What-to-know tourney previews: Northeast Conference
LIU Brooklyn has won the past two NEC titles. But it's far from being the best team in the league this season. Can Robert Morris finally break through?
1. I haven't seen any NEC games. Which is the best team?
It's Robert Morris (22-9, 14-4), coached Andy Toole, who looks younger than Brad Stevens, is younger than Brad Stevens and is in his third year as head coach. The Colonials have made the past two NEC title games but fell each time to Long Island. RMU's big strength this year is 3-point shooting. There is no standout stud; RMU has four players who average between 11 and 13 points. Velton Jones is a terrific point guard, however. Defensively, RMU allows 65.8 points per game, lowest in the league.
2. Long Island won the past two NEC titles. Can it three-peat?
It's going to be tough. Jim Ferry coached the Blackbirds the past two years to the NCAAs, but now Ferry's rebuilding Duquesne. Moreover, LIU-Brooklyn's best player, Julian Boyd, is out for the year with a torn ACL. However, Jamal Olasewere -- an athletic, dynamic wing -- and Jason Brickman (the quiet point guard whom I featured last year during the NEC tournament and who leads the nation in assists per game, automatically make this group (which had a three-way tie for second with Bryant and Wagner), a threat. Here's the scene from last year's win:
3. Who else do I need to know?
The NEC has long been a conference of up-and-comers, whether we're talking programs or coaches. Take Bryant, for instance. The school didn't join the conference until 2009-10, after transitioning from Division II. I remember talking with its coach, Tim O'Shea, during the darkest times. Now Bryant has a shot to get to the tournament. If it does, that'd be one of the best stories of the lead-up to the Round of 64. Elsewhere, Bashir Mason is the coach at Wagner. He's just 29. And finishing grad school. Youngest head man in D-I, in fact. LIU Brooklyn first-year coach Jack Perri is also in his young 30s. The top of the conference is led by men who could eventually go on to bigger and better in the coming years.
Schedule: March 6 (quarterfinals), March 9 (semifinals) and March 12 (title game) -- all games at site of higher seed.
Title game: Tuesday, March 12, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 (at highest remaining seed).
THREE BEST PLAYERS
- Jamal Olasewere (LIU Brooklyn)
- Kyle Vinales (Central Connecticut State)
- Velton Jones (Robert Morris)
Conference RPI: 20
KenPom.com rating: 24
Sagarin rating: 24
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