In a season where the NEC actually improved its overall standing in Division I compared to a year ago, there were plenty of terrific individual performances.
Unfortunately, two members of the NEC’s all-conference preseason team – Darian Anderson and Isaiah Blackmon – suffered season-ending injuries, which theoretically diluted the conference’s star power. Those injuries did little to affect the quality of talent making its way up, however. There were far more players who unexpectedly shined compared to the aforementioned injuries, which makes the future of the league exciting.
There is, of course, the transfer issue, but if the league can have a better offseason with fewer stars jumping ship, there’s little doubt in my mind that the NEC is on the rise. The league has jumped in conference RPI (30 to 27) and KenPom conference rating (30 to 29) in one season, DESPITE plenty of stars leaving last spring.
Let’s talk about the individual performances now, and highlight our awards and all-conference teams for the 2017-18 season. This was a collective effort between myself, John Templon and Nelson Castillo.
NYC Buckets NEC Player of the Year
Junior Robinson, Mount St. Mary’s – You can spin Robinson’s excellence any which way you want, but allow me to offer this tidbit. Despite commanding the ball a ton in Jamion Christian’s guard-friendly offense, the elite guard was exceptional in protecting the basketball, posting a 12.7 percent turnover rate in league play. To put that number in perspective: there has never been an NEC player in the KenPom era (since 2002) who’s posted a possession rate north of 30 percent and exhibited such a low turnover rate as Robinson did. He also, by the way, is 11th nationally in scoring (22.2 ppg) and 10th in free throw percentage (90.4 percent). A career high true shooting percentage of 58.4 percent proves Robinson was much more than your run-of-the-mill volume scorer. He is the best player in the NEC.
NYC Buckets NEC Rookie of the Year
Koby Thomas, Robert Morris – The Philadelphia native used his effortless athleticism to transform into one of the more exciting power forward’s the league has seen in recent years. The 6’6 Thomas led all NEC freshman in scoring (12.3 ppg), rebounding (7.0 rpg) and was second in 2-point field goal percentage (50.8 percent). He’s faded a bit down the stretch, closing the gap between himself and Noah Morgan and Jalen Jordan, yet his overall body of work gives Thomas the nod as our next rookie standout worthy of the ROY honor. The sky is the limit for Thomas.
NYC Buckets NEC Coach of the Year
Bashir Mason, Wagner – At first glance, Wagner appeared to take advantage of an easy non-conference schedule, leaving us to wonder if the Seahawks would fall back to the pack once league play began. That assumption proved to be terribly wrong. Mason guided the Seahawks to their second regular season championship in three campaigns. (Also, Wagner’s overtime victory over Rider and blowout victory at Hartford look a lot more impressive now than they did at the time.) Mason deserves credit for several reasons: 1) elevating JoJo Cooper to an unfathomable status as a top-five player, 2) pushing his defense into the NEC’s best in defensive efficiency and 3) utilizing his roster in a way that’s made the Seahawks literally impossible to topple at the Spiro Center with a 14-0 record. If Mason was underrated to the national audience coming into this season, another Jim Phelan COY honor should elevate the 33-year-old as one of the best young coaches the college game has to offer.
NYC Buckets NEC Most Improved Player
Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn – This award was a two-man battle between Clark and Wagner’s JoJo Cooper and in the end, Clark won out. Clark went from playing in just one game his freshman year (and nearly transferring) to becoming first guy off the bench during his sophomore year to regularly starting as a junior. His 17.2 ppg scoring average was good for sixth in the NEC, and his 7.1 rpg rebounding average was good for fourth league wide. A fixture at the free throw line this season, Clark led all NEC players in free throws attempted (207) and finished second behind Mount’s Junior Robinson in free throws made (158). Clark also finished third in the NEC in field goal percentage (54.7 percent) in being LIU’s second-leading scorer. This was truly a season worthy of receiving this award.
NYC Buckets Defensive Player of the Year
Dachon Burke, Robert Morris – Not only did Burke lead the NEC in steals (2.1 spg), but his 13 blocks as a perimeter defender also speak to the sophomore’s elite athleticism. Because of his talents, Burke is incredibly disruptive on the perimeter, whether he guards a point guard or someone off the ball. Robert Morris possessed a defensive efficiency of 96.4 points allowed per 100 possession with Burke on the floor, which was a 13.7 points per 100 possessions improvement compared to when he was on the bench. That’s easily the best mark in the NEC, and therefore Burke is our next DPOY, with all due respect to A.J. Sumbry and Chris Wray, both excellent defenders in their own right.
NYC Buckets NEC All-Conference First Team
- Junior Robinson, Mount St. Mary’s
- Keith Braxton, Saint Francis University
- JoJo Cooper, Wagner
- Joel Hernandez, LIU Brooklyn
- Dachon Burke, Robert Morris
Keith Braxton was toe-to-toe for much of the season with Junior Robinson in the POY race, until a good but not great midseason stretch took him out of the running. When it mattered most though, Braxton played his best, registering 19.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.3 apg and 2.5 spg over the Red Flash’s last six games. On a related note, SFU went 5-1 over that stretch. JoJo Cooper‘s offensive ascension is still miraculous to me, as the senior was 16th nationally in assists per game and second in the NEC in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0). He also scored 14.2 ppg and made several clutch baskets throughout the season for the Seahawks. Joel Hernandez finished second among his counterparts in points per game (20.2 ppg) while posting career highs in effective field goal percentage (50.5 percent) and fouls drawn (6.4 fouls per 40 minutes). He’s one of the most versatile playmakers the conference has to offer. Lastly, Dachon Burke emerged as a great two-way player for Robert Morris. He finished among the top 12 in scoring (17.7 ppg, 4th), rebounding (5.9 rpg, 11th), steals and (2.1 spg, 1st), all as a mere sophomore playing on a team with ten newcomers.
NYC Buckets NEC All-Conference Second Team
- Jamaal King, Saint Francis University
- Tyler Kohl, Central Connecticut
- Raiquan Clark, LIU Brooklyn
- Chris Wray, Mount St. Mary’s
- Blake Francis, Wagner
It’s really unfair to leave Jamaal King and Tyler Kohl off the first team, but there are only five spots. King scored 20 or more points in 11 of 18 conference games and cemented himself as one of the league’s dominant playmakers. He’s a weapon for Rob Krimmel late in the game. Kohl fills up the stat sheet like no other player – without him, the Blue Devils likely aren’t in the NEC tournament this week. His “old man at the YMCA” game exudes patience, calmness and an efficiency that’s rare in the game these days. Even though 76 percent of his shots come near the rim, the defense simply couldn’t slow down the slashing Raiquan Clark, as the junior averaged 17.2 ppg this season. He did well to finish around the rim, converting more than 63 percent of his attempts there. Everyone will harp on Chris Wray‘s inability to make outside shots, but he wasn’t asked to do that at the Mount. Christian wisely maximized his many strengths, which on the offensive end included his offensive rebounding (11.9 percent), assist rate (24.8 percent) and 2-point percentage (64.1 percent). Defensively, Wray is very versatile as he’s excellent in the post, as a help defender or out on the perimeter. Finally, Blake Francis rose up as one of the most lethal shooters, leading the NEC in 3-pointers made (3.3) and scoring in double figures in all 17 of his league games. There isn’t a sweeter stroke in the league currently.
NYC Buckets NEC All-Conference Third Team
- Rasheem Dunn, St. Francis Brooklyn
- Mike Holloway, Fairleigh Dickinson
- Glenn Sanabria, St. Francis Brooklyn
- Darnell Edge, Fairleigh Dickinson
- Joe Lopez, Sacred Heart
Rasheem Dunn is one of the league’s fastest and shiftiest players, and he used that distinction to finish the NEC top 10 in scoring average (15.6 ppg). Despite his smallish frame, the 6’2 sophomore cleaned up the defensive glass (20.0 percent) and was a menace on the defensive end (2.6 percent steal rate). There isn’t a tougher interior player in the league than Mike Holloway. The 6’8 power forward finished fifth in the league in rebounding (7.0 rpg) and was near the top of the league in block rate, fouls drawn and offensive rebounding percentage. Glenn Sanabria may not have the gaudy statistics, but the junior’s ability to protect the basketball (9.8 percent turnover rate) and drain it from long distance (42.5 percent for 3-point range) gave Glenn Braica a steady influence on a resurgence Terriers squad. Fairleigh Dickinson’s Darnell Edge impressively maintained his superb efficiency despite an increase in workload. In the junior 10 of FDU’s final 11 games, he scored at least 16 points, guiding the Knights to a 7-4 mark. FDU will be dangerous should they get a lead late in the NEC tournament, because Edge has made 96.6 percent of his free throws in league play. This senior season for Joe Lopez will likely be viewed as a disappointment, for himself and his team, yet the 6’7 power forward had a very productive campaign. He registered 10 double-doubles this season, and was one of the elite rebounders in the country, grabbing 14.5 percent and 24.2 percent of the offensive and defensive misses, respectively.
Also Considered: Andre Wolford, Saint Francis U, Mario Matasovic, Sacred Heart, Romone Saunders, Wagner, Bosko Kostur, Bryant, Adam Grant, Bryant
NYC Buckets All-Conference Rookie Team
- Koby Thomas, Robert Morris
- Noah Morgan, Fairleigh Dickinson
- Jalen Jordan, St. Francis Brooklyn
- Jahlil Jenkins, Fairleigh Dickinson
- Jonah Antonio, Mount St. Mary’s
As stated earlier, Noah Morgan gave Koby Thomas a run for his money, especially after ending the season on a torrid note. The freshman posted averages of 15.3 ppg and 5 rpg, while shooting a sizzling 51.5 percent from behind the arc in Fairleigh Dickinson’s last seven games. His teammate, Jahlil Jenkins, was just as impressive down the stretch. In league play, Jenkins had an offensive rating of 107.4 and a 2-point field goal percentage of 55.1 percent, both excellent statistics for a rookie floor general. Jalen Jordan had a wonderfully efficient rookie campaign at St. Francis Brooklyn, giving Braica a big guard who could shoot the basketball (41.3 3PT percentage, 85.7 free throw percentage) as well as any wing in the league. Jordan provided much needed flexibility to the Terriers lineup on a daily basis. Lastly, the Mount’s Jonah Antonio was a machine from behind the arc, going 49 for 150 from three (35.0 percent) in league play. In addition to stretching the defense, the freshman also was a solid defender and proved to be a steady scoring presence, posting double figures in 13 of 18 NEC games.
Also Considered: Jon Williams, Robert Morris, Mark Flagg, Saint Francis University
Disagree with any of our selections? I’m sure you do in some way, so lets us know in the comments section for a healthy debate!