front line featuring five players at 6’7” or taller becomes one of the best ones in the league. In a conference full of uptempo teams, that creates a ton of matchup problems, and the Bobcats surge to the #2 seed in the NEC Tournament.
The worst-case scenario: Nobody scores besides Azotam, and the Bobcats constantly get outclassed by quicker teams. Size doesn’t mean much if you’re constantly getting beaten down the floor, and Quinnipiac can’t keep up. The Bobcats are nowhere near ready to take on Long Island, Wagner, and Robert Morris, and stay in the middle of the conference.
The rational scenario: Quinnipiac should be improved from last year, even with the loss of Johnson.  As good a scorer as he was, he’s replaceable, and Azotam, who averaged nearly 16 points and 10 rebounds a game last year, should fit the bill. Add in the potential of a young group, and in a year or two, the Bobcats should be one of the top teams in the conference.

5) Sacred Heart
Last season: 14-18 (8-10)

The scouting report: An insanely-young team last year, the Pioneers look poised to make a substantial leap forward in 2012-13. Sacred Heart returns Shane Gibson, a dynamic, efficient scorer who averaged 22 points per game on 51% shooting. With the emergence of a supporting cast, this could be a dangerous team.
The best-case scenario: Gibson keeps knocking down shots, and fellow senior Justin Swidowski improves on his 11-point, five-rebound averages to become a legit #2 threat. The rest of the team produces when called upon, the Pioneers finish third in the conference, and head coach Dave Bike gets NEC Coach of the Year consideration.
The worst-case scenario: Gibson takes a step back after carrying the team all of last year. Swidowski is a nice player, but not a marquee one, and a third scorer doesn’t emerge. Sacred Heart still finishes with a .500 record, but is nowhere near where they could be.
The rational scenario: I like this team to improve as much as any program in the league. Gibson could potentially be the NEC Player of the Year, and the Pioneers should be able to find production elsewhere on a team that graduated just one player from last year’s unit. Maybe they can’t compete with Long Island or Wagner, but Sacred Heart should be a top-5 team in the league.

6) St. Francis (NY)
Last season: 15-15 (12-6)

The scouting report: Talk about a streaky team. Last year, the Terriers lost eight of their first 11 games, the first nine of which were all on the road. They then won 10 of their next 12, only to drop five of their last seven, including three straight defeats to end the year. St. Francis returns two of their top three scorers in Ben Mockford and Akeem Johnson, as well as leading rebounder Jalen Cannon.
The best-case scenario: Cannon’s low-post game comes around, and he becomes a nightly double-double threat. Mockford and Johnson continue to lead the rest of the offense, and three-point sniper Travis Nichols (40.7% from deep last year) is able to get open looks. The Terriers become more consistent with experience, win 20 games, and lay a foundation for 2013-14, which will feature largely the same group as only Johnson and Nichols graduate.
The worst-case scenario: The team misses Stefan Perunicic, who shot an insane 42.4% from three last year. Nichols isn’t able to carry that kind of a load as a shooter, Cannon’s offensive game is slow to develop, and Mockford’s mediocre shooting percentages (35.4% overall, 34.6% from three) don’t improve. The Terriers stay around .500 despite the potential to do much more.
The rational scenario: St. Francis has every logical reason to improve. They’ll miss Perunicic, but return a decent amount of talent that saw plenty of action last season. The fact that the team went 12-6 in-conference despite going just 7-10 overall on the road shows that the Terriers have potential. If they come together, a 20-win season is plausible.

7) Monmouth
Last season: 12-20 (10-8)

The scouting report: Another schizophrenic team, the Hawks went 10-8 in-conference but just 2-12 outside the NEC. They won eight of their last nine regular season games, only to fall to Robert Morris in the conference tournament. Monmouth returns their top three scorers, and boasts a six-deep senior class.
The best-case scenario: Monmouth keeps the momentum from last season going. The Hawks ride guard Jesse Steele, who emerges as one of the conference’s top point guards, to a significant turnaround from a season ago. Monmouth doesn’t have the horses to compete with the top teams in the league, but after 18 wins, the Hawks grab fourth place and win a game or two in the conference tournament.
The worst-case scenario: The Hawks, who were outscored by an average of nearly nine points a game a year ago, still don’t have the offensive firepower to win consistently. A tough slate that includes Notre Dame, Syracuse, Maryland, and Villanova wears Monmouth down, and the Hawks stumble to a finish in the bottom half of the conference.
The rational scenario: Steele is a very solid point guard, and he should do more than enough to keep Monmouth in games. The out-of-conference schedule is tough, but the Hawks should get a second wind in NEC play.

8) Saint Francis (Pa.)
Last season: 6-23 (5-13)

The scouting report: Last season was derailed very early, as Umar Shannon, who scored 26 points in the season opener, was shelved with a knee injury for the rest of the season. Only Anthony Ervin averaged more than 10 points per game in Shannon’s absence, and the Red Flash, largely, weren’t competitive. Assuming Shannon is 100%, this team should improve considerably.
The best-case scenario: Shannon, an All-NEC caliber player before his injury, returns to form, and leads the Red Flash in most offensive categories. Ervin, now a senior, provides another dependable option. Saint Francis finds a replacement for leading rebounder Scott Eatherton, and the Red Flash more than double their win total from the 2011-12 season.
The worst-case scenario: Shannon isn’t the same player, and the Red Flash offense feels the pain from it. Ervin can’t grow as a player, and the Red Flash get the stuffing beaten out of them on the boards without Eatherton. Saint Francis again fails to win 10 games, and finishes near the bottom of the NEC.
The rational scenario: Shannon is obviously a huge part of this team, one that was never able to recover once he went down so early last year. Eatherton is a sizable loss, but the Red Flash should move up at least a spot or two, assuming Shannon is 100%.

9) Mount St. Mary’s
Last season: 7-21 (5-12)

The scouting report: Last year was a long one for the Mount. The Mountaineers were extremely young, and as a result were taken to the woodshed by several of the better teams in the NEC. However, the team should be better this season, with its leading scorer back and a potentially high-impact transfer being cleared to play.
The best-case scenario: Julian Norfleet continues scoring at a high rate, and Marist transfer Sam Prescott, who led the Red Foxes with 11 points per game in 2010-11, gives the offense added punch. First-year head coach Jamion Christian makes an impact at his alma mater, and the Mount eclipses the 10-win mark while showing signs of progress.
The worst-case scenario: Prescott is rusty and doesn’t provide the scoring Christian is looking for. A secondary scorer doesn’t emerge, and Norfleet is left to do a lot on his own. Mount St. Mary’s shows promise, but is relegated to the bottom tier of the league for a second straight year.
The rational scenario: Christian was brought in in an attempt to energize the program, and there is some talent here for him to work with. However, this is a long-term project, and any reward that comes of it will need to wait until at least next year.

10) Central Connecticut
Last season: 13-16 (10-8)

The scouting report: Over half of CCSU’s scoring last season came from seniors Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek. Both are gone, leaving sophomore Kyle Vinales as the lone Blue Devil who scored more than four points per game. Barring a huge season from an unforeseen source, this will be a very long year for CCSU.
The best-case scenario: Vinales leads the NEC in scoring in his second year, and senior Joe Efese steps up as a complementary player. The Blue Devils salvage 10 wins, maybe even getting close to .500 in NEC play.
The worst-case scenario: Nobody steps up alongside Vinales, and he gets double-teamed constantly. Additionally, rebounding becomes a problem, since Horton averaged nearly nine boards a game a season ago. The Blue Devils can’t manage half of their wins from 2011-12, and finish in the bottom third of the NEC.
The rational scenario: It’s a bad year for CCSU to be down, simply because everyone that finished ahead of them is either up or even from last year. CCSU is young, and may be a good team next year, but this is looking like a rebuilding campaign.

11) Fairleigh Dickinson
Last season: 3-26 (2-16)

The scouting report: The Knights return their top two scorers from last year, Melquan Bolding and Lonnie Hayes. Those two are decent players, but they must be more efficient in order for FDU to have any measure of success. That’s especially true from three-point range, as the Knights shot just 27.7% from deep last year.
The best-case scenario: A guard-based offense does indeed improve its touch. The young group of shooters shows promise, and improves a spot or two in the NEC. Maybe they’re not close to challenging for the league crown, but the 2012-13 season is at least one of progress.
The worst-case scenario: FDU’s two scorers are all they have. A front line featuring nobody taller than 6’7” gets manhandled almost every game, and it’s another long year for the Knights.
The rational scenario: The Knights can’t be much worse in 2012-13 than they were in 2011-12, but I don’t see a ton of room for them to be better, either. Bolding and Hayes are nice pieces to have, but neither’s a proven #1 option, so it’s tough to see them straying too far from the cellar of the conference.

12) Bryant
Last season: 2-28 (1-17)

The scouting report: The Bulldogs had such a horrible season last year because of their inability to play defense. Despite having three players average double-figures in scoring, Bryant allowed over 75 points a game, not a winning formula by any means. All three scorers come back, including a really nice player in junior Alex Francis, but until the team gets tougher defensively, it’s tough to see them winning many games.
The best-case scenario: Francis, who shot 51% from the floor, averages 20 points per game, while running mates Frankie Dobbs and Corey Maynard also provide reasonable threats to do damage. The Bulldogs get tougher defensively, and grow as a team after losing nobody to graduation. As with FDU, maybe they’re not close to challenging for the league crown, but the 2012-13 season is at least one of progress.
The worst-case scenario: Francis gets double-teamed on almost every possession, and nobody else steps up to provide support. The Bulldogs continue to struggle defensively, and as such are relegated to the bottom of the league again.
The rational scenario: There’s no way around the fact that the Bulldogs, even with an All-League player in Francis, need to be better defensively. Last year, Bryant was one of the worst teams in Division I because of that, despite an offense that wasn’t atrocious. Until they show they can stop someone, I can’t put them any higher than this.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home