The season is merely two weeks old, yet we know far more about some teams then we did back in October. Informed prognostication certainly has its value, but the stark truth is no one – including most coaching staffs – knows how Team A will respond outside the confines of its practice court. It’s nearly impossible to predict how newcomers will adjust to a new environment.
With that, we’d like to re-calibrate some predictions based on what we’ve witnessed in the early going. Three to four games is a small, albeit unreliable, sample size, yet we’re somewhat confident that whatever trend or performance we highlight will continue for the majority of the 2013-14 season. (Please direct all of your angry rebuttals to the comments box – we’d love to have an open conversation!)
The Mount Will Struggle to Capture Last Year’s Magic
OK, I’m officially beating a dead horse now, and I promise I’ll stop soon. Just let me get this off my chest – given the current state of Jamion Christian’s roster, Mount Mayhem is likely fruitless without sufficient depth. For starters, the Mount are down to nine scholarship players for the remainder of the season, with three of those as unproven freshmen in Byron Ashe, Will Miller, and Big Apple Buckets favorite Khalid Nwandu. Furthermore, sophomore Gregory Graves has been woefully inconsistent and Sam Prescott and Rashad Whack have been waning in and out of shooting slumps. For this team to legitimately compete for a NEC title, the Norfleet/Whack/Prescott trio must produce AND most, if not all, of the underclassmen must step up. Any more injuries would be absolutely devastating to their chances.
In addition, some of the top-tier NEC teams have the guards to handle Mayhem a little better this season. With an extra offseason to scout and prepare, teams are realizing that the more ball-handlers you put on the floor versus Mayhem, the better. Teams like Wagner, Robert Morris, and Bryant have the ability to play a couple of point guards, making it more difficult for Christian’s team to extract turnovers. I placed them second in my preseason rankings, but I’m now inclined to push them to fifth or sixth overall.
Honorable Mention: I’ve seen enough from Gilbert Parga, Gerrell Martin, and Landon Atterberry to push LIU Brooklyn back into the thick of the NEC race (we had them sixth in the preseason rankings). Jason Brickman is just too awesome (a 64.2% assist rate!) to be denied a reasonable shot at his fourth straight NEC title.
Bucknell is Reloading, NOT Rebuilding
Making up the production of Mike Muscala is virtually impossible, but graduating Joe Willman could have been just as devastating. Willman, who Dave Paulsen called the smartest player he’s ever coached, was a wonderful defensive asset, utilizing his versatility to effectively defend in the post and out on the perimeter. It was the loss of these two that made me hesitant to consider the Bison a worthy contender for their fourth straight Patriot League regular season crown.
Now a mere four games in, I’m ready to slot Bucknell right behind Patriot League favorite Boston University. The improvement of point guard Steven Kaspar wasn’t expected; after all, here was a player who never had an offensive rating above 86 nor possessed an assist or turnover rate to get excited about. Now, Kaspar was arguably the best all-around player on the floor during their loss to St. John’s. Kaspar’s emergence along with Ben Brackney (59.3% eFG%) and the newfound efficiency of big men Dom Hoffman and Brian Fitzpatrick (combined 37 for 60 from the field) will have the Bison in the thick of the Patriot League race. They may only be 2-2, but close road losses to Stanford and St. John’s has them with a KenPom rating of 71, 26 spots ahead of the second place Boston University.
Honorable Mention: Without Ella Ellis, I just don’t see how Army makes a run at the Patriot League title. Manufacturing offense will be so much more difficult for Zach Spiker, especially when the Black Knights are ice cold from behind the arc, which they have been thus far (26.7% 3PT%).
American Won’t Be as Bad as You Think
The best Eagles remaining from last year’s active roster, Troy Wroblicky and John Schoof, are nothing more than role players. Schoof is an excellent outside shooter, but can only thrive with crafty facilitators setting him up. Wroblicky’s size is an advantage in the Patriot League, yet he’s limited offensively and is a mess at the free throw line. If these two are forced to carry the team, how exactly would American score more than 50 points a night?
Enter Stephen F. Austin transfer Darius Gardner. The diminutive point guard has been fantastic though three games, averaging 15.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.0 assists, and 2.7 steals per contest. While his 50% shooting percentage is likely to digress a little, Mike Brennan has to be encouraged with Gardner’s ability to take care of the basketball (15:3 assist/turnover ratio). His insertion into the lineup, along with the much improved play of junior Kyle Kager, may be enough to keep American competitive during conference play. At this point, I’d be surprised if they finish in the basement which is where I placed them not too long ago.
Towson is Not Alone in the CAA
All it took was one exceptional season by Pat Skerry before most prognosticators jumped on the Towson bandwagon. Don’t believe me? A quick Google search of CAA predictions will lead you to here, here, here, here and here (although credit to NBC Sports Eric Angevine who chose Drexel). Towson is pretty freaking awesome, and they now have Georgetown transfer Jerrelle Benimon and Vermont transfer Four McGlynn to boast about. We should just hand them the CAA trophy and send them to the NCAAs for the first time since 1992! Right?
Well, it won’t be easy. Bruiser Flint’s Drexel Dragons are heading to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden after knocking off Rutgers in their own building. Despite opening with two losses, the Blue Hens of Delaware have been strong lately. Northeastern, now led by St. Francis (PA) transfer Scott Eatherton, just took down Georgetown in the first round of the Paradise Jam. Drexel is currently favored to win the CAA regular season by three games, according to KenPom, so if you asked me if I’d rather take Towson or the CAA field, I’m selecting the field without question. In fact, I’m selecting the Dragons to win the CAA outright.
Wayne Martin Will Win NEC Rookie of the Year
While it’s absurd to declare a winner for a Rookie of the Year crown this early, it’s hard to ignore the impact of St. Francis Brooklyn’s Wayne Martin. John and I simply glossed over him when devising our NEC top rookies list, so it’s time to make amends. Martin struggles a bit with turnovers, but he’s been a bulldog in the paint while providing SFC with a second interior scorer alongside Jalen Cannon. He hasn’t been afraid to take a huge offensive burden when on the court (30% usage) and he’s shooting 59% on twos. There’s still some work to be done, but Martin has helped solidify the Terriers’ front court rotation and is a big reason why Glenn Braica’s team looks like an NEC contender.
Have any other teams or players exceeded your expectations? Let’s us know in the comments section!