College basketball fans, we are one month and four days away from from the most wonderful time of the year! November 10th marks opening night for the majority of Division 1 men’s college basketball programs throughout the nation.
October is a great month leading up to the college hoops season as it is filled with previews and preseason awards. With that being said, it is time to preview the NEC for the 2017-18 season.
Preseason Power Rankings
1. St. Francis (PA)
Right now St. Francis looks like a lone wolf. The Red Flash return the most experience and talent in a conference decimated by transfers. They’re spearheaded by a three headed monster in the back court featuring Isiah Blackmon, Keith Braxton and Jamal King, who combined to account for just under 70% of the team’s possessions last year. Now, throw in redshirt senior Malik Harmon in the backcourt and The Red Flash have four guards who can compete with any backcourt in the conference.
The biggest question is who will replace reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year Josh Nebo, who transferred to Texas A&M. Not only was Nebo the most important defensive factor, but he was also the most important scorer and rebounder down low. Can sophmore Deivydas Kuzavas, JUCO transfer Luidgy Laporal and promising freshman Marck Flagg fill the void down low of Nebo being gone? The success of the frontcourt will determine if this team runs away with the conference, or is just a slightly better team than the rest of the pack.
2. Fairleigh Dickinson
This is where the rankings get tricky. Teams 2-7 are hardly separable but here we go. Last season per Kenpom, FDU had the highest adjusted offensive efficiency rating in the NEC. Good news for Greg Herenda and company is that they return two major presences in that offense: one in the backcourt and one in the frontcourt. Potential NEC preseason Player of the Year, Darian Anderson, will guide the backcourt while forward Mike Hollaway Jr. will take charge in the frontcourt.
Returners Darnell Edge and Kaleb Bishop will also be solid role players who can contribute on the offensive end. The question lies in this teams defense. If FDU can balance out their defensive play with their offensive strength, this squad has a shot to win the league.
3. Sacred Heart
Sacred Heart can make a case to be up a spot, but they lack the star power that FDU has in Darian Anderson. That’s not to say Sacred Heart does not have a very good player, because they do in forward Joseph Lopez. Lopez led the league in field goal percentage last season, and finished top-5 in the NEC in many other categories, making him one of the most efficient players in the conference. De’von Barnett and Mario Matasovic will join Lopez in the top returning frontcourt in the NEC.
The biggest question is who will fill in the void left after Quincy McKnight transferred to Seton Hall. McKnight was overwhelmingly relied upon last season, as he was used in 33.1% of the teams possessions, which was good for 16th in the nation per Ken Pomeroy. It may not be possible to replace that production completely, but watch out for guys like Sean Hoehn and Charles Tucker to take advantage of this opportunity to increase their roles on the team. Redshirt sophomore Kinnon LaRose will be a key role player as well.
Wagner is one of the harder teams in this middle pack of the NEC to predict. Last season, Wagner finished second in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage. However, they lost their two leading rebounders Michael Carey and Mike Aaman. The Seahawks were also awful at holding on to the ball last year, coming in at 340th in adjusted turnover efficiency.
The reason to like this team is because of the guard play it returns, and also a key recruit they are bringing in. Romone Saunders only played in one game last year, but in that upset over then-ranked Uconn, Saunders lead the team in scoring with 15 points. If he can do that consistently this year along with some scoring from junior guard JoJo Cooper, the backcourt will be fine. Freshman Tyler Plummer could be the preseason NEC Newcomer of the Year. The Canadian was ESPN’s 7th ranked Canadian recruit, and will make an intimidate impact.
5. Mt. Saint Mary’s
Defending conference champion Mt. Saint Mary’s lost arguably their three most important players in Elijah Long, Miles Wilson and Mawdo Sallah to the transfer market. However, the Mount returns one of the more athletic and exciting players in the conference in 5’6 guard Junior Robinson. Robinson, who is a senior, will be joined by senior forwards Chris Wray and Greg Alexander.
The addition of sharp shooting redshirt freshman Jonah Antonio will also be a nice addition for The Mount. Outside of these four players, the team is loaded with questions and inexperienced talented. At the end of the day though, any true NEC fan knows head coach Jamion Christian is a genius and will have his team ready to compete when it matters.
6. LIU Brooklyn
Next to Mt. Saint Mary’s, LIU is probably the team that got hit the hardest in the league in terms of losing important players. Reigning NEC Player of the Year Jerome Frink is gone, and so is Iverson Flemming.
The outlook of this years team still is not all that bad. Junior guard and returning leading scorer Joel Hernandez will be handed the keys to lead this team in the back court alongside sophomore Jashaun Agosto. The major question for head coach Derek Kellogg will be how will his frontcourt works out. Nura Zanna was really LIU’s only bright spot in the front court last year, but the Blackbirds lost him as a transfer to Houston.
The Bulldogs will be hurt by the loss of the NEC’s leading scorer, Nisre Zouzoua, who put up 20 points per game last season. Losing Marcel Pettway hurts as well. However, Bryant could be a dark horse pick to finish near the top of the conference.
Bryant returns sophomore Adam Grant, who was one of the top freshman in the conference a year ago and averaged 14 points per game. In a conference with so much roster turnover, Bryant returns a solid starting line up in Grant, Bosko Kostur, Sebastian Townes, and Ikenna Ndugba. Experience can do wonders in this league, so the Bulldogs may have what it takes to make a run.
8. Central Connecticut State
This is where the conference starts to drop off. For the first time since 2013-3014, it’s possible that CCSU will make the NEC tournament. The program will continue to see steady improvements under second hear head coach Donyell Marshall. Junior guard Austin Nehls and senior Mustafa Jones will lead the charge for the Blue Devils.
9. St. Francis Brooklyn
The Terriers can only go up after finishing last season in last place with a 4-27 record. Rising sophomore Rasheem Dunne will be a bright spot for this team in the 2017-18 season after leading the team in scoring last season. The Terriers return a core from a young team last season.
This team was near the bottom in the nation in multiple categories last year and will look for more experience to help them improve in those areas. Glenn Bracia should be hoping for senior Gunner Olafsson to have a breakout season. Olafsson was a heralded recruit from Iceland, but his game has not quite transferred to college ball.
10. Robert Morris
Andy Toole has arguably dealt with more roster turnover due to transfers in his time at Robert Morris than any other NEC coach. Things never look too promising for a team when your top scorer returning scorer only averaged seven points per game in the previous season. This is not to say that the Colonials cannot overcome low expectations, but there is just too much uncertainty to put them any higher. Guards Dachon Burke and Matty McConnell will lead the way for a roster that contains a promising group of seven freshmen.