As we quickly approach the midway point of the NEC conference season, John and I wanted to assess each team’s current standing among the muddle. John, in fact, ran some regular season simulations based on the current standings and KenPom’s rankings using his projection based system.
Through eight games, there’s little separation between the first place and eighth place team, with the Bryant, Sacred Heart, St. Francis Brooklyn, and Robert Morris group sitting just two games behind the 6-2 Mountaineers. Never in the KenPom era (since 2002) has the NEC’s eighth place team (a.k.a. now the last team to qualify for the NEC tournament) finished at or above 0.500 in league play. Finishing 9-9 during the regular season and barely making the conference tournament that now allows 80% of its member schools to participate in shows how much parity there truly is this season.
Taking this caveat into account, every team within two games of first should have a respectable chance at claiming at least a share of the conference championship according to the simulations, right? Well, not exactly…
NEC Regular Season Championship Odds (percentages includes both outright titles and titles that end in a tie):
- Mount St. Mary’s: 67%
- Wagner: 37%
- FDU: 11%
- Saint Francis U.: 6%
- Francis Brooklyn: 6%
- Sacred Heart: 2%
- Robert Morris: 2%
- LIU Brooklyn: 1%
- Bryant: 0.2%
- Central Connecticut: 0%
One quick note from John before I attempt to break these projections down – there is a tie for first in about 25% of the simulations. (Hence why the totals add to more than 100%.)
Despite the so-called parity, the projections are top heavy, at least for the moment. Mount St. Mary’s, the preseason favorite as determined by the NEC coaches back in October, is still a heavy favorite to earn at least a share of the regular season title. Wagner, despite dropping two winnable home games to Sacred Heart and LIU Brooklyn (winnable in the sense that they squandered double-digit leads in both), also has a respectable chance to earn its first regular season title since 2003.
One likely reason for Mount and Wagner’s high odds are their ability to defend when compared to their peers. Both defenses, when measured using KenPom’s adjusted defense metric, land in the top 140 in college basketball. Both are excellent are forcing turnovers with the Mount and Wagner sitting at #2 and #21 nationally in defensive turnover rate, respectively. The SFC and Robert Morris units are also in this class defensively, yet both programs rate among the nation’s worst in meaningful offensive metrics. Though Chris Hooper (61.5% 2PT%) and Rodney Pryor are doing their very best to reverse that trend.
After the top two, only FDU, SFU and SFC project above 5%, with the teams after that holding onto hopes of a regular season championship by a prayer. In all likelihood, 12-13 wins will earn the top seed; therefore expecting Sacred Heart, Robert Morris, Bryant or LIU to go 8-2 or 9-1 in their last 10 games is quite low on the probability scale. One could assume a Pryor led Colonial team could put together such a run, but given the team’s offensive shortcomings (currently ranked 337th nationally in KenPom offensive efficiency), I wouldn’t bank on it. Sorry, RMU fans.
Poor Central Connecticut. In John’s simulations, they went winless 25% of the time. I believe they’ll find a way to win one, maybe even two NEC games from here on out, yet it’s difficult to ignore the Blue Devils’ lack of competitiveness and average margin of defeat of 13.1 ppg in their eight losses. Only in their narrow overtime setback against Sacred Heart has CCSU owned a win probability above 50% during ANY league game. Sadly, it’s now plausible that a 0-18 conference and 1-28 overall season record could happen.
With CCSU out of the mix, that leaves nine teams fighting for eight playoff spots, so who do the simulations believe will be the odd team out?
Chances of making the NEC tournament (top 8 seed, top 4 seed):
- Mount St. Mary’s: 100%, 92%
- Wagner: 100%, 89%
- Fairleigh Dickinson: 99%, 55%
- Saint Francis U.: 98%, 55%
- St. Francis Brooklyn: 98%, 60%
- Sacred Heart: 91%, 20%
- Robert Morris: 91%, 17%
- LIU Brooklyn: 82%, 9%
- Bryant: 42%, 2%
- Central Connecticut: 0%, 0%
KenPom clearly is not a big fan of Bryant, especially since six of their final 10 games are on the road. The Bulldogs have nearly dropped 100 spots in KenPom’s overall rankings (241 in mid November to 332 now) and are only projected winners in 2 remaining games (at CCSU, vs Sacred Heart). Only Marcel Pettway possesses an offensive rating above 100 — a far cry from the Alex Francis, Dyami Starks, Joe O’Shea and Corey Maynard led teams of past seasons — sinking Bryant’s offensive efficiency to fifth overall in the conference (they finished first, first and second the past three seasons).
Meanwhile, FDU is a near lock to make the postseason and has better than a coin flips chance to land in the NEC top four. They currently have the best offense in the conference, scoring 111.5 points per 100 possessions. The emergence of Earl Potts (119.3 ORtg) and freshman Mike Holloway (114.9 ORtg) has really helped fill in the blanks for Greg Herenda and the two point guard attack of Stephan Jiggetts and Darian Anderson has allowed Herenda to push the tempo to a league leading 71.5 possessions per game. They are an awkward match-up for any NEC program.
Sacred Heart likely saved its season after pulling off upsets versus Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. Prior to last week, the Pioneers were projected by KenPom to finish 7-11 and miss the postseason. Now, their odds have improved significantly and a win tonight at LIU Brooklyn would put the Pioneers in terrific position among the conference’s middle tier.
A loss to Sacred Heart could be equally as devastating to LIU Brooklyn, since the Blackbirds would then be on the wrong side of individual tiebreakers with Sacred Heart, Robert Morris and SFC. They at least have a head-to-head victory over Bryant, though. Jack Perri is desperate for outside shooting – at the moment LIU is shooting 29.3% from behind the arc in conference games and would become the first team since the 2011-12 season to fail to crack the 30% threshold in league play (SFC is also putrid from downtown, shooting 28.9% from 3PT in eight NEC games). Iverson Fleming has been relegated to the bench, while Perri tries to find any kind of offensive spark from freshman Raul Frias and sophomore Trevin Woods.
Good luck predicting the final standings from this point!