RTC Conference Primers: #20 – Northeast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 17th, 2011

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

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Coaches Enjoy Honors: In September, Mount St. Mary’s coach Robert Burke coached in the Congressional County All-Star Classic. Burke coached a team of members of Congress while George Washington mentor Mike Lonergan guided a team of lobbyists.  The game was at GW’s Smith Center. Hopefully Burke did not allow his ‘club’ a lengthy recess. In other news, Wagner assistant Bobby Hurley was inducted into the Duke University Hall of Fame in September. Hurley scored over 1,700 points, handed out an NCAA record 1,076 assists and led Duke to two national titles during his playing days (19989-93).
  • A Long-Awaited Repeat In The NEC? Long Island is attempting to become the first NEC school in nearly two decades to successfully defend its conference title. The last? Current  MAAC  member Rider, which captured the NEC crown in 1993 and 1994.

Can LIU Capture the Blackbird Magic Again? (credit: NY Post)

  • The Numbers Game: Among starters lost, FDU and Quinnipiac lead the way with three each. It’s a matter of perception. FDU, coming off a five-win season, can look at this as a fresh start. Quinnipiac, a 22-win team from a season ago, has spots to replace. Tom Moore has options as he has the Bobcats primed for another run. The program with the least amount of starters lost? Wagner. The Seahawks, coming off an encouraging 9-9 conference slate good for a sixth-place tie, have every starter back on board.
  • Sacred Heart Mourns Loss Of Former Star: On a sad note, Sacred Heart is mourning the passing of Chauncey Hardy, a prolific player for the Pioneers from 2006-10. Hardy scored over 1,200 points during his Sacred Heart career and was playing professionally overseas in Romania at the time of his tragic death, which came after Hardy was assaulted in a pub.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. LIU (27-6, 16-2 NEC)
  2. Quinnipiac (22-10, 13-5 NEC)
  3. Robert Morris (18-14, 12-6 NEC)
  4. Central Connecticut (19-12, 11-7 NEC)
  5. St. Francis (NY) (15-15, 10-8 NEC)
  6. Mount St. Mary’s (11-21, 9-9 NEC)
  7. Wagner (13-17, 9-9 NEC)
  8. St. Francis (PA) (9-21, 7-11 NEC)
  9. Bryant (9-21, 7-11 NEC)
  10. Sacred  Heart (11-18, 6-12 NEC)
  11. Monmouth (9-21, 5-13 NEC)
  12. Fairleigh Dickinson (5-24, 3-15 NEC)

Predicted Champion

Long Island (NCAA Seed: #15) – What we know… they are the defending champions and coach Jim Ferry has another strong group on hand. LIU’s sustained success is dependent on production from a tested cast that includes senior forward Julian Boyd (13.0 PPG, 8.9 RPG last season). The Blackbirds also won 13 games on the road last season. That poise in enemy territory will remain necessary if a NEC title repeat is in order.

Top Contenders

  • Quinnipiac – This program under the tutelage of Tom Moore has been one of the NEC’s most successful in recent years, with a record of 45-20 (28-8 in conference play) over the last two seasons. The Bobcats have yet to cut down the nets in a conference final, but they’re strong contenders this season, led by James Johnson. This year the Bobcats should once again challenge. Rebounding will be a question mark, though.  A superb force on the glass in the form of Justin Rutty is gone. The Bobcats need to shore up that area quickly. The answer may come largely from 6’6” sophomore Ike Azotam, a part time player with a 5.4 rebounding norm a year ago.
  • Robert Morris – The Colonials came on strong in the latter part of the season, winning nine of their final 11 games and advancing all the way to the conference championship.  Coach Andy Toole will be without the services of leading scorer Karon Abraham, out for the year due to disciplinary reasons. The Colonials will look to their remaining talent to pick up the slack. One notable is junior guard Velton Jones, who averaged 12 points per game and handed out 127 assists a year ago.

Watch Out For…

    • Central Connecticut – The Blue Devils are coming off a streaky year. Though they started 4-5, they went on to win 13 of 15 games before losing five of their last seven. One weapon they have in their back pocket is POY favorite Ken Horton and a tested coach in Howie Dickenman.  Horton (19.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG) will need another outstanding season, but he cannot go it alone. The supporting cast, including senior guard Bobby Ptacek (14.9 PPG) must contribute on a regular basis.

There's No Doubting Ken Horton's Talent, But Can He Propel His Team To The Big Dance? (CCSUBlueDevils.com)

  • St. Francis (NY) – The glass-half-empty crowd says the top two scorers from last season are gone. The more optimistic fans will reminds us that three starters return from a respectable team, including Stefan Perunicic and Dre Calloway. What the Terriers need is help from newcomers like Ben Mockford, a guard who transferred in from Iona.
  • Mount St. Mary’s - We knew there would be a drop-off from contention of recent seasons. Still, the Mountaineers finished .500 in conference play and can build on that momentum in the coming campaign. How will senior guard Lamar Trice (13.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG) follow up on his stellar junior season? A return to form by senior guard Pierre Brown, sidelined with an injured foot last year, would also be a welcome addition.
  • Wagner – There’s reason to keep tabs on this squad, as virtually everyone is back from a team that improved under the guidance of then-first-year coach Danny Hurley. Steady improvement will keep the Seahawks on the right track. While Hurley’s group will not sneak up on anyone this year, more will be expected with a year of experience in his system. Tyler Murray (16.9 PPG) and Latif Rivers (13.9 PPG) is as productive a duo as any the conference has to offer.
  • St. Francis (PA) - The Red Flash have not had a winning season in seven years. The seven-year-itch could be relieved as the top four scorers return for Don Friday’s team. Umar Shannon, a junior guard who averaged 15.8 points per contest last season is the top threat on offense. Shannon will need continued support in the scoring column and an inside game will have to surface in order for the Red Flash to muster a winning season.
  • Bryant - Tim O’Shea has gradually and patiently built a program that has moved up the ladder in the conference. Continued improvement from top scorers Frankie Dobbs (12.4 PPG), a junior guard, and sophomore forward Alex Francis (14.8 PPG) figure to be the key storylines for one of the newer D-I programs in the country. Ben Altit, a 6’9” freshman with experience on the Israeli National Team, could be an intriguing addition and one to shore up the inside game.

Rebuilding

  • Sacred Heart – The Pioneers have been stuck in neutral the last two seasons since taking third in the conference in 2009. With four starters back, Dave Bike’s squad can finally make an upward move in the standings. What they need is for Shane Gibson, a junior guard who averaged 17 points last season, to continue to assert himself and provide leadership. Sacred Heart can score at the guard spot, but needs consistency and improvement inside to reverse their recent misfortunes.
  • Monmouth – There is only one double figure scorer, junior forward Mike Myers Keitt (10.1 PPG), returning. Marcus Ware, another 6’7” forward, tore his ACL in the spring, and even if he makes a full recovery, it may take some time for him to get back to his old self. What the team needs is a change in culture. The past few seasons, with the notable exception of opening a new facility, have been on the down side. New coach King Rice promises a return to better days of conference contention and NCAA appearances.  It will be interesting to see how quickly the optimism Rice brings will translate into victories.
  • Fairleigh Dickinson – Last season was a long campaign that ended without a trip to the NEC tournament. The Knights had only five wins a year ago and return just two starters. A good start would work wonders. The Knights suffered through a long five win-campaign last season.  The newcomers will get a good long look by coach Greg  Vetrone.  Among  them , Melquan Bolding, a 6’3” Duquesne transfer, can provide immediate scoring assistance.

Reader’s Take II

Spotlight On…the Nonconference Schedule

  • NEC teams will play a number of high-profile BCS squads before league play.
  • Wagner’s game at Pitt on December 23 will be on ESPNU. It will be the Seahawks’ first appearance on the network since a 2005 loss to FDU in the conference championship.
  • St. Francis (NY) will get a couple cracks at the Big East when the Terriers face Seton Hall and a young St. John’s squad.
  • Bryant will meet Providence and its young studs December 10 at PC, then will travel to Chestnut Hill for a game against Boston College before flying out to Tucson to face Arizona on December 22. That’s three big road game in less than two weeks.
  • LIU will participate in the Hall of Fame Tipoff in November. The Blackbirds face Radford on November 19 at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut before traveling to face Old Dominion (November 14) and Penn State (November 16).

Final Thoughts

The Northeast Conference is not your basic one-bid league when we speak of the Big Dance. The races are rarely dull and the postseason conference tournament is always good for a surprise or two. For one, the top eight teams qualify for postseason. The entire tournament is staged on home courts, with the higher seed hosting. Naturally, teams want to finish in an advantageous position to secure as many possible home dates through tournament play. For the eliminated teams, those last few weeks still afford them an opportunity to play spoiler.  Entering this season, Central Connecticut will get the nod to win it all. Long Island, Robert Morris and Quinnipiac will be in the mix and contend while Wagner will play the role of dark horse.  Again, the teams not mentioned could surprise or at very least, make their presence felt as the race pans out.  The conference is challenging itself early, as evidenced by its non-league schedule, and while it’s tough to see upsets in those matchups, there’s no substitute for intense competition.

Brian Goodman (742 Posts)

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


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One Response to “RTC Conference Primers: #20 – Northeast Conference”

  1. JG says:

    How can you not have Monmouth’s non-conference schedule on here? They play at Va Tech, at Vandy, at UNC and at Rutgers? No other NEC team can boast a better group. I understand the thinking that they will struggle this year but the schedule is sick!!!

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