NEC Wrap & Tourney PreviewPosted by Brian Goodman on March 3rd, 2011
Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC conferences. With the tournament set to tip Thursday, get up to speed on the NEC with the following wrap-up and postseason preview.
The Northeast Conference postseason tournament tips off Thursday with four quarterfinal games. In the NEC, only the top eight finishers qualify for postseason play, and each game is played on the home court of the higher seed. On Sunday there will be two semifinals and the final will be aired on ESPN the following Wednesday.
Aside from St. John’s recapturing New York City, LIU might be getting headlines as the New York area’s best shot at getting into the Big Dance. The Blackbirds are “flying” under the radar, but that’s fine with coach Jim Ferry. They just go out and win. The first order of business is to win the conference tournament. The NEC is a one-bid league and even their 24 win season, impressive as it is, would not earn an at-large invite. LIU is an uptempo 75 possession team. Their TO rate is 21%, but they only force opponents into a 20% on the defensive end. Don’t be fooled by that defensive number regarding turnovers. The Blackbirds play solid defense as shown by their 98 defensive efficiency. On the offensive end, their efficiency is a 109. The margin, offense minus defense, a very healthy +11 for all games. Another of the Four Factors that stands out is free throw rate. LIU checks in at 51% while opponents are 26%. Simply, Ferry’s club does not allow their opponents to get to the line. Looking at individual pace, LIU dictates as a number of their games have been contested at a rapid 70 possession or more tempo.
Last year, the nation found out about the NEC as Robert Morris took second-seed Villanova to OT before losing in the NCAAs. Historically, teams representing the conference haven’t been the easiest out for highly regarded opposition. LIU fits that mold perfectly.
The Latest: Barely 24 hours passed after Monmouth’s 9-21 season came to an end when Dave Calloway was shown the door. Calloway was head coach at the New Jersey based school for 14 years. Since 1987 he spent his life associated with Monmouth – first as a player, than an assistant to Wayne Szoke and finally as head coach. During his tenure on the bench as head coach, the Hawks captured three NEC titles and appeared in the NCAA Tournament on those occasions. The last four years have seen a 48-105 record including 30-60 in conference. This season was the third in the last five the Hawks failed to qualify for the NEC tournament. The latter seasons have also seen player transfers and with the opening of Monmouth’s brand new facility last year, the administration felt a change was needed. A national search is planned, but two New Jersey names have surfaced. Geoff Billet, the coach at nearby Christian Brothers Academy. A former Rutgers player and Monmouth aide is mentioned in the mix. as is Kevin Boyle, the head coach of prep power St. Pat’s in Elizabeth.
A Look Back
Player of the Year: Ken Horton, Central Connecticut – Missed last year with a hip injury, the 6’7 senior forward came back even stronger to earn the Player of the Year accolades. Horton has the ability to work in the paint or on the perimeter. Horton led in NEC scoring with 20 points and 1.6 blocks per game. The five-time Player of the week selection also led with 12 double-doubles.
All Conference Team: (joining Horton)
- Justin Rutty, Quinnipiac – A junior forward, Rutty is a handful on the boards. He averaged 14.5 points and 9.1 rebounds. He missed several games mid-season with an elbow injury, but is back at full strength. The Bobcats are 18-4 with Rutty in the lineup, a tribute to his value.
- Ricky Cadell, St. Francis (NY) – Closed out the season with four 20+ point games. The final game saw him become St. Francis’ all time leading scorer. A deadly outside shooter, Cadell averaged 16.1 points and on his career has 222 treys.
- Julian Boyd, LIU – Missed last year with a hear ailment after earning Rookie of the Year honors in ‘09. The 6’7 Boyd returned to form averaging, nine rebounds per outing. Deadly in transition, Boyd was second in the conference with ten double-doubles and shot 53% from the floor.
- James Johnson, Quinnipiac– The versatile 6’0 guard makes the Bobcats go. He ranks in the NEC top fifteen in six categories. Johnson plays the point, but can fill it up when needed. He averaged 16.3 points per game and had a 2.43 assist/turnover ratio.
- Tyler Murray, JR G , Wagner
- Shane Gibson, RSO G, Sacred Heart
- Umar Shannon, SO G, St. Francis (PA)
- Lamar Trice, JR G, Mount St. Mary’s
- Cecil Gresham, SR F, Bryant
- Latif Rivers, FR G, Wagner
- Jason Brickman, FR G, LIU
Defensive Player of the Year: Akeem Bennett, St. Francis (NY) – The senior guard averaged 2.8 steals per game to pace the NEC and rank eighth nationally. In addition, Bennett blocked 17 shots.
Rookie of the Year: Alex Francis, Bryant – The 6’6 Bryant Bulldog was the only freshman to pace his team in point production. Largely responsible for Bryant’s improvement, Francis averaged 14.8 points and 8 rebounds a game. The versatile Francis also exploded for 43 points against LIU in late February, The largest NEC individual scoring outburst in nine years.
Coach of the Year: Danny Hurley, Wagner and Tim O’Shea, Bryant – The popular choice is Jim Ferry at Long Island. He’s done a great job, but the Blackbirds were a one or two choice pre-season. At Bryant, Tim O’Shea continued the rebuilding effort. A one-win team last season the Bulldogs went from 1-29 overall to 9-21. Their conference record was 7-11. Bryant is still not eligible for NEC post season but in the regular season they were markedly competitive.
Danny Hurley engineered one of the best improvements in the country. Wagner went from a five win to thirteen win team this season. The eight-game advantage put the Seahawks back in the conference post season tournament. Since taking over at the Staten Island school, Hurley has made recruiting inroads of significance. That bodes well for the future. In the first season under Hurley, Wagner’s present was quite positive as well.
- LIU (24-5, 16-2): The Blackbirds have sent researchers to the record books. They earned their first regular season NEC title since 1997-98. The 16 conference wins is a school record and the 24 is the most since 25 were posted in 1941-42 under legendary Clair Bee. The Blackbirds are hosting as top seed and are 23-4 at home the past three years. The balanced attack is led by junior forward Julian Boyd with 13.1 PPG.
- Quinnipiac (21-8, 13-5): The Bobcats have a strong recent tournament history. The NEC runner-up last March, Quinnipiac has reached the semifinals three of the past four seasons. They enter the tournament with momentum, a six game winning streak. Outstanding senior forward Justin Rutty also was strong in the stretch. Rutty averaged a double-double, 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game the final weekend.
- Robert Morris (16-13, 12-6): The Colonials are attempting the become the first program to win three consecutive NEC post season titles. They are traditionally tough at home with a 10-2 record this season at “The Chuck.” By the luck of the draw, they face a Wagner team they defeated at the same location in the regular season final on Saturday. In the game, freshman guard Coron Williams scored a career-high 26 points in place of the injured Karon Abraham.
- Central Connecticut (18-11, 11-7): Had the dubious distinction of dropping the last three regular season games, yet still earned a four-seed. The Blue Devils have qualified for 13 straight NEC tournaments, the longest streak in conference. The marquee player is junior forward Ken Horton. He has the numbers and has been on a tear of late. Horton is averaging 23 points, 10.6 rebounds over the last eight contests. The backcourt of senior Shemik Thompson and junior Bobby Ptacek is dangerous as well.
- St. Francis (NY) (15-14, 10-8): The Terriers are on a four-game win streak and will be a dangerous first round opponent despite taking to the road. St. Francis is enjoying their highest tournament seed since 2004. The Ricky Cadell-Akeem Bennett backcourt is a mainstay and dangerous on both ends of the floor. The Terriers have a 20% TO rate, but force their opposition into a 25% clip.
- Wagner (13-16, 9-9): A pleasant turnaround under new coach Danny Hurley. As of a week ago the Seahawks could have been high as second in the standings. At any rate they are back in the tournament following a year’s absence. The backcourt of freshman Latif Rivers and junior Tyler Murray is one to watch. Rivers, an 88% free throw shooter, can be a key when Wagner protects small leads late in a game.
- Mount St. Mary’s (11-20, 9-9): The Mount defeated St. Francis (PA) in the season finale, but comes into the tournament having dropped four of their last five games. The Mountaineers have reached at least the semifinals four straight years but that streak will be tough to extend. Junior guard Lamar Trice has been a pleasant surprise. Trice averaged 1.9 points per game last year and currently leads the Mount averaging 13.5 per outing this season.
- St. Francis (PA): (9-20, 7-11): The Red Flash appear in the tournament for the second straight season but have not won a game since 1995. St. Francis is one of two NEC teams to knock off LIU this season. They did it in Loretto and will be hard-pressed to duplicate the feat in Brooklyn. Sophomore guard Umar Shannon is a dangerous threat from three. He averaged 18.5 points in NEC play and knocked down 50 treys against conference opponents.