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Northeast Basketball: 2020 conference tournament preview and predictions

LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: Guard Raiquan Clark #23 of the LIU Sharks shoots a free throw during the second half of the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 24, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 24: Guard Raiquan Clark #23 of the LIU Sharks shoots a free throw during the second half of the college basketball game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 24, 2019 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images) /
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Northeast basketball
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 08: Raiquan Clark #23 of Long Island Sharks (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images) /

Key players for the Northeast Conference Tournament

Raiquan Clark (RS SR)- Long Island

2019-20 stats: 19.9 ppg – 7.5 rpg – 1.6 apg

Raiquan Clark is a strong, 6-foot-6 wing who has been putting up buckets at Long Island University for quite some time now. In Year 5 at LIU, Clark is having one of his most efficient seasons.

Clark is putting 19.9 points per game, has a 20.2 PER, respectable 56.4 True Shooting percentage, and is averaging more minutes per game (35.8). He uses a combination of slick ballhandling skills a quick first step, and his physical strength to get the free-throw line at-will (7.1 free throw attempts per game). Clark is still a so-so shooter from deep, but he is knocking down a career-high 32.9% of his 3-point attempts so he will present a threat from all over the floor. Simply put, if Long Island goes far in the Northeast basketball tournament, it is because Clark went on a big-time scoring barrage.

E.J. Anosike (JR) – Sacred Heart

2019-20 stats: 15.9 ppg – 11.6 rpg – 1.8 apg

E.J. Anosike is a physical forward, who at 6-foot-6, 245 lbs. is still very capable of being a bowling ball on the court with his physicality and penchant for bumping off of his defenders. He also has excellent speed and can wear out opposing big men with his ability to run the floor.

The 2018-19 All-NEC team member has stepped up his output this season scoring 15.9 points per game (1.6 points per game more than last season) and despite a dip in 3-point percentage (26.3% on 2.5 attempts per game), he is still an inside-output threat on the floor. Anosike is averaging a career-high 5.6 free throws per game and shooting 73.1% on them. He has a great chance of putting Sacred Heart on his back as they head through what is the more favorable side of the bracket in this writer’s opinion.

Defensively, Anosike isn’t a huge shot-blocker (0.8% block rate) but he is a big-time rebounder, grabbing 11.6 rebounds per game (23% defensive rebound rate). He is also collecting a career-best 1.0 steals per game. Sacred Heart has had a nice three-year improvement with Anosike at the center of it all and he has a chance to punctuate with an NEC title if he plays at peak efficiency in March.

Josh Williams (SR)- Robert Morris

2019-20 stats:12.8 ppg – 4.3 rpg – 2.7 apg

Robert Morris was thrilled when they found out that guard Josh Williams transferred to their school for the 2018-19 season and he did not disappoint. Williams was All-NEC in 2019 and now he has improved although his raw scoring numbers have gone down. Williams is at 12.8 points per game but has a career-best 16.6% assist rate and is hitting 41.2% of his 3-point attempts.

The combination of his shooting and playmaking makes Williams extremely tough to guard. Williams is averaging a career-high in field goal percentage (42) and steals per game (1.1), so he has an impact on the defense too. The Colonials are going to need both the Williams brothers (Jon Williams and Josh) to play well but Josh is undoubtedly the key as the Colonials will need proper floor space for AJ Bramah (13 points per game) and co. to flourish.

Isaiah Blackmon (SR) – Saint Francis (PA)

2019-20 stats: 19.2 ppg – 5.4 rpg – 1.6 apg

Isaiah Blackmon is an explosive scoring guard, capable of exploding to the rim using his athleticism or pulling up from deep with great success.

He is shooting a career-best 42.8% from 3-point range on an aggressive 6.7 attempts per game. He is dangerous in pick-and-roll actions though at 6-foot-1 there are limits to who he can finish over the top of, making his 31.9% free throw rate all the more important.  Blackmon can shoot his team out of a game but he is just as likely to go supernova from the field and lead his to team to victory.

Keith Braxton (SR)- Saint Francis (PA)

2019-20 stats: 17.2 ppg – 7.5 rpg – 3.7 apg

On Saturday, Keith Braxton made a huge piece of Northeast Conference history. He became the first player in Northeast basketball history to collect 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in their career.

The 2018-19 Northeast Conference Player of the Year has racked up those figures with confidence in his 3-point shot, high-energy when tracking down boards, and the empowerment from his coaching staff to attack at-will.

Braxton is an uber-confident shooter off the dribble and though he is only shooting 32.4% from 3-point range this season, the mere threat of his shot opens up driving lanes. On top of his scoring prowess, the 6-foot-5 Braxton actually serves as his team’s primary playmaker. He leads the Red Flash in both assists per game (3.7) and assist percentage (19.8). Braxton’s multifaceted game is what allows him and Blackmon to form a powerful 1-2 punch for the Red Storm, who have the best offense in the Northeast basketball conference via KenPom.