2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Northeast Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 26th, 2012

Ray Floriani is the RTC correspondent for the NEC.

Top Storylines

  • 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.

LIU Brooklyn’s Julian Boyd Returns For NEC Favorite LIU Brooklyn. (AP)

  • 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)

  1. 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. Read the rest of this entry »
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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)

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Checking in on… the NEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 9th, 2011

Ray Floriani of College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC.

(ed. note – this week’s check-in was penned before Friday night’s action.)

A Look Back

The week brought on the resumption of Northeast Conference play. Thursday saw the membership battling in conference meetings, which continue until late season.

Besides NEC play heating up again, there was a milestone to remember. Dave Bike of Sacred Heart won his 500th game, as the Pioneers downed Holy Cross 77-75 on January 2. Bike has been on the Sacred Heart sideline for 33 years and had an overall record of 500-451. Make that 501 as the Pioneers defeated FDU on the road in their first NEC get-ogether of the new year.

Power Rankings

1. Wagner (3-0, 7-7 overall) is enjoying a two game winning streak with home wins over Quinnipiac and Robert Morris. Both victories came after the new year. Danny Hurley’s club averages an offensive efficiency of 97. Against Qunnipiac, they were 116 and followed that up with a 117 in the recent win over Robert Morris.

Notable: The backcourt starred in a loss to Texas A&M. Junior guard Chris Martin scored 17 points, hitting four of nine attempts from beyond the arc. Freshman guard Latif Rivers added 13 points.

2. Central Connecticut (1-1, 8-3 overall). Central ran away from, UMass 92-63 in their first contest of the new year. Offensive efficiency was an outstanding 130 while the Minutemen were held to 89. CCSU also forced a 24% TO rate in a 71 possession contest. Later on, they defeated St. Francis (NY) 61-43, for a fifth straight win. The Blue Devils sported a season best defensive performance, holding the Terriers to 66 OE.

Notable: Junior forward Ken Horton hit the 1,000 point milestone. He hit the select circle faster than any player in the Blue Devils’ 25-year history.

3. FDU (2-0, 3-8 overall) The Knights dropped a fifth straight game, losing 98-92 to Lafayette in two overtimes on Sunday. An 88-possession game saw FDU post a 104 OE only to give up 111 on the other end. The score at the half was 29-26 in FDU’s favor. In the two overtimes, Lafayette outscored the Knights 31-25 as the points came fast and furious. In NEC action, FDU tied a season low, 75 OE in a 67-50 loss to Sacred Heart.

Notable: Senior guard Mike Scott had a ‘stat stuffer’ game against Lafayette. Scott tied his career high with 23 points while adding seven rebounds and eight assists. Senior forward Kamil Svrdlik has four double-doubles on the season.

4. LIU (2-1, 10-4 overall) Resumed conference play with a 75-55 victory at Bryant. The Blackbirds have won fourth straight and been over 100 offensive efficiency in each game. For the season, the uptempo (76 possessions per) LIU club averages an OE of 107.

Notable: Freshman guard Shane Brickman captured Co-Rookie of   the Week accolades with 14 points and eight assists per game performance in two road wins. Brickman shot 57% from the floor over those two contests.

5. Quinnipiac (2-1, 10-3 overall) A 70-possession pace team, the Bobcats were slowed into a 65-possession affair in their 72-70 win at Monmouth. Keys in this contest were Quinnipiac’s outstanding 19% TO rate and a fine 1.28 assist to turnover ratio. A 99 defensive efficiency team, the Bobcats gave up an abnormally high 108 efficiency but still managed a tough road win.

Notable: Senior forward Justin Rutty scored 26 points while grabbing ten rebounds in a win over Boston University. It was the 36th double-double of Rutty’s career.

6. St. Francis (NY) (2-1, 7-7 overall) The Terriers were dealt their first conference loss of the season, a 61-43 beating at Central Connecticut. St. Francis averages a 96 offensive efficiency clip, but was held to a season-low 66 by the Blue Devils. In a strange sequence, St. Francis forced Central into a 31% TO rate and had an excellent 16% in the same category. A forgettable 25% eFG mark by the Terriers goes a long way in telling the story of the outcome.

Notable: Senior guards Ricky Cadell and Akeem Bennett came close to outscoring the opposition. The pair combined for 38 points in a 72-47 rout of NJIT.

7. Mount St. Mary’s (2-1, 4-12 overall) Ended an eight-game losing streak with a 63-56 win over St. Francis (PA) at the Knotts Center. Despite a tough non-conference start, the Mount is in the NEC picture with their only loss being a tough two-point setback to pre-season favorite Quinnipiac.

Notable: Junior guard Lamar Trice averaged 1.9 points per game last season. Currently, Trice leads the Mountaineers in scoring at a 12.8 points per game clip. Trice led the Mount with 15 points on five treys in a loss to Virginia Tech.

8. Monmouth (1-1, 5-7 overall). Defeated Bryant 66-57 in a home game just after new years. Defensive efficiency was an outstanding 85 in that meeting. For the season, Monmouth’s DE is a dead-on average 100. Offensive efficiency was 99 against the Bulldogs, nine higher than their season norm. The Hawks then dropped a 72-70 home decision to Quinnipiac. A 25% TO rate largely contributed to the Hawks undoing.

Notable: Will Campbell hit for 17 points in a narrow loss to Harvard. The junior guard logged 27 minutes and shot 3-6 from three point range. Campbell, unfortunately, was one of four players recently suspended indefinitely by coach Dave Calloway due to academic reasons.

9. Robert Morris (1-2, 5-9 overall) Dropped an 83-78 contest at Wagner. The Colonials give up a 99 defensive efficiency mark but allowed an extremely high 117 in the loss to the Seahawks. All three of Robert Morris’ NEC contests have been away from the Sewell Center’s friendly confines.

Notable: Sophomore guard Karon Abraham averaged 16.7 points per game over a three game stretch. Abraham hit a career high 28 points in an OT win over Ohio University.

10. Sacred Heart (1-2, 6-8 overall) Scored a nice 67-50 road win at FDU. Sacred Heart had been winless in NEC action and FDU had taken both conference meetings at home. In a 67 possession game, FDU was forced into a 24% TO rate and held to an offensive efficiency of 75.

Notable: Shane Gibson, a sophomore guard, earned NEC Player of the Week honors with 26 and 21 points in respective outings against Providence and Holy Cross.

11. Bryant (0-3, 2-13 overall) The efficiency margin (offense – defense) is better than last year but still a -17 in need of improvement. This was reflected in a 75-55 home loss to LIU, where the Bulldogs were 80 on the offensive end and 109 defensively. To rate was an impressive 16% against the Blackbirds.

Notable: Freshman forward Alex Bryant averaged 20.3 points, 9.7 rebounds for the Bulldogs. Bryant earned NEC Co-Rookie of the Week honors.

12. St. Francis (PA) (0-3, 2-12 overall) Not an easy road for the Red Flash. Following non-league road losses at powerful Cincinnati and North Carolina, they resumed NEC play at Mount St. Mary’s. The result was closer but similar as the Flash suffered a 63-56 setback.

Notable: Sophomore forward Will Felder paced St. Francis with a 15-point, eight-rebound average in two games just prior to the resumption of NEC action. Felder had 18 points and seven boards in the loss at North Carolina.

A Look Ahead

January 13:

  • Bryant at Quinnipiac
  • FDU at Robert Morris
  • Monmouth at St. Francis(PA)
  • Wagner at St. Francis(NY)
  • Central Connecticut at Sacred Heart
  • Mount St. Mary’s at LIU

January 15:

  • Bryant at Sacred Heart
  • FDU at St. Francis (PA)
  • Monmouth at Robert Morris
  • Wagner at LIU
  • Central Connecticut at Quinnipiac
  • Mount St. Mary’s at St. Francis (NY)
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Checking in on… the NEC

Posted by rtmsf on February 6th, 2010

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.

LYNDHURST, NJ – Coaches talk about separation. The ability to get stops, score on your end and open a lead on an opponent. In the NEC race Robert Morris is starting to gain that separation. The race is not over with Quinnipiac just a game behind,  but the Colonials, by virtue of a hot 9-1 January, are now on top of the NEC. Finishing in that spot would be a definite plus. The conference postseason tournament is at the higher seed’s home court throughout. Not having to leave ‘The Chuck’ (Charles Sewall Center) where Robert Morris is awfully tough to beat would be huge for Mike Rice’s club. Still, with three weeks remaining in NEC play, there is not enough time for Robert Morris to rest on its first place laurels.

Player of the Week: Devin Sweetney (SR), F, St. Francis (PA) – In a 2-0 week he averaged 25.5 PPG while collecting 8 rebounds an outing. Sweetney had 23 in the win over St. Francis (NY) and hit his third double-double of the season with a 28-point, 10-board effort in an overtime victory over LIU. Jones was instrumental in sparking a 12-2 Colonial second half run that turned the tide against the Blackbirds.

Rookie of the Week: Velton Jones (FR), G, Robert Morris – Jones became the third different Colonial in three weeks to earn this honor. Averaged 14.5 PPG while handing out 4 assists per game. Paced Robert Morris with a career high 21 points in the win over LIU.

Rivalry Week. The NEC Rivalry week called for a game February 4 and the two teams meeting at the other’s location two days later. Rivalries included FDU-Monmouth (Battle of New Jersey) , LIU-St. Francis (NY) (Battle of Brooklyn) and St. Francis (PA)- Robert Morris to name a few.

Codey Trophy. Two years ago Monmouth and FDU, recognizing their Garden State rivalry , instituted the Richard Codey Trophy. FDU won it the last two years. It goes to the school who has the best record in the head-to-head series for women’s and men’s games. In case of a tie, a total point aggregate settles the score. The trophy is named after the former Senate leader and twice acting New Jersey state governor who is an FDU (Class of ‘81) alum and has graced RTC in an article last year.

Milestones

  • Sacred Heart senior forward Corey Hassan became the sixth NEC player this year to hit the 1,000 point mark. Hassan also had ten three-pointers against Wagner which broke the school single game record of nine.
  • The Wagner-Sacred Heart matchup featured coaches with a combined 929 wins. Dave Bike of Sacred Heart has coached 32 seasons with 493 victories. Mike Deane of Wagner has 436 wins in 25 seasons. Make that 437 as the Seahawks edged Sacred Heart recently.
  • Jeremy Goode, a regular in this featured milestone category,  broke into the top ten in conference career steals. Goode, with 234 thefts, has a shot at the top five. Clear leader of the group is Robert Morris’ Chipper Harris ( 1981-84) with 382.  Goode is also fifth in NEC career assists at 560. Again, he could move up a few notches.  But the leader, Drafton Davis with 804, is quite safe. Davis played at Marist, an NEC school back then, in the early Eighties.

Team Breakdowns

  • Bryant – Dropped home games to FDU and Monmouth last week. Senior captain Chris Birrell led the way averaging 13.5 PPG for the week. Shot selection? For the two games Birrell attempted 25 shots and 24 were from beyond the arc. A little closer to the basket, freshman forward Vlad Kondratyev averaged double figures for the week and sophomore center Papa Lo blocked two shots against Monmouth and is third in the NEC in blocked shots this season.
  • Central Connecticut State – Swept Monmouth and FDU last week to get back in the thick of things. Senior guard Joe Seymore sparked the Blue Devils hitting 17.5 PPG for the week. Junior guard Shemik Thompson scored 24 versus FDU. The visiting Knights were down 19 the first half and rallied to take a lead late in the game. Thompson took over scoring eight straight and got a steal as CCSU never looked back. Thompson buried four threes and was 8 of 11 from the line.
  • FDU – Defeated Bryant and lost at Central Connecticut. The Knights shot 56% the final half at Bryant and on the defensive end held the Bulldogs to 27% shooting. Senior guard Sean Baptiste led FDU with 21 points in the CCSU game. Baptiste is the leading scorer (14.7 PPG) for the Knights who have four players averaging double figures. Senior forward Alvin Mofunanya continues his strong inside play and is closing in on 100 career blocked shots.
  • LIU- Dropped road games to Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA). Blackbirds put up some impressive numbers in those two close losses. They had a +13 rebounding edge over RMU and shot 26 of 33 (79%) from the charity stripe in the overtime loss at St. Francis (PA). The problem at Robert Morris was LIU’s season low 27% shooting from the floor. Senior guard Jaytornah Wisseh had his seventh 20-point outing during the week.
  • Monmouth – Split on the road losing to Central Connecticut while defeating Bryant. Sophomore guard Will Campbell and freshman forward Ed Waite excelled offensively for the Hawks. Campbell hit four treys in the second half in the Bryant contest. Campbell’s shooting helped the Hawks rally from an 11 point first half deficit. Junior forward Nick DelTufo had a big hand in the Bryant game as well with a career high 15 points.
  • Mount St. Mary’s – It’s been a rough go but the Mount swept the week with much needed wins over Sacred Heart and Quinnipiac. The games were at home where the Mount has now won 13 of its last 14 against NEC opposition. Junior guard Jean Cajous averaged 12 PPG and 5.5 RPG for the week. Cajous was instrumental on the defensive end as both times out he drew the opposition’s best scorer and did an admirable job. Senior guard Jeremy Goode has been lauded for his scoring and playmaking, and he is alsothe conference pace setter in steals.
  • Quinnipiac – Defeated Wagner and lost to Mount St. Mary’s. The loss at the Mount snapped the Bobcats’ eight game win streak and leaves them a game out of first. Junior forward Justin Rutty had a pair of double-doubles, giving him 21 for his career. Rutty had a 15 rebound effort, to go along with 18 points in a losing effort at the Mount. Senior guard James Feldeine paced Quinnipiac with 21 points in the win at Wagner. The Bobcats have outrebounded the opposition in every one of their 21games to date.
  • Robert Morris – Swept LIU and St. Francis (NY) to gain sole possession of first place in the conference race. The Colonials have captured seven straight and finished 9-1 for the month of January. A rookie and veteran mix, freshman guard Karon Abraham had a big week while another guard, senior Mezie Nwigwe averaged 15 PPG and 6.5 RPG for the two games. During the seven-game win streak the Colonials have surrendered only 60 points per game. A closer look shows the opposition hitting just 35% from the floor during that time. Overall, Robert Morris has an outstanding 89.0 defensive efficiency in NEC action.
  • Sacred Heart –  Dropped road games at Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner. Senior forward Corey Hassan exploded for a 28.5 PPG scoring week. Hassan added 5.5 RPG and shot 59% from the field. He scored a career high 36 points in the Wagner game. The three-point shot has been a major part of the Pioneer arsenal. They rank fourth in the country with 9.3 three pointers per game and are fifth nationally with a 40% mark from beyond the arc. Sacred Heart’s 52.6 eFG% is second in the NEC.
  • St. Francis (NY) - Dropped road games to St. Francis (PA) and Robert Morris. The Terriers had a four-game NEC win streak stopped with the 0-2 ‘Western’ swing. Sophomore guard Justin Newton is second in the conference assist/turnover ratio (1.88). Newton exited the Robert Morris game with a knee injury. In his absence junior guard Akeem Bennett will handle the point guard duties. Terriers have yet to hit 70 points this season and have an offensive efficiency of 90 (tied for second lowest) in NEC play.
  • St. Francis (PA) - Swept games over St. Francis (NY) and LIU (in overtime). That gives the Red Flash seven wins on the season and exceeds the six-win total of each of the past two years. Defense did the job against the Terriers as SFPA had 14 steals and forced 24 turnovers. Senior forward Devin Sweetney had a huge 28 point, 10 rebound performance in the win over LIU. The win over LIU was only the third this season that the Red Flash pulled out when trailing at halftime. Junior guard Sorena Orandi hit two free throws with four seconds remaining to capture the 74-73 win over LIU.
  • Wagner – Split two games, losing to Quinnipiac and edging Sacred Heart. Sophomore guard Chris Martin hit a runner in the lane with six seconds left to give the Seahawks the victory over SHU. Martin leads Wagner in scoring with 12.9 PPG. Senior center Michael Orock continues his fine inside play and leads the NEC with a 58% field goal percentage. The Seahawks have been hampered by a 26% TO RATE, the highest in the conference.  You don’t want to lead in this category.

Upcoming Games of Note

February 11

  • St. Francis (PA) at Bryant
  • Robert Morris at CCSU
  • Mount St. Mary’s at Monmouth
  • Wagner at FDU

February 13

  • Mount St. Mary’s at FDU
  • LIU at Quinnipiac
  • St. Francis (NY) at Sacred Heart
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2009-10 Conference Primers: #30 – NEC

Posted by rtmsf on October 6th, 2009

seasonpreview Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC conferences.   Click here for all of our 2009-10 Season Preview materials..

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Mount St. Mary’s (15-3)
  2. Robert Morris (14-4)
  3. Quinnipiac (13-5)
  4. Central Connecticut (12-6)
  5. LIU (10-7)
  6. FDU (9-9)
  7. Monmouth (8-10)
  8. Sacred Heart (7-11)
  9. St. Francis (NY) (6-12)
  10. Wagner (5-13)
  11. St. Francis (PA) (4-14)

 All Conference Team:

  • Jeremy Goode (G), 5’9 Sr., Mount St.Mary’s
  • Jaytonah Wisseh (G), 6’1 Sr., LIU
  • Rob Robinson (F), 6’8 Sr., Robert Morris
  • Ken Horton (F), 6’6 Jr., Central Connecticut
  • Justin Rutty (C/F), 6’7 Jr., Quinnipiac

6th Man of the Year. Julian Boyd (F), 6-1 So., LIU Newcomer of the Year. Mike Scott (G), 6-0 Jr., FDU

nec logo

What you need to know.

  • The Northeast Conference is composed of 12 members. Eleven compete for the championship as newest member Bryant will not be eligible for the NEC title or NCAA tournament appearances until 2013.
  • The NEC is primarily a guard/small forward conference. Solid big men ruling the blocks are rare. Interestingly one who went on to a nice career hailed from the NEC. Rik Smits of Marist owned the low post in the mid-80s before heading to David Stern’s league.
  • The NEC post season tournament is contested among the conference’s top eight finishers. Naturally, a good deal of scoreboard watching is in vogue past Valentine’s Day. In addition some non-qualifiers can still play the spoiler in their last regular season games so the conference schedule carries weight throughout the campaign.
  • The ’Battle of Brooklyn’ is waged every year. LIU and St. Francis (NY) square off for bragging rights. The two schools are about a mile apart in distance.
  • The dreaded ’Western swing’ has had an effect and separated contenders from pretenders. The Western swing is the trip to the two Western Pennsylvania schools, St.Francis (PA) and Robert Morris.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #26 – Northeast

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2008

Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Mount St. Mary’s  (20-9) (15-3)   
  2. Central Conn. St. (19-9) (14-4)
  3. Sacred Heart   (17-10) (13-5)
  4. Robert Morris    (17-12) (12-6)
  5. FDU    (14-14) (10-8)
  6. Quinnipiac   (13-14) (8-10)
  7. LIU    (11-16) (7-11)
  8. Monmouth   (11-17) (6-12)
  9. Wagner   (11-18) (5-13)
  10. St. Francis (NY)  (9-20) (4-14)
  11. St. Francis (PA)  (5-23) (3-15)

What you need to Know (WYN2K). The Northeast Conference, in its 28th season of operation,  formed in the Eighties from the old ECAC Metro. The eleven school league has granted admission to Bryant University who begins NEC play in 2012. The league postseason tournament admits the top eight finishers. Each game is played on the home floor of the high seed in the pairings. What this all means is February games are played hard each night out. Teams are fighting for a tournament berth, a higher seeding or to just become a spoiler. After Valentine’s Day everyone is scoreboard watching. The nation’s fourth most improved conference (behind the Southland, MAAC and Sun Belt) a year ago will see 60% of its starters return. Featured among them are All-NEC performers Jeremy Chappell, a senior swingman for Robert Morris, and  LIU junior guard Jaytomah Wisseh. Central Connecticut also welcomes back 2008 NEC Rookie of the Year, sophomore point guard Shemik Thompson.
 
Predicted Champion. Mount St.Mary’s (#16 NCAA). The NEC defending tournament champs return four starters from a team that captured nine of their last ten games and took the tournament title on Sacred Heart’s floor. Junior lead guard Jeremy Goode, the team leader in scoring, assists and steals is back. Sophomore guard Jean Cajou caught fire late last season and wound up as NEC tournament MVP. Talent plus the momentum of a year ago, which included a play-in win over Coppin State, certify Mount as the favorite. Look for another 16 seed – could a Tar Heel rematch be in the works?

Others Considered. Central Connecticut St. will be in the mix. Four starters return and veteran coach Howie Dickenman is certain to have the Blue Devils playing their best as the season winds down. Sacred Heart finished as tournament runner-up the last two seasons and cannot be counted out. The same goes for Robert Morris, last year’s regular season champion who was upset in the NEC semis and represented the conference in the NIT.

Important Games.

  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Sacred Heart  (12/4/08)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Central Connecicut  (12/06/08)
  • Quinnipiac @ FDU  (01/03/09)
  • Robert Morris @ Mount St.Mary’s  (1/25/09)
  • Sacred Heart @ Central Connecticut State  (2/19/09)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Robert Morris  (2/28/09)

RPI Boosters.

  • FDU @ Pitt  (11/14/08)
  • FDU @ Wazzu  (11/18/08)
  • Rhode Island @ Monmouth (Hoop Group) (11/20/08)
  • FDU @ Mississippi St.  (11/22/08)
  • Monmouth @ Villanova (Hoop Group) (11/25/08)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ George Mason  (11/25/08)
  • Akron @ FDU  (11/30/08)
  • Mount St.Mary’s @ Georgetown  (12/20/08)
  • Robert Morris @ Xavier  (12/31/08)
  • FDU @ TBA in Bracketbuster  (02/20/09)

Neat-o-Stat. The NEC boasts three coaches who have hit the 400 win total. Dave Bike (464-414) of Sacred Heart leads the way. Mike Deane of Wagner and FDU’s Tom Green hit the magic number this past season. Deane, in his sixth year at the NEC school, has a 416-292 mark. Green, entering his 26th season at FDU, has a 400-328 ledger.  Of the trio, Bike owns a national championship. He led the Sacred Heart Pioneers to the D2 crown in 1986.

Neat-o-Stat con’t. Robert Morris owns the best overall record among conference schools over the past two seasons even though it hasn’t won the tournament title. The Colonials are 43-19 during that time. Interestingly they did it with two different coaches. Mark Schmidt put together a 17-11 record in 2006-07 before heading to St. Bonaventure, and last season, in his first year in Coraopolis, Mike Rice’s club was a gaudy 26-8.

65 Team Era.  NEC life usually means facing a #1 or #2 seed (20 of the past 24 years), and unfortunately, the NEC has yet to defeat one of those teams in the first round. FDU under Tom Green has been competitive each time out. In 2005, they gave top ranked Illinois a battle for twenty minutes, and have also given #1Michigan (1985) and #2 UConn (1998) scares over the years. Last season, conference tournament champion Mt. St. Mary’s defeated Coppin State in the play-in game before running into the UNC juggernaut the next time out.  
 
Final Thoughts. In a perfect world the NEC would be a multiple bid conference. This is not a perfect world (see the $700 billion bailout) so the conference gets one invitation to the Big Dance. From a fan perspective that makes for added drama as the regular season and postseason tournament takes on huge meaning. The championship is especially intense as teams vie for that one spot on Selection Sunday.  Geographical proximity is another issue. You have three schools (St. Francis (PA), Robert Morris and Mt. St. Mary’s) ‘way out west’. But a good percentage of the membership is in relatively close driving distance of each other. In fact, FDU, LIU, Wagner, Monmouth and St.Francis (NY) are all within a 40-mile radius which affords their fans an easy, nearby road trip.  Another attractive feature of the NEC is that players stay around. If a coach recruits a player, then outside of transfer or academic issues, they are typically on board for the duration. No ‘one and done’ to David Stern’s league here.

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