OT: 20-21 Preview Ranking New England's D1 Basketball Teams

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By request. A fun project to work on this last week. If there is anything about any team you'd like me to dig deeper, let me know.

Enjoy!

TIER 1: Big East teams who should make the tournament.

1) UConn - 52 KenPom last season.

Even with Vital/Alterique graduating and Akok likely not playing, I expect next year's team to be even better! Should be a top-40 team next year.

2) Providence, 40th in last year’s KenPom
Ed Cooley’s Friars were a consistently tough defensive team (27th nationally), but their inability to prevent turnovers (212th in the nation) and poor shooting (278th in the nation) held them back offensively.

St. Joe’s transfer Jared Bynum is a big reason for hopeful improvement, especially in the preventing turnovers front. Last year’s point guard duties were shared between volume shooter Luwane Pipkins (36.6 FG%) and mediocre Maliek White (34.6 FG%). For comparison, the last year, when Jared Bynum played at St. Joe’s he played 92% of their point guard minutes and the team lead the nation in preventing offensive turnovers. That tonic is what the team needs badly.

Although Alpha Diallo graduating will be a blow to their interior play and their rebounding, it will help with their shot selection as he was a dreadful, but willing 3P shooter. David Duke was the team’s 2nd best player last year and I expect him to take the lead this year, along with AJ Reeves and Greg Gantt taking another step.

Their frontcourt has good depth, but some question marks. Nate Watson will start at center, but can big men Jimmy Nichols and Kris Monroe stay healthy? Can Noah Horchler step in and contribute after staring at North Florida (16p, 9.3r)? If these questions are met, Providence should be solid this year and a realistic tournament team.

TIER 2: Mid-majors with March aspirations no team really wants to play

3) Yale - 58 KenPom last season.

Bruner transferred and Monroe graduated, but their two leading scorers Paul Atkinson and Azar Swain make for a heck of an inside/outside duo (33.6 ppg combined). Wings Jalen Gabbidon and Matthue Cotton both return and incoming freshman big Yussif Basa-Ama is their top rated prospect ever. It's a toss up between Yale and Harvard on who will be the best team in the Ivy.

4) Vermont, 76th in last year’s KenPom
Even with all-time great Anthony Lamb graduating, expect another excellent season from John Becker and the Catamounts. Fun fact: The Catamounts have had 12 straight 20-win seasons.

Why the continued success? 8 players return with 10+ mpg and they bring in three transfers this year, two of which who might start right away. Justin Mazzulla is a former George Washington point guard who averaged 8.9p, 4.5r, 3.5a in 33 mpg while grad transfer Bernie Andre averaged 13.8p, 8.5r in 30 mpg at Northern Arizona (beautiful campus in the Big Sky, side note). Former Northeastern stretch forward Tomas Murphy provides good depth too.

These transfers are just a fraction of who returns. Four players return with 22+ mpg, including lead guard senior Stef Smith, big man Ryan Davis, Swiss army knife Ben Shungu and skilled wing Robin Duncan, the third from the Duncan family to play for the Catamounts.

With Stef Smith leading the snow, expect another year where the Catamounts are the best team in the American East. They always have a good shot to upset a team in March.

5) Harvard, 110th in last year’s KenPom
After much hype, the vaunted ’16 recruiting class (25th overall) which included Aiken, Towns, Bassey, Juzang, Lewis, Baker and Welsh have graduated and arguably it was a disappointing four years for Tommy Amaker. With all those players gone, Amaker can how regroup and almost start from scratch without the hype.

Incoming junior Noah Kirkwood was the team’s best player last year and he will look to lead the team along with incoming sophomore Chris Ledlum, who is the team’s highest-ranked recruit since Bryce Aiken.

Aside from these two, there’s a lot of uncertainty about who will step up and take the roles from all the graduating seniors, but certainly senior guard Rio Haskett and senior big Danilo Djuricic will provide stability.

While this team can go any direction, I expect them to again be the 2nd best team in the Ivy.

TIER 3A: Not very good teams in elite conferences

6) Boston College, 179th in last year’s KenPom

Things are looking up for Jim Christian’s squad because even though grad transfer Derryck Thornton graduated, BC has their best backcourt in a long time. Jay Heath impressed in his freshman year and was arguably their best player. Wynston Tabbs returns from ACL injury, transfers Rich Kelly and Makai Ashton-Langford add veteran depth while Demarr Langford is one of the team’s best recruits in a while.

Between Nik Popovic graduating and Jarius Hamilton transferring, their frontcourt takes a hit, but bruiser Steffon Mitchell is the team’s senior leader while Rider transfer Frederick Scott is a huge get and will have a big role.

Yes, BC will be in the bottom of the ACC this year, arguably with Wake Forest the only team below them, but I see the team flirting with a .500 season overall.

TIER 3B: Mid-major teams who could be surprise and steal some wins.

7) UMass, 165th in last year’s KenPom

I expect the Woodstock Minutemen to take another step this year, but this team has question marks at the point guard spot after Sean East transferred to Bradley. There’s a good chance either redshirt freshman John Biggs III or true freshman Javohn Garcia will start the season at point.

Despite these concerns, there’s good talent returning led by Tre Mitchell. What a freshman year for him after averaging 17.7p and 7.2r. Fellow Woodstock buddy TJ Weeks played great in his injury-shortened freshman season averaging 14.7p in just 10 games. Add incoming senior guard Carl Pierre and you have a formidable trio who averaged 44 ppg last year to lead a deep, but young squad. There’s a reasonable chance the team fights it’s way into the 2nd tier of the A-10, behind top teams Richmond, Saint Louis, Davidson, Saint Bonaventure and Dayton.

8) Boston University. 159th in last year’s KenPom
All-time great Max Mahoney graduates, but nine rotation players return led by senior wing Walter Whyte (from New Haven and a St. Luke’s grad) and 6’5 point guard Javante McCoy who both combined for 25 ppg last season. Another St. Luke’s grad and Stamford resident Jonas Harper will start at the two-guard.

BU’s excellent ball control (56th in the nation) should sustain with their veteran backcourt, but their 2P% (42th in the nation) and prevention of offensive rebounds (52nd in nation) should take a hit with Mahoney graduating. However, with so many players returning, it looks like a toss up between BU and Colgate as the top team in the Patriot.

9) Rhode Island, 65th in last year’s KenPom
Yes, the Rams have had a ton of transfers and yes, six of their nine scholarships will be going to players who have never played a game in Kingston but as long as the Rams have Fatts Russell on their team, they have a shot. Talented junior big men Jermaine Harris and Antwan Walker are the team’s other two returnees while Elijah Wood and Ishmael Leggett highlight their ’20 class.

TIER 4: Teams that should be solid within their conference

10) New Hampshire, 248th in last year’s KenPom

Going 8-8 in the American East, Bill Herrion had his best squad in three seasons and his team should take another step in 20/21. Why? Newington’s Nick Guadarrama is their best player and their entire, all upperclassmen starting lineup returns.

Herrion’s Wildcats are a tough, defensive team who were a top-90 team in both three- and two-point defense and were 6th in the nation in preventing offensive rebounds. Offensively, they are an above average team in preventing turnovers and getting 2nd chances, but need to woefully improve their shooting inside the arc (334th in the nation last year).

20/21 should be a solid year for them and 21/22 too with two interesting transfers coming in.

11) Fairfield - 301 KemPom last season.
The poor shooting Stags had their best shooter (Landon Taliaferro) and their best frontcourt player (Vincent Eze) graduate, but both of these players are replaced by two quality transfers with Caleb Green from Holy Cross (10.8 ppg) and Tshiefu Ngalakulondi from St. Bonaventure. Green is especially a huge get for the Stags as their point guard play last year was poor especially due to one of their wings, Taj Benning, played about half of the PG minutes. Green should stabilize the 1 spot big time (he played 92% of the team's PG minutes his last season at Holy Cross).

Look for the raw, but long and super athletic incoming sophomore big Chris Maidoh to take the next step for the Stags.

12) Bryant, 234th in last year’s KenPom
After four years poor play, the Bulldogs showed major improvement in Jared Grasso’s 2nd season at the helm. The Bulldogs play fast (71th in offensive tempo) and do a great job generating 2nd chance shots (78th in the nation). Defensively, they make teams take tough shots (68th in effective FG%) but to take the next step defensively, they need to do a better job generating turnovers (308th in the nation).

Even though all-great Adam Grant (1837 career points) is graduating Bryant has a strong, young foundation with between their three incoming sophomores: point-guard Michael Green III, and wings Benson Lin and Charles Pride. Last year, the three freshmen were the 2nd, 3rd and 4th leading scorers on the team, averaging a combined 27 ppg. In addition to these sophomores, Chris Childs Jr., son of former Knick, is an intriguing JUCO addition after averaging 14.2 ppg and a 45 3p% rate after his sophomore year at Indian Hills.

Look for Bryant to be one of the more solid teams in the NEC and could be even better in 11/12 with already three intriguing transfers sitting out.

13) Merrimack, 227th in last year’s KenPom
The Warriors were very impressive in their first year of D1 basketball and were clearly the best team in the NEC. They were led by senior trio Idris Joyner, Juvaris Hayes and Jaleel Lord, all of which were Saint Anthony’s grads.

This trio is gone, but big guard Devin Jensen will take over the lead as the Warriors’ only senior while they bring back a promising sophomore group. One thing is for sure, Joe Gallo’s team will be a pain in the ass to play against. Last year, the Warriors were third in the nation at turnover percentage on defense. No reason why Merrimack couldn’t contend for the top of the NEC next year.

TIER 5: Low expectations

14) Northeastern, 142nd in last year’s KenPom

After two excellent seasons led by Vasa Pusica and Jordan Roland, 18/19 was a step back for the Huskies. Roland had another excellent season, but the longterm injury to big man Tomas Murphy was a big hit to the team. Now with Roland graduated, Murphy transferring to Vermont, Bolden Brace and Maxime Boursiquot graduating too, the cupboard is pretty bare for Bill Coen’s squad.

Westbury, NY’s Tyson Walker played impressively in his freshman year and he is the foundation for the rebuilding Huskies. While not getting playing time in the ACC, former Notre Dame forward Chris Doherty is an intriguing transfer addition. Overall, between Towson’s impressive squad, Charleston’s replacement of Grant Riller with Payton Willis and Elon’s recent two-year recruiting haul, expect a rebuilding year for the Huskies in the CAA.

15) Brown, 222nd in last year’s KenPom
After a solid 8-6 season in the Ivy, the Brown Bears were a top-heavy attack between seniors Brandon Anderson (17.7p), Zach Hunsaker (12.9p) and junior Tamenang Choh (13.2p) each playing over 30 minutes per game with no other Bear playing more than 20 minutes per game.

Now, Choh will be expected to lead the team while many of the other starting spots are up for grab but look for rim-protector Jaylan Gainey (5.9p, 5.1r, 2.2b) to take another step. Overall, between Anderson/Hunsaker leaving, the team will have a brand new backcourt and I expect the Bears to be in the bottom half of the Ivy.

16) Dartmouth, 205th in last year’s KenPom
David McLaughlin’s first four years coaching have not gone well and expect more of the same this upcoming year. The team lacks size, evidenced by their top two players, returning seniors Chris Knight (6’7 225) and Aaryn Rai (6’6 205) manning most of the team’s minutes at the 5 and 4, respectively. Despite their lack of size, they were 2nd in D1 with defensive rebounding % (but somehow 337th in offensive rebounding %). Expect Keggy the Keg spending the season drinking in defeat.

17) Quinnipiac - 251 KenPom last season
Lots of firepower gone after Rich Kelly (BC) and Kevin Marfo (Texas A&M) transferred, but a solid combination of returning upperclassman between Tyrese Williams/Jacob Rigoni/Matt Balanc/Savion Lewis (35 ppg combined) to see which of these players can step up.

18) Hartford - 243 KenPom last season.
While Malik Ellison might have been the 2nd best player in the American East and Traci Carter was a stabilizing senior, the Hawks had nice contributions from their underclassman. Stretch big Hunter Marks and lead guard Moses Flowers will lead the team and overall the team has a decent mix of guards and big men.

19) Sacred Heart - 200 KenPom last season.
The last two years were a lot of fun to watch the Pioneers play some of their best basketball in recent memory, but so much talent has left. Starters EJ Anosike (Tennessee), Koreem Ozier (TBA) and Cameron Parker (Montana) all transferred while rim protector Jare'l Spellman and shooter Kinnon LaRose graduated. When Parker was healthy, that was their entire starting lineup.

Aaron Clarke did a nice job stepping up for the injured Cameron Parker and he will be the team's leader. Former Amity guard Tyler Thomas also showed some potential as a microwave scorer while former Trinity Catholic big Cantavio Dutreil joins after spending some time at North Alabama and Harcum College. Having Zach Radz return on a medical redshirt is big for depth too. I really like their coach Anthony Latina, but this looks to be a rebuilding year with so much talent gone. However, you know the team will work their butts off every game.

TIER 6: Bottom Feeders

20) UMass-Lowell, 275th in last year’s KenPom

Last year, the River Hawks were an above-average offensive team (144th in the nation) led by a duo of big guards Christian Lutete and Obadiah Noel who averaged a combined 37.5 ppg. After Lutete graduated, this will now be Noel’s team to lead in his senior year. Aside from Noel, incoming sophomore duo Connor Withers and Ron Mitchell are a nice foundation for the next two years.

Defensively, the River Hawks were awful, ranked 337th in the nation. A big reason for this is their lack of size with no one on their roster taller than 6’7. Looking ahead, former URI commit (was the #244 recruit in ’19) Gregory Hammond will be joining the team after sitting out last year. After two consecutive seasons going 7-9 in the American East, expect the River Hawks to take a step back this year.

21) Central Connecticut State - 347 KenPom last season.
Hey, last year couldn't have gone much worse and Donyell Marshall somehow still has a job. It wasn't all bad. The Blue Devils were 95th in 3P%, even with their best player and shooter, Ian Krishan, missing the first half of the season. What went wrong offensively was their inability to create offense inside the arc, as they were 2nd worst in the nation. Having underclassmen as 8 of their 10 rotation players and lack of size (which included an injury to forward Karrington Wallace) played a big role in this, but between a healthy Wallace, another year of development with incoming sophomore Xavier Wilson and nice depth with grad transfer Wassef Methnani from Fairfield, the frontcourt can make some strides.

With no seniors playing major roles last year, 8 returning rotation players and a improve frontcourt, look for a healthy Ian Krishnan will try to led the team and improve in the NEC.

22) Maine, 320th in last year’s KenPom
Last year’s team was pretty bad and the Bears lose their best two players big man Andrew Fleming and Sergio El Darwich. Awful shooting team should continue to lay bricks, but their biggest strength is perimeter D.

23) Holy Cross, 344th in last year’s KenPom
Brett Nelson’s first season couldn’t have gone much worse after THREE overall wins. Six incoming freshmen will help replace the SEVEN transfers, the biggest losses being freshman point guard Drew Lowder (14.1 ppg) and freshman wing Joe Pridgen (17.4 ppg) who were both beacons of hope but will likely play elsewhere.
 
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