With NEC conference play finally opening up this past week, we have plenty to discuss in this week’s version of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Let’s jump right into it, beginning with perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the country.
- Bulldog Bullying – Never in my wildest dreams did I believe Bryant would still be undefeated after I witnessed their tough loss on the road to Navy last month. But since then, Dobbs has run the offense masterfully (4.0 assists/game, 1.7 A/TO), Dyami Starks is stretching the defense with his outside shooting (17.9 points/game, 38% 3PT%), and Alex Francis is once again dominating in the low post (15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds per game). Through two conference games, Bryant has a sizzling 1.17 points per possession and an effective field goal percentage of 58%. What can stop these emerging Bulldogs now? Well, the lack of depth is certainly an issue moving forward and warrants monitoring. It’s a good problem to have if you’re Tim O’Shea, but he’ll need to be careful of not overusing his starting five, especially when February rolls around. One injury to the big three and this team easily drops a tier or two.
- The Pioneers Are Back, Baby! – OK, maybe they aren’t really back, but protecting their home court for the first two conference games – after losing seven straight non-conference games – is a nice start. On Thursday night, Louis Montes enjoyed a career performance (35 points, eight rebounds, two steals, and two blocks) in leading SHU past an undermanned LIU Brooklyn club. On Saturday afternoon, it was Shane Gibson’s turn to shine, as the senior poured in 28 efficient points including the final four points to slide past the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers. Justin Swidowski, in effect, saved the game for SHU by scoring 14 points in the second half to spark a run that put the Pioneers back in the game. Looking ahead, the Pioneers embark on a difficult four game road stand which includes CCSU, Quinnipiac, and a pissed off Robert Morris club. More on the Colonials later…
- Say Goodbye to a Winless Season – A home blowout loss to Bryant aside, kudos goes to head coach Rob Krimmel for earning his first career victory, when his Red Flash surprisingly dispatched CCSU last Thursday, 79-70. In the win, sophomore Earl Brown went off, grabbing 25 rebounds to go along with 16 points. It was the most rebounds a Division I player had ever secured in a game since 2009. In fact, Brown was only eight rebounds shy of out-rebounding the entire Blue Devils team in the game! Overall, it was a nice start to the season for St. Francis, who will surely struggle at times with a young collection of talent. But at the same time, the Red Flash won’t be an easy victory more often than not when teams venture into the wilderness of middle Pennsylvania.
- Dan Hurley Who? – One team that expectedly took care of business last week was Bashir Mason’s Wagner Seahawks, who held both NEC opponents to a combined 0.80 points per possession. Sophomore Mario Moody, in particular, helped push Wagner to victory as he’s now averaging 12.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per contest. Moody and teammate Naofall Folahan’s presence in the interior has made life incredibly difficult for opposing offenses and has certainly made Mason’s job a lot easier in leading this roster since Dan Hurley left for the A10. The Seahawks are the best bet to earn a home playoff game in the NEC postseason, although these days, predicting future NEC results is nearly impossible. Which leads me to my final bullet point for The Good…
- The Wide Open NEC – I need a show of hands, who had Bryant and Sacred Heart at 2-0 and Robert Morris winless after a week of conference basketball? Anyone? The overused sports cliché of “any team can win on any given night” holds true for this conference with six underdogs winning half of the 12 conference games this past week. For NEC fans, it will make any game a must watch, even if the number of gray hairs increases exponentially over the course of the season. Races will be wide open and that is an absolute win for the conference. That is unless you’re an elitist.
- An Early Hole – The shorthanded LIU Blackbirds performed admirably considering the conditions, but nonetheless dropped two straight road games in Connecticut versus Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac. Jason Brickman was spectacular in the losses and is quietly having the best season of his already excellent career, posting averages of 10.5 points and 8.3 assists per game with a phenomenal 2.6 A/TO. Despite the diminutive point guard’s contributions though, the Blackbirds must regroup with Jamal Olasewere and C.J. Garner in a hurry when the Seahawks make the trek across the Verrazano Bridge on Thursday evening. After Wagner, the schedule gets a little easier with games against Mount St. Mary’s, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Monmouth. The goal for Jack Perri should be to have his team at 3-3 after six conference games.
- Panic in Moon Township? – Do yourself a favor and head to Pittsburg Post-Gazette writer Craig Meyer’s Twitter (@craig_a_meyer) timeline for some entertaining post game quotes from Andy Toole after their upset loss to CCSU on Saturday night. Suffice it to say, he wasn’t happy with the team’s effort, which saw the Colonials lose two NEC games in a row to start the season for the first time since … ever! Defense has been the major culprit for the sudden slide, but there’s plenty of time to alleviate these issues. A road trip to NJ to square off against the offensively challenged FDU Knights and Monmouth Hawks may just be what the doctor ordered. Toole’s upcoming practices (I bet he ran one early Sunday morning after the CCSU loss) may also influence his players to once again care on defense. Regardless, it’s weird to see Robert Morris possess the second worst NEC points allowed per possession number at 1.11.
- Monmouth’s Lid on the Basket – The heart is there, the tenacious defense is there, and even the offense execution is there as well. THe problem is Monmouth is having great difficultly making open shots, as evident by their brutal 42.7% effective field goal percentage. After Saturday night’s loss, King Rice was still upbeat and confident his players would eventually hit those open looks, but the reality is this team will struggle more often than not without the presence of a true playmaking athlete. Without a bevy of turnovers and pristine execution on the offense end, the Hawks must scratch and crawl their way toward every win. So far when the offense isn’t there, Monmouth has fallen short twice. They should pick up their first NEC victory this Thursday over St. Francis (PA), but a tough three game stretch versus Robert Morris (home) and the Brooklyn schools (away) will tell us if this team is ready to get out of their funk. If not, King Rice and company could be staring at a 1-5 conference record in the blink of an eye.