The NEC is a combined 27-65 as of this morning. Kenpom ranks the conference as the third worst in the country. Funding the program is one of the most important things this time of year, and that's been especially true for the top-3 according to the preseason poll. They've all missed on a few "winnable" games, but they've also played more than a handful that were simply nice experiences for the team.
None of that alters my level of excitement, however, because it has set the stage for wide-open competition once league play starts at the end of the month. While that was mostly assumed going into the season, more teams have entered into a "contender" status than originally thought. While, I've only managed to see the Robert Morris Colonials play this year, I have made some anecdotal observations that I am going to explore here, team-by-team. Let's do this in alphabetical order, and in two parts.
Bryant Bulldogs (2-9):
They are currently on an eight game losing streak, and only three were within single-digits. Bryant is going to only go as far as junior forward Dan Garvin is going to take them. Of course, they'll need the guard duo of sophomore Hunter Ware and freshman Nisre Zouzoua to be consistent come January. Garvin is struggling from the field (38.4%) while still managing per game averages of 10.5 points and 8.7 rebounds. He was only slightly better through 10 games last season from the field at 40.8%, and had the benefit of not being the top name on the opposing teams scouting report. Furthermore, he's been more effective on the glass, already registering three double-digit performances, and has scored in scored in double-digits six times. Last season, he never recorded more than seven boards in a non-conference game and scored 10 points just twice.
Garvin will be fine, so long as he stays out of foul trouble. We've yet to see the best out of sophomore guard Bosko Kostur, and the Bulldogs have scoring options along the perimeter. Throw in some senior leadership by point guard Shane McLaughlin and you have a team with a punchers chance. I like that they have at least one known quantity in Garvin with some players who have flashed potential.
Central Connecticut Blue Devils (0-8):
Losing can be contagious. That may be the case for Central Connecticut as they've won just 16 games dating back to the 2013-2014 season. Most teams aren't satisfied with 16 wins in one season, let alone through just over two. There are questions surrounding head coach Howie Dickenman, which probably isn't helping things. Perhaps the lone silver lining is that senior forward Brandon Peel may still make an All-NEC team at the end of the year. That's about all I got here.
Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (3-6):
Is this team a year away or is the time now? The guard trio of sophomores Earl Potts Jr., Darian Anderson, and Marques Townes has carried the offensive load for Fairleigh Dickinson thus far. As an added bonus they're all connecting on more than 41% of their attempts, and a staggering 36% of their three-point attempts. In a conference that only has a handful of established frontcourt players, having a trio of scoring guards has the potential to go far.
LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (5-3):
One of just two teams that has a winning record, and having nearly pulled off winning back-to-back overtime games on the road. The arrival of junior forward Jerome Frink, a transfer, in the form of a supernova has raised the ceiling for LIU Brooklyn. Fellow transfer, junior point guard Aakim Saintil, has allowed the Blackbirds to weather the departure of Elvar Fridriksson. Couple that with sophomore guard Martin Hermannsson making an early bid as one of the best dozen players in the league (he is), and you have yourself a legit contender. The Blackbirds have some depth as well with junior guard Joel Hernandez, and perhaps a sleeping giant in sophomore forward Nura Zanna.
A brutal four-game road trip to open to season helped pad the programs wallet, but not the win column. Still, a nice stretch to open this month at home, including a barometer win (in comparison to the Colonials) over the Bucknell Bison, helped right the ship. They possess the best guard tandem in the league in junior B.K. Ashe and sophomore point guard Junior Robinson, or at the very least, the one most are familiar with. I am still holding out hope that senior center Taylor Danaher will finally morph into the NEC version of Brook Lopez. Junior forward Will Miller will also not connect at paltry 27.9% on his triples for the remainder of the season, either.
Senior forward Gregory Graves figures to be a key contributor as well sooner rather than later. A preseason selection to be All-NEC, Graves has yet to find his footing through 10 contests. With all that said, Mount St. Mary's has a nice inside-out combo with a lot of talent at the top of the roster and quality in-conference depth.