I’m officially six for six in attending the NEC Social Media Day at the Barclays Center. There’s a reason I’m always there in attendance – it’s a great event that’s well run by the league office and unique in that there’s exclusive access to all ten head coaches. There’s no other event that comes close to acquiring as much information in the league as this one.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak candidly with nine of the leauge’s 10 coaches (sorry, Derek Kellogg) and get their reactions to how their respective preseasons have gone. While some coaches like to play it close to the vest, others will give you something if you ask the right questions.
The Stars May Be Aligning for Bryant’s Bosko Kostur
Projecting Kostur as the next star doesn’t require any major insight, given his experience and impressive 20-point, 7-rebound performance from Boston College’s scrimmage last Saturday. While Kostur’s ascension may be somewhat obvious to predict, I was impressed with his maturity and poise at Media Day – he clearly had that look of a player that was very comfortable in his current role with the team. He appeared to possess the confidence expected of a wily, fifth year senior.
“I had a great offseason,” Kostur said at NEC Media Day. “I feel I got better and my confidence is just out of the roof now and I can sustain that (high level of play) consistently throughout the year.”
Throughout his career, Kostur has been plagued with inconsistency, jettisoning out of Tim O’Shea’s limited rotation numerous times. It’s hard to believe Kostur hasn’t already emerged as an all-conference type of talent after a red-shirt freshman campaign that yielded a shooting percentage line of 51% 2PT/47% 3PT/76% FT in league play. His offensive rating that season (110.3) was the twelfth best in the NEC. In other words, the stretch forward was a nightmare to guard alongside Daniel Garvin.
What followed the next season – Kostur’s sophomore year – was a rather perplexing disappearance, leading pundits to assume Kostur wouldn’t amount to much despite his immense talent. On Wednesday, O’Shea even made light of Kostur’s frequent appearing and disappearing acts. He Joked, “Bosko and I have come full circle. We had our battles for four years and it’s all love now for me and BK.”
One thing is for sure, Bryant needs Kostur to perform at an all-conference level to be successful. O’Shea will lean heavily on his senior, as he had in the past with seniors like Dyami Starks, Alex Francis, Corey Maynard and Joe O’Shea. I honestly see a 16 ppg, 6 rpg, 56+% eFG season in Kostur’s future.
A Physical, Experienced Frontcourt at Sacred Heart
It’s no secret that Sacred Heart boasts the deepest frontcourt in the league, and so far this preseason the unit has been healthy, something that’s eluded the program in recent years. With the group’s experience and skill set, Anthony Latina was clear on Wednesday that the team will be sure to keep their bigs, mainly preseason first teamer Joe Lopez, involved heavily in the offensive scheme.
“We have to make sure that (our bigs) touch the ball,” Latina said, referring to his three seniors in Joe Lopez, Mario Matasovic and De’von Barnett. “We will throw the ball inside significantly more.”
The Pioneers roster is constructed in a way that allows Latina to play a tough, physical brand of basketball, one that has been featured with success previously at St. Francis Brooklyn, but not at Sacred Heart. It’s this change in philosophy that gives the program hope that they’ll become more efficient on the defensive end. Throughout Latina’s tenure, Sacred Heart has finished in the NEC’s bottom half in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage.
“We are going to physically impose our will on teams and when you can hold teams to one shot your defensive efficiency goes way up,” Latina answered when asking about his team’s defensive philosophy.
Of course, the frontcourt is only one half of the equation – finding reliable backcourt production to supplement Sacred Heart’s bigs is the more pressing question, even though Latina is optimistic that Sean Hoehn will turn into the next Drew Shubik. If that occurs and red-shirt sophomore Kinnon LaRose emerges as one of the league’s better sharpshooters, then Sacred Heart is in a good position to contend.
No One Wants to Take Robert Morris Lightly
While Robert Morris has suffered from unprecedented turnover this offseason, some coaches surely aren’t ready to count out Andy Toole. Normally, a roster that was decimated like the Colonials were would garner a ninth place finish, at best, in the NEC preseason coach’s poll. On Wednesday, the Colonials were picked seventh.
Two spots isn’t much of a jump, but to me it illustrates two things: 1) the respect the league has for Toole and what he has accomplished and 2) the recruiting talent that’s entering Moon Township is impressive. In regards to the latter: the word around the league is that newcomers Malik Petteway, Leondre Washington, Jon Williams and Koby Thomas all have the skill set and unique opportunity to impact the season right from the start.
Toole views Petteway as an excellent rebounder with a chance to avearge double-digits in scoring. Washington and Thomas have wonderful athleticism and could blossom into future stars if they continue to tirelessly work on their craft.
Freshman guard Jon Williams will have an opportunity to man the point for Toole’s rotation, a spot that was previously locked down by Kavon Stewart. Williams may not accumulate the stats needed for NEC Rookie of the Year consideration, yet it’s reasonable to envision Williams giving Robert Morris the stablizing production that Malik Harmon gave the Red Flash as a freshman (96.9 offensive rating, 20.8% assist rate).
It’ll likely be a rough non-conference for Robert Morris with numerous road games and no campus arena to report to at home, yet a rotation featuring Matty McConnell, Dachon Burke, Thomas, Petteway, Washington and Williams has a chance to make noise within the conference. And it seems like the opposing coaches share a similar train of thought.
The Next Version of Mount Mayhem
Jamion Christian has always been a master at branding Mount Mayhem, even though the system has been tinkered and revised several times throughout Christian’s five seasons. The sixth version will need to be tweaked as well, especially with an influx of youth entering campus. Nevertheless, the senior group of Junior Robinson, Greg Alexander and Chris Wray gives Christian the confidence that the defense will retain its pressing and trapping characteristics.
“I think we have the intangibles and talent to be a great pressing team,” Christian said at media day. “We have great size. You look at our roster with only four guys below 6-4, guys that can really get up and down, and so we’re trying to do everything we can to teach them to press at the highest level so it’s game ready enough where we can attack people.”
The program’s effective height will likely lead most NEC programs, with the exception of Sacred Heart, by a country mile, therefore there are similarities between this roster and Christian’s 2014-15 squad. The team in Christian’s third year led the NEC in defensive efficiency by giving up just 94 points per 100 possessions. This roster may be more youthful, yet the insertion of additional athleticism at the wing – namely Johan Antonio and Omar Habwe – and the aforementioned senior leadership should allow the Mount to press a fair amount. It also helps to speed up the tempo when you can make the 3-pointer, which several players on this roster can do. The 2014-15 group struggled a bit in that facet, making just 33.0% of their treys that season.
In theory, it’ll take time to coach up a young roster, yet Christian identified January as the target point for the Mount to become a full fledged pressing and trapping team.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of the business and there are some to report on this preseason. While a couple of coaches prefer the Bill Belichick approach with discussing injuries (aka they won’t discuss them in an on-the-record setting), I was able to get a few updates that were noteworthy.
- Chris Wray, Mount St. Mary’s – Wray broke his wrist earlier this preseason though he was originally expected to return to action last week. That plan hasn’t come to fruition, however, as the senior is still “in a holding pattern” with his injury. Doctors have yet to clear Wray for physical contact, thus it’s fair to assume Wray suiting up in early November is questionable at best.
- Romone Saunders, Wagner – The talented red-shirt junior has been plagued with injuries his whole career, and this offseason isn’t any different. The guard is currently dealing with a knee injury, making his return to the Seahawks next month as uncertain, according to Bashir Mason.
- Alex Watson, Sacred Heart – Latina said Watson is “50/50” to suit up for the Pioneers November 10th season opener versus Holy Cross, after the freshman suffered a fractured wrist weeks ago. He’s yet to be cleared for action and is currently missing invaluable time.
Other Quick Tidbits
- In the Central Connecticut preview earlier this month, I noted that the Blue Devils will have a lot more versatility and 3-point shooting at their disposal. Donyell Marshall reiterated that on Wednesday, noting that his junior guard Austin Nehls could benefit the most from the talent infusion. With all of the defensive attention that came Nehls way last year, the Arizona native still made 37.0% of this 3s. Now, defenses will likely need to focus on others and can’t always place their best perimeter defender on Nehls. At media day, Nehls stated his goal is to make at least 40% of his long distance attempts. I would bet the over.
- Although I didn’t have a chance to speak with Derek Kellogg, my colleague Nelson did. He relayed that Kellogg plans to play small this year and push the tempo a lot. Given the talent assembled in Brooklyn, this doesn’t come as a surprise. But just how fast does Kellogg want to push it? In his last six seasons at UMass, the Minuteman finished anywhere from third to fifty-third nationally in tempo. With Jashaun Agosto and Joel Hernandez running the show and Raiquan Clark and Jamall Robinson manning the four, we should see a frenetic, up-tempo pace at LIU Brooklyn.
- Our friends over at Mid Major Madness published their own news and notes post from yesterday’s event. There are some great tidbits in there from Patrick Toner and Russell Steinberg.
Once again thanks to the NEC for a great event. We are a couple of weeks away from NEC action!