The first game of the NCAA tournament will feature two teams we’ve covered extensively this season here on Big Apple Buckets – Mount St. Mary’s and Albany. Both were seeded fourth in their respective conference tournaments, and yet, here they are as the last members standing for the America East and NEC. So rather than go outside BAB’s blogosphere to initiate a Q&A, I asked our MAAC and America East insider Ryan Restivo to partake in an e-mail discussion to preview these teams. Enjoy! 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
The NEC has to be thrilled with how both games were showcased this afternoon on Fox College Sports and MSG+. Both semifinal matchups went right down to the wire, but in the end there will be a rematch of the 2009 NEC championship game between Mount St. Mary’s and Robert Morris. To the recaps… Continue reading
After trailing for most of the game, Rashad Whack, in the face of incredible pressure, calmly swished an open three-pointer near the top of the key to guide Mount St. Mary’s to a thrilling and rather improbable comeback victory. Continue reading
The NEC Defensive Player of the Year race is probably the most hotly contested this season. Even though the two-time defending winner Kenneth Ortiz is still in the league – and still playing great defense – there are anywhere from five to 10 players that could legitimately challenge him for the award. Continue reading
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
With nearly half of the 2013 NEC all-conference selections no longer residing inside the conference, there’s plenty of opportunity for players to emerge into the limelight. Estimating who lands in the top 15 won’t be easy, but Big Apple Buckets will begin the process today by naming our all-conference second and third teams as the first installment of our two-part series. Tomorrow, we’ll present our NEC first team along with our player, rookie, coach, and defensive player of the year selections. Continue reading
Given all of the so-called parity in the NEC this season, several teams expected to finish in the upper third of the league did just that. No one was all that surprised to find Robert Morris, Wagner and LIU Brooklyn hosting home playoff games, with Bryant serving as the Cinderella story of the group. All four clubs won at least 12 NEC games; therefore KenPom pegged each as moderate to heavy favorites for tonight’s matchups. Frankly, it isn’t all that shocking given the numbers listed below, courtesy of NEC Associate Commissioner Ron Ratner:
- Home teams have posted a 18-2 record in the quarterfinals over the last five years.
- All four home teams hosting tonight were a combined 43-11 in their friendly confines before tonight’s action.
- In the last seven seasons, the #1, #2, and #3 seeded teams of the tournament were 21-0 versus their quarterfinals competition.
In other words, history was not on the underdog’s side. But this is why we play the games, so allow us to recap and highlight the first round of the fabulous NEC tournament.
#1 Robert Morris 75, #8 St. Francis Brooklyn 57
History was certainly against the Terriers heading into this one, with Robert Morris compiling an exceptional NEC tournament record of 10-2 in the previous four seasons. St. Francis did nothing to thwart that trend, as the Terriers went quietly into the night never once threatening to become the first #8 seed to win since 1984. Robert Morris was dominant on the defensive end, forcing 16 turnovers and holding Glenn Braica’s club to 0.88 points per possession (PPP). The Colonials are now 12-1 on the season when they hold their conference opponents to under 1.00 PPP. Karvel Anderson, bum wrist and all, scored a game high 20 points with four rainmakers. Senior Russell Johnson registered 19 points and seven rebounds, while Lucky Jones also grabbed seven caroms to go along with 16 points. Jalen Cannon and Dre Calloway scored an efficient 29 points on 14 shots, but the rest of the Terrier roster only managed to make nine of 33 shot attempts. St. Francis concludes their season with a final record of 12-18.
#5 Mount St. Mary’s 75, #4 Bryant 69
Mount St. Mary’s continued their hot streak by winning their eighth straight game to stun the Bryant Bulldogs, 75-69, in front of a packed house in Smithfield, RI. It was the first playoff win for the Mount since the days of Milan Brown, thanks to a second half surge that saw the Mount outscore their opponent, 47-34. The Bulldogs, led by Alex Francis and Vlad Kondratyev’s combined 20 first half points, led at the break by seven. But Jamion Christian’s defense attacked in the second half, mounting a comeback fueled by nine Bulldog turnovers, some clutch shooting, and severe foul trouble by Bryant. Overall, it wasn’t a great shooting night for the Mount, but the team made a season high 26 of 27 free throws to provide separation at the end. Four Mountaineers scored in double figures, led by Rashad Whack’s 19 points paired with eight rebounds. It was Christian’s first playoff win of his career, and now he’ll get a chance for a second victory at the Chuck on Saturday afternoon. Only five players scored for Bryant, who found themselves in severe foul trouble throughout. Alex Francis logged a game high 25 points.
#3 LIU Brooklyn 91, #6 Quinnipiac 83
For the second straight season, Tom Moore’s Bobcats fell to LIU in the NEC playoffs. Quinnipiac had second half leads in both games, but failed to hold on. After leading by as many as nine points in this one, LIU embarked on a 14-5 run to tie the game at 75 all. From there, a back and forth battle ensued leading to six players eventually fouling out. But in the end, LIU Brooklyn’s experience pulled through thanks to C.J. Garner’s 30 points. Despite playing only 25 minutes due to foul trouble, NEC POY Jamal Olasewere scored 20 points, grabbed six rebounds, and handed out four assists. Quinnipiac’s season likely comes to an end (barring an unlikely invitation from the CIT or CBI), but Moore can rest assured that Ousmane Drame should be a dominant force down low next season. Drame scored 23 points in the defeat and ends his season averaging 14.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest over the final 12 games. Senior Jamee Jackson finishes his career with 10 points and nine rebounds. For Ray Curren’s guest post about the game go here.
#2 Wagner 72, #7 Central Connecticut 50
Wagner turned back the clock and played some Dan Hurley inspired defense to smother CCSU from the opening tip in a dominating first round victory. Led by Jonathan Williams’ 20 points and six rebounds, the Seahawks built a commanding 14 point lead at the half after holding CCSU to only 22% shooting. Things didn’t get any better for Howie Dickenman’s kids, as they shot 25% and committed 11 turnovers versus only four assists for the game. Kyle Vinales and Matthew Hunter combined to miss 25 of their 35 shots, with the more athletic and deeper Seahawks pestering the Blue Devils all night. Offensively, it wasn’t a great effort for Bashir Mason’s Seahawks, but they did just enough to comfortably win their 11th home game of the season. Like Christian, Bashir Mason is now in the win column for the NEC playoffs. Not bad at all for a 28-year-old.
Top Performances of the Night
C.J. Garner, LIU Brooklyn – The senior was the man with Jamal Olasewere helplessly watching from the bench, scoring 17 of his game high 30 points in the second half.
Russell Johnson, Robert Morris – The most consistent frontcourt presence for Andy Toole all season shined once again, filling up the stat sheet with 19 points, eight rebounds, and five steals. As far as game efficiency ratings are concerned, tonight was the best game of Johnson’s career.
Biggest Surprise of the Night
Mount Mayhem – After trailing by seven points at the half, Mount St. Mary’s defense dug in and shutdown the best offense of the NEC for the second half. The Mount held Bryant to only 1.00 PPP and 40.7% from the floor for the final 20 minutes, which may not seem like much, until you realize Bryant was scoring at a 1.14 PPP rate and shooting 47.9% for the NEC season.
NEC Semifinals Schedule
Saturday, March 9th, Noon: #3 LIU Brooklyn at #2 Wagner
Saturday, March 9th, 2:30 PM: #5 Mount St. Mary’s at #1 Robert Morris