RTC Summer Updates: Northeast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 19th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest and final update comes courtesy of our NEC correspondent, Ray Floriani.

Summer Storylines

  • Monmouth Makes Noise – First came the hiring of King Rice to take over for Dave Calloway. Rice promises a significant upgrade, change in culture and return to winning ways for the New Jersey Shore-based school. To beef up its revenue stream, the university recently announced a partnership with New Jersey’s Millennium Radio Group. As part of the deal, all Monmouth games will be aired on WOBM-AM for the next three seasons. Each Monday, the King Rice Show will also be broadcast on the station. Finally, Monmouth accepted a bid to play in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Hawks will face Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in the East Regional. Other teams in that group are George Mason and Florida International.
  • Phenomenal Phelan: NEC Hall of Famer Jim Phelan will receive the Lapchick Character Award at Madison Square Garden. The former Mount St. Mary’s mentor joins Hall of Famer Pete Carril and Virginia women’s coach Debbie Ryan in receiving this year’s honor. The trio has enjoyed wonderful and winning careers punctuated with loyalty, longevity and success.
  • Red Flash Commemorates History: St. Francis (PA) looks to improve and be competitive in the NEC, but not without forgetting its past. St. Francis will honor the “Golden” basketball legacy between 1940 and 1970. Players from that area will be nominated and reviewed by a selection committee to be included in an extended wing of the St. Francis Hall of Fame. As 1970 alumnus Bob Moore said, “Small Catholic colleges, particularly in the East, ranked among the nation’s collegiate powers.  To pay tribute to those early players and the teams St. Francis produced is long overdue.”
  • Hurley Hunkers Down: Wagner head coach Danny Hurley is getting his teams exposed to the highest level and toughened up for league play. His Wagner club will visit 2011 NCAA Tournament representatives Princeton, UConn and Pittsburgh on the road.  The Seahawks will also travel to the Cable Car Classic out west in December. Wagner opens that tournament with Air Force before facing Santa Clara or Eastern Michigan in the next round.
  • More of Moore: Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore was awarded a well-deserved extension through the 2015-16 season. Terms of the pact were not disclosed. Moore led Quinnipiac to 23 victories and a NEC regular season title in 2010.

CCSU's Ken Horton Leads The Charge For The Blue Devils. (CCSUBlueDevils.com)

Looking Ahead

The Northeast Conference historically prides itself on parity. There was a stretch a few years ago where the title seemed to be a perennial race between Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s, but in recent years, this has been a fairly wide-open league.  This season, Central Connecticut gets the nod as the favorite, but don’t be surprised to see a team like Wagner, picked fifth in this early look, make a run. Durability, chemistry and development and working in newcomers are all factors. The second division is a tough call as well. The seven through twelve teams are not ready to contend. Their own order can change and on that given night, they could surprise a front runner or hopeful contender.

Power Rankings

  1. Central Connecticut – A strong 19-12 campaign ended with a two-point loss at eventual champion LIU in the NEC semifinals. A talented guard  in Shemik Thompson (12.4 PPG) is gone. Howie Dickenman has strong returning personnel, however, led by another excellent player, senior guard Ken Horton, the NEC‘s Player of the Year last season.  Horton averaged 19.5 points per game while grabbing 8.9 rebounds an outing.  Senior guard Bobby Ptacek can score (14.9 PPG) while junior guard Devan Bailey (78 assists/50 turnovers) rounds out another solid nucleus for the Blue Devils.
  2. LIU – Coach Jim Ferry listened, but in the end, decided not to make the move to the Bronx and Manhattan College. Ferry will stay in Brooklyn and have another talented group on hand. Last season, the Blackbirds posted an impressive 27-6 mark en route to the NEC title before being disposed by North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The uptempo Blackbirds played at the fifth-fastest pace (76 possessions per game)  in the nation last season. They can keep their feet on the gas pedal this season, given a largely veteran cast back headed by 6’7″ Julian Boyd (13 PPG). Another 6’7″ junior, Jamal Olaswere, also lends experience up front. Olasewere averaged nearly 13 points per game and grabbed 224 boards. He needs to cut down on his 118 fouls and 106 turnovers, though. In the backcourt, Ferry has options 5’10” senior C.J. Garner (9.5 PPG) returning. They will have to step up if the Blackbirds hope to repeat.
  3. Robert Morris Andy Toole did an excellent job last season. Taking over for Rutgers-bound Mike Rice, Toole guided the Colonials to an 18-14 record and led them to the NEC title game, where they dropped a tough OT contest to LIU. The Colonials were a team that improved as the season progressed, winning eight straight prior to the NEC title game. The 6’0″ Velton Jones (12.1 PPG and 127 assists last season) and 6’6″ Russell Johnson (11 PPG) combined for over 50% of the Colonial possessions last season and both return. Leading scorer Karon Abraham (13.9 PPG) is suspended for the season following his April DUI arrest. His loss hurts, but will not devastate Toole’s group. Added help from 6’7″ junior Lijah Thompson (8.6 PPG, 4.4 RPG) is needed up front. Overall, the Colonials are a sound team certain to be heard from this season.
  4. Quinnipiac – The strength is in the guards. The ‘Johnson & Johnson’ duo of junior Dave at the point and senior James, a 16.1 PPG scorer. Justin Rutty is out up front after an outstanding career, so Jamee Jackson, a 6’7″  forward who averaged 6.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per outing last season, will be given the opportunity to take up the slack left by Rutty’s departure. The Bobcats were 22-9 a year ago and were upset at home by Robert Morris in a two-point contest in the NEC semifinals. Their season then ended with a first-round loss to Buffalo in the  CIT. The recent success will continue under Tom More’s guidance this season, but after 59 % of their scoring came from inside the arc last season, expect a more perimeter-oriented group in 2011-12.
  5. Wagner – Returning are the two top scorers both at the guard position. 6’5″ senior Tyler Murray (16.9 PPG, 138 rebounds)  teams with 6’1″ sophomore Latif Rivers (13.9 PPG) to give Danny Hurley a strong backcourt. Another strong option at guard is 5’11” Chris Martin, a capable scorer who also handed out 106 assists against 81 turnovers. Up front, 6’8″ Orlando Parker (7.5 PPG and a team-leading 147 rebounds) and Josh Thompson (7.3 PPG) are proven and solid. Hurley will look to some newcomers to emerge as contributors to help the aforementioned duo.
  6. Monmouth – King Rice has big plans for making Monmouth a consistent power to be reckoned with. The new Hawk mentor greets one double-digit scorer from last year, 6’7″ senior Mike Keitt Meyers (10.1 PPG). Also on board are two other seniors , 6’6″ Gary Cox and 5’10” Will Campbell (8.6 PPG). Ed Waite, a 6’5″  junior who averaged just under double figures (9.2 PPG) also adds experience. A replacement will be needed at point guard for James Hett (199 assists/49 turnovers), though.
  7. Bryant – The Bulldogs finished at 9-21 last year and made another move to respectability. Bryant was very perimeter-oriented with 36% of their scoring coming from beyond the arc. Unfortunately, they didn’t fare much better than their opponents, as Bryant let up 33% of the opposition’s points from downtown, so Tim O’Shea’s club must address perimeter defense. Back in the fold are sophomores Alex Francis and Matthew Lee, as well as 6’3″ junior Frankie Dobbs.  Help is needed up front as O’Shea looks to 6’8″ junior Vladyslav Kondratyev for a better campaign and 6’10” freshman Ben Altit, a member of the Isreali National Team.
  8. Mount St. Mary’s – A regular competitor for the title in recent seasons, personnel changes saw the Mount fall back to the pack last season, finishing at 11-21. Coach Robert Burke has senior guard Lamar Trice (13.3 PPG) , the NEC’s Most Improved Player last season, back on board. Trice used 29% of team possessions and took 31% of the shots. After him, though, it is a group that is still learning and developing. Simply, a return to contention is still a work in progress at Emmitsburg.
  9. Sacred Heart – The Pioneers finished 10-18 last season and hope to rebound from that campaign. Junior guard Shane Gibson (16 PPG) is back and represents one of the NEC’s finest talents. Veteran coach Dave Bike has sophomore guard Chris Evans back after scoring an impressive nine points per game as a freshman. Up front, though, questions remain. How well they are addressed will determine the extent of improvement over a year ago.
  10. Fairleigh Dickinson – The Knights fell hard to 5-24 last season. What needs improvement ? A little of everything. Their offensive efficiency was 91 while the defense was a far-too-generous 109 for a -18 efficiency margin, so one can’t be too surprised by the disappointing campaign. Coach Greg Vetrone loses three key players in guards Mike Scott, Terrence Grier and forward Kamil Svrdlik. Guard Briahn Smith (6.1 PPG) is probably the most experienced returnee. There are newcomers who will have to contribute. One certain to watch is 6’3″ Melquan Bolding, formerly of Duquesne, a likely impact player in the NEC.
  11. St.Francis (NY) – Glenn Briaca loses a lot with the departure of the Ricky Cadell/Akeem Bennett backcourt. The pair accounted for almost 55% of the Terriers possessions last winter. Sophomore Dre Calloway and junior Travis Nichols appear ready to step into the backcourt. In the frontcourt, Briaca will look to 6’6″ Stefan Perunicic and 6’6″ Akeem Johnson. The biggest adjustment obviously will be in the revamped back line.
  12. St.Francis (PA) – The Red Flash finished 9-21, suffering through losing streaks of 11 and six games in 2010-11. Any long winning droughts of this nature must be avoided this season. An improvement of an atrocious 110 defensive efficiency of a year ago would be a start. Returning is junior guard Umar Shannon the team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game. Shannon also played 80% of the team minutes and used 25% of the possessions, and will likely be ridden hard again. Coach Don Friday should get added contributions from another pair of juniors, guards Chris Johnson (8.3 PPG) and Anthony Ervin (7.2 PPG). What Friday needs is inside help to shore up a frontcourt that had a nearly -3 rebound per game margin last year.

Mark Your Calendar

Sacred Heart will play four games in the Cancun Challenge. The Pioneers will visit Rutgers and Richmond in mid-November. When the backdrop warms up south of the border, Sacred Heart will face Hampton and then either SIU Edwardsville or Lipscomb.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

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

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