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.