NEC Update: Opening Week Yields Surprises

December 8th, 2010
The first weekend of December traditionally means the start of conference play in the NEC, with many of the teams playing a pair of games before returning to non-conference action for the remainder of the month. But while it comes as no surprise to the casual observer that preseason favorite Quinnipiac is one of the four remaining undefeated teams (1-0), the other three teams may cause a second glance. Tied atop the league with 2-0 marks are Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis (NY), both of whom beat an expected contender over the weekend. Greg Vetrone's Knights slugged one out with Central Connecticut State on Saturday, winning by the final of 48-46, a score that is all the more amazing given the line NEC Co-Player of the Week Kamil Svrdlik put up.

The senior put up 20 points and 10 rebounds and also scored the game-winning points with 40 seconds remaining. That capped a comeback from a 14-point deficit, and after losing their first three games of the season FDU is 3-3. As for St. Francis (NY), they put up more points than the Knights while beating defending NEC champion Robert Morris 65-63 thanks in large part to senior guard Akeem Bennett. Bennett scored 26 points in the win over the Colonials, which also featured his game-winning free throws and a block of a three pointer on the other end. First-year head coach Glen Braica's team has won all three of their home games to date this season and hosts Colgate tonight.

The other team without a loss in conference play is Dan Hurley's Wagner club, a young outfit that is one of the four teams in the NEC with a winning overall record. One of the standouts for the Seahawks has been freshman guard Latif Rivers, who scored 24 points in Wagner's 73-68 overtime win at Sacred Heart. His three pointer drew Wagner to within one point late in regulation of a game that they actually led throughout much of the contest. Rivers has been named NEC Rookie (or Co-Rookie) of the Week three times in the first four weeks of the season, making him the early frontrunner for postseason honors. The combo of Rivers and junior Tyler Murray (who leads the NEC in scoring) is one of the primary reasons why the Seahawks have played as well as they have thus far.

Overall the first weekend of NEC play was more than entertaining, as in addition to the aforementioned heroics there was James Johnson scoring Quinnipiac's final eight points in the Bobcats' come from behind win over Mount St. Mary's on Thursday night. Monmouth, who played their league opener the week prior, went 2-2 in a four-game week that included a 2-1 showing at the Basketball Travelers Invitational with the lone defeat coming a the hands of host Idaho. In terms of losing skids Bryant and Saint Francis (PA) are both looking to end four-game runs while CCSU and Sacred Heart have both lost two in a row. But Howie Dickenman's Blue Devils have played arguably the toughest non-conference slate in the league, and with Ken Horton and Shemik Thompson leading the way they should round into form by the time league play rolls around.

NEC Co-Players of the Week
St. Francis (NY) G Akeem Bennett: 24.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game in the Terriers' wins over Saint Francis (PA) and Robert Morris.
FDU F Kamil Svrdlik: 18.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game in a 3-0 week for the Knights.

Honorees to date
11/15 Quinnipiac F Justin Rutty
11/22 CCSU F Ken Horton
11/29 Sacred Heart G Jerrell Thompson
12/6 Bennett and Svrdlik

NEC Rookie of the Week
Wagner G Latif Rivers: 17.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game in a 2-1 week for the Seahawks, who played all three on the road.

Honorees to Date
11/15 Bryant G Alex Francis & Rivers
11/22 Francis and Mount St. Mary's G Julian Norfleet
11/29 Quinnipiac F Ike Azotam and Rivers
12/6 Rivers

The Week Ahead (Wednesday thru Sunday)

12/8 7 PM Yale at BRYANT
Princeton at MONMOUTH
Hartford at SACRED HEART
7:30 PM FDU at (6) Connecticut
8 PM Iona at LIU

12/10 7 PM ST. FRANCIS (NY) at Canisius

12/11 2 PM FDU at Iona
Lafayette at LIU
SACRED HEART at Stony Brook
3 PM Rhode Island at QUINNIPIAC
4 PM BRYANT at Columbia
Hartford at MONMOUTH
MOUNT ST. MARY'S at Loyola (MD)
7 PM CCSU at Albany
Youngstown St. at ROBERT MORRIS
Saint Peter's at WAGNER

Games of the Week

- Iona at LIU (Wednesday) The Gaels make the trek from New Rochelle to Brooklyn and with them will be one of the best forwards you'll see in Michael Glover. The much-traveled Glover, who very nearly was an NEC player at St. Francis (NY) before going the junior college route last year, was named National Player of the Week by the United States Basketball Writers Association due to dominant showings against Niagara and Canisius. But the Blackbirds boast one of the NEC's best frontlines, which should make for an entertaining matchup.

- St. Francis (NY) at Canisius (Friday) Another NEC vs. MAAC matchup with this one featuring a Terriers squad that's yet to win on the road this season. The Golden Griffins have a pair of solid perimeter threats in Julius Coles and Elton Frazier to combat the play of Akeem Bennett and Ricky Cadell, but this is a winnable road game for SFNY.

- Rhode Island at Quinnipiac (Saturday) It's a golden opportunity for the Bobcats to steal some New England print as the Rams visit Hamden. Delroy James leads the way for URI, who will want to play at a high tempo but that's of little concern for a QU squad that also likes to run when the opportunity presents itself. If Justin Rutty can control the boards while James Johnson gets the job done on the perimeter, look out. And it wouldn't be a huge upset either if Quinnipiac were to win.

- Saint Peter's at Wagner (Saturday) This will be a good test for Coach Hurley's team, especially the backcourt. Seniors Nick Leon and Wesley Jenkins lead the way for the Peacocks, who also make you earn every scoring opportunity on the other end as well. Jeron Belin and Ryan Bacon are two of the better forwards that they Seahawks will face in their non-conference schedule, and they should be a good litmus test to see where the Wagner bigs stand in regards to their development.

Tuesday's Scores
Dayton 63, CCSU 61
QUINNIPIAC 84, Lehigh 78
West Virginia 82, ROBERT MORRIS 49
ST. FRANCIS (NY) 68, Colgate 57
Columbia 77, WAGNER 71
Penn State 57, MOUNT ST. MARY'S 53