Northeast Conference Tournament Preview

    
March 1st, 2007
In what has been a topsy-turvy season for the majority of the Northeast Conference, it’s fitting that seeds along with who would play in the league’s conference tournament were not fully decided until the season’s last day. In a turn of events similar to the good fortunes experienced by the Kansas City Chiefs, St. Francis (NY) snagged the eight seed in the tournament by combining a win over Fairleigh Dickinson with losses by both Monmouth and Long Island. Sacred Heart got the two seed thanks to a win over Quinnipiac on the final day of the season, dropping the Bobcats to the three spot. And in a three-way tie for fourth in the league standings, Robert Morris was able to get the important quarterfinal home game over both Mount St. Mary’s and Fairleigh Dickinson. The only two teams that knew where they would be seeded were Wagner (seventh) and regular season champ Central Connecticut State. Just like the regular season, expect some surprises in this conference tournament.

 

Format: The top eight teams in the NEC qualify for this event, with the higher seeds hosting each game. After the quarterfinals, the four remaining teams are “re-seeded” so the highest remaining team plays the lowest remaining team in terms of seeding.

 

Dates: March 1st, 4th, 7th

 

Quarterfinal Matchups: #8 St. Francis (NY) @ #1 Central Connecticut State (7 PM)

#7 Wagner @ #2 Sacred Heart (7 PM)

#6 Fairleigh Dickinson @ #3 Quinnipiac (7 PM)

#5 Mount St. Mary’s @ #4 Robert Morris (7:30 PM)

 

Semifinals (March 4th): Lowest remaining seed @ highest remaining seed (time TBA)

3rd Highest remaining seed @ 2nd highest remaining seed (time TBA)

 

Final (March 7th): At highest remaining seed (7 PM, ESPN2)

 

St. Francis (NY) @ Central Connecticut State

The Terriers found a way into the NEC Tournament when it looked like Brian Nash’s group was doomed to another year of missing out. They got some help in qualifying, but that would take away from the fact that the Terriers have been playing some good basketball down the stretch. They are the best rebounding team in the conference, something that they will need to rely on in order to compete with the tenacious Blue Devils. Forward Robert Hines has been one of the best players in the NEC over the past month, and the coaches took note of this in voting him second team all conference. The Terriers are the deeper team, but they’re going to have a tough time leaving New Britain with a win, but they did manage to go 4-5 on the road in league play.

CCSU boasts the league’s player of the year (Javier Mojica), two other members of the league’s first-team all conference squad (Tristan Blackwood, Obie Nwadike), as well as the coach of the year in the NEC (Howie Dickenman). As the top seed in the NEC Tournament, the Blue Devils are a perfect 6-0 all-time, and they went 9-0 at home during conference play this season. You don’t see much from this team in terms of sheer numbers when it comes to their depth, but they get quality out of each player expected to contribute. That’s why they’re the regular season champions. SFNY’s chances will hinge on how they contain Blackwood and Mojica, as well as the Terriers dominating the boards.

Wagner @ Sacred Heart

Wagner and Sacred Heart had two close encounters during the regular season with the home team winning both. This isn’t good news for a Wagner team that went 3-6 on the road in NEC play. Matt Vitale is the only member of the Seahawks to have won this tournament, but junior forward James Ulrich has been the team’s bell cow of late, and he averaged a double-double against the Pioneers this season. Wagner is a better rebounding team than the Pioneers, and this is an area that they will have to take advantage of if they want to have a chance to win.

Sacred Heart is the NEC’s best offensive team, leading the league in points per game (77.9) and three-point percentage (38.3%) while finishing second in the conference in field goal percentage (47.6%). First-team all conference selection Jarrid Frye has led the team in scoring, but he’s received help from freshman backcourt partner Chauncey Hardy. In their last game, and 87-84 win over Quinnipiac on Monday night, five Pioneers scored in double figures. SHU is a very gifted team on the offensive end with a plethora of options to turn to when they need a bucket. The Seahawks will have their hands full on the defensive end, but they should be able to score some points.

Fairleigh Dickinson @ Quinnipiac

In one of two games that are rematches of quarterfinals in last season’s tournament, FDU visits the Bobcats in a game that should go down to the wire like last season’s affair. A Gordon Klaiber bucket saved the Knights, but they head into this one as the underdog as opposed to the tournament’s top seed. Senior forward Andre Harris, a first-team All NEC selection, has scored in double figures in every game this season, so look for the Bobcats to focus their defensive efforts on him. Although head coach Tom Green lost the likes of Klaiber and Andrea Crosariol from last season’s regular season champs, he does have some experience on this team. Guard Cameron Tyler, third in the NEC in assists this season, was a part of last season’s success as well.

Quinnipiac has a pair of high-octane guards in senior Adam Gonzalez and junior DeMario Anderson, but they also receive notable contributions from forward Chris Wehye and center Victor Akinyanju. Head coach Joe DeSantis has gone about ten deep throughout the season, so foul trouble shouldn’t be too much of an issue for the Bobcats. Their issue will be finding points outside of Gonzalez and Anderson if those two have trouble hitting their shots. The two teams are about even on the glass, but Quinnipiac tends to turn the ball over more at a clip of sixteen per game. Turnovers and how much each team scores off their opponents mistakes will decide which team moves on.

Mount St. Mary’s @ Robert Morris

These two teams will meet for the sixth time in the past two seasons, and the games tend to be close affairs, including a 67-66 win for Robert Morris in last season’s NEC quarterfinals. Mount St. Mary’s went a putrid 3-14 on the road this season, with their only two road wins in the NEC being over two teams (LIU, St. Francis-PA) that didn’t qualify for the conference tournament. Senior guard Mychal Kearse is the team’s leader, and he scored twenty-one in their 81-78 loss at RMC earlier this season. Kearse, who was voted the league’s co-defensive player of the year, has help in the backcourt in the form of freshman Jeremy Goode. The question for the Mount will be how they do rebounding the basketball; they were the third worst team in the NEC in that category.

Robert Morris, preseason pick to win the NEC, has won the most conference tournament titles of any team in the league with five. Unfortunately for the Colonials, however, none of which have come after 1992. Sophomore guard Jeremy Chappell was the hero in last season’s quarterfinal win over the Mount with a three pointer late in regulation. But it was forward A.J. Jackson and guard Tony Lee who were voted onto the conference’s second team due to their play this season. Of the two teams, the Colonials do a much better job of holding onto the ball, and this along with having home court should help them out.