Summer School in the NEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 2nd, 2010

Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC conferences.

Around the NEC

  • The NEC will have a different look this fall with coaching changes abound, including two of the top three schools from last season (conference champs Robert Morris and third-place finisher Mount St. Mary’s) undergoing changes at the helm.
  • Mount St. Mary’s head man Jim Phelan never had to go through a change of address during his tenure, but Mountaineer fans will miss him and his famous bow tie pacing along the sideline. Phelan retired after last season, capping a career during which he amassed 834 wins over nearly half a century, all of which was spent in Emmitsburg.
  • Postseason success remains hard for the NEC to come by. Despite Robert Morris giving Villanova all they could handle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats escaped with a 73-70 overtime victory, leaving the NEC with an all-time 3-29 record in the Big Dance.

James Feldeine may be gone, but Quinnipiac is positioned to for a run at the NEC title.

Power Rankings:

  1. Quinnipiac: The Bobcats lost a heartbreaker in the NEC final to Robert Morris, but a strong returning cast labels Tom Moore’s group as the NEC favorite heading into the fall. James Feldeine, the team’s leading scorer at 16.5 PPG game last season, exits, but Justin Rutty and James Johnson make for a returning duo who will bring their combined 27 PPG back to Hamden. Rutty, who averaged a double-double last year, also makes a living on the glass and is one of the best offensive rebounders in the college game. Seniors Jonathan Cruz and Deonte Twyman will also be counted upon to make key contributions.
  2. Robert Morris: The Colonials promoted assistant Andrew Toole when Mike Rice exited for a Rutgers program in shambles. As is often the case with coaches who guide mid-major teams to successful runs, Rice’s departure for a higher-profile school comes as one of the more predictable moves in the off-season. He had a solid three year run at Robert Morris capped off by a near upset of two seed Villanova in the NCAA tournament opening round.  Toole is fortunate in that Rice’s recruits stayed committed to RMU when he exited, a definite benefit of promoting from within. Toole was able to finish off the recruiting class over the spring and summer months, and Toole is confident they will mesh with the returnees to continue the recent success.
  3. Mount Saint Mary’s – Losses include outstanding lead guard Jeremy Goode. The Mountaineers also lose an accomplished player and double digit scorer in 6’5 Kelly Beidler.  Paramount among those need replacing is assistant coach Milan Brown who accepted the head coaching position at Holy Cross. Robert Burke, an American University assistant last winter and former Georgetown aide, is on board to replace Brown. The Mount has enjoyed recent success and Burke has a solid coaching pedigree. A lead guard replacement for Goode is a primary concern entering this season, and Jean Cajou, a returning starter, will look to fill that hole as a senior.
  4. Wagner – This is one of the more interesting clubs to watch. On board to take over the coaching reins for Mike Dean is Danny Hurley. He ran an outstanding program at prep power St. Benedict’s and has added older brother Bobby Hurley, Jr., as an assistant. Hurley attracted talent at St. Benedict’s and is beginning to do the same at the Staten Island school. Make no mistake though, Danny Hurley can coach and has great resources in his older brother and father, the latter being the best high school coach in America. The only appreciable loss is Micheal Orock, an undersized but hard-working double figure scoring post player. The four-spot might admittedly be generous, but with this kind of coaching turnover, the middle of the pack is wide open.
  5. St. Francis (PA): The Red Flash must make up for the 16 PPG brought to the table by Devin Sweetney, lost via graduation. There is a solid group of seven experienced returnees returning as well as a number of talented recruits, led by the inside-outside tandem of Kameron Ritter and Scott Eatherton, plus one of the best names in college hoops in 6’11 post man Storm Stanley. The Red Flash will embark on an ambitious nonconference schedule which includes meetings with North Carolina, Cincinnati and Ohio, who toppled Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Two years ago, St. Francis won three NEC games. Last season, they finished 9-9, so head coach Don Finlay will look to make the leap from simply being competitive to contending for the conference crown.
  6. Central Connecticut: A .500 team in conference play last season, the Blue Devils were set to return virtually every player of significance, but will have to weather a storm right from the opening tip. Senior forward David Simmons, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, will be gone for at least half the season for personal reasons. On the positive side, Howie Dickenman remains optimistic with four incoming freshman, all eligible academically and all set to contribute. Ten different players started games for the Blue Devils in 2009-10, so Dickenman will have to plow through Simmons’ absence and find some stability if his team is to be successful.
  7. Sacred Heart – Two of the top four scorers, including leader Cory Hassan at 19.2 PPG, are gone, which is a big loss for a team that finished 7-11 in conference play last season. Liam Potter, a seven-footer who contributed nine points per outing, also leaves. Potter represented size for the Pioneers, who may be going small in their approach this winter, but returning forwards Mehmet Sahan and Nick Greenbacker will look to fill the post with some much-needed production.
  8. St.Francis (NY) – New coach Glen Braica won’t have to worry about backcourt point production. The Ricky CadellAkeem Bennett guard combination combined for over 30 points per game last season. The frontcourt is a different matter, where the Terriers are literally short on scoring and rebounding experience. Braica and his staff hit the recruiting trail hard in the spring and brought in a group that he feels can contribute immediately, reeling in a pair of juco transfers to complement a pair of players from the high school ranks. Among the four newcomers, 6’8 Matt Milk could be an answer up front.
  9. Long Island: There’s some good news as well as bad news for the Blackbirds, The good news is that they’ll lose just one senior, but the bad news is that it was leading scorer Jaytornah Wisseh. Wisseh’s 17.6 PPG will be missed, but coach Jim Ferry returns six players who logged 20 or more minutes an outing, he has experience and depth to make the Blackbirds competitive again. Among that group, however, a go-to guy must emerge and a possible candidate is 6’5 senior guard Kyle Johnson, the team’s leading scorer among returning players.
  10. Fairleigh Dickinson: Greg Vetrone was able to shed the interim tag and was named the new head coach at FDU after season’s end. The Knights started with a horrendous pre-conference showing before settling down and finishing 10-8 in the league, advancing to the conference quarterfinals. Job one for Vetrone is replacing guard Sean Baptiste and Alvin Mofunanya, a respectable inside player. Doing so will go a long way towards making the Knights competitive again.
  11. Monmouth – Drama on the Jersey shore isn’t limited to the MTV reality show. Player defections have hit Monmouth hard, the latest being Travis Taylor, who transferred to Xavier. In April, forwards Dutch Gaitley and George Barbour also announced they would leave the program. June saw guard Justin Sofman decide a similar course.  Taylor’s departure was especially devastating, as he led the team in scoring and rebounding and was one of the NEC’s top players. Amongst the chaos, 7’1 St. John’s transfer Phil Wait played well in limited time, and Will Campbell will help to shoulder the load on offense.
  12. Bryant – The Bulldogs have nowhere to go but up, finishing last season with but a single victory. There are a few personnel losses, but among those back is 6‘8 Vladyslav Kondratyev, the leading scorer from last season at 8.9 PPG. At press time there were no commitments. It appears to be another long year for Tim O’Shea at the Rhode Island school as he looks to make the program competitive as a D-I school. Bryant has three years before they become eligible to make the NCAA Tournament in 2012-13, so it may be interesting to see how long athletic department leadership sticks with O’Shea and his unenviable 9-50 record through the growing pains.

What’s Next:

  • The NEC is a one-bid league and probably will remain as such. RMU’s tournament scare of Villanova goes a long way toward recognition, respect and hopefully a higher seed in the future.
  • A number of schools added high-profile programs on their nonconference schedule. Lining up against a stronger opponent who can get you ready for conference play and the opportunity for a resume boost can be a major asset to a team’s tournament chances, not to mention the cash doled out by the major programs. It is a wise move on the part of conference membership, who want to improve the NEC’s conference RPI of 29.
  • An oft-heard criticism regarding the league is the NEC ‘plays in glorified high school gyms.’  To their credit, NEC schools are taking a long look at their home courts. Within the past decade, LIU unveiled an impressive new home, Quinnipiac opened a new place a few years ago and last season, Monmouth unveiled a beautiful new venue.
Brian Goodman (966 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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