Thursday NEC Preview

January 7th, 2010

The first Thursday of the new year brings a full slate of NEC games, with Robert Morris (7-7, 2-0) visiting LIU (4-9, 2-0) in a game matching NEC unbeatens (7:30 PM). The Blackbirds, currently mired in a six-game losing skid, can look no further than their turnover margin when looking for reasons why. LIU is currently a -4.6 in that department while the Colonials are a +1.4, and that statistic will play a major role in the winner of tonight's game. Mike Rice has juggled his rotation in recent weeks with freshman guard Karon Abraham leading the way. RMU has won three straight going into their weekend tour of Brooklyn (they play SFNY on Saturday), and the hope for them is that they can build upon their momentum.

Another key to the Colonials' recent forturnes is senior Rob Robinson, who has scored 44 points and 17 rebounds in his last two games. Inconsistent to start the season, Robinson is playing some of the best basketball he's played in an RMU uniform and that will be needed if they're to repeat at conference champion. As for LIU, Jaytornah Wisseh will need to snap back to life and soon. He was suspended for two games due to a violation of team rules and didn't shoot particularly well in his return against Bethune-Cookman. Even with players the caliber of Kyle Johnson, Jamal Olawasere and Kenny Onyechi LIU can't afford for Wisseh to struggle. The better he is the better then entire team is since his play has a direct impact on the looks that his teammates get. 

In addition to their turnover woes LIU hasn't shot the ball well and they haven't defended either, allowing opponents to score more than seventy-eight points per game during the skid. For the season LIU ranks sixth in field goal percentage and fourth in field goal percentage defense; they've played nowhere near those numbers of late and it could cost them dearly in league play. The winner picks up a key early conference win while the loser falls into the role of "chaser". 

The remainder of tonight's NEC schedule is as follows: 

7p Central Connecticut St (4-8, 1-1) at Monmouth (5-9, 1-1)
The matchup between the Blue Devils and Hawks is the kind of game that is looked back on should one of these two miss out on hosting a conference tournament game (or worse). Howie Dickenman's squad has lost their last two games, both of which came at the hands of Patriot League opponents. Robbie Ptacek and Shemik Thompson lead the way offensively for the NEC's second worst scoring team (58.2 ppg), and tempo's going to be key (CCSU ranks 10th in field goal percentage defense) against a Monmouth team that can shoot the ball. 

Five Hawks average at least eight points per game with sophomores forward Travis Taylor and Will Campbell pacing the squad. They're also one of the NEC's better defensive teams, ranking third in the league in field goal percentage defense and fourth in scoring defense. They play at a quicker pace than CCSU and if they can speed the Blue Devils up some they should pick up the home win.

7:30p Mount St Mary's (3-10, 0-2) at Quinnipiac (6-6, 1-1)
The Mountaineers are in need of a conference win in a major way, but unfortunately for Milan Brown's squad they have to slow down one of the NEC's best offensive tandems in order to accomplish that. Justin Rutty and James Feldeine rank among the top ten scorers in the NEC and as a team Quinnipiac ranks second in the NEC in scoring with an average of just under sixty-nine points per game. But despite their offensive capabilities it would be unwise to overlook the defensive ability of Tom Moore's team.

The Bobcats also lead the conference in both scoring defense and field goal percentage defense, which doesn't bode well for The Mount. Jeremy Goode and Jean Cajou make up one of the best backcourts in the NEC but they're going to have to spark an offense that has shown some signs of revival in their last two contests. Mount St. Mary's has lost eight straight games, hardly the condition you want to be in when headed on the road. 

7:30p Saint Francis (PA) (4-9, 2-0) at St. Francis (NY) (3-8, 1-1)
Not sure if the fact that these two schools share a name makes this a rivalry game, but it is an important contest in regards to the standings. Don Friday's Red Flash, picked to finish dead last in the NEC in the preseason (yes, even behind Bryant), are tied with Robert Morris and LIU for first place right now. Devin Sweetney has been the stalwart (as he was last season) offensively, but this season he's got some help as well. Cedric Latimer and Umar Shannon have been welcome additions (Latimer didn't play last season after averaging 10 mpg as a freshman) to the rotation, but SFPA is 0-6 on the road this season.

As for Brian Nash's Terriers, they've lost their last three although two came on the road against quality squads in Syracuse and Fairfield. SFNY relies on four players for the majority of their offense: Akeem Bennett, Ricky Cadell, Kayode Ayeni and Stefan Perunicic. The Red Flash average about two points per game more than the Terriers but SFNY ranks third in the NEC in scoring defense. Neither team is particularly good when it comes to field goal percentage defense (SFNY- 9th, SFPA- 11th) so there should be good shots to be found. Expect this to be a close game that comes down to a big play or two late. 

7:30p Bryant (0-14, 0-2) at Fairleigh Dickinson (2-12, 1-1)
Bryant's one of two winless teams left in college basketball (Alcorn State) but they may actually have a chance at getting win number one tonight. FDU has ample talent with Sean Baptiste leading four scorers averaging double digits right now. But they don't shoot well, ranking tenth in both scoring and field goal percentage. The defense hasn't been much better, and these facts may bode well for the Bulldogs. However, Bryant is the worst offensive team in the NEC with an average of just fifty-two points per game.

In fact, they've scored more than sixty points just once, and that effort (68 points) came in a two-point loss to Brown. Cecil Gresham is the lone Bulldog averaging double figures so it's going to take a standout effort from someone other than Cecil (combined with his own output) to get Bryant into the win column. FDU has more scoring options; whether or not Bryant can make them pay for their sometimes porous defense will determine just how competitive the game is. 

7:30p Wagner (2-13, 0-2) at Sacred Heart (8-5, 1-1)
The Seahawks are another team in desperate need of a conference win lest they fall too far back in the race for an NEC Tournament berth. But just like Mount St. Mary's they encounter a stiff test on the road in the form of Dave Bike's Pioneers. Sacred Heart is the best offensive team in the conference with their average of seventy-seven points per game, and there's about a nine-point gap between them and Quinnipiac in that category. They also lead the NEC in field goal and three-pont percentage, Corey Hassan leads the conference in scoring with an average of 22.5 points per game. 

The good news for Wagner is that they've been a decent defensive team this season, ranking fifth in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. The problem for Mike Deane's team has been rebounding, where their margin of -4.6 ranks seventh in the NEC. Sacred Heart is currently second in that category with a margin of +4.4. If Michael Orock and company want to entertain any thoughts of pulling off the road upset (they're 1-8 on the road this season) they have to hold their own on the boards. If not, this could get ugly.