Sunday, May 21, 2017

Northeast Conference tempo-free review

Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole chats with FDU assistant Bruce Hamburger before their opening weekend NEC clash. (Photo by Ray Floriani/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)

The Northeast Conference bases its philosophy on three days in March: Make the conference tournament, get hot, and get on the board on Selection Sunday.

Actually, it goes beyond that.

One must finish in the top eight to qualify for the NEC Tournament. Once in, then the next objective can be negotiated.
This past season, Mount St. Mary’s was able to accomplish both of their goals, winning regular season and postseason championships. A closer look at the NEC tempo-free numbers, courtesy of KenPom, follows, starting with efficiency margin. In all metrics cited here, only NEC games are included in the analysis:

Efficiency Margin
1) Mount St. Mary’s (+8)
2) LIU Brooklyn (+7)
3) Saint Francis U (+6)
4) Wagner (+5)
5) Fairleigh Dickinson (+3)
T-6) Robert Morris (+1)
T-6) Bryant (+1)
8) Sacred Heart (-2)
9) Central Connecticut (-12)
10) St. Francis Brooklyn (-17)

Offensive Efficiency Leaders
1) Saint Francis U (107)
T-2) Mount St. Mary’s (104)
T-2) Fairleigh Dickinson (104)
T-2) LIU Brooklyn (104)
T-2) Bryant (104)

Defensive Efficiency Leaders
1) Robert Morris (95)
2) Mount St. Mary’s (96)
3) LIU Brooklyn (97)
T-4) Saint Francis U (101)
T-4) Fairleigh Dickinson (101)

Like close games? KenPom defines a close game as one decided by four points or less, OR any contest necessitating overtime. In the NEC, 27 of the 90 conference games qualified as close. In other words, 30% of league games were white-knuckle affairs, which is always great for fans, but much more stressful for players and coaches.

The average tempo in NEC games was 68 possessions per game, a moderate-to-fast pace. These types of teams will set up in half court and run if afforded the opportunity.
Possession Leaders
1) Sacred Heart (71 possessions per game)
T-2) Fairleigh Dickinson (70)
T-2) Saint Francis U (70)
T-2) Robert Morris (70)
5) Bryant (69)
T-6) LIU Brooklyn (68)
T-6) St. Francis Brooklyn (68)
8) Mount St. Mary’s (67)
T-9) Wagner (65)
T-9) Central Connecticut (65)

Sacred Heart’s place at the top is no surprise to those familiar with the Pioneers or the NEC as a whole, as head coach Anthony Latina has consistently pushed the ball on the offensive end. Interestingly, in a ten-team league, just six possessions separated the fastest from most deliberate teams. Chalk that up to a combination of some similar styles and everyone knowing each other to the extent that they are able to do things on both ends of the floor to dictate tempo.

What about Robert Morris?
Andy Toole’s group was excellent on the defensive end, yet struggled on offense. A closer look shows the Colonials were near the bottom of the league in effective field goal percentage (47 percent) and turnover rate (21 percent), two major factors that had an adverse effect on the offense in Moon Township and its subsequent efficiency.

On the defensive side, it was quite the opposite. Robert Morris was second in the conference in defensive effective field goal percentage (also 47 percent), while setting the NEC pace in defensive turnover rate at 24 percent. In simple terms, the Colonials took away possessions while making scoring difficult when opposing teams did complete a trip down the floor.

KenPom All-NEC Team
Elijah Long, Mount St. Mary’s
Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn
Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart
Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson
Nisre Zouzoua, Bryant

Turnovers
The NEC’s average turnover rate was 20 percent, with two teams performing better than the median. Oddly enough, those two were conference champion Mount St. Mary’s and tenth-place finisher St. Francis Brooklyn.

Turnover Rate Leaders
1) St. Francis Brooklyn (17 percent)
2) Mount St. Mary’s (19)
T-3) Bryant (20)
T-3) Fairleigh Dickinson (20)
T-3) Saint Francis U (20)

LIU Brooklyn
The Blackbirds finished second in the league, winning 20 games before losing to Robert Morris by just one point in the quarterfinals of the NEC Tournament. While LIU was one of the most efficient teams on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, head coach Jack Perri was ultimately dismissed at the end of the season. This is not the area for that discussion, but the closer one studies the season LIU had, the tougher the decision to part ways is to comprehend.

NEC Championship: Mount St. Mary’s 71, Saint Francis U 61
In a 71-possession game on The Mount’s home floor at Knott Arena, the Mountaineers rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit, registering an offensive efficiency of 100 while limiting the Red Flash to 86. The visitors were also held to a 46 percent effective field goal mark and forced into a 24 percent turnover rate, two major factors contributing to the defense of coach Jamion Christian’s champions, who worked their “Mount Mayhem” scheme to perfection. SFU did enjoy a 31-23 edge in offensive rebound percentage, but the advantage was offset by Mount St. Mary’s care for the ball, recording a sterling 11 percent turnover rate. Sophomore guard Elijah Long, who scored a game-high 24 points to lead The Mount back to the NCAA Tournament, was recognized as the game’s most valuable player on KenPom.

Percentage of Team Possessions
The final look is a review of the top ten players in the area of possessions. This looks at the percentage of total team possessions utilized by each individual player. These players are not necessarily the team’s leading scorer, but definitely someone you would want to get the ball to during crunch time:

1) Quincy McKnight, Sacred Heart (32.2 percent of team possessions)
2) Mike Aaman, Wagner (29.7)
3) Jerome Frink, LIU Brooklyn (28.5)
4) Iverson Fleming, LIU Brooklyn (27.1)
5) Isaiah Still, Robert Morris (27.0)
6) Nisre Zouzoua, Bryant (26.8)
7) Elijah Long, Mount St. Mary’s (26.6)
8) Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson (26.4)
9) Kavon Stewart, Robert Morris (26.3)
10) Jamaal King, Saint Francis U (26.1)

Final Thoughts
The numbers bear out the fact the NEC is:

- A homogeneous group in terms of pace. Six possessions separate the top to bottom in tempo.

- Closely related, a league with more than a fair share of close games, probably because they are so related in tempo. The conference sees almost one-third of its contests settled in the last four minutes of regulation or in overtime.

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