NEC Thursday Preview: Colonials Host LIU

January 28th, 2010

Weekly Honors 

Choice Hotels Player of the Week: F Corey Hassan (Sacred Heart)
Hassan won his third Player of the Week award this season, averaging 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in the Pioneers' 2-0 week.  

Choice Hotels Rookie of the Week: F Russell Johnson (Robert Morris)
In the Colonials' 2-0 week on the road, Johnson averaged 11.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game. Johnson leads all conference freshmen in rebounding with an average of 5.8 boards per game.

Game of the Night: LIU at Robert Morris (7 PM) 

Another Thursday in the NEC and another showdown in what's proven to be a hotly-contested race with the top six teams separated by just two games. The big game tonight: LIU (6-2 NEC, 8-11 overall) heading to Moon Township to take on Robert Morris (7-1, 12-8). A win for the Blackbirds would place them in a tie with the Colonials and at the least keep them within a game of first place should Quinnipiac take care of business at Wagner. And it would also give them the head-to-head tiebreaker given their 74-64 win in Brooklyn on January 7th. In that contest Kyle Johnson led four LIU players in double figures with 22 points and RMU freshman Karon Abraham managed just nine.

But the Colonials are arguably the NEC's most talented team. The reason why a team that's got the tools to win the conference's automatic bid can also get bounced in the NEC quarters: maddening inconsistency. Take their game at Monmouth on Saturday for example. RMU struggled to score in the first half and through the first four minutes of the second half, trailing 33-27 at the under-16 timeout. From there Mike Rice's team outscored the Hawks 39-20 in winning 66-53. With Abraham and Russell Johnson playing well as freshmen the consistency has to be controlled by Rob Robinson. And he's been quite the enigma throughout his career much less this season. If he shows up Robert Morris is a very tough team to beat.

As for LIU, they can survive most nights when primary scoring option Jaytornah Wisseh is taken away by opponents due to the presence of Johnson, but he hasn't shot well in the Blackbirds' last three games. In a three-game stretch for LIU (1-2 record) Johnson has shot just 34.6% from the field, a signficant drop from the three games prior in which he made 51.3% of his shots (LIU: 3-0 record). If he can duplicate his performance in the first meeting and forwards Kenny Onyechi (17 points, eight rebounds) and Jamal Olasewere (10 points) can do the same, LIU can win. But if they can't, and Robinson shows up for RMU, look for the Colonials to win.  

Thursday's Schedule

7p Quinnipiac (7-1, 13-6) at Wagner (1-7, 3-18) 
The young Seahawks recorded their first NEC win last week, beating LIU in overtime on Staten Island. But they're in for a far stiffer challenge with the first-place Bobcats visiting Spiro. The tandem of James Feldeine and Justin Rutty have been as good as advertised for Tom Moore's squad but James Johnson and Deontay Twyman have stepped up to make this an even more formidable team. Johnson is averaging 13.3 ppg in his last eight games and Twyman has averaged more than eleven points per contest in his last six games (3.9 ppg in his first thirteen). Hard to see the Seahawks matching this kind of offensive balance, especially when considering that Quinnipiac is also the NEC's best team when it comes to defense and rebounding.  

7p St. Francis (NY) (6-2, 9-10) at Saint Francis (PA) (3-5, 5-14)
The "name battle" takes place in Loretto with the Red Flash in desperate need of a win to bolster their hopes of getting to the NEC Tournament. After getting blown out at Monmouth last Thursday SFPA dropped a heartbreaker at FDU on Saturday and they've lost five of their last six league games. Umar Shannon scored 18 points in their first meeting with the Terriers but senior Devin Sweetney scored just four points (2-11 FG) as the Red Flash fell 69-57 in Brooklyn. It's been known for a few years now: if Sweetney isn't on his game SFPA isn't winning. SFNY is a bit more balanced in the scoring department, and if they can continue to get scoring from Ricky Cadell (20.1 ppg in his last seven games) they'll be in business.  

7:30p FDU (4-4, 5-15) at Bryant (0-8, 0-20)
Simply put this is a game the Knights should win despite their record of 0-9 in road games. Their first meeting featured a combined 39 turnovers as FDU won 66-50 in Teaneck. Four Knights scored in double figures with Sean Baptiste leading the way and it's tough to see a team that averages 56.4 points per game being able to get into a scoring duel. The Bulldogs will need to keep this one in the fifties and limit their turnovers if they're to entertain any thoughts of pulling the upset.   

7:30p Monmouth (5-3, 9-11) at CCSU (2-6, 5-14)
The Blue Devils find themselves in a dogfight to simply qualify for the NEC Tournament, sitting a game behind Saint Francis (PA) for eighth place in the conference standings. Monmouth, on the other hand, sits two games out of first place and has the talent to make a run at the regular season crown. Neither team shot well in the first meeting, won by the Hawks 55-42 due in large part to twenty CCSU turnovers (Central turned the ball over on 34.5% of their possessions according to statsheet.com) and the Blue Devils has struggled with offensive efficiency all season. And if Robby Ptacek duplicates his 1-for-9 shooting tonight they're going to be in trouble. The Hawks are still without Travis Taylor (suspension) but in Whitney Coleman and Will Campbell (and others) they've got more than enough options on offense to get the job done.  

7:30p Sacred Heart (5-3, 12-7) at Mount St. Mary's (2-6, 5-14)
Who would have thought that the preseason favorite to win the NEC would be in a battle to simply qualify for the conference tournament? Few would have but that's the plight that faces the Mountaineers heading into their game against the Pioneers in Emmittsburg. The Mount has dropped three of its last four games but they do own a win over Sacred Heart, beating the Pioneers on the road back on January 9th 69-65. Mount St. Mary's made 46.7% of their shots in the win and remained competitive on the boards, finishing with a rebounding margin of minus-1 (37-36). On the season Milan Brown's team ranks ninth in the conference in field goal percentage and eleventh in rebounding margin.

Those two areas will be key tonight as the Pioneers are among the league's best in both categories. Corey Hassan has played like a surefire First Team All-NEC selection and big man Liam Potter had reached double figures in nine straight games before scoring nine in their win over Bryant on Saturday. If Jeremy Goode and Jean Cajou struggle from the field Mount St. Mary's could be in trouble, especially if they don't defend as they did in the first meeting.