RTC Conference Primers: #27 – Northeast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 8th, 2010

Ray Floriani of NBE Basketball Report and College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Quinnipiac (15-3)
  2. Long Island University (13-5)
  3. Robert Morris (13-5)
  4. Central Connecticut State (11-7)
  5. St. Francis (NY) (11-7)
  6. St. Francis (PA) (9-9)
  7. Wagner (9-9)
  8. Mount St. Mary’s (7-11)
  9. Fairleigh Dickinson (7-11)
  10. Monmouth (6-12)
  11. Sacred Heart (4-14)
  12. Bryant (3-15)

All Conference Team

  • Ricky Cadell (G) – St. Francis (NY)
  • James Johnson (G) – Quinnipiac
  • Justin Rutty (C) – Quinnipiac
  • Mike Scott (G) – Fairleigh Dickinson
  • Karon Abraham (G) – Robert Morris

Sixth Man

  • Will Felder (F)St. Francis (PA)

Impact Newcomer

  • Tevin Baskin (F) – Quinnipiac

Karon Abraham and the Colonials nearly upset Villanova in March, but how does Robert Morris stack up this year? (northjersey.com)

What You Need To Know

  • The NEC is a 12-team conference. Bryant plays a full conference slate but is two years away from eligibility for the conference crown. The top eight teams in the conference qualify for the postseason tournament. In the tournament, each individual game is contested at the home court of the higher seed.
  • In the past, the conference tried to move the tournament to a neutral site.  Another format saw opening rounds at the higher seed’s home with the ‘final four’ at one school. Following those experiments. the conference decided several years back to revert to the original format.
  • For one, it gives an almost certainty of solid attendance and better media coverage (even if it is only local) through the playoffs. More importantly, special meaning is given to the regular season right up until the final day. No going through the motions on the final night on a long road trip. Teams are playing not just to qualify, but also to put themselves in a position to host as many games as possible. Given the nature of home court edge in the college game, that is a major factor.
  • As is the case in any mid-major conference, a school will build for a contending run of a year or two, then slowly slip back as they reload. In the NEC, it seems as though Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s were battling it out for honors for the past decade. Robert Morris will slip a bit but still is a team to watch. “The Mount” will most likely fall back, regroup and be the one in that ‘rebuilding’ cycle.
  • Players come and go, and there is quite a turnover on the sidelines. Four new mentors are on board. Glenn Briaca, a former assistant, takes over at St. Francis (NY). Danny Hurley is on board at Wagner. Mike Rice exited Moon Township and headed to Rutgers. Former assistant Andrew Toole takes over at Robert Morris. Finally, Robert Burke is on board at Mount St. Mary’s. Technicalities aside, there is a fifth ’new’ coach, Greg Vetrone, who spent last season as an interim at Fairleigh Dickinson and is now the full time head coach.

Predicted Champion

  • Quinnipiac (NCAA Seed: #16). Narrowly missing their first NEC postseason title, the Bobcats are the conference favorite to cut down the nets come March. A strong returning cast labels Tom Moore’s group as the NEC favorite. James Feldeine, a solid shooting guard, exits but there are options in six-foot junior guard James Johnson as well as several newcomers. Back in the fold is James Rutty, a rebounding machine whom at 6’7 provides a formidable presence on the blocks. On paper, this was a deep ball club with multiple options. Not to rest on laurels, Moore had an outstanding recruiting class come in. The most noted is 6’6 forward Tevin Baskin, arguably the NEC’s brightest first year talent.

Contenders

  • LIU should emerge as a top threat to contend for NEC honors. Coach Jim Ferry has a veteran group with six players who logged 20 or more minutes an outing, so there is plenty of experience and depth to go around. Among that group, a go-to guy must emerge and a possible candidate is 6’5 senior guard Kyle Johnson. LIU will produce points and the inside game is respectable. Ferry is waiting on the return of Julian Boyd. The 6’7 sophomore sat out last year due to illness, but is ready to go. At full strength, Boyd will shore up the inside game and provide another viable offensive option.
  • Central Connecticut has been in a recent slump with three straight sixth place finishes. This season, Howie Dickenman expects to make the breakthrough and take a serious run at the top. The Blue Devils return eight of their top nine in the rotation. The key is the return to form of former all-NEC pick Ken Horton. The 6’6 junior forward sat out all last season with an injury. His return plus a Shemik Thompson/Robbie Ptacek backcourt, arguably the conference’s best, assure there will be no sixth place finish this season.
  • Also of note, Wagner should be a very interesting team to watch. There is some talent on hand and with the Hurleys (Danny the head coach and Bobby the assistant), this could be an overachieving club this season. Danny Hurley realizes recruiting is the key and he’s already made a mark in that area.
  • Robert Morris loses several veterans but return last year’s NEC Rookie of the Year Karon Abraham. Point guard Velton Jones is also back, which is another plus. The frontcourt is a question but this is a program with a recent tradition and culture of winning, something that factors very significantly.

Digging Deeper

  • Players do not come out of the NEC early to pursue the NBA. Dave Calloway of Monmouth lost an excellent player in Travis Taylor. The star forward transferred in the hope of more exposure and a look from David Stern’s league. In reality, Taylor may have been miffed that Calloway, in the midst of a losing season, suspended the sophomore several games for breaking team rules.
  • They bill it as “Breakfast with the NEC.” As part of ESPN’s November marathon, Monmouth will host Stony Brook at 6 AM while Robert Morris visits Kent State at 8 AM. Coffee, anyone ?
  • Mount St. Mary’s is in that proverbial rebuilding or reloading mode. Jeremy Goode fashioned an outstanding career at the point for the Mountaineers. He is gone, though, as is coach Milan Brown, who headed to Holy Cross. New mentor Robert Burke has two key veterans back in guard Jean Cajou and forward Shawn Atupem. Both are seniors certain to provide leadership beside their numbers. Burke’s main tasks are to find Goode’s successor at the point and handle a non-NEC slate that includes Dayton, Cincinnati, Penn State and Virginia Tech.

Key RPI Boosters

  • Nov. 15: Mount St. Mary’s at Cincinnati – The Mountaineers are a sleeper in the NEC, so a middle-of-the-road Big East team will provide a solid test.
  • Nov 23: Robert Morris at Pitt – Big East opponents have a hard enough time at the Petersen Events Center, let alone mid-majors, but this isn’t a long trip for the visiting Colonials looking to make a major splash.
  • Dec. 1: Wagner at St.John’s – Danny Hurley’s club hits the road for a tilt against St. John’s and their new head coach, Steve Lavin.
  • Dec. 8: Fairleigh Dickinson at UConn - Greg Vetrone has a few out-of-conference challenges for FDU; this is the toughest.
  • Dec. 20: St.Francis (NY) vs.  St.John’s at Madison Square Garden (Holiday Festival) – most recently, Glenn Briaca served on Norm Roberts’ staff at St.John’s. The new St. Francis mentor will face a number of his former players.
  • Dec. 22: Villanova at Monmouth – Monmouth gave Jay Wright’s team fits in the 2006 NCAA Tournament. Four seasons later, how do they measure?
  • Jan. 2:  St.Francis (PA) at North Carolina – A huge opportunity for the Red Flash in Chapel Hill

KenPom Corner

  • The NEC was a moderately paced conference, with no school averaging 70 possessions per game. The fastest teams were Quinnipiac and LIU (69 possessions) while the most deliberate was Bryant (63). That latter figure was no surprise, as the Bulldogs were 1-17 and avoided track meets during the season.
  • The best defensive efficiency rating (points per possession * 100) was posted by Mount St. Mary’s at 88. The Mount finished 12-6  in conference, but four of those losses were by six points or less. The next leading figures were turned in by the teams playing for the championship, Robert Morris at 91 followed by Quinnipiac with 94.
  • Only five of the conference membership broke 100 for offensive efficiency: Quinnipiac – 109, Robert Morris – 104, Mount St. Mary’s  - 102.8, Long Island- 102.7, Sacred Heart – 101.

NCAA Tournament  History

  • It is one and done in the Big Dance for NEC brethren but along the way, they have made things interesting. During the Tom Green era, Fairleigh Dickinson was anything but an easy out for the higher seeds. Four years ago, Monmouth gave Villanova a first round scare. Last season, the same Wildcats had to go an extra session to eliminate Robert Morris. Not every NEC appearance has been as competitive as the ones mentioned. Regardless, the top seeds know NEC opposition could make for an interesting and challenging 40 (or more) minutes.
  • All-time, the NEC stands at a gruesome 3-29, with no school having ever gone beyond the opening weekend.

Brian Goodman (746 Posts)

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


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