With the start of the season right around the corner (and the preseason NEC Coaches Teleconference coming up on Wednesday morning), this is a good time to rank the backcourts and frontcourts of the Northeast Conference. First up are the top six backcourts in my opinion. Teams 7-12 will follow shortly, with the frontcourt rankings on deck. Feel free to comment below; I welcome solid hoops discussion.
1. Robert Morris
Jimmy Langhurst (7.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg), Mezie Newigwe (8.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
The Colonials lost Langhurst due to injury just eleven games into the season, so they've already had to deal with his absence (the NCAA denied an appeal for a sixth year). Newigwe was third on the team in scoring and also grabbed four rebounds per game. He'll be missed on the defensive end of the floor, where he completed his four-year progression with the NEC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Karon Abraham (13.6 ppg, 44.3% 3PT), Velton Jones (8.0 ppg, 2.8 apg), Shane Mahoney (DNP), Gary Wallace (5.3 ppg, 38.6% 3PT), Coron Williams (DNP- redshirt)
The combo of Abraham and Jones, plus their roles in the Colonials making their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, are what push RMU to the top of the NEC in regards to backcourt play. Abraham won Rookie of the Year honors and led the team in scoring with an average of 13.6 points per game, shooting a higher percentage from beyond the arc (44.3%) than inside of it (43.0%). His big-play capabilities were a huge factor in the Colonials' win at Quinnipiac in the tournament final, resulting in his being named MVP of the NEC Tournament. Jones actually had six more starts to his credit than Abraham and averaged eight points per game, and if there's anyone on the roster who can make up for Newigwe's departure on the defensive end it would be him. Wallace and Williams will be called upon to add depth and long-distance shooting, with Wallace averaging 5.3 points per game with more than a third of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc (38.6% 3PT). Williams sat out last season as a redshirt, and Shane Mahoney didn't see any action either.
Anthony Myers, Elton Roy
Both Myers and Roy had solid senior campaigns in respected programs last year. Myers, the cousin of former RMU guard Derek Coleman, ran the show for Charis (NC) Prep and averaged more than five assists per game last season. Roy was a member of the Yates (TX) HS team that finished the year ranked #1 nationally by multiple outlets during the season and is a wing who has the ability to attack the basket, averaging more than 15 points per game as a senior. Both will have ample opportunities to contribute.
2. St. Francis (NY)
Akeem Bennett (14.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Ricky Cadell (15.9 ppg, 35.6% 3PT), Justin Newton (3.5 apg, 1.9 spg)
First-year head coach Glen Braica lucks out with the backcourt that returns to Brooklyn this season. Bennett was a Second Team All-NEC selection is his first season on campus (junior college), ranking second on the team in scoring and leading the way in rebounds and assists. Bennett was the only player in the NEC to finish the season ranked in the Top 10 in four statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists and steals).The one area in which the playmaker will need to improve is the turnover department, where he tallied more than a quarter (123) of the Terriers' 449 in 2009-10. Cadell was the team's leading scorer a season ago, and he shot 35.6% from beyond the arc with more than half (202) of his 370 shots coming from downtown. Tying it all together is the junior Newton, who had an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 2.0 (1.98) and is in charge of getting the ball to the Terriers' offensive threats while also giving teams fits on the defensive end.
Dre Calloway, Adam Chmielewski, Travis Nichols
Coach Braica will need this triumvirate to help out this season more in terms of minutes that scoring; their time will come in that department once seniors Bennett and Cadell depart. The three returnees for the Terriers all averaged more than thirty minutes per game in 2009-10, with Bennett (36.0) and Cadell (35.5) leading the way. Calloway and Nichols are both returning home to New York City after playing two years at the junior college level, with Calloway having played the point at Northeastern (CO) JC and Nichols a one-time All-PSAL performer who has three years of eligibility. Chmielewski is a solid perimeter shooter who averaged 16 points and eight assists per game at Champaign St. Lambert in Montreal. Iona transfer Ben Mockford, who won't play this season per NCAA transfer rules, will help in practice.
3. Central Connecticut State
Joe Seymore (8.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Seymore was the resident bomber for the Blue Devils, knocking down 36.6% of his shot from beyond the arc in NEC play last season. But with him being the only player in their top nine in regards to scoring gone CCSU is more than equipped to make up for Seymore's departure.
Devan Bailey (2.5 ppg, 2.5 apg), Robbie Ptacek (12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg), Vince Rosario (5.9 ppg, 41 3PM), Shemik Thompson (13.0 ppg, 3.3 apg)
The return of Thompson and Ptacek is one reason why so many expect Central to be in the thick of the NEC title race. Shemik led the Blue Devils in minutes, scoring and assists last season, and he increased his scoring output by nearly two points per game in NEC play. Ptacek, who missed eight conference games due to injury, was second on the team in points per game over the course of the entire season. His health (or lack thereof) opened the door for Devan Bailey to make 14 starts in conference play. Bailey wasn't a major threat in terms of scoring but he took care of the basketball, boasting the team's best assist-to-turnover ratio in league play (1.64). Moving into the role of sharpshooter will likely be Vince Rosario, who attempted 151 of his 177 shots from beyond the arc. But the accuracy (27.2% 3PT, 32.8% FG) must improve if Rosario hopes to increase his production from a season ago.
Daquan Brickhouse, DeAngelo Speech
Both newcomers have the ability to push for playing time, especially the 5'8" Brickhouse, a quick point guard who offers added scoring punch that they don't necessarily get from Devan Bailey. Speech is a 6'5" wing that may be further along as a defender at this point in the season. At the least these two will be expected to push the incumbents in practice, but it's hard to see them both not earning minutes.
Jeremy Baker (8.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg), James Feldeine (16.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Of a possible 65 games combined these two started 65, and Feldeine joined teammate and NEC Player of the Year Justin Rutty as a member of the All-NEC first team. Baker wasn't the most accurate of shooters but his ability to hit the boards (3rd on the team with 98 defensive rebounds) helped QU immensely. These are major losses for the Bobcats, who hope to take the next step and earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
Dave Johnson (3.8 ppg, 2.0 apg), James Johnson (12.1 ppg, 4.0 apg), Sean Light (12 GP), Kevin Tarca (12 GP), Deontay Twyman (7.1 ppg, 37.2% 3PT)
The three players who will be key factors in regards to whether or not Quinnipiac can remain atop the NEC standings are the two Johnsons (not related) and Twyman, will all having roles in last season's rotation. James Johnson ranks among the top point guards in the NEC, and he's got the ability to create for himself in addition to the other options on the team. Dave Johnson came off the bench as his backup a season ago and did a solid job of taking care of the basketball in almost 17 minutes of action per game. Twyman may be the best candidate to move into the starting lineup given his ability to score. The junior raised his scoring four points per game in the NEC tournament, and he should consistently reach double figures in an expanded role. Light and Tarca are seldom-used walk-ons who will be called upon to give the Bobcats a good look in practice.
Williams Harrison, Dominique Langston
The Bobcats actually welcome five guards into the program but three (Lance Brown, Garvey Young and Austin Alecxih) will site out this season per NCAA transfer rules. All three, especially Brown (Fordham) and Young (Vermont) will test the eligible guards on a daily basis. Langston is a local product who averaged 24 points, 12 rebounds and six assists per game in his last year at Kolbe Cathedral (2008-09) before playing a year at St. Thomas More. Harrison is another athletic wing who averaged a shade less than 14 points and six rebounds per game at Western Texas College last year. Both will be called upon to contribute this season, and it wouldn't be a surprise if one made his way onto the NEC All-Rookie Team.
5. Long Island
Jaytornah Wisseh (17.6 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.2 rpg), Corey Wright, Jr. (7.8 mpg, 1.5 ppg)
To say the least the Blackbirds have a large hole to fill in the backcourt with the departure of Wisseh, who will go down as one of the greatest players in LIU history. But in talking with head coach Jim Ferry a couple weeks ago he acknowledged that "you don't replace a kid like Jay". Wright played in 30 games last season but had a minimal impact for LIU, averaging less than eight minutes and two points per game. How LIU distributes the workload left by Wisseh will determine whether or not they win the NEC.
Michael Culpo (7.7 ppg, 46.3% 3PT), David Hicks (9.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Kyle Johnson (11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Kurt Joseph (5 GP)
LIU has three very good perimeter players back this season and seniors Hicks and Johnson will be relied upon to provide steady leadership this season. Johnson, a versatile wing, is the leading returning scorer and Hicks is their best perimeter defender. Coach Ferry said that these two need to become more consistent in their roles this season if the Blackbirds are to accomplish their goals. And Michael Culpo, who's one of the best long distance shooters in the NEC, has expanded his game in the offseason and should be ready for more scoring responsibility. He'll likely remain in his sixth man role, and given his ability to catch fire at a moment's notice Michael is a good fit.
Jason Brickman, C.J. Garner, Robinson Odoch-Opong
Brickman and Garner are the two players competing in practice to see who takes over for Wisseh at the point. Garner actually is a returnee to the program, having sat out last season as a transfer from South Alabama, and he's the more explosive of the two in regards to athleticism. Coach Ferry described Brickman, a freshman from San Antonio, as a "mini-John Stockton" due to his style as a traditional point guard and ability to see the entire game. Odoch-Opong is a combo guard who will also have his chance to earn playing time, and the hope is that these three add depth to a backcourt that saw both Hicks and Johnson play more than 30 minutes per game in 2009-10.
6. Fairleigh Dickinson
Sean Baptiste (16.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg)
Just one loss for head coach Greg Vetrone in the backcourt and boy is it a big one. Baptiste left FDU with more than 1,500 career points and led the team in scoring while also ranking second in rebounding. Newcomers and returnees alike will be given the chance to help make up for the scoring void left in Sean's wake.
DeShawn Dockery (4.3 ppg, 20 GP), Sam Fernley (1.4 ppg, 16 GP), Terence Grier (10.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Louis Larizza (1.7 ppg, 21 GP), Mike Scott (12.6 ppg, 5.4 apg, 4.0 rpg)
Grier and Scott will be the leaders in the backcourt for the Knights this season, and in his first season at FDU Mike Scott proved to be one of the best floor generals in the NEC. Scott finished the year second on the team in scoring and second in the NEC in assists, but the dependable senior needs to improve at avoiding foul trouble as he picked up a team-worst 102 fouls and fouled out of six games. Grier, in regards to scoring mentality, may be the best option to pick up the slack as a primary scoring option this season. Not the greatest shooter from either beyond the arc (28.6%) or the charity stripe (51.5%), Grier is adept at finishing with contact in the paint. If he's going to shoulder more scoring responsibility however he must get better at the foul line. Dockery missed much of the non-conference portion of the season but he showed promise, and it isn't too much to expect the sophomore from Chicago to earn more playing time.
Marco Porcher, Tyler Reynolds, Brianh Smith
Of the three newcomers Smith, a junior college transfer from Detroit, could be the one best equipped to make a major contribution immediately. He averaged 19.3 points per game at Miles CC and has the ability to either knock down the perimeter jumper or penetrate to the basket. Reynolds is a capable perimeter shooter, and while he didn't see as much playing time as stars such as Pe'Shon Howard (now at Maryland) the experience of playing at Oak Hill Academy should benefit Spaniard Marco Porcher. All three will be given the chance to step into the rotation in hopes of helping the Knights offset the points lost with Baptiste's graduation.
Next: Backcourts 7-12