This is part one of four of CTC’s mega-NEC preview. Today, we preview the bottom five teams in the NEC according to the coaches poll. Tomorrow we’ll preview the top five teams.
BY CHRIS CAPPELLA
- Central Connecticut State (4-25, 3-15)
Coach: Donyell Marshall (first year)
Biggest losses: Jahlil Nails, Brandon Peel
Key game: It’s going to be tough sledding for the Blue Devils this year. I’m looking at their first game of the year on Nov. 11 versus Hartford as an important game. The expectations are low for a Hartford team that finished 10-23 last season. CCSU lost this game in double overtime last season.
Names to know: There are a few returning shooting guards I like on this team. Khalen Cumberlander is a senior point guard who ranked nationally in assist rate last season. Austin Nehls will enter his sophomore campaign looking to build on his 38.6 three-point shooting percentage from last season. Kevin Seymour is another reliable ball handler. Forward Evan Phoenix has the body to fill some of Brandon Peel’s rebounding production last season.
The skinny: After 20 years, Howie Dickenman is out. Donyell Marshall is the new man in charge. The bad news? The roster has some work to do. The good news? The bar is set awfully low.
CCSU was, quite literally, the worst defensive team in college basketball last season. They gave up a ridiculous 118 points-per-100-possessions last season. And that was with Brandon Peel, who was the most tenacious workhorse I’ve ever watched at the forward position in the NEC.
The Blue Devils’ offense wasn’t much better. They ranked 334th in college basketball in offensive efficiency. Now, they don’t have Peel to clean up the boards and they don’t have Jahlil Nails, who transferred to Gannon this offseason, to shoot the three ball.
So how do things get better? I kind of see CCSU going super guard heavy and up-tempo. I like the guards on this team. Cumberlander and Seymour can get to the hoop. Nehls was an outstanding three point shooter last season. Incoming freshman Kashaun Hicks is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard. Central Connecticut has seven players listed at 6-foot-5 and over. There’s potential for a long, guard-oriented lineup somewhere. It’s up to Marshall to hold them accountable on the defensive end.
Last year, Fairleigh Dickinson was picked last in the NEC coaches poll then won the conference tournament. Anything is possible in the NEC this season.
- St Francis PA (13-16, 9-9)
Coach: Rob Krimmel (fifth season, 44-78)
Biggest losses: Ronnie Drinnon, Greg Brown, Ben Millaud-Meunier
Key game: I love the Dec. 17 home game against Stony Brook. The Red Flash will get a really good basketball game on their home floor. There’s an outside chance they’ll be 4-1 overall heading into that matchup.
Names to know: St. Francis was the one NEC school not affected by transfers this offseason. There will be some familiar names. Sophomore guard Isaiah Blackmon will be back after tearing his ACL last season. When he starts to feel 100 percent, he could be the best guard in the conference. Forward Josh Nebo shot 49.5 percent from the field last season and is an elite rim protector. Shooting guard Georgios Angelou shot 48.5 percent from three last season, but in a small sample size (54 attempts).
The skinny: The Red Flash have reached a crossroads. Rob Krimmel won just five games in his first year at the helm. He molded St. Francis into a contender with a core of Ronnie Drinnon, Grew Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier. All three have graduated. Where does this leave St. Francis now?
I wrote a little bit about the disastrous last month for SFU. In short, senior point guard Malik Harmon tore his labrum and forward Basil Thompson got arrested. Their best player, Isaiah Blackmon is coming back from a torn ACL. Will he have the same explosiveness?
SFU relied on the three ball last season, and for good reason. They shot 35.8 percent from three as a team, good for 123rd in the country and third in NEC play. The problem is, all of their three point production is gone. Drinnon, Brown, Harmon and Millaud-Meunier combined for 444 three-point attempts. Everyone else combined for 130.
Blackmon and Nebo are all-NEC level players. Will that be enough? Can Angelou and someone else step up and take the reigns? I’m looking at sophomore Jamaal King to step up at point guard and freshman Keith Braxton to be a force as a wing defender.
- Sacred Heart (12-17, 11-7)
Coach: Anthony Latina (Fourth season, 32-61)
Biggest losses: Cane Broome, Tevin Falzon, Jordan Allen
Key game: The Pioneers end the non-conference season on Dec. 21 with a home game against Holy Cross. The Pioneers have surprised us in the past in non-conference play. By the time non-conference season closes, the team should have itself figured out in the post-Cane Broome era.
Names to know: De’von Barnett is a bruising forward who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Don’t be surprised when he’s on an all-NEC team at the end of the year. Guard Quincy McKnight could lead the team in scoring this season. Forwards Eyimofe Edukugho and Matej Buovac have some serious rebounding potential.
The skinny: Noted Sacred Heart alum and NEC must-follow Ryan Peters did a good job detailing the relationship between players returning and NEC success. To summarize: Sacred Heart is hammered every year with a roster that can’t seem to stay intact.
The Pioneers lost guard Cane Broome to Cincinnati this offseason. Broome totaled a ridiculous 1,157 points in two seasons at SHU. He was as unstoppable as they come in the NEC. It’s hard to state how big of a blow this will be.
Honestly, I feel bad for Sacred Heart. They’ve had some really talented rosters over the past few years that never came together at the right time.
The good news is power forward De’von Barnett will be back from a shoulder injury that cost him his junior campaign. Barnett shot 57 percent from the floor as a sophomore. He’s outstanding with his back to the basket.
Sacred Heart was not a team that relied on outside shooting. I don’t love their Chris Robinson-Quincy McKnight backcourt, but it could be worse. I’m looking at freshman Sean Hoehn to have a nice year at shooting guard. Charles Tucker Jr. has a lot to prove at the point guard position.
- St. Francis Brooklyn (15-17, 11-7)
Coach: Glenn Braica (seventh season, 98-91)
Biggest losses: Amdy Fall, Chris Hooper, Tyreek Jewell, Antonio Jenifer
Key game: The Terriers might have the toughest non-conference schedule in the NEC. They open at NC State, Virginia and Providence. Their Dec. 5 game against Lafayette could be a nice chance for a win.
Names to know: Guard Glenn Sanabria entered last season with high expectations. He played poorly, but that can be traced to a shoulder injury that caused him to miss most of the season. Head coach Glenn Bracia recently told SiLive he’s “100 percent”. Gunnar Olafsson wasn’t much of a scorer last season but doesn’t shy away from shooting beyond the arc and is a versatile defender.
The skinny: St. Francis Brooklyn has an identity. It’s not something a lot of other NEC teams can say.
The Terriers, from the day the earth was created, have been about defense. They’ve always been one of the most physically intimidating teams in the NEC. Opponents shot just 43.4 percent from the floor against them in conference play last season, which led the league.
That identity will be put to the test. Center Amdy Fall has graduated. Fall was the best rim protector in the NEC last season. He’s also won the last 17 NEC defensive player of the year awards (slight exaggeration). He was also had really nice touch around the rim. Chris Hooper and Antonio Jenifer were two other big bodies that graduated last season.
If I had to guess, the Terriers will find a few random freshman to plug in who will instantly be top-notch rim defenders. It’s just what they do. Freshman Robert Montgomery is my guess as someone who will instantly make an impact.
Brooklyn will welcome back guard Glenn Sanabria. Sanabria has the potential to be one of the best two-way guards in the NEC this season. He shot 43 percent from three as a freshman. St. Francis will need him to find his form to stay competitive.
- Robert Morris: Complete RMU preview coming Thursday.