ECC Basketball Insider Blog - Men's and Women's Basketball Postseason Preview
By Christopher Granozio
The top two clubs in the circuit – C.W. Post and District of Columbia – received first-round byes and tickets to the Final Four at Queens College this coming weekend. Both sides likely have enough collateral upside for an at-large bid to the NCAA Regional, which begins on March 10. The other four, who kick off this year’s league tourney, need to win out in order to snare the automatic bid. So without further ado, here is a team-by-team breakdown as the playoffs beckon:
ECC Record – 15-1 (first)
Notable Wins – UDC (twice), Bridgeport, @ Bloomfield
Players to Watch – Senior guard and consummate showman Stefan Bonneau earned Co-Player of the Year honors in 2011 and is the odds-on favorite to take home the prize this season. The pint-sized Middletown, NY native couldn’t have played any bigger, leading the region in scoring (22.5 ppg), topping his team with 71 three-pointers, making 38% of his long-range attempts and stopping the show at least once per night with a jaw-dropping dunk. And despite his flair for scoring, the hard-working Bonneau is no ball hog, as his 86 assists will attest. Flanking him on the wings are Tobin Carberry (17.9 ppg, 5.8 rebounds per game) and one-year senior transfer Terry Coleman, the league’s #3 assist man. Inside, the youthful combo of sophomore stud Vaughn Allen (15.1 ppg, league-best 9.4 rpg) and emerging freshman Tyuan Williams were the conference’s top two offensive rebounders. With veteran playmaker Billy Butler having been sidelined with a season-ending injury before the November opener, Coleman and Bonneau have done a fine job anchoring the point for the Pioneers.
Strengths – The Pioneers attack the basket and have attempted 695 free throws this year, 61 more than the next-best team. Their shooting percentage (.454) is the best in the loop, as are their nearly six offensive boards a game (tied with Bridgeport). The 7.8 rebounding differential is tops in the league, too, and oh, there’s that kid Bonneau, who always seems to shine when the games matter most.
Weaknesses – The assist-turnover ratio could be better (12.3/14.0), and the defense has been a little spotty at times, especially in non-league battles.
Outlook – There is great talent, balance and depth here, not to mention the experience factor as Chris Casey’s troops captured the tournament last season and are hungry to repeat. If that happens, C.W. Post will surpass Long Island neighbor and former league rival Adelphi for a record seventh ECC Tournament title.
Overall Record – 13-3
ECC Record – 22-4 (second)
Notable Wins – Alderson-Broaddus, Florida Tech, Bridgeport
Players to Watch – The only team that can give C.W. Post a run for its money as far as backcourt firepower is UDC. Player of the Year candidate Nigel Munson – the only player in the circuit to surpass the 200-hoop plateau this season – is a persistent triple-double threat, averaging 19.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and league-best 6.7 assists per outing (he shattered the league record with 16 in a recent game). Fellow senior Brandon Herbert matched Munson’s lofty scoring average (second-best overall) while leading the ECC in 3-pointers made (90) and finishing third in rate of accuracy (40%). Dishawn Bradshaw was no slouch as the third senior guard, averaging 14.5 points per game and proving perfectly capable of exploding for twice that number on any given night. The key to the team’s success may in fact be Dyrek Jones, who stepped in at the pivot when Diyaaldin Kelley left the team at mid-season. A 6-7 junior, Jones ranks fifth in rebounding and picked up right where Kelley left off in the shot-blocking department, turning away 3.3 attempts per game, the best in the region outside of national leader Rickie Crews of Holy Family University.
Strengths – Offense, and plenty of it. In three of the last six games, Jeff Ruland’s charges have surpassed the century mark (four times overall this season), and when you can put the ball in the basket as often as the Firebirds do, it prevents losing streaks (UDC hasn’t lost two in a row to date). The defense ain’t too shabby, either as opponents are only converting 39% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc, both tops in the conference, while getting close to six shots rejected every game. The bulk of the offense comes from the perimeter as UDC is #1 in threes made (197) and 3-point accuracy (37%). In addition – and this cannot be understated – the Firebirds rarely hurt themselves, committing a league-low 12 turnovers per game.
Weaknesses – Since Kelley’s departure, rebounding has been rather ordinary (+1.4). Fatigue could play a factor, too as the travel-challenged Firebirds are at least four hours away from their nearest conference rival. Then there’s the question of how the team will handle losing twice against top dog C.W. Post. Does that fuel extra motivation or create a sense of doubt in the collective psyche?
Outlook – Regardless of its postseason fate, UDC’s inaugural season of affiliated basketball has been an unqualified success, and the program’s first-ever league tournament is a blank canvas to date. With the goal of a second national championship foremost in their minds, the Firebirds have certainly proven they belong in the discussion.
ECC Record – 12-4 (third)
Notable Wins – Southern Connecticut (twice), C.W. Post, UDC
Players to Watch – Darian David has been a Godsend for Mike Ruane, ranking among the league leaders in scoring (19.3 ppg) while also making his presence felt on the defensive side of the ball (2.1 steals per game, good for #2 in the ECC). Fellow junior transfer Hakeem Rodriguez has been steady and sometimes electrifying at the point, mastering the drive-and-dish by handing out five assists per game (#2 in the league) while showing the ability to score, as well (12.3 ppg). The Purple Knights took a hit when they lost the big-time post presence of Eion Lewis at the midway point (he was averaging 12.7 points and 8.7 rebounds), but Lloyd Antoine and others have stepped up and at the very least solidified the position. Speedy slasher William Harrison takes it to the rim with authority, and senior guard Dante Menter has really stepped up down the stretch since becoming a starter, averaging 12.8 points a game over the last five (four as starter).
Strengths – Aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and prowess in the paint are what drives Bridgeport’s success. Thanks to relentless man-to-man defense and a formidable press, no team in the circuit garners more steals (8.5 per game), while the 15.8 offensive rebounds each outing are matched only by C.W. Post (UB has ripped down 97 more O-Boards than its opponents!). The Purple Knights have been resilient and extremely consistent, losing back-to-back games only once all year.
Weaknesses –The perimeter game has been extremely disappointing, especially since it was one of Bridgeport’s strengths in recent NCAA seasons. 62% foul shooting could be a concern at the conclusion of close games, especially coupled with the league-high 20.3 fouls per game the Knights commit. Turnovers are also a weak spot as the average of 16.1 represents the highest in the ECC.
Outlook – Other than C.W. Post, Bridgeport is the only other ECC team still playing that knows the feeling of hoisting the tournament trophy, having taken the prize two years ago. If the Purple Knights are to be successful, they need to do all the little things right while flexing their defensive and rebounding muscle. They are the only team to beat both of the top dogs, so dismiss them at your own peril.
NEW YORK INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Overall Record – 11-14
ECC Record – 8-8 (fourth)
Notable Wins – @ Bridgeport, @ Dowling
Players to Watch – There are many workable cogs in Sal Lagano’s engine, but on some nights, they are not all in alignment. When everything is clicking, however, NYIT is a mighty tough team to play. Just as all the teams above them in the standings, the Bears lost a major component as Kayvon Roberts suffered a season-ending injury 15 games in. The team’s one constant has been big junior guard Dominic Scurry, who has excelled in a leadership role and has guided the club to three wins in its last four games heading into the playoffs. His 12.8 scoring average and 81 assists (#4 in the ECC) lead a balanced attack that also features juco transfer Antoine Brown (10.8 ppg, fourth-best assist/turnover ratio) in the backcourt and emerging forward Azel Prather, Jr. (9.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg) up front, the latter finishing the regular season as the second-best rebounder in the conference. Jahari McKnight is the most dangerous 3-point shooter in the conference at roughly 45%.
Strengths – Ball-handling is key to the Bears’ success as they are second-best in the league in both assists (14.4) and turnovers (13.4). Team balance is also a strength as just about anyone can jump up and have a big game on any given game day.
Weaknesses – 59% foul shooting is a red flag, while the –1.8 rebounding disparity could become a problem against bigger, more physical opponents.
Outlook – Lagano has done an outstanding job with an infusion of new blood and the loss of his overall best player, carving out a home playoff berth amidst all that uncertainty. Winning the whole shebang is a tall order, though, and will require above-average efforts from just about everyone.
Overall Record – 12-14
ECC Record – 8-8 (fifth)
Notable Wins – @ Bridgeport, Chestnut Hill
Players to Watch – It begins and ends with John Merchant III, the senior guard who commandeers the show. Just 18 months after cheating death, Merchant is playing with a fearlessness that could spell danger for opponents. His 14.1 scoring average tops the team but he has been scoring at nearly 16 a game down the stretch, nailing 42% of his 3-pointers (21-50) over the past eight games. Frontcourt classmate and close friend Michael Hill II – who has helped spark the Golden Lions since rejoining the team during the holidays – is averaging 9.2 points and 2.1 assists per game in his final go-around, and can be a threat if left alone on the perimeter. Josh Malone – a mobile, 6-5 junior guard – presents all sorts of match-up problems for the opposition on both ends of the floor, and has excelled the past three games, connecting on 10 triples over that span while exploding for a season-high 28 points on the last day of the season vs. Queens.
Strengths – Steve Hayn’s defensive schemes cause ECC coaches fits. And the guard-heavy Golden Lions are never out of a game thanks to their suffocating pressure, which is responsible for a good chunk of their 8.3 steals-per-game average, good for #2 in the league. Opponents shoot just 41% from the floor (#2 in the ECC) and 32% from deep (#3) while mustering a measly 65.8 points per game, easily the lowest mark in the league.
Weaknesses – Unfortunately for Dowling, the offense often replicates the other team’s marginal output, reflected in its 62.6 scoring average, 41% field-goal percentage and 31% mark from beyond the arc. Free-throw shooting has been nothing short of a disaster at 56% - the worst percentage in all of Division II by far. A -2.5 rebounding margin is not exactly an ingredient for March success either.
Outlook – An 8-4 finish to the season resulted in a 12-14 record, marking the best showing for Dowling since the 2002 campaign. A tie for fourth place also represented the program’s best finish in the pecking order since 1998. Any success in the playoffs will be considered gravy at this point, but don’t tell that to the seniors, who plan to ride this wave as long as possible.
ECC Record – 5-11 (sixth)
Notable Wins – St. Rose, NYIT (twice)
Strengths – The 3-point proficiency and league-best 73.7 foul-shooting percentage are cause for concern on the scouting report. Nolan’s range stretches to the center-court logo, and if he and Petrucelli ever go off the same night, you’ve got a fight on your hands.
Weaknesses – Rebounding – especially on the offensive end (9.1 OR per game is dead last in the ECC) – has been an issue all year as the Lions’ foul-prone bigs have been outhustled on the glass much of the season. Molloy has been out-boarded by nearly eight a game, which is the worst differential in the league, although the situation has been less bleak since Zoller was inserted into the starting lineup.
Outlook – All four Long Island schools reached the postseason this year, and Molloy earned the last spot by virtue of a tiebreaker vs. St. Thomas Aquinas. Though they have lost 12 of 16 heading into the postseason, their record has been somewhat misleading thanks to a 2-5 showing in games decided by three or fewer points (0-3 in overtime alone). This team is more than capable of an upset, although three may be too much to ask for this year.
That day has arrived for six East Coast Conference teams. The top six have earned the right to battle for the conference crown and with it an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. This season, the ECC looks likely to garner at least one at-large bid to the NCAA’s but every team wants to lift the league’s championship trophy, not only for the automatic berth in the national tourney but for conference bragging rights.
Since the departure of the College of Saint Rose from the league after claiming six titles in a row from 1995-2000, six different institutions have lifted the hardware. Only once since the turn of the millennium has an ECC women’s team repeated as playoff champion (the University of New Haven doing so in 2007 and 2008) but C.W. Post has the chance to do it this season. The Pioneers came from the #4 playoff seed to snag the crown last year, winning the title in a thrilling championship tilt over Bridgeport, 69-66. Which brings to mind another thought – is it better to have a first round bye as one of the top two seeds (and a week off) or is it preferable to try and keep flow going by playing in a first round game? The latter proved more fruitful last winter (Bridgeport was the #3 seed, remember) so it remains to be seen if that scenario plays out again.
How do the teams in the 2012 field stack up? Dowling and the University of the District of Columbia have the first-round byes and will attempt to stay sharp for a week prior to taking part in the ECC semifinals at a neutral venue (Queens College is the Final Four host). St. Thomas Aquinas, C.W. Post, NYIT and Molloy comprise the first round participants and kick off the ECC tournament on Wednesday. A quick, thumbnail sketch of where the top six stand, in order of seeding…
Dowling has suffered one three-game losing skid and went 4-3 in its last seven games but otherwise they have been very consistent. Against the other top four teams the Golden Lions are 5-1 (the only loss to St. Thomas Aquinas) so they are flush with confidence when it comes to match-ups with other strong clubs. They also recorded notable non-league wins over Pace, Felician, Caldwell, Franklin Pierce and Dominican, so their quality of opponents is not in question. Dowling, 13-1 at home, shoots free throws well, rebounds with force and possesses the best interior defense in the ECC, traits that keep them in games at all times. On the down side, the Golden Lions occasionally don’t get to the foul line as much as an elite team should, nor do they force a lot of turnovers, so if they don’t shoot reasonably well, they could be in hot water. The last time the Golden Lions won a league playoff title was back in 2003, when they pulled off the regular season/tournament double. Can they reprise the feat nine years later?
Playoff key: Defense. Dowling has allowed 65 or more points just four times this season but they’re 2-2 in those games, having won 70-69 in overtime (at C.W. Post) and 70-67 (at Pace) and having lost against Southern New Hampshire (65-61) and at Bridgeport (65-61). Thus, the higher the score gets, the less likely the Golden Lions are to prevail.
Player to watch (that you might not expect): Christine Verrelle. The freshman guard has been terrific this season, helping push the Golden Lions to another level. Her versatility and poise have been crucial to the team’s success. Can she stay the course and produce the same level of play after a grinding season?
The University of the District of Columbia has certainly taken the ECC by storm, avoiding back-to-back losses this season despite going just 2-4 against the other top four clubs. Another team that loves to play at home (11-1), the Firebirds won big games against Holy Family and Goldey-Beacom and have not sustained a bad loss, with their setbacks against Dowling (twice), C.W. Post, St. Thomas Aquinas and Franklin Pierce. UDC likes an up-tempo game, as evidenced by the fact that they force the most turnovers in the conference. But they are subject to the negative side of that style, committing more miscues than any other playoff entrant in the loop while also being played to a draw on the glass by opponents. This is the most high-risk, high-reward team in the field but their track record this season leads one to believe they are not highly susceptible to an upset loss.
Playoff key: Consistent scoring depth. The Firebirds have scored fewer than 60 points eight times this season, going 3-5 in those games. In the five losses, UDC has had a cumulative total of seven players score double digits. If opponents can scuttle a couple of UDC’s regular scoring options they stand a pretty good chance of competing well and grabbing a win.
Player to watch (that you might not expect): Stacey Griffith. A solid, sometimes excellent post player, Griffith has length and skill in the paint. Having a force in the lane is a huge plus when it comes to post season play, and the Firebirds need her best work to lift the hardware.
Wacky describes the season St. Thomas Aquinas has endured. The Spartans were chosen to top the ECC in the league’s pre-season poll but stuttered out of the gate. It’s taken them quite a while to get rolling but once they have, they’ve become a team to fear. A six-game losing skid was soon followed by a seven-game win streak, so clearly momentum can be fickle. Consider the fact that STAC owns a win over surprise NE-10 power Southern Connecticut, and that they have beaten each of the other top four in the ECC this season. The Spartans do some things really well (low defensive field goal percentage, the fewest turnovers among the top four ECC teams and a solid 3-point defense) but struggle to score (among the worst in the league) and don’t shoot consistently (37% from the floor). There are no guarantees for anything where St. Thomas Aquinas is concerned, so given the fact the Spartans have never won the ECC playoff title, might as well be prepared to be surprised.
Playoff key: Lineup consistency. The Spartans ended the regular season on a seven-game winning streak with the five games employing the same starting five (Briana Sloper, Ashley Montrechuk, Sara Oliveira, Bianca Kowgios and Kim Vareles). Four of the wins have come against ECC playoff teams, so whatever works, go with it. Expect STAC to be a tough nut to crack with this quintet starting and solid bench help as support.
Player to watch (that you might not expect): Sara Oliveira. This sophomore guard from Portugal missed games earlier in the season but her inclusion as a primary rotation player who can shoot has been a boon to the Spartans. Big games from her open up the lane for others and make STAC a dangerous team.
Defending ECC champion C.W. Post has not enjoyed the consistency they might have expected this winter but they’ve proven on multiple occasions they can beat anyone. A three-game slide earlier this season and a stretch where they lost three out of four league road contests shows their flaws, as does a 2-4 record against the other top four ECC teams. But the Pioneers do have some big notches on their belt, including Bentley, Saint Rose, UDC, Felician, Caldwell and the University of the Sciences, and are a solid 10-2 on their own floor. C.W. Post can score (leading the league in points by more than six points a game), flourishes from 3-point land (percentage points from being best in the loop in treys 3-point percentage and one behind UDC for most 3FG’s) and has good size (best rebound margin in the league), attributes which generally lead to post-season success.
Playoff key: Rebounding. The Pioneers are dominant in this area so if they can keep it up, they stand a good chance to succeed. They out-rebound their opponents by more than nine a game overall and by nearly eleven an outing against ECC foes, leading to more shot attempts, almost eight more per contest. More rebounds, more shots, more points = recipe for success.
Player to watch (that you might not expect): Nicolette Marciniak. A multi-talented factor inside the lane, Marciniak is the ultimate glue player. While C.W. Post may have taller, faster, quicker players, and others who score more, Marciniak is a barometer of the teams’ success, working as hard as anyone on the glass (20 rebounds against STAC as evidence) and on defense.
This season has represented a big step forward for NYIT, enjoying its first playoff berth since the 2006-’07 season. Despite losing top inside threat Cierra Baker for a few weeks, the Bears hung in there and have been rewarded with a rare playoff berth. They’ve proven capable of beating good teams; C.W. Post and St. Thomas Aquinas are among their conquests in the league along with wins over Assumption, Dominican and Bellarmine in non-league tilts, but have run aground in recent times (3-6 in the last nine games). A team capable of scoring (one of the top three in the ECC) which shoots well (#2 in the league) can be successful but the Bears have to take advantage of their free throw chances (the worst in the league among tourney teams at the line) in order to knock off teams above them in the standings.
Playoff key: A return to form for Cierra Baker. The star post player was injured in mid-season and the Bears have struggled to regain their pre-Baker injury form. NYIT started the year 9-4 and had improved their depth considerably but the loss of Baker for about a month put a wrinkle in the works and forced the team to reconfigure. While they have recovered to a degree, the Bears need a prime Baker to make real noise.
Player to watch (that you might not expect): Rebecca Lynch. A player that can do it all (as a recent triple-double showed), Lynch is capable of taking over a game as a shooter, passer and rebounder. She’s not easy to defend and has skills along with confidence, making her a high-level wing player.
Molloy has the proverbial puncher’s chance in the ECC post-season. The Lions do a variety of things above average, including shooting the trey (#2 in the ECC), getting to the stripe and making free throws (tops in both categories per game), and defending the triple (#1 in the ECC). Yet they have their maladies (rebounding primary among them) and have not had the best of luck in close games (2-7 in games decided by single digits). Molloy has managed to claim wins over Dowling and St. Thomas Aquinas but generally they’ve not been successful against teams with superior records. Still, they have perked up lately, splitting their final eight games, and have to be respected, especially considering their recent history (league playoff champions twice since 2008).
Playoff key: Travel. Molloy won just two road games in the conference and those were at the bottom two teams, Mercy and Queens. Even their non-league road wins (Merrimack and Post) came against sub .500 clubs. The Lions did not score more than 68 points in any road loss, a worrying trend since they have surrendered that many or more ten times in away games. If the numbers hold, it’ll be a short post season for the Lions
Player to watch (that you might not expect): Nicole Arnone. Freshmen can drift in and out of the flow (and go virtually missing for numerous games) but Arnone has the talent level to turn a game. She can create shots and score in bunches; added to the arsenal the Lions already have, Arnone quietly scares foes.