Ray Floriani from College Chalk Talk is the RTC correspondent for the Northeast (NEC) and Metro Atlantic Athletic (MAAC) conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Mount St. Mary’s (20-9) (15-3)
- Central Conn. St. (19-9) (14-4)
- Sacred Heart (17-10) (13-5)
- Robert Morris (17-12) (12-6)
- FDU (14-14) (10-8)
- Quinnipiac (13-14) (8-10)
- LIU (11-16) (7-11)
- Monmouth (11-17) (6-12)
- Wagner (11-18) (5-13)
- St. Francis (NY) (9-20) (4-14)
- 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.
- 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)
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.