2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Northeast ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2012
- A Dynasty Grows In Brooklyn: It’s probably fitting that the Northeast Conference administrators chose the brand-new Barclays Center to host its annual media day. The NEC trophy has resided in this borough two straight years and LIU Brooklyn is planning on a unique ‘three-peat’. In the NEC’s 32-year history, no team has captured the title for three straight seasons. LIU Brooklyn is primed to finish the trifecta, but there will be stiff competition. Mainstays Robert Morris, Quinnipiac and Wagner will be in the hunt, and don’t forget ‘Battle of Brooklyn’ nemesis, St. Francis, just a mile away in Brooklyn Heights. The Terriers surprised last season and have enough returning talent to continue their recent success.
- They’re Watching And Noticing: One of the significant aspects of the NEC’s improvement can be seen in coaching mobility. The higher-level schools are looking at and hiring mentors who prove they can X and O in this conference. Three years ago, Mike Rice went from Robert Morris to Rutgers. This past season, Duquesne chose LIU Brooklyn’s Jim Ferry, while Rhode Island, another Atlantic 10 school, obtained the services of Danny Hurley, who quickly reversed fortunes at Wagner. As one coach noted at media day, “you have a group of good, aggressive coaches here who can build and run a program.” No surprise NEC coaches are on the big boys’ short lists.
- Circle the Date: Wagner faces off against Temple, Syracuse, Penn, Princeton, Hofstra and plays in the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara. However, a relatively early game of note is January 10 at LIU Brooklyn. The Seahawks have a four-game losing streak in the series and Wagner coach Bashir Mason all too well knows the the road to the NEC title will go through Brooklyn.
Reader’s Take I
Early Power Rankings (last season’s record in parentheses)
- LIU Brooklyn (25-9, 16-2 NEC): The Blackbirds seemingly have it all: Experience, depth and recent success of enviable excellence. And talent. Start with returning NEC Player of the Year, Julian Boyd. The 6’7” senior forward put together a sterling season where he averaged 17 points and nine rebounds per contest, highlighted by 14 double-doubles. Jamal Olasewere, another first team All-NEC pick, returns up front as well. In the backcourt is junior Jason Brickman. Seventh nationally with 7.3 assists per outing, Brickman has drawn praise from rival coaches for his passing ability and expertise in controlling the game. Coach Jack Perri is now at the helm with Jim Ferry gone to Duquesne. The transition has been very smooth for the former LIU assistant. Winners of 34 of their last 36 conference games, the Blackbirds are NEC favorites.
- Robert Morris (26-11, 13-5 NEC): The key for the Colonials, as has been the case during Andy Toole’s tenure, is defense. Toole spends appreciable time on it and prioritizes that end of the game in practice. Not to say Robert Morris cannot put points on the board. In Veltron Jones, there is a dangerous player capable of that proverbial breakout night. Along with Jones is junior two-guard Coron Williams, a dangerous three point threat. Sophomore swingman Lucky Jones, an All-Rookie choice last season, is another emerging talent. Robert Morris has been in the last four NEC title games, winning two. The Colonials have enjoyed 117 wins the last five years and figure to be in the title picture again.
- Wagner (25-6, 15-3 NEC): Taking over for Danny Hurley is former assistant Bashir Mason. In Mason’s estimation, Wagner is blessed with “guard who can score and make plays. Not just the starters but those coming off the bench as well.” Notable is Latiff Rivers, a second team All-NEC pick. Rivers paced the Seahawks with 14.6 points per game in 2011-12, canning 59 threes and also leading Wagner to a big upset at Pitt last December. Added excitement centers over 6’4” wing Dwaun Anderson, a Michigan State transfer who has looked very impressive in pre-season workouts. Mason has prospects up front, certain to contribute as time moves on. Given recent success, out of conference scheduling is not as easy, so Wagner will travel west to defend their Cable Car Classic title over the holidays.
- Quinnipiac (18-14, 10-8 NEC): Another of the NEC’s showcase programs. Tom Moore’s club has averaged 21 wins the past three seasons with three straight post season appearances on their resume. A great deal of the Bobcats’ recent success was predicated around rebounding. Despite the departure of Justin Rutty, the work under the glass is still a strong point given the presence of senior forward Ike Izotam and sophomore center Ousmane Drame. It is not just inside play as Moore is counting on senior guard Dave Johnson (8.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG in 2011-12) to contribute more and ease the loss of an outstanding guard in James Johnson. In Rutty and Johnson, Moore weathers the loss of two great players. There is enough tested talent on hand to keep Qunnipiac in the hunt.
- St.Francis (NY) (15-15, 12-6 NEC): The Terriers finished 15-15 overall but were a 12-6 surprise in the NEC last year. There are a number of veterans on hand for coach Glenn Briaca. The flip side is that after last season, they will not sneak up on anyone. Briaca has a strong backcourt with Travis Nichols and Dre Calloway (back following a shoulder injury that cut last season short). Both are strong off the dribble while Ben Rochford is a three-point specialist. Brent Jones, a more-than-capable fill-in for Calloway last season, also returns at guard. Up front, Akeem Johnson and Jalen Cannon, a strong rebounder anchor the front court. Optimism reigns in Brooklyn Heights as the Terriers are talented and a year more experienced.
- Sacred Heart (14-18, 8-10 NEC): The Pioneers have an outstanding talent in Shane Gibson. The senior guard is getting a look from NBA personnel and represents SHU’s best scorer and marquee player. He led the NEC with 22.4 points per game and was fourth nationally last season. Veteran coach Dave Bike wants Gibson to continue to light up the scoreboard but is searching for consistent balance to compliment him. Sacred Heart went small a good deal of last season. The addition of 6’6” De’Aires Tate and 6’7” Tevin Falzon, plus continued development of 6’9” Justin Swidowski could give Bike a better inside game.
- Monmouth (12-10, 10-8 NEC): The Hawks had a strong second half surge to propel them to a 10-8 final record in conference. Monmouth is picked seventh in pre-season polls which coach King Rice feels is a fair assessment. “Given our situation, the seventh place pick is not a shock,” Rice said. “Still, we can use it as motivation to get in the upper half of the conference standings.” The Hawks look to six returning seniors with a year of Rice’s uptempo system under their belts. Most notable among those back is senior guard Jessie Steele, Monmouth’s leading scorer last season (12.7 PPG) with 62 three-pointers to his credit.
- Central Connecticut (13-16, 10-8 NEC): An uncharacteristic second division prognostication for Howie Dickenman’s Blue Devils. Dickenman, for his part, is not disputing it. Such is life when you say goodbye to two outstanding players in Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek. There is proven scoring in sophomore guard Kyle Venales, the NEC Rookie of the Year and volume scorer last season. Backcourt mate Malcolm McMillan led the conference with a 2.02 assist/turnover ratio last season. In the absence of Horton and Ptacek, CCSU will extend the floor on both ends with pressure on defense and transition on offense. “Kids like that style,” Dickenman says, “They enjoy getting out and running.” Conditioning will not be a problem, but having everyone, including the bench, stepping up and responding is a concern.
- Mount St. Mary’s (8-21, 6-12 NEC): There will be a new order in approach and tempo. ‘Mount Mayhem’ is now in effect with the transformation from deliberate to full court style. Former VCU assistant Jamion Christian will utilize a number of the principles learned from his recent mentor, Shaka Smart. In the uptempo approach, Christian has a talent, certain to excel. Junior guard Julian Norfleet emerged as an all-around threat a year ago. Norfleet led the Mount with 13.7 points last season, including 69 threes. Lead guard Josh Castellanos, third in conference play with 4.6 dimes per game, is another veteran Christian will count on in his new system.
- Bryant (2-28, 1-17 NEC): It is a different mindset for Bryant, as they are now eligible for championship play in the conference. The move from D II hasn’t been easy but coach Tim O’Shea has gradually added better talented and scheduled tough out of conference opposition to orientate his players to the rigors of the highest collegiate level. The nucleus centers around guard Frankie Dobbs and junior Alex Francis. The duo has weathered the tough times, bought into the program and are the cornerstones as Bryant attempts to move ahead.
- Fairleigh Dickinson ( 3-26, 2-16 NEC): Last season, coach Greg Vetrone and the Knights suffered through a tough season. Not having a tested point guard for a good part of the year was a major problem. This go-round, Vetrone has three, giving him some talent, depth and options. Lonnie Hayes, out most of last season with an injury, is Vetrone’s primary option. Having an established lead guard should only help Melquan Bolding. The senior guard led the Knights with 15.1 points per game, but at times pressed, trying to do too much. Down the stretch, Bolding played some of his best ball. The mode is still one of rebuilding. Having lead guard options though, should improve the situation considerably.
- St.Francis (PA) (6-23, 5-13 NEC): New coach Rob Krimmel has strength in his backcourt. The guard situation allows for pressure man to man defense with an occasional extension to three quarter or full court. Point guard Umar Shannon is back following a knee injury suffered in last year’s season opener. Anthony Ervin, one of two seniors, led the Red Flash in three-point shooting. The exit of promising big man Scott Eatherton was a blow. Krimmel is looking for sophomore Early Brown to step up inside. Krimmel is building the program from the ground up, so changing the culture on and off the floor is job one.
Spotlight on…New Coaches
- Bashir Mason, a Wagner assistant, takes over for Danny Hurley at the Staten Island-based school. It is the first head coaching job for Mason, who played for Bruiser Flint at Drexel.
- Jack Perri succeds Ferry at LIU Brooklyn. It will be Perri’s first go-round as a DI coach, though he ran the program at D-III Rhode Island College.
- Jamion Christian and Rob Krimmel are in different situations than Mason and Perri. While the latter pair are looking to perpetuate recent success, Christian and Krimmel are in rebuilding modes. Christian comes over from VCU looking to instill a high octane attack at the Mount. Krimmel is a former Red Flash player faced with a near monumental rebuilding assignment.
Pre-Season All Conference Picks
- F Ike Izotan, Quinnipiac
- F Julian Boyd, LIU Brooklyn
- G Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart
- G Velton Jones, Robert Morris
- F Jamal Olasewere, LIU Brooklyn
Newcomer of the Year
Going on reports and valued opinions the choice here is Michigan State transfer Dwaun Anderson. The wing gives the Seahawks swingman abilities able to compliment the guard play and strengthen the interior. Coach Bashir Mason is not one to hype but is generally excited about what he has seen from Anderson in practice. That assessment is good enough for us.