NEC fans are certainly aware of the “6 on 5 scandal” that reached a national audience yesterday, thanks to Deadspin. It happened in the NEC quarterfinal between Mount St. Mary’s and St. Francis Brooklyn last Wednesday evening. Continue reading
If a Mount St. Mary’s team that finished 8-21 the season prior wasn’t ready for the 2013 NEC championship against LIU Brooklyn, the reigning conference champions, they certainly were ready this time around. Right out of the gate, the Mountaineers couldn’t miss a shot, hitting 12 of their first 16 attempts, building a double-digit lead in the first half. Continue reading
It wasn’t supposed to end this way this time. Continue reading
NEC fans might not realize it, but they’re quite spoiled this season. The league features some of the best point guard play in the entire nation. Jason Brickman leads the nation in assists at 10.0 per game, but other players like Julian Norfleet, Brent Jones and Sidney Sanders, Jr. aren’t too shabby either. The four of them rank in the Top 9 in Assist Rate according to KenPom.com. Continue reading
Every once in a while we like to have fun here at Big Apple Buckets. It doesn’t always have to be “make fun of Jon Rothstein’s optimism until he blocks me on Twitter” kind of fun, but more like the “well this doesn’t make a ton of sense” kind of fun. This time, please allow me to channel my inner Bill Simmons. Continue reading
NEC conference play is so close you can taste it. We here at Big Apple Buckets absolutely can’t wait for Thursday and so we’re rolling out our NEC preview content during the next few days. Then we’ll have full coverage of the games on Thursday. First it’s an email exchange between Ryan P. and John as we look forward to league play.
Half of the NEC was in action on Wednesday night, so let’s recap each contest. In all, it was a mostly disappointing evening for the league with four teams failing to come out victorious.
Bryant 87, Dartmouth 77
Let’s begin with the good news. Bryant recovered nicely from their drubbing out west to Gonzaga by handling the Green Wave on the road. Dartmouth, behind the efforts of all-league talent Gabas Maldunas (14 points, 11 rebounds), managed to keep the game close before succumbing late. Dyami Starks scored 35 points once again, this time on a very efficient 18 shots. In fact, all of the Bulldogs were tremendously efficient in this one, posting a splendid scoring line of 59% FG%/43% 3PT%/82% FT%. Bryant’s superb shooting allowed them to overcome 15 turnovers. The big four of Starks, Alex Francis, Joe O’Shea, and Corey Maynard combined to impressively score 79 of their 89 points.
Holy Cross 122, Sacred Heart 118
After a wild, back-and-forth affair in Worcester, Holy Cross held on after ten minutes of free basketball to earn their first win of the season over Anthony Latina’s Pioneers. This will be a cruel bus ride back for Sacred Heart – they had a seemingly commanding five point lead late before a three-point play by Dave Dudzinski evened the score with just three seconds left in regulation. In the end, Cullen Hamilton’s 35 points on 21 shots and Dudzinski’s interior presence (26 points, 15 rebounds, 2 blocks) was enough to outlast the feisty Pioneers. Sacred Heart imposed their will for much of the game – attacking the rim, pushing the pace (there were 192 total possessions in the game), and forcing careless errors out of the Crusaders. In spite of this, Holy Cross found a way to win their third straight against their New England rivals. Evan Kelley was excellent in the loss, scoring a career high 32 points. His final efficiency rating of 33 was the best individual performance for an NEC player this young season. Steve Glowiak was also terrific, scoring 28 points by sinking seven out of nine three-pointers.
Villanova 90, Mount St. Mary’s 59
It may be against two teams from the power conferences, yet Jamion Christian can’t be pleased with his team’s effort early in the season, especially defensively. Tonight, the Mount gave up 1.22 points per possession (ppp) after allowing West Virginia to score 1.27 ppp on opening night. Really, it was an ugly effort in Philadephia any way you slice it – Villanova shot 63% from the floor, won the rebounding margin by 15, had 11 more assists, and outscored the Mount 60-16 in the paint. Ouch. Julian Norfleet has been the only glimmer of hope thus far, as he led the team tonight with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. Rashad Whack and Sam Prescott have been ice-cold early on; both guards have combined to miss 30 of 41 shots in two games.
Purdue 103, Central Connecticut 73
If you were expecting an encore to LIU Brooklyn’s terrific effort last night in Indiana, then you came away disappointed. After jumping out to an early 17-14 lead thanks to Faronte Drakeford’s eight points, CCSU was shutdown for the next 5:17. The prolonged slump allowed Purdue to extend their lead to double digits and they never looked back. The Boilermakers scored 1.36 ppp, which was buoyed by 22 assists versus a mere nine turnovers. For the second straight game, Kyle Vinales led the Blue Devils in scoring with 22 points, but it was acquired by jacking up 21 attempts. This time, however, Vinales was afforded more rest; in fact, nine Blue Devils logged 14+ minutes in the game. Of the bench guys, freshman Matt Mobley was quite active with 10 points and four rebounds in limited time.
Dayton 70, St. Francis (PA) 57
It’s been a tough stretch for Rob Krimmel’s Red Flash. Tonight was their third game in six days, although St. Francis didn’t appear tired throughout much of the contest. Dayton was only up three at the under four minute timeout for the second half, but a 13-2 run sealed the deal for the Flyers. Four Red Flash players – Earl Brown, Ronnie Drinnon, Ollie Jackson, and Malik Harmon – finished in double figures for the night. 17 turnovers inevitably did St. Francis in, with three of those coming in the final three minutes. Dayton sank almost as many free throws (21) as they did field goals (23) in the victory.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride
Head Coach: Jamion Christian, 2nd Season (18-14, 11-7 NEC)
Last Season: 18-14, 11-7 (NEC), Lost Finals of NEC tournament to LIU Brooklyn, 91-70
NEC Preseason Poll: 6th out of 10 teams
State of Program: NEC Contender
Starters Returning: 4
Key Loss(es): Shivaughn Wiggins (9.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.6 A/TO), Raven Barber (5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 57.9% FG%), Kelvin Parker (5.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg), Josh Castellanos (4.3 ppg, 3.2 apg)
Incoming Players: Khalid Nwandu (G), Byron Ashe (G), Charles Glover (G), Will Miller (F)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Julian Norfleet (10.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.8 A/TO)
G: Rashad Whack (13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.1 spg, 35.9% 3pt%)
F: Sam Prescott (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.1 spg)
F: Gregory Graves (1.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
C: Kristijan Krajina (5.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 62.7% FG%)
Key Reserves: Taylor Danaher (C), Khalid Nwandu (G), Charles Glover (G), Byron Ashe (G), Will Miller (F)
- Building on the Momentum – Lost amid the NEC chaos last season was Mount St. Mary’s superb run of basketball in the month of February. After losing on the road to Robert Morris, The Mount won 12 of their final 14 contests in impressive fashion. Before their defeat in the NEC title game, Jamion Chrisitan’s squad outscored their opponents by an average of 8.3 points while extracting an average of 13.8 turnovers per game during the stretch. Can the vaunted Mayhem pressure continue to reek havoc come NEC time? It remains to be seen if the new defensive rules and coaching adjustments will trim down the effectiveness of a team that had the 23rd highest turnover rate in the nation last season.
- Assembling a Solid Second Team – Mayhem is minimized without a deep rotation, yet the Mount lost a sizable chuck of their roster this past offseason due to graduation and transfers. The statistics of Raven Barber, Kelvin Parker, and Josh Castellanos may not seem like much, but they were intregal parts (at times) of a deep rotation Christian liked to employ. Now without them and future star Shivaughn Wiggins to lean back on, Christian’s roster has thinned out with only 11 eligible scholarship players (Marshall transfer Chris Martin must sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules). In order to comfortably play nine to ten guys, injuries and the under achievement of the underclassmen must be avoided.
- The Big Three – Much of the onus falls out the terrific trio of seniors in Emmitsburg. We highlighted the importance of Norfleet previously, and it goes without saying how important Whack and Prescott are as well. All three are obviously vital, given that they make up sizable chuck of their total scoring and three-pointers made last season. Their versatility and athleticism gives Christian the ability to employ a trapping, pressing, up-tempo brand of basketball, so it’s imperative they produce and stay healthy. An injury to one of the big three could be crippling.
Jamion Christian was the jolt of energy this program badly needed after being led by a lackluster Robert Burke the previous two seasons. After serving as Shaka Smart’s assistant at VCU, Christian was handed the keys to a Mount program that had lost its way since Milan Brown departed for the Patriot League.
Predictability, the installation of Mayhem had its ups and downs in the early going. A surprising upset at Atlantic 10 foe George Washington instantly energized the fans, but after that the Mount struggled to find any kind of consistency. After a decisive loss to FDU in early January, two things happened soon thereafter. Julian Norfleet was given the point guard role and freshman Shivaughn Wiggins emerged. What ensued was pure Mayhem – turnovers were being forced, aggressive guards were raining threes and the big man combo of Krajina and Barber were securing the middle. The Mount may have fallen short in the end, but it was a fantastic season nevertheless, especially when considering where they were a year prior.
The offseason came with some disappointments, however, as several players – a few of them already in Christian’s doghouse – transferred out of the program. The most notable was the late departure of Wiggins, who’s loss was not only difficult to swallow, but it also left another scholarship unfulfilled.
Despite the exodus, though, Christian has several pieces to compete for another NEC championship, immediately. Norfleet, Whack, Prescott, and Krajina all return as starters and possess a wealth of invaluable experience. Taylor Danaher and Gregory Graves both added muscle to their lanky frames this offseason and appear poised to increase their role. Perhaps most important is how the four freshmen newcomers perform; after all, at least two will be expected to produce if Christian truly wants to boast a deep rotation. Of the group, Khalid Nwandu has a chance to disrupt opposing guards with his athleticism and 6’9″ wingspan. Byron Ashe and Will Miller are terrific shooters, but their lack of bulk could hinder a possible breakout performance as rookies. Charles Glover projects as a future glue guy, but those type of players sometimes take a while to develop at the Division I level.
Together, there are a lot of questions surrounding this team. Yet their Mayhem style and experienced guards should lead them into the upper half of the NEC once again. It’ll be rotation spots five through nine that may very well determine if Christian’s team goes dancing two years removed from a dismal eight win season.
“We play so many guys. The new rules are going to make for the tempo to go way up and we play a high-tempo game, so I think it’s really going to benefit teams with a lot of depth that really pride themselves on guard play. We’re going to have to make some adjustments as far as playing some guys with two fouls… I don’t think it’ll change our defensive identity at all.”
– Christian, on how the new defensive rules could affect his team
“If you’re going to be a great team your post players have to be a factor. They have to be able to score one-on-one on the block. I love the guys we have in Kristijan Krajina and Taylor Danaher. Kristijan’s up to 250 pounds now so he’s much bigger, has great touch and can really score around the basket.”
– Christian, on the potential of his big men
“Growing up my dad always taught me how to play basketball the right way and I really took pride in that. He really taught me how to use my mind on the court and how to use my IQ. You might not see it in the numbers, but there are a lot of things that I do on the court that go unseen.”
– Norfleet, talking about how he developed into a selfless, versatile player
Ryan – If there’s one team I’m going back and forth on, it’s Mount St. Mary’s. They’re loaded with experienced athletic seniors, but may really miss reigning NEC ROY Shivaughn Wiggins on both sides of the ball. Gregory Graves and Taylor Danaher could take steps forward, but if they (and the freshmen) don’t, does Christian have a viable second team? With many questions and few answers this early, I’ll deviate to the middle. While I expect them to fall a little short of a championship, a top four finish in the conference is probable. (18 wins, 10-6 NEC)
John – I really like this system and I really like what the Mount did at the end of the season. I believe Jamion Christian is one of the brightest young minds in college basketball coaching and that his Mayhem system will be even better this season. The loss of Wiggins certainly hurts, but this is a system team that has talented players like Julian Norfleet accepting different roles to help the team win. It took this team a bit of time to get their feet wet last season, but once it happen they challenged the top of the NEC. The Mount should be right back in the thick of the title hunt again. (19 wins, 11-5 NEC)
Other NEC Team Primers:
#10 Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
#9 St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
#8 Sacred Heart Pioneers
#7 St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers
#6 LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
#5 Bryant Bulldogs
#4 Central Connecticut Blue Devils
#3 Robert Morris Colonials
On a crisp October evening in a building nicknamed “The Hanger,” a rangy Mount St. Mary’s guard is running the offense from the top of the key. After dribbling past his overzealous defender, the guard invades the paint with a couple of options. He can pull up for a semi-contested runner in the lane, or if he’s so inclined, challenge the post defender in a valiant attempt to attack the rim. Rather than pursue either option, however, he astutely flicks a no-look pass to an open teammate behind the arc. Three seconds later, the team in the blue practice jerseys has three points. Continue reading