As all of the NEC teams are entering the last few weeks of conference play and jockeying for position in the NEC Tournament, it got me thinking about all the players I’ve seen who never represented the conference in the ‘Big Dance.’ So, what if we were able to give all those players one last chance, on the same team!
The parameters of this are pretty simple: As a committee of one I make the only decisions. No player could have played in the NCAA Tournament, and no current player is eligible because it’s still possible they could be in that position this year or in the future. Lastly, I had to see the player actually play with my own eyes, which doesn’t include anyone who graduated before the 2013-2014 season. I know that might be a relatively narrow focus, but this is a 100% fictional team anyway.
Alex Francis, Forward, Bryant Bulldogs (2010-2014) – Francis was an absolute load in the paint and had the physique of a veteran railroad worker. He was simply overpowering despite relying heavily on a spin move that the opposition knew was coming; it was simply unstoppable. Despite never representing the NEC on the biggest stage, he was a model of consistency.
In four seasons at Bryant, Francis led the conference in made two-point fields in three of those years. He never ranked outside the top-10 in both points per game and rebounds per game over his career, and upon leaving he was the first player in NEC history to finish in both the top-5 and top-10 in scoring and rebounding.
Not enough for you? Francis recorded a double-double in 37 of his career 123 games (108 starts), and an insane 108 games in which he reached double-digits in scoring. He was named NEC Rookie of the Year in 2010-2011 along with being named to the all-rookie team. As a junior and senior, he was named first team all-conference.
On this team, Francis wouldn’t have to carry to offensive burden that he did as a Bulldog. Instead, he could inhale rebounds on both ends, would be better defensively with less of an offensive burden, and would be good for a basket whenever the ball was dumped inside to him, especially on the left block.
Jalen Cannon, Forward, St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (2011-2015) – The unanimous NEC Player of the Year in 2014-2015, three-time All-NEC selection with two of those as a member of the first team, and a myriad of other titles and records makes his selection here a no-brainer. Not only did he retire as the conferences all-time leader in rebounds, but the active NCAA leader as well.
Cannon was a relentless worker and competitor who was a force in the paint, especially on the glass. He brought his A-game every single night and was able to effect the game without scoring with his rebounding prowess and energy.
He’s an obvious auto-lock to make a team of this nature, and I feel good about his fit alongside Francis because he flashed an outside game his senior season: Cannon took over two three-pointers per game as a senior and converted at a 33% rate. He also seldom turned the ball over and didn’t commit a lot of fouls either.
Brent Jones, Point Guard, St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (2011-2015) – This was one of the easier selections to make. I simply loved the poise and confidence that Jones played with. He controlled the tempo of the game better than anyone else who qualifies for this team, in my opinion. That’s not to say that feel and the eye test alone secured a spot for Jones.
As a senior, he was a First Team All-NEC selection and finished 10th in scoring and second in assists. Jones led the conference in steals per game (2.0) and finished sixth all-time in total dimes.
While he may not have been as pesky as Kenneth Ortiz (Wagner), Jones was a better overall floor general who was able to influence and move the defense with a variety of pass fakes and checks. Additionally, his accuracy from long distance was just good enough that I feel comfortable with him taking the plethora of open looks he’d have on a team like this.
One could argue that he wasn’t a standout until his senior year, similar to Sidney Sanders Jr. (FDU), but I feel like Jones wouldn’t need the ball in his hands constantly to be effective, and was a better defender. In Sanders Jr. defense, I understand he had to do everything, but still.
Karvel Anderson, Guard, Robert Morris Colonials (2012-2014) – The second NEC Player of the Year (13-14) to make this list, and the only other auto-lock. Has there been a more efficient guard or any player for that matter over the last four years than Anderson? As a senior, he led the conference in field goals made, three-pointers and three-point percentage, total points, points per game, PER, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, offensive rating, win shares, and was most feared player among opposing coaches. Anderson was also in the top-5 for a ton of other metrics, while his 119 three-pointers as a senior fell just three short of breaking the all-time NEC record.
Moving beyond what’s on paper, he was clutch all the time. No one finished games like Anderson did with a barrage of deep triples and hesitation dribbles that always managed to get him all the way to the rim where he finished at a 66.2% rate (hoop-math.com). He worked hard on both ends, adapting to the aggressive 2-3 zone that head coach Andy Toole installed during non-conference play.
At a bare minimum, this team needed a player that consistently stretches the floor, but in Anderson there is so much more. Over half of his three-pointers were contested (I watched virtually every game that season), so imagine how much easier it would be for a 46.3% player to convert off the double teams of Francis and Cannon, or from the facilitation of Jones?
Dwaun Anderson, Guard, Wagner Seahawks (2012-2016) – There is a litany of players most people were probably expecting here. Let me explain why I have Anderson here by explaining why others are not. Thus far, every player on the team can contribute without using a ton of possessions. They have both a primary and secondary skill, which is part of why they were great players in the conference.
I considered both Dyami Starks (Bryant) and Kyle Vinales (CCSU) here, but they were both volume scorers. On a team that arguably has more effective and efficient options, it’s hard to justify their inclusion here. Going bigger would clog the paint which took the Saint Francis University duo of Earl Brown and Ronnie Drinnon out of the equation. Even though both were versatile players by their senior year, it would be very difficult to guard three-guard lineups, which a ton of collegiate teams use.
The same applies if I included Naofall Folahan (Wagner) or Amdy Fall (St. Francis Brooklyn). The rim protection isn’t worth the endless drives that a three-forward lineup would yield. Not to mention there would be zero room in the paint for Francis and Cannon to operate on the offensive end.
In Anderson, I have a guy who can be assigned to the oppositions best perimeter player and call it a day. As a senior, he was in the top-10 in the NEC in block and steal percentage, defensive rating and defensive win shares. So it’s not like the numbers don’t back up the eye test. Anderson was easily the best pure athlete I’ve seen in the conference and his size is a bonus over going smaller in former teammate Kenneth Ortiz.
No, he wasn’t the most decorated guard on his own team like Ortiz, Marcus Burton or even Latif Rivers. Anderson was never named to any All-NEC team of any kind. Still, he’s a much better fit given his size combined with his defensive chops. Lastly, this team is a much better draw on the road if Anderson is in the layup line before games, so there’s that.