- Matt Cox
Final Projected Standings
- Fairleigh Dickinson
- Mount St. Mary's
- LIU Brooklyn
- Robert Morris
- St. Francis BK
- St. Francis PA
- Sacred Heart
- Central Connecticut
All Conference Awards
POY: Michael Carey, R Sr., Wagner
Coach of the Year: Greg Herenda, Fairleigh Dickinson
Newcomer of the Year: Joseph Lopez, Jr., Sacred Heart
Freshman of the Year: Jashaun Agosto, LIU Brooklyn
Key Returners: Michael Carey
Key Losses: Dwaun Anderson, Henry Brooks
Key Newcomers: AJ Sumbry (Quinnipiac transfer), Shack Scott (JUCO), Connor Ferrell, Blake Francis
Postseason Prediction: 16 seed (Auto-bid)
Wagner was far and away the class of the NEC last year, finishing two games ahead of three teams tied for 2nd in the league standings and were 75 spots ahead of the next closest team in kenpom.com's overall efficiency standings (Wagner- 188th; Mount St. Mary's 263rd). It should be another strong year for the Seahawks, who bring back a stout 1-2, inside-outside punch of Corey Henson and Michael Carey. Henson was a huge boost to the backcourt unit last season, helping head coach Bashir Mason solidify ball handling and perimeter shooting needs. He essentially shared the point guard duties with JoJo Cooper, who struggled as the primary point guard two seasons ago as a freshman. With Henson and Cooper now entering their upperclassmen years, expect the two of them to be reliable decision makers in the backcourt this season for a Wagner group that once again will have high expectations.
Henson and Cooper will need to get the ball early and often to a pair of solid interior scoring options in Carey and ex-Rhode Island transfer Mike Aaman. Despite being relatively undersized at 6'5, Carey is an ox operating anywhere inside 12 feet, as he routinely out muscles weaker defenders when he attacks the rim. He's supplemented his face-up attack game with a nice midrange jumper, making him a legit go-to offensive weapon for the Seahawks. And with the more traditional low-post occupying Aaman still in the mix, Carey may need to utilize that jump shot even more this season as he will likely play further away from the rim. Aaman is a much less dynamic offensive player than Carey, but is certainly a capable low-block scorer, which means he will be camping out in the paint on the majority of Wagner's offensive possessions.
The rest of this roster is rounded out by solid two-way players that has helped Wagner consistently rank among the best defensive units in the conference over the past couple years. Mason plays an in your face man-to-man defense, which requires plus athleticism from his guards and wings in order to be effective. Romone Saunders and Dwaun Anderson are the two upperclassmen that will get major minutes at the 3 playing alongside Cooper and Henson in the backcourt, both of which are solid defenders that will force their fair share of turnovers.
A top-tier team defense, to go along with proven veteran scoring options, make the Seahawks a clear favorite to take down the NEC regular season title once again. I should also admit that I'm writing this preview a tadddd behind schedule and have already watch the Seahawks smack UCONN at their building to start the season, thus giving me an unfair bode of confidence that this team is absolutely for real.
Editor's Note: Both Henson and Saunders have suffered injuries in the first week of the season.
2. Fairleigh Dickinson
Key Returners: Darian Anderson, Earl Potts Jr., Stephen Jiggetts, Mike Holloway
Key Losses: Marques Townes (transfer)
Key Newcomers: Kaleb Bishop
Postseason Prediction: NIT/CBI/CIT
The New Jersey-based Knights made fools out of all the experts last season, which was capped off by a magical NEC tournament run to punch their ticket to the dance. Most had them slated to finish in the bottom-3 of the league, but head coach Greg Herenda had his young team way ahead of schedule as they stunned the entire NEC landscape en route to a 11-7 conference record and 3-way tie for 2nd place. Even a more talented and more experienced Wagner bunch couldn't end the March magic for the Knights, as FDU took down the Seahawks 87-79 @ Wagner to solidify their NCAA tourney berth.
After witnessing a full year of the Knights exceeding everyone's expectations, it's time to see how a young FDU team responds this year with an emerging target on their back. They lose only one starter to the transfer wire and bring back a special junior class that features Stephan Jiggetts, Darian Anderson and Earl Potts Jr. While Jiggetts and Anderson both were a tad inefficient in the early going last season, they each showed flashes of their potential in key games down the stretch. They will play major minutes together in the backcourt and will need to strike the right balance of knowing when to score, but also knowing when to find Potts and others for open looks.
Potts was a model of efficiency last season and presents the toughest 1v1 defensive matchup in the conference. At 6'6 200 pounds, smaller guards and wings have difficulty contesting his midrange game, while slower bigs are typically too slow to step out and defend him in pick-n-roll, or pick-n-pop action on the perimeter. He'll anchor the frontline with a rapidly improving beast in sophomore Mike Holloway. Holloway wasted no time asserting himself as the Knights best low-post interior defender, which was a major boost to the Knights' half court defense.
Despite the glaring upside on the offensive end, the underlying issue with last year's team was how often they surrendered uncontested layups in their full-court pressure defense (see play-in game vs. Florida Gulf Coast). Herenda must tighten up the turnover-focused defense if FDU hopes to be more consistent throughout league play this season and be a legitimate contender for a regular season conference title.
Key Returners: Nisre Zouzoua, Hunter Ware, Dan Garvin, Marcel Pettway
Key Losses: Shane McLaughlin
Key Newcomers: Ikenna Ndugba, Adam Grant
Postseason Prediction: None
Projecting the Bulldogs to leap from their 9th place finish last season all the way to 3rd this year certainly seems like an ambitious proposition on paper. However, Bryant returns a young, but deep core that should take a major step forward, which could make them a legitimate title contender in the NEC. In fact, only one senior (Dan Garvin) will play significant minutes this season, which will place the fate of this year's squad in the development of a strong freshman and sophomore class.
Head coach Tim O'Shea brings in a couple of freshmen guards that should play major minutes right off the bat. Ikenna Ndugba is a highly regarded point guard prospect that will likely get the starting nod from day 1, especially with Shane McLaughlin now departing. While an incoming freshman point guard generally gives me some hesitancy about ball security, I highly doubt Ndubga will be worse than McLaughlin was last year, who posted an atrocious 30% turnover rate. Adam Grant is another promising freshman prospect who may play his way into the starting lineup if he proves he can knock down outside shots at a high rate - something this Bulldogs team failed to do consistently last season. Both freshmen will play alongside two more experienced backcourt members, including Nisre Zouzoua and Hunter Ware. Zouzoua and Ware are both coming off strong seasons last year and are balanced scoring threats who can beat you both inside and beyond the arc.
On the inside, Bryant should have three big bodies that should wreak havoc on the offensive glass. While Garvin is probably the most athletic of the bunch, Marcel Pettway and Sebastian Townes are both beasts at 250 pounds and each has a relatively polished offensive skillset scoring around the rim. Against smaller/weaker NEC frontlines, this unit should be effective at chasing down 2nd shot opportunities for the Bulldogs.
4. Mount St. Mary's
Key Returners: Junior Robinson
Key Losses: BK Ashe, Gregory Graves, Tyler Danaher
Key Newcomers: 5 freshmen
Postseason Prediction: None
"The Mount" is always one of the more entertaining NEC squads to watch with head coach Jamion Christian's "Mayhem" brand of basketball that features non-stop, frantic man-to-man defensive pressure. The Mountaineers forced the 3rd most turnovers in the country last season on a per-minute basis, which is essentially why they were the best defensive unit in the NEC. While Mount does lose it's go-to scorer in BK Ashe, they bring back most of their defensive ballhawks on the perimeter that should continue to disrupt opposing ball handlers.
The undisputed leader for this bunch is the itty-bitty Junior Robinson, who will now shoulder the bulk of the scoring AND playmaking duties with Ashe now gone. At 5'5, Robinson is a sparkplug in the Mountaineer backcourt, particularly as a pest on the defensive end. Robinson, along with Elijah Long, will both need to consistently generate steals if the Mount wants to maintain its defensive dominance in the NEC. However, the most versatile defender on this team actually plays on the frontline in 6'8 junior Chris Wray. Wray contributes more than his fair share in the steal department, but also provides some much needed rim protection in the paint. Both Long and Wray were effective last season in relatively limited time on the floor, but should now become focal points of the Mount's offensive AND defensive attack, making their sophomore and junior year leaps respectively hugely important for this team's ceiling.
Outside of the starting 5, and a pair of sophomores in Khalid Nwandu and Mawdo Sallah coming off the bench, the Mount will feature a ton of newcomers this season, including five freshmen and ex-East Carolina transfer Greg Alexander. Given how thin this group is up-front, I'd except Ryan Gomes and his 6'10 frame to get a ton of early minutes and add some legitimate size to the Mountaineer's front court.
5. LIU Brooklyn
Key Returners: Jerome Frink, Joel Hernandez
Key Losses: Martin Hermannsson
Key Newcomers: Jashaun Agosto
Postseason Prediction: None
The blackbirds of Brooklyn bring back one of the more accomplished players in the NEC over the past years in versatile forward Jerome Frink. At 6'7 230 pounds, Frink is a tough matchup for smaller NEC post defenders down low, but his ability to step away and shoot it consistently from the outside is what makes him so potent offensively. Frink was the Blackbirds most efficient 3-point shooter last season at 38%, to go along with his team best 55% effective FG% and 9 boards a game. He will no doubt be the point of emphasis for opposing defenses this season, which means the supporting cast of characters around him will have to chip in on a nightly basis.
If Frink is the Blackbirds' "Batman", the de-facto "Robin" is surely veteran Joel Hernandez. Hernandez is always in attack mode on the offensive end, and is looking to get the rim every time he touches the ball. He's been especially effective playing in head coach Jack Perri's up-and-down system, where he thrives with unbounded freedom to push the pace in transition. Another incoming catalyst to the fast break attack will be highly touted incoming freshman Jashaun Agosto, who is also a lights out shooter from deep. The rest of the backcourt will feature senior Iverson Fleming, sophomore Raul Frias and incoming freshman Julian Batts, all of whom should help hold down a strong perimeter defense that will once again rely on forcing turnovers to help generate easy offense.
The major question mark will be how much rebounding production the Blackbirds get out of Nura Zanna and Julius van Sauers, who are the primary weapons in the frontcourt. While Zanna was this team's best rebounder on a per minute basis last season, van Sauers missed almost all of last year with an ankle injury. Assuming the Birds get a full year of production out of both Zanna and van Sauers, LIU-B should be much improved on the offensive boards this season, an area that was critical to the Blackbirds offensive efficiency last year.
Editor's Note: Hernandez dislocated his thumb in the season opener against John Jay, which could potentially sideline him for the entire year.
6. Robert Morris
Key Returners: Kavon Stewart, Isaiah Still
Key Losses: Rodney Pryor
Key Newcomers: Roberto Montovani (JUCO), Braden Burke
Postseason Prediction: None
It's amazing that Andrew Toole is now in his 7th year at the helm for Robert Morris, despite being the 6th youngest coach in division 1 at only 36 years old. He has certainly brought some fine memories to the Robert Morris faithful, none of which got more national headlines than their NIT opening round win over Kentucky in 2013. Since that memorable defeat, the Colonials have been a mainstay atop the NEC standings, but have begun to trend in the wrong direction over the past few seasons. Starting in '13-'14, Bob Morris has posted conference records of 14-2, 12-6 and 8-10 respectively heading into this year. Now, with their do-everything lefty scorer in Rodney Pryor making headlines for Georgetown, another year of regression may be in the cards for the Colonials.
This season's squad features three returning seniors, along with an array of underclassmen, that will all need to chip in big time on both ends of the floor. Senior point guard Kavon Stewart has mastered the art of playing within Toole's pressure zone defensive scheme, tallying just under 2 steals a contest last year. Rising sophomores Jordan Lester and Isaiah Still will need also need to emerge into perimeter pests themselves in order for this team to consistently force turnovers, which is absolutely imperative to the Colonials' overall defensive effectiveness.
On the interior, unless 6'11 freshman Braden Burke can quickly morph into an elite shot blocker, Toole will have a hard time finding much rim protection anywhere on this roster. Billy Giles and Aaron Tate are both respectable rebounders and athletic enough to provide some shot blocking, but defending the paint area should continue to be a major pain point for the Colonials, especially with the way they extend their defense and leave the middle of the floor vulnerable.
Even with a talented player like Pryor getting major minutes last year, the Colonials were still semi inefficient offensively. It's hard to pinpoint where any outside shooting consistency will come from this season, which means efficient scoring will have to come from Stewart and Still driving the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line. The frontcourt athletes will also need to chase down a decent amount of misses for 2nd shot opportunities, which was the only real strength for this team a year ago. While I've cited a few critical reasons of concern for Bob Morris, I'm trusting Toole and his system to remain somewhat competitive in the middle of the NEC this season.
7. St. Francis BK
Key Returners: Yunus Hopkinson, Glenn Sanabria
Key Losses: Chris Hooper, Tyreek Jewell, Amdy Fall, Antonio Jenifer
Key Newcomers: DJ Porter, Rasheem Dunn, Gianni Ford, Robert Montgomery
Postseason Prediction: None
The Terriers of Brooklyn are coming off a stout season defensively, in which they finished 3rd in the NEC in overall defensive efficiency. Part of the success was due to the continued emphasis of guarding the 3-point line, a staple in head coach Glenn Braica's defensive system. The Terriers surrendered the 2nd fewest 3-pointers in the country last year and opponents connected on just 33% of those long range attempts. However, a ton of credit also belongs to the defensive prowess of three senior bigs - Chris Hooper, Andy Fall and Antonio Jenifer - each of whom were exceptional rebounders and rim protectors. With all three graduating, the Terriers' frontline is completely depleted, leaving Joshua Nurse as the only proven returning forward on the roster. Expect JUCO transfer DJ Porter and incoming freshman Robert Montgomery to get a ton of early run at the 4 and 5 spots.
With a ton of interior production departing, the Terriers will now become a perimeter oriented team, led by two lead guards in Yunus Hopkinson and Glenn Sanabria. Both Hopkinson and Sanabria are relatively undersized, but are dangerous as creators off the dribble and neither will hesitate to pull up from 25 feet or further if they have a hint of daylight. Incoming freshman Rasheem Dunn is a plus talent scoring guard that may end up consistently starting next to Hopkinson and Sanabria if rising junior Gunnar Olafsson struggles to knock down outside shots. While all four are competent playmakers offensively, the lack of any real interior scoring threat will make life tough on this perimeter group. Expect to see a ton of late shot-clock threes from this bunch, especially against longer and more athletic defenses.
The Brooklyn-based Terriers will surely live and die by the three ball this year, which means the ceiling of this team will depend on the long range shooting consistency of Hopkinson, Sanabria, Dunn and Olafsson.
8. St. Francis PA
Key Returners: Isaiah Blackmon, Josh Nebo
Key Losses: Malik Harmon (ACL), Basil Thompson (hitting officer in the face)
Key Newcomers: Keith Braxton, Randall Gaskins
Postseason Prediction: None
The Red Flash were one of many collegiate programs to be bitten by the injury bug this offseason, as their starting point guard Malik Harmon is now done for the year with a torn ACL. St. Francis also lost another rising talent in sophomore Basil Thompson after he was kicked off the team for punching an officer in the face... Soooo, despite some bad luck and "questionable" decision making, the Flash should still be competent offensively in two areas: 3-point shooting and offensive rebounding. Josh Nebo returns for what hopefully will be a breakout sophomore season after he proved to be a monster on the offensive boards in his freshman campaign. However, he'll also need a bit of help from veteran forward Patrick Wrencher to replace the glass production left behind by Ronnie Drinnon.
Nebo is one of three sophomores that are undoubtedly the cornerstone pieces for this St. Francis team. The other two are a pair of guards in Jamaal King and Isaiah Blackmon. Despite playing limited minutes last year, King will likely assume the full-time point guard spot, playing next to Blackmon and Georgios Angelou. King's main responsibility will be creating open looks for the sharpshooting Blackmon and Angelou, each of whom shot better than 40% from beyond the arc last season. Angelou in particular is making a name for himself as one of the premier shooters in the NEC after draining 28/56 of his trey bombs last year and not missing once from the foul line (14/14).
While the offense should be relatively efficient this season, it's hard to see the 3rd worst defense in the NEC from a year ago improving much this year. Similar to their sister St. Francis school in Brooklyn, the Red Flashes will be reduced to a "chuck-and-chase" offense against longer and more athletic opponents.
9. Sacred Heart
Key Returners: De'Von Barnett, Quincy McKnight
Key Losses: Cane Broome
Key Newcomers: Joseph Lopez (JUCO), Charles Tucker Jr. (JUCO)
Postseason Prediction: None
All you need to know here is that Cane Broome will no longer be playing basketball for Sacred Heart. He simply did everything for the Pioneers last year, who managed to rally for an 11-7 finish in the NEC after starting the year off 1-10. The returning core features mostly sophomore and juniors, which means there is a tad of upside for this bunch, even with Broome no longer in the mix.
A big boost will be the return of De'Von Barnett, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Barnett should be a nice fit as a tweener-4, who will create tough matchups for teams with two true bigs, and is also a competent enough rebounder to hold his own on the defensive end. Incoming JUCO transfer Charles Tucker is an easy choice to anchor the 5, given he is one of only three players 6'7 or taller on this roster. Tucker is regarded as an athletic, high-motor forward, making him a qualified candidate to help tackle the dirty work inside. The other two players standing 6'7 or taller are "Croatian sensations" Mario Matasovic and Matej Buovac. While they may sound like similar players, each specializes in fundamentally different areas, as Matasovic is a true interior rim protector, while Buovac is your traditional European stretch-4.
On the perimeter, Quincy McKnight will lead the charge offensively, but will stuff the stat sheet in more places than just "points". Despite playing in Broome's shadow as a freshman, McKnight managed to do a little bit of everything for the Pioneers last year, and was especially good on the defensive end. However, his 89 O-Rating points to his inefficiencies as a scorer and playmaker, but hopefully long range marksmen Sean Hoehn, along with Buovac, can help space the floor for McKnight offensively.
10. Central Connecticut
Key Returners: Austin Nehls, Khalen Cumberlander
Key Losses: Brandon Peel
Key Newcomers: Tyson Batiste (JUCO), Tafari Whittingham (South Alabama transfer)
Postseason Prediction: None
Beginning way back in 2011, Central Connecticut has finished 157, 217, 257, 305, 344 and 351 respectively in kenpom.com's overall efficiency rankings. That's right, this was officially the worst collegiate division 1 basketball team a year ago. It doesn't take an NBA-level scout to identify what the achilles heel was for this squad last year - defense. The Blue Devils resembled that of an old rec team who is more than fine allowing repeated transition runouts for easy layups.
The story for the "non-Duke" Blue Devils is whether or not their new sideline leader Donyell Marshall can stop the defensive bleeding that's continued to get worse over the past five years. From what I saw early this season, Marshall did a decent amount of mixing defenses against Seton Hall, which actually was semi-effective after the first ten minutes of action (in which Hall opened up a 24-4 lead). The key will be the effectiveness of senior big man Tafari Whittingham who comes over from South Alabama for his final collegiate season. Whittingham should provide an immediate boost to the Devils interior defense, specifically as a rim protector to help bail out the poor perimeter defense that has devastated this team in recent memory.
While the backcourt should struggle once again to guard consistently, the combination of Austin Nehls and Khalen Cumberlander isn't a terrible 1-2 offensive punch. Nehls is a lights-out shooter and Cumberlander is a versatile/crafty playmaker in his own right. Cumberlander will likely share the ball handling duties with incoming freshman Tyson Batiste, who has played big time minutes over the first few games of the season as the primary point guard.
While it's easy to assume Blue Devils will hold down the basement of the NEC yet again, the uncertainty around the production of key newcomers may provide a glimmer of hope for Central Connecticut fans. It's anyone guess as to how Marshall will mix in their minutes with the veteran pieces as he looks to expedite the rebuilding process as fast as possible. Still, with Mustafa Jones as a respectable lead scoring forward, along with the aforementioned pieces on the perimeter, the Blue Devils should tally a few more wins in league play then last year when they finished 3-15 in the NEC.