In the previous 72 hours, I embarked on a two games in three days journey following LIU Brooklyn men’s basketball as they returned back to the tri-state area after playing their previous four games in Jamaica (the Caribbean island, not Queens) and up in the New England area at UMass-Lowell and Brown where they went just 1-3 and entered the week with a bit of a disappointing 2-5 record. Continue reading
On Friday, the new college basketball season begins. In the Northeast Conference, after an offseason filled with elite players up-transferring, preseason injuries to some key players, one coaching change, a coach getting suspended for an exhibition game for arguing with his assistant, it is finally to put all the noise aside and get to what really matters, the games!
I came up with ten (plus one) burning questions that most NEC fans including myself have been debating in our minds and across social media on the eve of the 2017-18 season and share my thoughts on the NEC as the tip-off to the new season gets set to begin. Continue reading
“Michael Carey is a grown man,” Wagner coach Bashir Mason tells me, peppering our conversation a few weeks ago with effusive praise for the junior forward. Continue reading
St. Francis Red Flash – 6-23 (5-13 NEC), Did Not Qualify for NEC Tournament
PF Scott Eatherton (transfer) – 14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg, NEC Most Improved Player
PG Chris Johnson (expelled) – 8 games, 5.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 2.3 assist/TO ratio
F John Taylor – 5.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.9 apg
Ronnie Drinnon, 6’7″ PF – Greenview High (OH)
Ben Millaud-Meunier, 6’3″ G – Vanier High (Quebec, Canada)
Greg Brown, 6’2″ PG – Archbishop Spalding (MD)
Aric Gresko (walk-on), 6’0″ G – Penns Manor (PA)
Zachary Vigneault (walk-on), 6’1″ G – Central Cambria High (PA)
Since the 2004-05 season, the St. Francis Red Flash have averaged 7 wins per season, forcing every subsequent offseason to feel like a rebuilding year. This offseason is no exception. After a tumultuous year that led to the unexpected firing of head coach Don Friday, the sudden hiring of Rob Krimmel, and the surprising transfer of future star Scott Eatherton, the Red Flash are once again starting from scratch. It’s a difficult situation to be in, with the rest of the Northeast Conference improving, but first year coach Krimmel has no choice as he attempts to rebuild a long suffering program back to respectability.
The rebuilding effort, for the 8th season, begins this time around with skilled big man, Ronnie Drinnon. The 6-foot-7 Drinnon was an accomplished player in high school, earning the honor of being named the All-Area DIII Player of the Year as a junior. But then on Halloween night of 2011, Drinnon made the critical mistake of crashing his car while drinking. He paid dearly for his mistake, as Greenview High suspended him for the 2011-12 season. Despite the costly mishap, Drinnon has said and done the right things since his suspension.
Now with Eatherton’s gone, Drinnon will be expected to contribute immediately. He has excellent footwork and a soft touch around the basket, and despite his reported lack of athleticism, Drinnon always found a way to rebound the basketball at the high school level. He’ll need to add muscle to bang down low with the rising class of NEC power forwards, but his intensity and nose for the basketball should help him and his team, which finished a staggering 342nd in rebounds per game last season. Playing time is plentiful in St. Francis’ thin frontcourt, so an All-NEC Rookie Team selection at season’s end certainly isn’t a stretch, given that most of the promising rookies from the NEC will be perimeter players next season.
Coach Krimmel and his staff next focused their attention on improving the backcourt. With this in mind, St. Francis signed playmakers Greg Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier, who should form a solid rotation of guards with captains Umar Shannon and Anthony Ervin leading the way.
Of the two backcourt recruits, Brown may have more of an impact his freshman season, because of his ability to play both the “1” and “2” positions on the floor. Chris Johnson’s dismissal from the team last season leaves the roster devoid of a true point guard, so for the time being, Brown will be asked to partially fill this role. Based on this Youtube clip, Brown possesses a tight handle, is very shifty in the open court, and has the ability to drain the three. He led his high school team in scoring, but now in college, he’ll be asked to facilitate more often, especially when manning the point. It’s a nice opportunity for the versatile Brown, who has the potential to carve out a productive career in the NEC, if developed properly.
The second playmaker was discovered by the Red Flash north of the border. There, Millaud-Meunier used his excellent court vision, high basketball IQ, and solid outside jumper to dominate in the high school ranks. Millaud-Meunier isn’t the first Canadian, or Vanier High student for that matter, to play for the Red Flash. Former great Deon George also hailed from Vanier, and led St. Francis in scoring and rebounding for a couple of seasons. Perhaps Millaud-Meunier can find the same magic that George did for the Red Flash in the early 90’s.
Finally, it’s probably worth mentioning 2 walk-ons, Aric Gresko and Zachary Vigneault, who were recently added to the Red Flash’s roster. Both players could find limited minutes on the court, especially since Coach Krimmel’s roster is barren with upper-class talent, sans Shannon and Ervin. After all, Mount St. Mary’s walk-on Kelvin Parker narrowly missed out from making last season’s All-NEC Rookie Team, and this St. Francis club is even less experienced than the Mount was last season.
St. Francis is obviously not expected to compete in the short term, therefore these incoming freshman can garner valuable on-court experience in the hope that they’ll someday serve as the foundation of a competitive team. It’s the first step in what has proven to be a brutal rebuilding process in Loretto, PA. Find lesser known DI prospects that can develop after a couple of seasons. Then, maybe their moderate success will lure better high school prospects onto the St. Francis campus, which unfortunately is a difficult place to attract basketball talent. Krimmel now has a mammoth challenge ahead of him, yet if he can somehow pull it off, he’ll be revered as a coaching god for the remainder of his St. Francis career.
Central Connecticut Blue Devils: 13-16 (10-8 NEC), Lost 1st round in NEC Tournament to Wagner, 87-77
F Ken Horton – 19.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 1.4 bpg, 2 time All-NEC 1st Teamer
SG Robby Ptacek – 17.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.2 apg, 92% FT%
F David Simmons – 3.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 0.9 spg, 67% FG%
Khalen Cumberlander, 6’3” G – Coolidge High (DC)
Brandon Peel, 6’6” PF – Riverdale Baptist School (MD)
Matthew Hunter, 6’5” G/F – Odessa College (TX)
Jalen Chapman, 6’6” PF – Eagle Academy (NY)
The Central Connecticut Blue Devils were arguably the biggest disappointment of the Northeast Conference (NEC) last season, finishing with a losing record and suffering a 1st round NEC tournament defeat at the hands of Wagner. It wasn’t supposed to end like this for a team expected to contend, especially with accomplished seniors Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek leading the way.
With the disappointment however, comes optimism and hope for the Blue Devil faithful. Head coach Howie Dickenman, the second longest tenured coach in the NEC, has a fine track record for recruiting talent. Since the 1998-99 season, Dickenman has coached 5 NEC Players of the Year, 3 NEC Defensive Players of the Year, 2 NEC Rookies of the Year, and 21 All-NEC selections. So now, with four shiny athletic recruits – and one eligible redshirt freshman – on CCSU’s roster, you can bet the rest of the conference will take notice.
One freshman that could provide an instant impact is 6-foot-3 combo guard Khalen Cumberlander. Cumberlander can score in a variety of ways, but his penetration into the lane and transition game may be his biggest strengths. The DC star led his team in scoring his senior season, while helping Coolidge High win a DCIAA championship. High school defenders had great difficulty staying in front of Cumberlander, thanks to his excellent shiftiness, agility and ball control. As documented several times in the Washington Post, he never shied away from a big moment, which bodes well for a CCSU team that had trouble closing out games last season. With sophomores Malcolm McMillan and a dedicated Kyle Vinales locked in as CCSU’s starting backcourt, look for Cumberlander to receive key minutes off the bench in his freshman campaign.
Another impact newcomer is junior college transfer Matthew Hunter. It’s been a long tough road for Hunter, but after spending two years at Odessa College improving his grades, he received three Division I offers this past winter. Luckily for Dickenman, Hunter chose CCSU where he can play with his old buddy and Detroit AAU teammate Vinales. More importantly, Hunter has a terrific opportunity ahead of him, given the youth and lack of experience on CCSU’s front line. Hunter is a stat filler and should impact the game on both ends of the floor right away.
Last season, the undersized Blue Devils were in the bottom half of the NEC in rebounding rate, and that was with Horton on the team. To help make up for their rebounding deficiency, Coach Dickenman signed a pair of 6-foot-6 high energy rebounders in Brandon Peel, and more recently, Jalen Chapman.
Peel, much like the majority of incoming NEC freshmen, needs time to develop his scoring acumen, yet it’s his rebounding and defensive presence that may give the opposing team headaches. Characterized as the ultimate team player in high school, Peel did whatever it took for his team to win – crash the glass, block shots, dive on the floor for loose balls, and take some offensive charges. Dickenman has admitted Peel probably needs time to mature; therefore the high-motored clean-shaven Peel probably won’t log more than 10 minutes per game.
There isn’t much information on Chapman, but CBS Sports College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein had this to say on Twitter, “Central Connecticut is getting solid rebounder in Eagle Academy’s Jalen Chapman. 2012 PF never stops working and always is around the ball.” That’s certainly nice praise from a respected analyst. Then again, I’ve never read a negative player review on Rothstein’s Twitter feed, so please take this endorsement with a grain of salt.
Nevertheless, Peel and Chapman should provide the Blue Devils with much needed athleticism in the frontcourt, and even though they may not help immediately, these two signings could pay dividends down the road. Because of their rawness offensively, there’s a decent chance that one of these two is redshirted for their first season.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention 6-foot-8 power forward Erik Raleigh, who sat out the 2011-12 season as a redshirt. Dickenman loves the progress made by Raleigh, a Philadelphia native, but it’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be as the tallest man in CCSU’s lineup.
For the 2012-13 season, CCSU signed a foursome of talented athletes, with each possessing good to very good upside. For NEC teams (and other low mid-major conference teams), developing raw athletes is a necessity, because if these players had polished offensive skills out of high school, they more often than not wouldn’t sign with a NEC program. Now, Coach Dickenman has an opportunity to mold these inexperienced players into a cohesive high octane unit that may some day realize their potential. The youth and rebuilding movement is in full effect at CCSU, as they attempt to once again represent the Northeast Conference in the NCAA tournament. It may take a while, but opponents shouldn’t count out Dickenman’s bunch just yet.
Monmouth Hawks, 12-20 (10-8 NEC), Lost in 1st Round of NEC Tournament to Robert Morris, 87-66
F Mike Myers Keitt – 8.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.3 apg
G Will Campbell – 6.0 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.8 apg
C Phil Wait – 4.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 0.5 bpg
G Austin Tillotson (transfer) – 6.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.1 spg
Jalen Wesson Palm, 5’10” PG – Butler Traditional High (KY)
Christian White, 5’11” PG – Aquinas Institute (NY)
Tyrone O’Garro, 6’6” F – St. Peter’s Prep (NJ)
Collin Stewart, 6’8” G/SF – Meekel Christian Academy (NY)
Deon Jones (transfer), 6’6” G/SF – Towson University (MD)
With a full year under his belt, head coach King Rice may have procured one of the better recruiting classes in recent memory for the Monmouth Hawks. Coach Rice and his staff used the past 2 offseasons to sign five players for the 2012 class, all of whom could have an impact in the coming years, if not immediately.
As a former point guard for the North Carolina Tar Heels (my apologies Monmouth fans, since you’ve probably heard this 1,568 times by now), Coach Rice understands how crucial it is to have a strong floor general running your team. With the point guard position occupied by senior Jesse Steele for one more season, Coach Rice found his point guard rotation of the future, signing prospects Jalen Wesson Palm and Christian White.
Both Wesson Palm and White fit the mold of their future coach, with each exhibiting strong leadership qualities to go along with a tight handle and tough play. Of the two recruits, Wesson Palm profiles as the future starter, thanks to his speed, good passing eye, and ability to create separation from his defenders. Based on limited scouting reports, Palm’s perceived potential is held back by two criticisms that can be improved upon. The first criticism highlights his proneness to turning over the ball. While he’s been reported to play a little out of the control, Coach Rice’s influence should help reduce Wesson Palm’s turnover ratio over time. The second criticism is his lack of size, although adding strength to his 150 pound frame should accelerate his progress and prevent bigger guards from pushing him around on the defensive end.
White, on the other hand, has a little more size, yet has average to slightly above average quickness. Consequently, he’ll have more difficulty than Wesson Palm creating his own shot and facilitating play with penetration into the lane. At least you have to admire White’s competitive fire, even if it brings out some wacky comments. When asked in an interview what his goals at Monmouth were, White offered the following, “I want to win a national championship.”
Given the Northeast Conference’s 3-30 career record in the NCAA tourney, perhaps White is being a tad optimist. All kidding aside though, White appears to have the mental makeup and tools to play an integral role towards Coach Rice’s rebuilding effort.
As far as immediate playing time is concerned, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wesson Palm or White are redshirted in their first season. After all, Monmouth will have 5 players measuring 6-foot-1 or shorter on the roster and Steele should match his minutes from last season, which landed in the NEC top 10 at 34.5 minutes per game.
With the point guard position covered through the 2015-16 season, Coach Rice moved into the low block to find his next impact recruit. Tyrone O’Garro, who hails from New Jersey, possesses the type of athleticism and leaping ability this Hawk’s team desperately needs. But don’t take my word for it – check out this Youtube highlight video of O’Garro, comprised mainly of alley-oops. It’s highly unlikely O’Garro will complete as many alley-oops against collegiate competition though!
Digging deeper, O’Garro should provide instant rebounding for a Monmouth club that finished dead last in the NEC in rebounding margin. O’Garro is versatile defensively, with the ability to guard bigger forwards in the post and smaller forwards on the perimeter, thanks to his polished footwork. His offensive arsenal needs development, but O’Garro should see immediate playing time just for his off-the-ball skills, especially with the departures of big men Phil Wait and Mike Myers Keitt.
Next up is the moderately recruited (among low mid-major teams) Collin Stewart. Stewart is the most intriguing recruit of the bunch, because the lanky 6-foot-8 recruit profiles as a shooting guard. It’s with good reason. Stewart excels shooting the outside jumper and has well developed skills out on the perimeter. Stewart, when ready, would give most NEC opponents matchup problems on both ends of the floor, especially against smaller lineups. The potential is absolutely there, and if developed properly, Stewart could be the best recruit that comes out of Coach Rice’s 2012 class.
Deon Jones, the transfer from Towson University, makes up the 5th and final recruit in this class, although Jones isn’t eligible to play for the 2012-13 season. Jones played a full season in the Colonial Athletic Association, and as a freshman, his performance was a mixed bag. There was the good (4.5 rebounds per game) and the bad (37% Effective FG percentage, 0.4 assist-to-turnover ratio). Once upon a time, Jones ranked as the 2nd best high school senior in Delaware, therefore the raw talent is there.
All in all, Coach Rice grabbed a little of everything for his 2012 recruiting class. While some of these players probably have a ceiling of a solid role player, a couple of these recruits could progress into excellent players in the NEC. Only time will tell, but it appears the Monmouth Hawks are heading in the right direction with Coach King Rice.
Sacred Heart Pioneers, 14-18 (8-10 NEC), Lost 1st Round of NEC Tournament to LIU
F Stan Dulaire, 21 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 apg
PG Steve Zazuri, 2 games played
With good reason, Dave Bike and the Sacred Heart (SHU) coaching staff made it a priority to recruit frontcourt depth for the 2012-13 season. The Pioneers struggled to score inside and defend the paint, especially when junior Justin Swidowski missed time due to injury or foul trouble, thereby forcing co-captain Nick Greenbacker and the now graduated Stan Dulaire to play extended minutes. As a result, Bike felt the need to use all three of SHU’s available scholarships on skilled big men that should bolster their front line and bench in the short-term and improve the long-term outlook of their inside play.
Leading the group is early commitment Tevin Falzon, who at 6-foot-7 has an opportunity to make an impact right away in the Northeast Conference. Heading into his senior season at Newton North High, Falzon reportedly drew the interest of a few Division I schools, which included Robert Morris and Quinnipiac. Unfortunately for Falzon, a broken wrist in the preseason plummeted his stock, so much so that Falzon didn’t have a single Division I offer to mull after the season. Despite this, SHU assistant coach Johnny Kidd saw enough in Falzon’s comeback from the wrist injury to offer him an early scholarship this past summer. The gamble paid off. Since signing his National Letter of Intent with SHU, Falzon had an excellent post-graduate season at Winchendon School, impressing many with his improved conditioning and explosiveness. Now with a season of post-graduate under his belt, Falzon has made it clear he’s ready to compete at the college level.
Falzon profiles as a versatile big man who’s comfortable both on the perimeter and in the paint, which fits well into SHU’s perimeter oriented offense. His ability to stretch the defense – by using his range to pull post defenders out of the paint – gives him an opportunity to play right away, specifically as Swidowski’s back-up. In this role, he should provide scoring off the bench and could be part of a very respectable four man rotation in the frontcourt including Swidowki, Greenbacker, and junior transfer power forward Mostafa Abdel Latif. At the very least, Falzon’s insertion into this rotation should push Louis Montes back to his more natural position, small forward.
Size can be difficult to acquire in the NEC, yet SHU was able to sign 6-foot-11 center Cole Walton from Bellevue High in Washington State. Walton has solid athleticism, good hands, and decent range as a big, but as is the case for most lanky high school seniors, Walton will need to bulk up considerably and improve his offensive arsenal to compete in the low block with the likes of NEC up-and-coming big men Jalen Cannon and Ousmane Drame. Because of this, Walton probably translates as the biggest project of the recruiting trio, albeit a project with very good upside. If the SHU coaching staff can transform a skinny and less athletic 7-foot-0 Liam Potter into a near double-double machine his senior season, then perhaps Walton can realize his potential much earlier into his Sacred Heart tenure. Given the glut of big men on Bike’s roster, it certainly makes sense to redshirt Walton this upcoming season and have him ready for the 2013-14 campaign, when Swidowski, Greenbacker, and seldom used Femi Akinpetide are off the roster. After all, Walton hasn’t even turned 18 yet and an extra year to allow the freshman to physically mature surely couldn’t hurt.
The final piece of the recruiting puzzle was completed last Tuesday, with SHU acquiring the services of 6-foot-6 power forward De’Aires Tate. Tate had verbally committed to SWAC doormat Grambling back in the February, yet he most likely reneged on his commitment when head coach Bobby Washington was dismissed after a 4-24 season. Grambling’s loss is Sacred Heart’s gain. The Pioneer coaching staff describes Tate as an athletic, yet undersized, high-energy rebounder (or as Jay Bilas would say, “this kid has a nice motor”) who could contribute on the glass and the defensive end of the floor right away. Other than this grainy Youtube video however, there is hardly any information out there on Tate, so for now, we’ll have to take the coaching staff’s word that this was a recruiting coop. Only time will determine if Tate’s ceiling is closer to Stan Dulaire, or in a dream scenario for the red and white, Joey Henley.
All in all, the Pioneers addressed their urgent need for big men of the future. They signed three players who each possess unique talents and should compliment each other well in the years to come. With four players scheduled to graduate after next season, including the greatest Pioneer of them all Shane Gibson, SHU will have four more scholarships to offer with the focus shifting to finding a top of the line wing playmaker. For now though, this incoming class will add some much needed depth to SHU’s front line, and with any luck, could help catapult the Pioneers into the upper echelon of the NEC for the 2012-13 season.
Quinnipiac Bobcats, 18-14 (10-8 NEC), Lost Semifinals of NEC Tournament to LIU
G James Johnson –16.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.3 spg, All-NEC 2nd Team Selection
G Kevin Tarca – 6 games played
F Alex Jackson (transfer) – 1.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg
G Terrace Bobb-Jones (transfer) – 9 games played, 0.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg
G Nate Gause (transfer) – 3.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg
Tariq Carey, 6’2” G – St. Anthony High (NJ)
Kendrick Ray, 6’0” PG – Middletown High (NY)
James Ford, 6’4” G – Quality Education Academy (NC)
Shaquille Shannon, 6’3” G – Conners State Junior College (OK)
The 2011-12 season for the Quinnipiac Bobcats played out much like every other season under head coach Tom Moore. Quinnipiac once again led the NEC in rebounding, played stout defense, and found themselves with a realistic chance to capture their first ever NEC tournament title. But as was the case for the past few years, Quinnipiac lacked the offensive firepower late in critical games to push them over the top. To exacerbate the problem, the Bobcats will have to move on this offseason without their leading scorer and captain, James Johnson. With this in mind, Moore recruited an impressive haul of guards, which should help temper the loss of Johnson and improve their offensive efficiency in the long run.
Perhaps the best-known recruit out of the group is 6-foot-2 guard Tariq Carey. Carey chose Quinnipiac thanks to the persistence of Moore, despite receiving interest from Auburn, Clemson, and Boston University, just to name a few. Carey makes his living penetrating into the lane and finishing around the rim. The 180-pound Carey isn’t afraid of contact, although he’ll definitely need to add bulk and be a bit more cautious when facing stronger collegiate competition. In addition, his ball control and passing skills are above average, which sets Carey up as a combo guard in year one for the Bobcats. The outside shot is something the Carey needs to work on, but for now he could serve as a valuable contributor off the bench. With more opportunity, it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if he lands in the starting lineup and on the All-NEC Rookie Team at season’s end.
Another recruit who should see meaningful minutes in the Bobcat backcourt is point guard Kendrick Ray, who committed to Quinnipiac last September. Kendrick, the younger brother of the former Villanova standout Allen Ray, is known to facilitate and create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, thanks to his excellent court vision and tight handle. Ray can also push the ball well in transition – an attribute that should come in handy for a team that rebounds the ball exceptionally well on the defensive end. Ray projects as the Bobcat’s future floor general, but for now, he’ll gain valuable experience as senior Dave Johnson’s back-up.
After signing Carey and Ray, Quinnipiac had filled all their available scholarships until two more opened up with the transfers of Alex Jackson and Terrace Bobb-Jones. As a result, Moore used the opportunity to further solidify his backcourt of the future, by recently signing under-the-radar prospects James Ford and Shaquille Shannon.
Ford possesses good athleticism and can score a variety of ways, but it may be his outstanding range that’s his best skill. Ford’s ability to drain it from downtown should help a Quinnipiac club that finished in the bottom half of the NEC in three-point percentage last season. With James Johnson’s departure, only Zaid Hearst, Dave Johnson, and Garvey Young remain as Quinnipiac’s competent long-range shooters, therefore Ford has an opportunity to play the niche role of a reliable shooter off the bench in his freshman season.
Little is currently known about Shannon, as the only junior college recruit in the group. What is known is Shannon (besides having an awesome name) has the potential to be lock-down defender, which is quite the asset considering the many talented wing players that reside in the NEC. It’s unknown how much he’ll contribute right away, and with the Bobcat’s deep rotation, it may make sense if Moore redshirts Shannon for a season before donning the blue and gold.
Overall, Tom Moore has to be pleased with his latest recruiting class. Obviously, Quinnipiac wants to compete for a Northeast Conference title now, and will, but the 2013-14 season may serve as the Bobcat’s best chance to capture that elusive championship. By then, veterans Ike Azotam, Ousmane Drame, and Zaid Hearst supplemented with the upside of this 2012 recruiting class may have Quinnipiac fans celebrating in Hamden, some day soon.