Updated: May 10, 2022
Let’s kick off our House Enterprise & College Hoops Digest merger in style!
The NEC 2021-22 Preseason Breakdown is live, and boy, is it full of hot takes. New England-area sports writer & announcer Jake Zimmer - who also covers our Bryant beat - along with Dan Gardella, the Sacred Heart product who now is covering Fairfield County-area sports in Connecticut, are our two voters. They’ve been around NEC basketball for a combined 19 years, and have just about seen it all.
Let’s take a look at our first-ever NEC Preseason Breakdown, from College Hoops Digest by House Enterprise.
1st: Bryant (20)
2nd: Wagner (18)
3rd: Long Island (16)
4th: Sacred Heart (13)
5th: Mount St. Mary’s (12)
6th: Merrimack (11)
7th: St. Francis (PA) (8)
T-8th: Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis-Brooklyn (5)
10th: Central Connecticut (2)
House Enterprise All-NEC First Team
Peter Kiss, Alex Morales, Eral Penn, Tyler Thomas, Charles Pride, Ty Flowers
Player of the Year Picks
JZ: Charles Pride (JR, G, Bryant)
Charles Pride looks leaner, faster, and stronger than he ever did. It’s possible he’s also the most improved player in the league, too; he somehow became a more reliable shooter (keep in mind, he scored 33 in the NEC title game in March). Pride is seeking vengeance for a Championship loss; he was out shooting mere minutes after Mount celebrated on his home court...there was no net on the rim, as the Mountaineers had cut it all down. Pride looks to be in excellent shape, and if he can stay healthy all year, the media will wonder why they were so focused on Peter Kiss this whole time.
DG: Peter Kiss (SR, G, Bryant)
As Kiss enters what feels like his eighth season in college basketball, he brings one of the most well rounded skill sets in all of the conference. He was in the top three Bryant leaders in points, rebounds, and assists last season while adding in a triple-double against Central Connecticut State last season. With Michael Green III departing following last season, Kiss will surely get his points, continue to be an impact on the glass, and defer to Charles Pride, Hall Elisias and others when it comes to moving the ball.
JZ: The most groundbreaking, taboo, and up-tempo team in the Northeast Conference shows up on top. This year’s Bryant Bulldogs team returns 4 of its 5 starters, and the departure of their former point guard only gives Jared Grasso the license to play even faster. Grad transfer Adham Eleeda bolsters an already-elite three-point shooting core, and George Mason transfer Greg Calixte should give Bryant a reliable option in the paint. While the Rhode Island media can’t resist shutting up about Peter Kiss - and rightfully so - I’m shoving the chips at Charles Pride to have a breakout year...potentially a record-breaking one.
DG: Even when the Bulldogs lost players following their near run to the NCAA Tournament last season, master recruiter Jared Grasso finds ways to bring in even more production than he lost. While the core of Peter Kiss, Hall Elisias, and Charles Pride will be the difference makers this season, bringing in transfers Adham Eleeda and Greg Calixte provide scoring depth that could put Bryant over the top. Grasso also alluded to the emergence of senior Luis Hurtado Jr. at the guard spot could be a big boost as well. Not to mention, Bryant will also have former all-conference star Chauncey Hawkins as one heck of a practice player this season while he redshirts.
Peter Kiss ripped his jersey off when he fouled out of the NEC Championship in March 2021. He is poised to make a big run in the upcoming season.
JZ: Last season, I made the shameful mistake of not trusting Bashir Mason to turn this Seahawks program around after its worst season since 2010. Instead of rolling over, they finished with their 3rd regular season conference championship in the Mason era, and surprised everyone. Alex Morales should have another well-rounded year after dropping more than 16 points-per-game, and reigning Rookie of the Year DeLonnie Hunt proved he can cause problems at this level. I like Wagner’s chances of being competitive this year.
DG: Last season was another chapter in the tortured success stories in Staten Island. The Seahawks once again were the cream of the crop in the Northeast Conference before a premature exit in the conference tournament semifinals, marking the third time Wagner failed to make the NCAA Tournament after winning the regular season title under Bashir Mason. This year, much like last, the expectations will be the same with the dynamic duo of Elijah Ford and Alex Morales returning fresh off of landing on the all-conference first team together. DeLonnie Hunt is a year wiser within the program after claiming the conference’s Rookie of the Year, and Nigel Jackson provides another scoring option with tons of experience. Expect the Seahawks to go toe to toe with Bryant for the top spot all season.
3rd: Long Island
JZ: I’ll admit; this LIU team terrifies me more than any other team they’ve put on the floor in the Derek Kellog era - yes, even more than the 2018 NEC Championship team. Ty Flowers, despite his nearly 6-10 frame, remains one of the NEC’s top-five knock-down shooters. Hofstra’s Isaac Kante now teams up with Eral Penn to create, without question, the most formidable paint presence in the league; both averaged a double-double per game last season. Jermaine Jackson Jr. (I miss calling him “JJJ” like the other NEC pundits do) and Virshon Cotton both transferred, but it won’t matter. Stand out of the way of the Sharks.
DG: LIU has been one of the most hot and cold teams over the past few seasons. Much of that can be credited simply to inconsistent play out of its big time players. But this season’s LIU team is as well-rounded as any team Derek Kellog has put together in his five seasons at the helm. With a duo of rebound hoarders in Isaac Kante and Eral Penn, it means Ty Flowers will need to find other ways to impact a game. His scoring ability is one of the best in the conference, especially given his shooting ability with his 6’10 build. However, he’ll have to bring up his three-point mark much higher than his 30% one from 20-21. The guards bring a lot of intrigue in my opinion. Alex Rivera should be the go-to scorer in the backcourt and will have more opportunities to do so, and Quinnipiac transfer Tyree Pickron will be a wild card for the Sharks. Overall, they have what it takes to host a playoff game or two in March. Can Kellog get his team to that point?
Senior Ty Flowers should be a major impact player for the LIU Sharks this year.
PIC: Steven Ryan
4th: Sacred Heart
JZ: The Pios got unfairly handed the 6th spot in the NEC Coaches’ Poll, and they’ll prove they don’t belong there. Tyler Thomas quietly averaged more than 19 points-per-game as a sophomore last year, and should be poised to garner a bulk of the SHU buckets this season. Hopefully Anthony Latina can squeeze all he can out of point guard Aaron Clarke, and pair up the veteran duo with sophomore Mike Sixsmith, who was one of the top-10 shooters in the country (54% from downtown). The big question with the Pioneers, as always, will be their size; we’ll see what they can muster up from their young(er) guys.
DG: Call it bias if you want, but Sacred Heart has been one of the most disrespected teams across the conference in recent memory based on where they sit in preseason polls. Last season, in two of the last three seasons, Sacred Heart was picked to finish in the bottom two of the conference and finished no lower than third. This season, a sixth place finish is still on the lower side given they lose no one and bring back Zach Pfaffenberger who last played with a team who won 20 games in 19-20. Tyler Thomas will be the go-to scorer for the Pioneers, but will have a lot of other options to defer to when Thomas has his off nights. Aaron Clarke has dropped 20 pounds according to Anthony Latina, and fellow guards Mike Sixsmith and Alex Watson will round out a deep, experienced backcourt. Also keep an eye out for Nico Galette who Latina believes could be the third Pioneer in three seasons to win the conference’s Most Improved Player.
5th: Mount St. Mary’s
JZ: Whether we like it or not, we must acknowledge that there’s an element of “getting hot at the right time” to every championship run...and there’s no denying Mount fell into that, too. The reigning champs add Jalen Benjamin from UAB, who will fill the gap at point guard. While Nana Opoku, Malik Jefferson, and Mezie Offurum - my personal vote for Mount’s best weapon - all return in the frontcourt, the question remains how well Mount is able to shoot. Keep your eyes on the Mountaineers; it feels like they have more questions than answers.
DG: If Mount St. Mary’s wants to find its way back to the NCAA Tournament, they are either going to have to shut teams out offensively or find their next go-to scorer with Damian Chong-Qui departing. They have the defensive personnel with reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Nana Opoku. Malik Jefferson and Mezie Offurum put together solid seasons in the Mount frontcourt last season as well. As to who will emerge as a leading scorer, I would not be surprised if we see sophomore Josh Reaves take a leap from last season in which he started 19 of the team’s 23 games last season.
JZ: I am one of many Joe Gallo fans across the NEC, and last year Merrimack continued to uphold their reputation as a tough out in conference play. They started off pretty well, but fizzled out to end the year...and now, with more talent brought into the league, the Warriors might be on the outside-looking-in for the first time in their 3 seasons in the NEC. I will say, Jordan Minor is a solid big man, and Mikey Watkins looked elite as the team’s point guard last year. Both should be excellent anchors for this Warriors team.
DG: Joe Gallo is so good at getting the most out of his teams, I’m convinced he could take a group of eight graders to the Northeast Conference playoffs. Ever since Merrimack entered the conference in 19-20, they have been as competitive as any team in the conference even though they are not eligible for the playoffs for another two seasons. The 1-2 punch of Jordan Minor and Mikey Watkins will continue to increase its production this season and Devin Jensen still poses a threat as one of the best knockdown shooters in all of the league. I am really interested to see how much more of a leash Gallo gives to All-Rookie selection Malik Edmead, who averaged just under eight points per game in just 15 minutes a night last season.
7th: St. Francis U
JZ: Oddly enough, even though there are some teams that just can’t beat St. Francis (cough cough, Bryant), I’m not crazy about the Red Flash this year. Rob Krimmel’s group is probably the most well-coached team in the conference, but it almost feels like the void left by NBA prospect Keith Braxton & his counterpart Isaiah Blackmon has been too insurmountable for the Flash to recover. Ramiir Dixon-Conover broke out last year, but it’s almost a product of circumstance, as someone had to fill the scoring void that left nearly 30 points in its wake. A lot needs to go right for SFU this year in order to be successful; it starts with Mark Flagg having another good year in the paint, and Maxwell Land having a breakout sophomore campaign.
DG: St. Francis is ranked on the lower side than what most people are used to, but I could call them my sleeper team in the conference. When you have a coach as respected and talented as Rob Krimmel, anything is possible. Last season was a bit of a gap year after losing two of the greatest players to ever play in the Northeast Conference in Isaiah Blackmon and Keith Braxton. The senior leaders of Ramiir Dixon-Conover and Mark Flagg have been a part of some of the best Red Flash teams in recent memory and the supporting cast led by Myles Thompson and Maxwell Land will give St. Francis a good chance to turn some heads at season’s end.
Red Flash coach Rob Krimmel remains one of the most respected coaches in the NEC.
PIC: Andrew Shurtleff
T-8th: Fairleigh Dickinson
JZ: Greg Herenda said something scary at Media Day: “We were picked to finish 9th in 2018 and we ended up winning the conference.” Well, Dan and I picked them to finish 1st last year, and they finished 8th...wow! FDU didn't really compete last season, and Herenda essentially cleaned house on his coaching staff; the marquee addition being Brandon Hall, who coached with Kevin Willard at Seton Hall. I like Brandon Rush’s potential to have another standout year, and coupling him with Devon Dunn - who opted out last season - makes the pot more sweet. FDU still has massive holes; maybe John Square can take on a bigger role, or Joe Munden can complement Dunn & Rush in the backcourt, but we’ve got some significant questions in Teaneck this year.
DG: Fairleigh Dickinson did a lot of spring cleaning this season on its roster, with several players transferring and creating looming gaps of scoring for this season’s team that will have to be answered as the season goes on. A lot of the Knights’ success will loom on how much of a leap Brandon Rush will take. If he adds a few more points onto his 13 points per game from last season, he could be looking at an all-conference selection without a doubt. Greg Herenda has 12(!) underclassmen on his roster this season and just one senior. This season could be a long season of development, but could also be a jumpstart season for future seasons depending on the success and progression he gets from his young group this year.
T-8th: St. Francis-Brooklyn
JZ: When at full-strength, this Brooklyn team could be better. But, unfortunately for Glenn Braica, it feels like that’s almost never been the case these past few seasons. Rob Higgins certainly looks like this team’s primary ball handler & scorer, but who will build out the rest of the team? Is it junior Larry Moreno, who shows glimpses of being “the guy” when he’s rolling? What about Jack Hemphill, the grad transfer from Boston University who adds some height to the equation? Maybe Marist grad transfer wing guard Michael Cubbage can be a reliable option, having averaged almost a double-double before a season-ending injury took him out last year. The Terriers have a low floor, but ambiguity clouds their ceiling.
DG: St. Francis Brooklyn wins this season’s prize of “Most cleaned out team” in the conference. The Terriers lost their top three scores from last season and essentially put most of, if not all of the scoring responsibility on Rob Higgins who may have a chance to be the leading scorer in the conference. Michael Cubbage could be another piece of the puzzle this season, but other than that it seems like there will be a lot of figuring things out as they go.
10th: Central Connecticut
JZ: The Donyell Marshall era is over, and thank goodness it is, because it simply didn’t work. Over 5 years, the Blue Devils went a dismal 24-66 in conference play...yikes! Enter CCSU alum Pat Sellers, who was certainly the frontrunner all-along; he brings experience coaching with Jim Calhoun, Dave Leitao, Greg McDermott, and the legendary CCSU coach Howie Dickenman. Sellers avoided walking into a total nightmare by surrounding the nucleus of Ian Krishnan, Nigel Scantlebury, and Tre Mitchell with 8 freshmen to start things off. CCSU will go through growing pains, but watch out for Boston’s Davonte Sweatman to provide a silver lining off the bench.
DG: There’s no sugarcoating it, Central Connecticut is going to have its struggles in year one of the Pat Sellers era. But unlike Donyell Marshall who did the best he could given the situation, Sellers comes from a strong coaching tree, with stops all across the country and all types of conferences. Sellers comes to CCSU after a stop at Fairfield, where Jay Young nealy won the MAAC in his second season. Young’s defensive philosophy will without a doubt rub off of Seller’s team this season, with guards Ian Krishnan, Nigel Scantlebury and Tre Mitchell, but it will take some time before we talk about the Blue Devils in the playoff conversation.