NEC Team Primer: #2 Mount St. Mary’s

Head Coach: Jamion Christian, 2nd Season (18-14, 11-7 NEC)
Last Season: 18-14, 11-7 (NEC), Lost Finals of NEC tournament to LIU Brooklyn, 91-70
RPI/KenPom: 118/195
NEC Preseason Poll: 6th out of 10 teams
State of Program: NEC Contender
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Shivaughn Wiggins (9.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.6 A/TO), Raven Barber (5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 57.9% FG%), Kelvin Parker (5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Josh Castellanos (4.3 ppg, 3.2 apg)
Incoming Players: Khalid Nwandu (G), Byron Ashe (G), Charles Glover (G), Will Miller (F)

LogoProjected Starting Lineup:

PG: Julian Norfleet (10.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 A/TO)
G: Rashad Whack (13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.1 spg, 35.9% 3pt%)
F: Sam Prescott (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 spg)
F: Gregory Graves (1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
C: Kristijan Krajina (5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 62.7% FG%)

Key Reserves: Taylor Danaher (C), Khalid Nwandu (G), Charles Glover (G), Byron Ashe (G), Will Miller (F)

Major Storylines:

  • Building on the Momentum – Lost amid the NEC chaos last season was Mount St. Mary’s superb run of basketball in the month of February. After losing on the road to Robert Morris, The Mount won 12 of their final 14 contests in impressive fashion. Before their defeat in the NEC title game, Jamion Chrisitan’s squad outscored their opponents by an average of 8.3 points while extracting an average of 13.8 turnovers per game during the stretch. Can the vaunted Mayhem pressure continue to reek havoc come NEC time? It remains to be seen if the new defensive rules and coaching adjustments will trim down the effectiveness of a team that had the 23rd highest turnover rate in the nation last season.
  • Assembling a Solid Second Team – Mayhem is minimized without a deep rotation, yet the Mount lost a sizable chuck of their roster this past offseason due to graduation and transfers. The statistics of Raven Barber, Kelvin Parker, and Josh Castellanos may not seem like much, but they were intregal parts (at times) of a deep rotation Christian liked to employ. Now without them and future star Shivaughn Wiggins to lean back on, Christian’s roster has thinned out with only 11 eligible scholarship players (Marshall transfer Chris Martin must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules). In order to comfortably play nine to ten guys, injuries and the under achievement of the underclassmen must be avoided.
  • The Big Three – Much of the onus falls out the terrific trio of seniors in Emmitsburg. We highlighted the importance of Norfleet previously, and it goes without saying how important Whack and Prescott are as well. All three are obviously vital, given that they make up sizable chuck of their total scoring and three-pointers made last season. Their versatility and athleticism gives Christian the ability to employ a trapping, pressing, up-tempo brand of basketball, so it’s imperative they produce and stay healthy. An injury to one of the big three could be crippling.

The Skinny:

Jamion Christian was the jolt of energy this program badly needed after being led by a lackluster Robert Burke the previous two seasons. After serving as Shaka Smart’s assistant at VCU, Christian was handed the keys to a Mount program that had lost its way since Milan Brown departed for the Patriot League.

Predictability, the installation of Mayhem had its ups and downs in the early going. A surprising upset at Atlantic 10 foe George Washington instantly energized the fans, but after that the Mount struggled to find any kind of consistency. After a decisive loss to FDU in early January, two things happened soon thereafter. Julian Norfleet was given the point guard role and freshman Shivaughn Wiggins emerged. What ensued was pure Mayhem – turnovers were being forced, aggressive guards were raining threes and the big man combo of Krajina and Barber were securing the middle. The Mount may have fallen short in the end, but it was a fantastic season nevertheless, especially when considering where they were a year prior.

The offseason came with some disappointments, however, as several players – a few of them already in Christian’s doghouse – transferred out of the program. The most notable was the late departure of Wiggins, who’s loss was not only difficult to swallow, but it also left another scholarship unfulfilled.

Despite the exodus, though, Christian has several pieces to compete for another NEC championship, immediately. Norfleet, Whack, Prescott, and Krajina all return as starters and possess a wealth of invaluable experience. Taylor Danaher and Gregory Graves both added muscle to their lanky frames this offseason and appear poised to increase their role. Perhaps most important is how the four freshmen newcomers perform; after all, at least two will be expected to produce if Christian truly wants to boast a deep rotation. Of the group, Khalid Nwandu has a chance to disrupt opposing guards with his athleticism and 6’9″ wingspan. Byron Ashe and Will Miller are terrific shooters, but their lack of bulk could hinder a possible breakout performance as rookies. Charles Glover projects as a future glue guy, but those type of players sometimes take a while to develop at the Division I level.

Together, there are a lot of questions surrounding this team. Yet their Mayhem style and experienced guards should lead them into the upper half of the NEC once again. It’ll be rotation spots five through nine that may very well determine if Christian’s team goes dancing two years removed from a dismal eight win season.

Coach’s Quotes:

“We play so many guys. The new rules are going to make for the tempo to go way up and we play a high-tempo game, so I think it’s really going to benefit teams with a lot of depth that really pride themselves on guard play. We’re going to have to make some adjustments as far as playing some guys with two fouls… I don’t think it’ll change our defensive identity at all.”
– Christian, on how the new defensive rules could affect his team

“If you’re going to be a great team your post players have to be a factor. They have to be able to score one-on-one on the block. I love the guys we have in Kristijan Krajina and Taylor Danaher. Kristijan’s up to 250 pounds now so he’s much bigger, has great touch and can really score around the basket.”
– Christian, on the potential of his big men

“Growing up my dad always taught me how to play basketball the right way and I really took pride in that. He really taught me how to use my mind on the court and how to use my IQ. You might not see it in the numbers, but there are a lot of things that I do on the court that go unseen.”
– Norfleet, talking about how he developed into a selfless, versatile player

Predictions:

Ryan – If there’s one team I’m going back and forth on, it’s Mount St. Mary’s. They’re loaded with experienced athletic seniors, but may really miss reigning NEC ROY Shivaughn Wiggins on both sides of the ball. Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher could take steps forward, but if they (and the freshmen) don’t, does Christian have a viable second team? With many questions and few answers this early, I’ll deviate to the middle. While I expect them to fall a little short of a championship, a top four finish in the conference is probable. (18 wins, 10-6 NEC)

John – 
I really like this system and I really like what the Mount did at the end of the season. I believe Jamion Christian is one of the brightest young minds in college basketball coaching and that his Mayhem system will be even better this season. The loss of Wiggins certainly hurts, but this is a system team that has talented players like Julian Norfleet accepting different roles to help the team win. It took this team a bit of time to get their feet wet last season, but once it happen they challenged the top of the NEC. The Mount should be right back in the thick of the title hunt again. (19 wins, 11-5 NEC)

Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers

#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils
#3 Robert Morris Colonials