NEC Preview 2017-18

- Matt Cox

Preseason Predictions

Player of the Year: Keith Braxton, So., St. Francis
Coach of the Year: Rob Krimmel, St. Francis
Newcomer of the Year: Jahlil Jenkins, Fr., Wagner
Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Jenkins, Fr., Wagner


Team Previews

1. Saint Francis

Key Returners: Isaiah Blackmon, Keith Braxton, Jamaal King, Randall Gaskins Jr., Malik Harmon
Key Losses: Josh Nebo (transfer)
Key Newcomers: Luidgy Laporal, Mark Flagg, Markus Vallien

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: 16-seed (automatic bid)

Outlook: In a league that is routinely gashed by transfers, sustaining roster continuity lies at the top of most coaches’ priority list on a year-to-year basis. Head coach Rob Krimmel, despite losing one of the best defenders in the NEC in Josh Nebo, appears to have retained the bulk of his returning perimeter talent which puts the Red Flash in the driver’s seat heading into the 2017-18 season. This backcourt is headlined by a pair of juniors in point guard dynamo Jamaal King and long range sharpshooter Isaiah Blackmon. The perimeter pair perfectly coincided their breakout sophomore campaigns last season - King ascended into one of the league’s top playmakers while Blackmon lit the nets on a fire with a kerosene-hot 50% conversion rate from behind the arc.

The real eye-opener was the explosion of Keith Braxton, who wasted no time asserting his dominance in just about every facet of the game. The reigning freshman of the year is built like a bull at 6’4, 210 pounds, which comes in handy whenever he battles with taller forwards on the defensive glass. This strength is especially useful on the offensive end - particularly when finishing through contact at the rim - but a sneaky soft floater is what makes him such a deadly near-proximity scorer. Braxton is smart enough to not force the action amongst the trees whenever he gets deep into the lane and always seems to be in complete control of his drives.

To top it all off, he displayed a shockingly smooth jumper from beyond the arc, which makes him a terrifying matchup for most NEC defenders – just refer to his 42% and 77% shooting clips from 3-point range and the charity stripe, respectively. Braxton's versatility on both ends of the floor makes him one of the most valuable assets in the conference, precisely why he’s my pick to take home conference player of the year honors in 2018.

The obvious question mark facing the Red Flash is how Krimmel plans to patch up the loss of Nebo. The Red Flash run a shell-like defensive front which emphasizes keeping anything away from the rim, but Nebo was always patiently waiting as the last line of defense in case anything broke down on the perimeter. Krimmel certainly has some bodies who he feels are qualified to step in behind Nebo at the 5 this year (see Deivydas Kuzavas, Daniel Wallace and Luidgy Laporal), but it’s unlikely they can replicate the shot-swatting prowess of Nebo (Nebo was the primary reason the Red Flash boasted the league’s highest block rate). Without a proven foundational piece to fortify the lane, expect Krimmel to pack in his defense even more this year, which will force opponents to beat the Flash with a barrage of outside jumpers.

Bottom Line: Relative to NEC standards, the Red Flash are an offensive machine and I see no reason why they won’t sustain – and perhaps improve upon – a 1.07 points per possession rate of efficiency which was tops in the NEC last season. Krimmel also gets a key contributor from the 2015-16 squad back in the mix, Malik Harmon, who was sidelined during the 2017 season after tearing his ACL last October. The replacement of Nebo will be the focal point of Krimmel’s in-season roster tinkering, but he appears to have a few options to test out before the conference slate kicks off. While Mount St. Mary’s and Fairleigh Dickinson will be right on their heels, the Red Flash certainly feel like the favorite to take down the NEC crown in 2018.


2. Fairleigh Dickinson

Key Returners: Darian Anderson, Mike Holloway
Key Losses: Earl Potts, Stephan Jiggetts
Key Newcomers: Jahlil Jenkins, Pat McNamara (New Hampshire transfer)

Lineup:

*Note*: Darian Anderson could miss extended time as he is currently dealing with a foot injury

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: After picking FDU to finish neck-and-neck with Wagner atop the league standings in my 2016-17 NEC preview, I was starting to beat my chest around mid-January last season – on the morning of January 27th, 2017, the Knights stood firmly in first place with a gaudy 8-1 record in league play with the only loss coming at the hands of defending conference champion Mount St. Mary’s...

Shortly after, not only did the wheels come off, but those wheels were bashed, broken then set on fire as FDU suffered through an excruciating run of close losses down the stretch. An 8-1 league record quickly turned into a pedestrian 9-9, which then culminated into a first round tournament exit in the form of yet another gut-wrenching 2-point defeat at the hands of Wagner.

Even with the "anti-momentum" that could be hovering over this squad at the moment, I’m trusting Greg Herenda and his stud senior lead guard Darian Anderson to right the ship in 2018. As one of the most decorated players in FDU history, Anderson will now embark on his 4th season as the starting point guard for Herenda. He continues to hone his mastery as the linchpin of FDU’s extended defensive pressure as his steal rate rose to the 2nd highest clip in the NEC last season. Anderson's all-around offensive game is also trending up in all phases, particularly as an outside shooter and primary decision-maker.

Stephan Jiggetts was an excellent backcourt pairing to Anderson last year as a slightly more pass-first minded guard, which allowed Anderson to shoulder most of the scoring responsibilities. In order to replace Jiggetts, Herenda may take a chance on a promising freshman – just as he did with Anderson four years ago – in lightning-quick Jahlil Jenkins. Jenkins' next level burst of quickness is something that Herenda values highly in his guards – the Knights want to beat you down the floor in transition, which is often sparked by generating steals out of the zone trapping schemes. I’d look for Anderson, Jenkins and another freshman in Tyler Jones to dominate most of the ball handling, which will allow Darnell Edge and New Hampshire transfer Pat McNamara to focus on their appropriate roles as high-efficient, low-volume scorers and shooters.

Bottom Line: Entering the 2018 campaign, Mike Holloway and the rest of the frontcourt presents the biggest conundrum for Herenda. Holloway had a case of the sophomore slumps last year after posting the league’s 2nd most efficient offensive season as a freshman. Turnover woes tarnished his relatively mature low-post game and one could argue that Holloway, at 6'7 250 pounds, just doesn’t add much value to Herenda’s preferred up-and-down pace. On the other hand, Holloway is virtually impossible to defend 1-v-1 for most NEC post defenders. Herenda must be judicial in how he balances letting his guards loose in the open floor without completely deprioritizing Holloway as a go-to weapon in the half-court. This trade-off between playing bigger/slower and smaller/faster will be a fascinating dynamic to track as the season progresses.


3. Mount St. Mary’s

Key Returners: Junior Robinson, Greg Alexander, Chris Wray
Key Losses: Elijah Long
Key Newcomers: Jonah Antonio, Donald Carey, Jack Vukelich, Bobby Planutis, Omar Habwe

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Jamion Christian’s masterful work with the clipboard last year may have earned him a spot on a few athletic directors' short lists as a legitimate head coaching candidate in the near future. While I’m not here to speculate about Christian's plans to jump shit from his current employer - in fact, I have no intel supporting the notion that he may leave - I do know that the frustration of maintaining a consistent roster in the NEC on a year-to-year basis could certainly cause some coaches to consider exploring external options. Christian’s coaching brilliance last season, headlined by the NCAA tournament victory over New Orleans in the play-in game at Dayton, certainly grabbed the attention of some school administrators who might be considering making a head coaching change this season. The point is, Christian is a budding star in the mid-to-low major coaching ranks, which is precisely why I have the Mount slotted in the top-3 of the projected NEC standings.

Christian’s “Mayhem” brand of basketball is no longer a secret in the northeast part of the United States. Success for the Mountaineers is predicated on applying relentless backcourt pressure to generate steals early and often. Christian is savvy enough to understand that in the NEC steady and sure ball handlers are hard to come by, which presents an opportunity to prey on shaky and sloppy ball handling to generate easy, high percentage shots off of steals. 

However, I actually foresee Christian slowly pulling back the defensive chaos this year. And here’s why:

  1. Christian loses last year's catalyst in the full-court havoc in Elijah Long, which leaves the miniature Junior Robinson as the lone returning backcourt piece. Robinson quickness is undeniable, but his relatively low steal rate last year presents some cause for concern as the likely primary disrupter on the perimeter.
  2. In addition, the exodus of talent via the transfer wire leaves Christian with a short rotation that features only four returning contributors from last year. While Christian doesn't typically utilize a deep bench - a trademark of many of other notable presses -  this year’s roster projects to be thinner than usual.
  3. Unlike FDU’s pressure-focused scheme, the Mountaineers have been much more disciplined in protecting the back-end in recent years, much of which is simply due to the presence of the hyper versatile Chris Wray. Wray will continue to play a ton of 5 this season, and while he may be the most versatile player in the conference capable of guarding all five positions, over extending him too far away from the basket could detract from the Mount’s effectiveness at defending the rim.
     

The counter argument to my points above is that Christian’s system is “player-agnostic” and he could easily plug in a pair of promising newcomers in Jonah Antonio and Donald Carey  right away without the turnover persistency skipping a beat.

Bottom Line: The 5’5 Robinson shared the backcourt with Long last year in a dual point guard offensive attack, but Long’s not-so-shocking decision to transfer up puts Robinson solely in the driver seat this season. Big things are expected of he, Wray and 3-point specialist Greg Alexander, but the uncertainty lies with the freshmen. A lot is riding on the young guns to step in and contribute from day 1, which is what makes this year’s Mount squad an especially difficult team to project. However, I’m betting on the institutional success of Christian to keep the Mountaineers inside the top-5 of the NEC standings.


 4. LIU-Brooklyn

Key Returners: Jashaun Agosto, Joel Hernandez, Raiquan Clark
Key Losses: Jerome Frink, Iverson Flemming, Nura Zanna
Key Newcomers: Jamall Robinson (Hofstra grad transfer), Zach Coleman (UMass grad transfer), Eral Penn, Shyheim Hicks

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: After tumultuous final season at UMASS in which a Minutemen team loaded with young talent tumbled down the A-10 standings, Derek Kellogg now finds himself as the head honcho in Brooklyn. Kellogg takes over the cockpit from Jack Perri who is probably still scratching his head as to what he could’ve possibly done differently to retain his job – the Blackbirds finished just one game behind the Mount at 13-5 in league play last season. Despite the controversial ousting of Perri, there’s no denying that Kellogg’s long time experience as both a coach and recruiter in the northeast part of the country will pay dividends down the road for the Blackbirds – oh and by the way, it also appears to be a well-timed solution for this year as well.

Kellogg inherits a roster that is built to thrive in his frantic style of play on both sides of the ball. Prior to last season, Perri had the Blackbirds running as fast as any team in the NEC but decided to curb the pace a bit last year to put a greater emphasis on utilizing his low-post weapon – and reigning NEC player of the year – Jerome Frink. Frink and rebounding menace Nura Zanna are now both gone, which means the Blackbirds’ primary pulse will shift to the perimeter.

It all starts with Jashaun Agosto, who lived up to his relatively high recruiting hype in his inaugural D1 season and is primed to take the next another step forward in his sophomore campaign. He’ll be the offensive catalyst next to Joel Hernandez and the high-flying Raiquan Clark on the wing. While Hernandez hardly played last year due to injury, his 2015-16 performance should remind NEC foes that he’s one of the best pure penetrators in the league when fully healthy – Hernandez and Clark project to be seamless fits into Kellogg’s free-flowing offense which will provide unrestricted freedom to the guards and wings to attack the rim at will. Julian Batts should round out the core backcourt rotation after backing up Agosto last year and with the lack of returning frontcourt production, there’s a high likelihood Batts slides into the 5th starting spot - this implies Clark would assume the 4 spot alongside either Julius Van Sauers or one of two grad transfers, Jamall Robinson and Zach Coleman, at the 5.

Bottom Line: A new coach coupled with the departure of two of the top post players in the conference should result in a complete renovation of the LIU-Brooklyn brand of basketball. It’s hard to see the Blackbirds matching their conference leading defensive rebounding dominance in 2018 – that is, unless Robinson or Coleman assert themselves as beasts on the boards – which means the guards will hold the fate of Kellogg’s success in his first year at the helm. Expect many 4-guard/wing lineups with a ton of Clark at the 4 and even some Van Sauers at the 5 for to maximize the perimeter shooting and floor spacing.


5. Wagner

Key Returners: Romone Saunders, Blake Francis, JoJo Cooper
Key Losses: Mike Aaman, Mike Carey, Corey Henson (transfer)
Key Newcomers: Tyler Plummer, Nick Madray (Eastern Michigan grad transfer), Tim Graham (JUCO)

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Bashir Mason, one of the top defensive coaching minds in the NEC, enters the 2018 campaign with a major void in the middle of a stout interior defense. Mike Aaman, former Rhode Island transfer, was the cornerstone piece of one of the top rim protecting defensive groups in the NEC over the past two seasons. It’s rare that any NEC squad can poach an asset from the mid-to-high major ranks, especially someone with the skill and size of Aaman, which puts identifying a viable replacement to Aaman in the middle at the top of Mason’s offseason to-do list.

From an external view, it seems the shortlist for this role can be quickly trimmed down to two names: AJ Sumbry and grad transfer Nick Madray. While Sumbry posted encouraging per possession rebound and block numbers last season, his 7.9 fouls committed per 40 minute is a bit alarming. Given that Mason typically played two “bigs” together last season – specifically Aaman and Mike Carey when both healthy – I’d bet his preferred lineup this year would attempt to mimic that approach with Sumbry and Madray sharing the floor together quite often. This new look frontline should help the Seahawks retain one of the better defensive units in the NEC, but the Sumbry/Madray duo is surely a downgrade on the offensive end of the floor.

That means the scoring onus will shift to Romone Saunders who played in just one game last season before a broken foot abruptly ended his 2017 campaign. A rangy, skilled wing that can score from all three levels, Saunders should solidify his name as one of the premier offensive weapons in the NEC this season. The question is can the enigma that is JoJo Cooper tighten up his play at the point guard spot in his fourth and final season as a key cog in Mason’s rotation. Cooper has always been shaky with the basketball and has struggled to find his niche on the offensive end. If he can get back to the serviceable consistency displayed in short stints during his sophomore season, that will allow Saunders and long range specialist Blake Francis to hone their focus on filling it up from the wing.

Bottom Line: By adding one of the more highly touted recruits to the perimeter rotation in freshman Tyler Plummer, Mason should alleviate some of the concerns at the point guard spot which has to some degree hindered the offensive efficiency in recent years – scoring this season will rely far less on 2nd shot opportunities as Saunders, Plummer and Francis will have to make shots at a much higher clip than last year’s squad. Much like with Mount St. Mary’s, I’m going to trust the coaching pedigree to act as a stop-gap for any significant regression for the Seahawks in 2018.


6. Sacred Heart

Key Returners: Joe Lopez, De’Von Barrett
Key Losses: Quincy McKnight
Key Newcomers: Kinnon LaRose (Siena transfer)

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Anthony Latina has been one of the bigger victims of the NEC transfer epidemic in over the past two offseasons. After losing a dynamic playmaker and scorer in Cane Broome to Cincinnati last summer, Latina will have to watch his do-everything guy on offense last year, Quincy McKnight, take his talents elsewhere. Latina’s quote from Blue Ribbon’s offseason preview hints at the fact that the 2018 scoring attack should be much more balanced given the void of a proven, ball dominant weapon left on the returning roster…

“It’s very hard to win that way,” said Latina in reference to the difficulty of having to win on the shoulders of just one guy. “As long as we’re moving the ball and playing with a flow… then we think that’s the best way to play.”


And to be blunt, I couldn’t agree more with Latina’s internal assessment – this change may be the best possible solution for a team that was weighed down by McKnight’s inefficient habits as the undisputed alpha last season…

If the combination of Sean Hoehn and "Cha Cha" Tucker can take care of the basketball in more featured roles this season, the Pioneers could climb much higher than 6th in the conference standings. While many of the turnovers in the Pioneers' offense is simply a byproduct of playing at the NEC's fastest pace, Tucker and Hoehn’s combined 30% TO rate last season is problematic, especially given that they both played primarily off-the-ball. If they can cut down on wasted possessions, Hoehn and Chris Robinson give Latina a pair of reliable threats from downtown. Expect many of the perimeter newcomers to get big time minutes early on, particularly Sienna transfer Kinnon LaRose.
 

Bottom Line: With the depletion of talent from the formidable frontlines of LIU-Brooklyn and Wagner this offseason, the Pioneers may have the best forward rotation in the NEC. The ascending Joe Lopez alongside De’Von Barrett and Mario Matasovic deliver a little bit of everything at the 4 and 5 spots. Matasovic should blossom into a reliable, change of pace stretch 5, while the Barrett/Lopez duo could round into one of the top defensive frontlines in the NEC - just refer to the 0.1 improvement in points per possession when Barrett/Lopez were paired together last season (1.07 - 0.97):

As long as the guards can take reasonably good care of the ball when pushing the pace in transition, the Pioneers could very well crack the upper half of the NEC standings by next March.


7. Robert Morris

Key Returners: Matty McConnell, Dachon Burke
Key Losses: Isaiah Still, Kavon Stewart
Key Newcomers: Malik Pettaway (JUCO), Xavier Williams (Tennessee State transfer), Ronnie Gombe (Canisius transfer), Jonathan Williams, Leondre Washington, Taevon Ashmeade

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Per a quick scan of the other major publications who have already released NEC previews and predictions, there’s a consensus agreement that Robert Morris, Bryant, Saint Francis Brooklyn and Central Connecticut will wind up in the cellar of the NEC standings in some order. Pulling apart any material separation amongst these squads is virtually impossible, but I’ll give the “Best of the Rest” award to Andy Toole and Robert Morris.

While some of the other NEC foes are just beginning to feel the pain of the transfer tornado, Toole has become immune to the annual roster overhauls at Robert Morris. Outside of his two ball hawking guards in Matty McConnell and Dachon Burke, the 2018 squad will rely on a slew of newcomers from a variety of high-school, JUCO and D1 destinations. Jonathan Williams and Leondre Washington are two highly regarded prospects that will be thrust right into the core backcourt rotation and Toole's pressure-heavy perimeter defensive scheme. McConnell and Burke excelled at wreaking havoc on opposing ball handlers last season which relied on a much more structured, man-to-man scheme as opposed to the zone trap schemes Toole was in love with in the few years prior.

The frontcourt is an even bigger question mark, but much like the new faces on the perimeter, Toole has some quality pieces to play with at the 4 and the 5 positions. Malik Pettaway comes in from a heralded JUCO team (Northwest Florida State) and is capable of stuffing the stat sheet in a variety of different ways depending on how White chooses to use him on both ends of the floor. Two additional grad transfers in Xavier Williams and Ronnie Gombe could not carve out a meaningful role at their prior schools, but they’ll each get a crack at the starting rotation for this year’s depleted Colonial front line.

Bottom Line: From a preseason prediction standpoint, no team has a higher range of possible outcomes than Robert Morris. Barring any groundbreaking performances from any of the newcomers, I’d wager that the Colonials hover just around .500 for the 3rd consecutive season in the NEC.


8. Bryant

Key Returners: Ikenna Ndugba, Sabastian Townes, Adam Grant
Key Losses: Nisre Zouzoua (transfer), Marcel Pettaway (transfer), Dan Garvin
Key Newcomers: Ryan Layman

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Bryant was an obvious pick to make a leap in the NEC standings last year as head coach Tim O’Shea brought back four double digit scorers from the 2015-16 squad. But like so many other NEC teams, the Bulldogs momentum was stunted this offseason with the transfers of two critical players in Nisre Zouzoua and Marcel Pettaway. Collectively, Zouzoua’s lights out shooting and Pettaway’s physical paint presence translated into 30 points and 10 boards a game – not to mention a ton of other intangible factors that helped the Bulldogs improve to 9-9 in the league – that O’Shea must figure out how to replace.

First and foremost, O’Shea will need a major bounce back year from Hunter Ware in his final season in a Bryant uniform. The 6’1 senior became an afterthought last season playing behind two off-guard studs in Zouzoua and blossoming star Adam Grant, but his sophomore year production is proof that he’s capable of recapturing one of the purest outside shooting strokes in the league. Grant was given unprecedented freedom for a freshman guard last season as O’Shea rarely took him off the floor, which allowed Grant to flex his well-rounded skill set with minimal restrictions -  expect his efficiency to rise now with one year of experience under his belt as the primary playmaker in O'Shea's offense.

Bosko Kostur is another versatile offensive weapon with his ability to step away and stroke it from deep at the 4, which should give O’Shea three potent shooters on the floor whenever Grant, Ware and Kostur play together. And don’t snooze on Ryan Layman, younger brother of former Maryland standout Jake Layman, who enters the fold as yet another long range sniper for O’Shea to insert.

While rising sophomore and facilitate-first point guard Ikenna Ndugba still has a ton of work to do on revamping his shot, the aforementioned shooters should give big Bash Townes inside plenty of room to operate in the paint. Townes possesses a thick frame and has a nice array of post moves on the low block, but he’ll need to replace a ton of the rebounding and rim protection left behind by the departure of Garvin and Pettaway.

Bottom Line: Interior defense is a glaring deficiency that must be giving O’Shea nightmares this summer. Townes and Kostur are tough matchups and critical pieces on the offensive side of the ball, but both were always supported by either Garvin or Pettaway playing alongside them last year. Per hooplens.com, O’Shea only played Townes and Kotsur together on the floor for 96 possessions all year, which means guys like Brandon Carroll and Mantvydas Urmilevicius should get plenty of run at the 4 and the 5 next to the more offensive-minded Townes and Kotsur.


9. St. Francis Brooklyn

Key Returners: Rasheem Dunn, Glenn Sanabria
Key Losses: Yunus Hopkinson, Robert Montgomery
Key Newcomers: Chauncey Hawkins, Jalen Jordan, Cosic Milija, Yaradyah Evans, Josh Nicholas

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Ok, I'll give a partial pass for the lack of experience as an excuse for the Terriers' struggles last year, but it's hard to make any sense of the complete and utter tailspin that ensued over the 2nd half of the season. St. Francis BK stunned the NEC field with a 2-0 start in league play with a pair of overtime wins at home, but then quickly fell back down to Earth - in fact, the New Year's Eve overtime victory against Central Connecticut would be the last time Braica's squad would etch their name in the win column in 2017.

So what are the reasons to be optimistic heading into 2018? The first of which is similar to the "addition-by-subtraction" theory I laid out with Sacred Heart above. The Terriers lose one of the highest usage, lowest efficiency players in the entire NEC with Yunus Hopkinson's graduation, which should hopefully provide a lift to what was the 2nd worst offense IN THE ENTIRE COUNTRY last year.

While the backcourt duo of Rasheem Dunn and Glenn Sanabria are respectable ball-handlers and decision-makers, their abysmal shooting splits were catastrophic to the Terriers' offense last year. Constrained by one of the smaller teams in the nation - which often relies on 6'3 Iceland native Gunnar Olaffson as the primary rebounder - St. Francis BK will once again have to chuck it from deep to put points on the board. Dunn, Sanabria, Olaffson and Keon Williams cannot possibly shoot the ball any worse than they did a year ago, so hopefully a collective improvement in their long range consistency translates to a much improved overall offensive attack.

Bottom Line: The concern I have is that while the offense has nowhere to go but up, the defense is actually at risk for sliding a bit with the departure of Robert Montgomery. None of the other rotational bigs last year seem qualified to replicate Montgomery's 4th ranked block rate in the NEC last season, unless Cori Johnson can return fully recovered from a recent ACL tear. At 6'9 270 pounds, Johnson could be a one-man paint patroller in the middle and perhaps cover up many of the gaping perimeter driving holes that materialize from Braica's stubborn commitment to running any and all shooters off the 3-point line.


10. Central Connecticut

Key Returners: Austin Nehls, Mustafa Jones
Key Losses: Khalen Cumberlander, Tafari Whittingham, Tidell Pierre
Key Newcomers: Tyler Kohl (JUCO), Deion Bute (JUCO)

Lineup:

Postseason Projection: None

Outlook: Given the hype surrounding some of the veteran newcomers from the JUCO ranks, specifically Tyler Kohl and Deion Bute, it's quite possible the Blue Devils debunk my last place projection here. Bute could easily start at the 5 from day 1, especially if he commits himself to becoming a consistent contributor on the defensive glass, and Kohl has garnered the most attention surrounding the program this offseason. A pair of freshmen in Eduardo Camacho and Talek Williams could also see expanded roles immediately if Marshall is ansy to inject some new blood into the core rotation.

Outside of that, Austin Nehls and Mustafa Jones are the only returners that present any amount of real upside in 2018. Nehls posted what was by far the team's most efficient offensive stat line last season for a squad that appeared allergic to shooting the 3-ball - Nehls' respectable 37% 3-point percentage on a healthy dose of attempts was a unicorn amongst the rest of his offensively challenged teammates. Jones's game is more representative of how Central Connecticut played as a team last season, which resembled a perpetual game of volleyball at the rim in hopes of getting easy 2nd and 3rd shot opportunities from close range.

Bottom Line: The big news that surfaced recently was the announcement of an ongoing investigation into Donyell Marshall and assistant coach Anthony Anderson, which has resulted in both being banned from coaching in recent exhibition games. While minimal information has been revealed beyond that vague description, this is certainly not a good look for Marshall, especially as he enters the critical second year as the head guy in New Britain, CT.