Top Impact NEC Freshmen for the 2015-16 Season


This almost feels a bit like cheating – waiting this long to release my top impact freshmen for the 2015-16 season. The timing was purposeful as I wanted to gather as much information as I could from coaches and scrimmage box scores.

Following this procedure last preseason, I successfully nabbed 3 of the top 5 freshmen — Cane Broome, Nura Zanna and Martin Hermannson — and I probably would have gotten 4 of 5 if Marques Townes wasn’t stricken with mononucleosis in February.

Allow me to offer my all-rookie team prediction along with three others who may warrant consideration as the season progresses.

Quincy McKnight gives Anthony Latina a versatile, high-motor guard he can count on. (Photo credit 247Sports.com)

Quincy McKnight gives Anthony Latina a versatile, high-motor guard he can count on. (Photo credit: 247Sports.com)

Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart – Most publications/blogs have made McKnight their next NEC Rookie of the Year and with good reason. This doesn’t assure McKnight of winning anything, after all just look at my ROY preseason favorites from previous years in Nura Zanna (’15), Jeremiah Worthem (’14) and Dwaun Anderson (’13). Nevertheless, there’s a reason why McKnight was offered by multiple programs and will start for the Pioneers from day one. Alongside Cane Broome, the best sophomore in the conference, McKnight will serve well as a versatile guard who doesn’t have a visible weakness. That much was evident in Sacred Heart’s recent scrimmage versus Bridgeport – McKnight poured in 13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in the victory. His ability to fill up the stat sheet and his winning pedigree – the Bridgeport native was a three-time champion in high school – makes him the best signing in Sacred Heart’s young Division I history.

Matty McConnell, Robert Morris – Terrific bloodlines aside, McConnell made an emphatic statement in Robert Morris’ exhibition victory last Tuesday. His 23 points on 7 of 12 shooting from behind the arc illustrates how much Andy Toole will lean on the local product to make up some of the production lost from Marquise Reed’s transfer. As a former 2,000-point scorer in high school, McConnell’s superb basketball IQ and impressive focus should find him playing time off-the-ball right away. Toole may be tough on his players, but he’s always been tolerant of talented freshmen that can come in and produce (see Reed, Elijah Minnie, Lucky Jones), hence my confidence in this selection.

Mike Holloway, Fairleigh Dickinson Among an impressive recruiting class that included six freshmen, Holloway was the prize pickup of Greg Herenda’s group. The New Jersey native, who averaged 21.2 points and 16.7 rebounds per game as a high school senior, is a legit 6’7 and should immediately help a Knights team that finished last in the country in defensive rebound rate this past season. In addition to his rebounding acumen — Holloway grabbed 10 boards in FDU’s scrimmage against Georgian Court — he appears to be further along when compared to most freshman bigs in his footwork and back-to-the-basket skills, providing FDU with a polished big to play next to veteran Tyrone O’Garro. We may see a handful of double-doubles in his near future, even as a rookie.

Keon Williams, St. Francis Brooklyn – Williams isn’t a true freshman – he was a redshirt last season – but he’s an 18-year old rookie nonetheless. With the graduations of defensive role players Kevin Douglas and Lowell Ulmar, Glenn Bracia will need someone to step in and provide tough, hard-nosed defense and athleticism at the three. While Williams isn’t a sure bet to be the Terrier’s main swingman, there’s no denying his talent and the coaching staff’s excitement for his future. Williams’ offense may continue to be a work-in-progress, but his toughness and intangibles could make him a regular rotation piece for the Terriers immediately. A St. Francis squad that has Williams, Tyreek Jewell and Amdy Fall on the floor together could be scary good defensively.

Nisre Zouzoua, Bryant – Like Keon Williams, Zouzoua’s defensive prowess profiles as his biggest strength heading into Bryant, so much so that Tim O’Shea is confident the 6’2 guard won’t be overmatched one-on-one with most opponents. That kind of praise could present Zouzoua, a Brockton, MA native, with an opportunity to fill the gaping hole at the three, especially versus the smaller lineups of the NEC. Paired with the equally athletic Hunter Ware in the backcourt will likely make the Bulldogs tougher defensively on the perimeter and help improve upon a mediocre turnover rate of 16.6%. His athleticism should excite Bulldog fans in transition, too.

Honorable Mention

Austin Nehls, Central Connecticut For a freshman to rise up, opportunity is almost as important as talent (just ask Hunter Ware last season). While the opportunity is there, Nehls also possesses a skill that should get him on the floor: he can stroke the three-ball with the best of them. For a team that made just 32.2% of their three-pointers a season ago, a floor spacer such as Nehls would help open scoring opportunities for others around him. He may not have all-rookie team potential, but a Ben Millaud-Meunier freshman line circa 2012 (9.3 ppg, 47.6% 3PT, 80.4% FT) is within reason.

Isaiah Still, Robert Morris – Like McKnight and Holloway, Still was highly sought after before finally signing on to play for Andy Toole. The 6’6 guard/forward is very skilled on the perimeter and, like Lucky Jones, possesses the defensive versatility that most coaches would covet. His skill set isn’t comparable to Jones as much, but Still’s comfort on the perimeter and solid handle should make him a difficult matchup for future NEC two and threes.

Elijah Long, Mount St. Mary’s – Despite being fully committed to play for Florida Gulf Court, Long reopened his recruitment this past spring and essentially fell into Jamion Christian’s lap once it became clear Andrew Smeathers wasn’t returning for his senior season. While the Mount’s guard play was already a strength prior to Long’s arrival, the 6’0 guard should still find the floor due to his talent level and Christian’s desire to implement his Mayhem system that embraces guard play.

Also Considered: Marcel Pettway, Bryant, Eric Bowles, Central Connecticut, DaRon Curry, Fairleigh Dickinson, Julius van Sauers, LIU Brooklyn

Ryan Peters is a contributing writer for Big Apple Buckets and wrote the NEC preview for the 2015 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. You can follow Ryan on Twitter here.

6 thoughts on “Top Impact NEC Freshmen for the 2015-16 Season

  1. MSM98

    Thrilled you mentioned Elijah Long (I know, I’m biased!) This guy plays like an upperclassman already and shows maturity and athleticism on both ends of the court. I suspect he will be 6th man very early this year. Could be a starter if not for the deep back court here.

    1. Ryan Peters Post author

      Honestly if Long was part of any other NEC backcourt, he may have snuck up to my top 5. I know Jamion believes he’ll be a key part of the rotation off the bench at the moment. The 2 scrimmages illustrate that belief.

  2. Dan From Staten Island

    This was an excellent first look at some of the new talent that’s coming into the NEC this year. Nice job. A lot has been said in the pre-season about Kentuckian Keon Williams of St. Francis Brooklyn and most Terrier fans can’t wait to see his debut. Another red-shirted Terrier who will suit up this season and has the capability of possibly becoming an impact player is Marlon Alcindor. Alcindor seems to have a knack for scoring bunches of points quickly and may see some appreciable minutes if he can bring his defense up to the level of his offensive game (which certainly appears to be ready for this level). True freshman guard Dagur Johnsson also has the chance of making a impact for St. Francis similar to what his Icelandic countryman Martin Hermansson did for LIU last year. Although both Alcindor and Johnsson are impressive, Williams certainly appears to be the real deal.

  3. Mike R

    Great list per usual! Will you also be releasing an article covering recruiting class rankings like you’ve had in the past? One of my favorite articles of the year. Very interested to see what the freshmen at Bryant will do this year. Nisre and Marcel Pettway could both carve out a role for this talented Bryant team. I see Nisre as the starting SG next year once McLaughlin graduates and Ware moves down to the point. Hoping he can get 15-20 minutes this year as the 3rd guard off the bench or as a small ball SF. Pettway will have to compete with a glut of big men. But, he’s more athletic than Scocca and more polished offensively/more athletic than Ellis Williams. So he could battle for minutes in a crowded front court. A lot will depend on how much Bosko Kostur is used as a 3 rather than 4, which will dictate how many minutes are available at the 4/5 spots.

    As I see it, Bryant has 4 starters nailed down (McLaughlin, Ware, Bosko, Garvin). They have a bunch of options for their fifth starter depending on if they want to go small ball or play big. Possibilities for the 5th spot include: 6’4 Curtis Oakley, 6’2 Nisre, 6’5 Zach Chionuma, or 6’8 Andrew Scocca. Excited to see how it all shakes out! Have you seen any inklings of who might be their 5th starter? Maybe from any of the scrimmages?

    1. Ryan Peters Post author

      I think Zouzoua has a legit chance to be O’Shea’s starting 3. If he plays well in the non-conference, you should see a lot of him in NEC play. Honestly, I went back and forth between Zouzoua and Pettway in my top five, but I believe there’s more opportunity for the athletic guard, especially when O’Shea is playing Kostur, Garvin and Scocca at the 4 and 5. A small ball lineup is more realistic against NEC foes.

      Of the guys you mentioned for the fifth spot, I’m skeptical that Chionuma will see much time. Oakley I feel like is better suited off the bench and Scocca is a wily veteran who can give O’Shea 15 minutes a night as the 7th or 8th man in the rotation. It’ll be interesting to see how O’Shea juggles his rotation after the obvious four. He certainly has plenty of options!

  4. FDU40

    Excited to see Mike Holloway featured in your article. Holloway is really STRONG and along with O’Garro the transfer should make FDU go from the worst rebounding team in the NEC to one of the better rebounding teams in the NEC. But the potential super star freshmen is Daron Curry. He is super quick and smooth with a great feel for the game. At the moment Coach Herenda is bringing him off the bench, but it is just a matter of time before he has a breakout game and becomes a factor in the ROY in the NEC. Go Knighta

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