NEC WEEK THREE PRIMER

Four and Oh.

Not many thought RMU would come out the gate of NEC play unblemished, but here we are! After two hard fought wins over St. Francis Brooklyn (the last 10 seconds of regulation are never to be spoke of again) and LIU (beating those guys still, and forever, will taste like a fine wine), Robert Morris sits atop the NEC conference, with preseason favorites Wagner and St. Francis PA (both 3-1) right on their heels. The middle and bottom of the conference is still a pretty big toss up, but it must be said: In a league where there is almost always madness (we’ve had some, and we’ll get more), it’s pretty clear that Robert Morris, Wagner, and St. Francis PA are the class of the NEC.

A quick thought as we head into week three….

The player of the year race will be an absolute delight to watch unfold. As I sit here now, there are three clear frontrunners. Dachon Burke (RMU), Junior Robinson (MSM), and Keith Braxton (SFPA). Here are some stats from their past weekend.

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These guys were all awesome last weekend, and have been all season. It’s going to be a great race, and something else to keep an eye on as we move through conference play. Now, on to the games.

The first NEC haymaker of the season. St. Francis PA at Robert Morris. The teams have played identical schedules, and the only difference so far, RMU beat Central Connecticut while the Red Flash lost to the Blue Devils.

KenPom has the Colonials pulling out a close win 76-73. The Flash lead the NEC in tempo adjusted offense, scoring 114.4 points-per-100 possessions. They have the leagues best offense, and it isn’t very close. They are so efficient with the basketball, and can shoot it basically everywhere, shooting 39 percent in conference play from three, again best in the NEC. Tempo wise, they play about as fast as RMU, but the Colonials better not get into a shoot out with the leagues best offense.

The good news? Robert Morris has the leagues best defense in conference play, giving up 92.9 points-per-100 possessions, while St. Francis features one of the leagues worst defensive units.

Some keys to the game: One, Burke vs Braxton. These two, as mentioned above, can win their teams a game. Sometimes, basketball can be very analytic based, and dynamic. But, sometimes, its a matter of your best dude out playing their best dude. Burke and Braxton will be a dog fight, even if they don’t guard each other a ton (I would expect Koby Thomas starts on him).

The RMU bigs. Ronnie Gombe has stepped up in a big way since Malik Petteway went down, but RMU still has a big (no pun intended) problem. David Cole just doesn’t seem ready. He has really struggled and Andy Toole has rightly sat him for long stretches. Do we see more Thomas/Charles Bain combos? That’s a super small lineup, but tons of floor spacing. The team hasn’t given much of an update on Petteway, but it doesn’t seem good reading tea leaves. He hasn’t even been on the bench the past two games. This will be a huge key, and I’m looking to see how Toole adjusts in a game where he can’t afford bad stretches from Cole, which we’ve seen a lot of lately.

While RMU features the best wing combo in the NEC in Thomas (who collected another NEC POY btw) and Burke (as noted on the website Twitter.com, sharpie this man into the NEC first team), the young guards are going to be under the microscope. In Jamaal King, Isaiah Blackmon, Malik Harmon, Andre Wolford and Randall Gaskins Jr, the Flash have a slew of good guards. Leondre Washington and Jon Williams (BTW, can we talk about Willams three point shooting for a second. Okay, so Williams started the season  4-21, 19 percent. That was bad. Very bad. Since? He’s 27 for 44. THATS 61 percent. That is not bad. That is very good.), had a great weekend this past week, and we know what Matty McConnell brings to the table. Challenge on boys.

Elsewhere: Wagner heads to Bryant as they look to keep track with the top of the league. The Terriers of SFBK will look to snap a two game losing streak after winning their first two (something tells me they wont be the first team to leave PA 0-2 after that road swing. LIU did the same).  They take on CCSU, who has lost three in a row after upsetting the Red Flash in their opener. On Saturday, RMU heads to FDU. Mount St. Mary’s plays at SFPA in what look likes the game of the day. Thursday’s results will have a big say on which games are the ones to keep an eye on, but those two stand out.

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