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, 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.
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