It’s Friday, which means basketball is back. After months of talking, talking, talking, we finally get to see.
Robert Morris enters the season as the defending champions, but they aren’t without their flaws. In fact, there are probably five other teams who feel like they have a very legitimate chance at winning the conference this year.
No one is perfect. I make an attempt to break down the greatest strengths and weaknesses of each team.
Mount St. Mary’s
Strength: depth, experience, defense
Weakness: mixed identity?
I doubt many will agree with this, but I think Mount St. Mary’s has a little bit of an identity crisis on their hands. For two years, they were Mount Mayhem; the team that was going to press you on defense for 40 minutes and run in transition on offense. KenPom’s adjusted tempo numbers back that up. That system took them from back-to-back NEC championship games in 2013 and 2014, of course winning one of those at RMU.
Last season? Maybe the best kept secret league-wide is Mount St. Mary’s was none of the things that made them so scary. Yes, they were great defensively, but that team played slooooooow and I don’t think it’s a coincidence they didn’t win a postseason game last season. Do they get back to that break-neck pace?
The weaknesses are really me just nitpicking with this team. Their starting five could all finish on an NEC team. Khalid Nwandu would be a starting point guard on a handful of NEC teams. All of that team has been in a big moment before.
Strength: star power
Weakness: frontcourt scoring, team rebounding
Rodney Pryor and Andy Toole go into the season as the top player and coach in the conference. Elijah Minnie is blossoming into a top power forward. Kavon Stewart is a top point guard. Matty McConnell is a freshman shooting guard who averaged 30 ppg in high school. This team is loaded with top-end talent.
RMU was one of the worst rebounding teams in the country last season, and that was with Lucky Jones. With Jones gone, RMU will hope to get better production out of a combination of Tate-Minnie-Pryor-Frederick-Giles and whoever else.
Weakness: consistent scoring from the backcourt, defense
Dan Garvin and Bosco Kostur will both play around 30 minutes a game and average close to a double-double. Losing Joe O’Shea hurts, but I think Kostur can put up numbers even better. He’s my boy.
I’ve ripped on Dyami Starks hard in the past, but he was still a scoring threat that Bryant simply doesn’t have this season. Between that and their poor defense, Bryant could go through stretches, especially early, where they struggle.
They were also dead last in offensive points per possession. So, yeah. Good luck CCSU.
Strength: rim protection, creating foul trouble
Weakness: go-to scorer
Their strengths are pretty much Nura Zanna. Zanna has a ridiculous fouls drawn rate and should protect the rim. If he makes “the jump”, watch out. Jerome Frink was a big recruit out of high school and FIU transfer. Many believe he’ll be on an all-NEC team by years end. Glenn Feidanga is a nice piece to have off the bench.
The thing is, Zanna and Frink aren’t those proven go-to guys. Can you throw the ball to them down low and say “get me a bucket”? Maybe, but we haven’t seen it yet. LIU lost their elading scorer from last year.
St. Francis Brooklyn
Strength: Several strong rebounders, culture of defense
Weakness: Consistent three point shooting
Even without Jalen Cannon, Antonio Jenifer, Chris Hooper and Amdy Fall will rebound. They were the best rebounding team in the conference last year, and probably will be again this season. Fall is the reigning defensive player of the year.
Who is going to shoot for the Terriers, though? Tyreek Jewell was supposed to be that guy, then shot 20.9 percent from downtown last year. Yunus Hopkinson was even worse. I really like Glenn Sanabria (43.9 percent from three last year) but will he get the opportunity to show off as the primary ball handler?
Strength: team rebounding
Weakness: Lost the only player who can get buckets
Everyone on the team rebounds. Even the guards are athletic as hell. Mike Aaman and Greg Senat should keep that going.
Huge problem: Marcus Burton graduated. Burton led the team in shots, scoring, free throws, was near the top in shooting percentages and could handle the ball. He’s not a guy you can just replace, it’ll take a team effort.
Strength: Frontcourt depth, great combo guard
Weakness: protecting the ball
Even without De’Von Barnett (NEC Zach Randolph!!!) out for the season (torn labrum), the Pioneers have Tevin Falzon, Jordan Allen and Matej Buovac (New Mexico State transfer) in the frontcourt. In my opinion, Falzon is the most underrated player in the conference. Great rebounder and shot blocker.
SHU couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot last year. They were a team that never got to the free throw line and turned the ball over plenty. Now, with point guard Phil Gaetano gone, they’ll have more inexperienced ball handlers running the offense.
St. Francis PA
Strength: three-point shooting
Weakness: three-point shooting, rebounding
SFU was their own kryptonite. They have plenty of guys who should be really good three-point shooters, and when that team starts rolling, they’re rolling. Last year, that rarely happened. Ben Millaud-Meunier, Malik Harmon and Dom Major all shot below expectations. Their best shooter, Ollie Jackson, has since graduated. The returning players will have to pick it up.
The Red Flash were also one of the worst rebounding team in the conference last season. Center Ronnie Drinnon will do his part, but who else can rebound when he’s not on the floor?
Strength: Forcing turnovers, defensive pressure
Weakness: Nearly everything else
I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but I really think FDU is going to be one of the ten worst teams in college basketball this season. I hope I’m wrong, because I really like coach Greg Herenda, but they lost so much again this offseason.
Weird but true: FDU actually had the 15th best turnover percentage in the country last season. They were excellent trapping opponents and taking away the basketball. Unfortunately, if they weren’t forcing a turnover, they were probably giving up buckets. Opponents had an effective field goal percentage of 52.0 percent last year. That’s like when you trade for the West all-stars in NBA 2K and play the Kings.
Strength: defensive principles
One thing CCSU did last year was not send opponents to the foul line. If you got a bucket, you probably earned it by blowing by Kevin Seymour on your way to the tin. Maybe the Blue Devils should have fouled a little more last season, because they were dead last in points per possession.