And like last season, the Colonials are going to have to win their game on the road. If RMU is able to win, it's going to signal something significant, because the Northeast Conference hasn't sent the same team to the NCAA tournament three times in a row in more than two decades.
In fact, prior to last season's back-to-back job by RMU, the NEC hadn't seen the same champion in consecutive years since Rider did it in 1994. Normally, this is a carousel of competitors that gets sent off for slaughter in the Big Bracket.
Robert Morris changed that last year with its second straight automatic bid and its scare of No. 2 Villanova in the first round.
Two things make Robert Morris' run noteworthy. One, it has done this without the coach it had the past two years, Mike Rice, who is now at Rutgers; and more importantly, Karon Abraham isn't on the floor, facilitating this. The Colonials' shifty point guard has been sidelined the past few weeks because of an Achilles tear. Yet here's RMU, back again. And it has good reason to feel it can beat 26-5, top-seeded Long Island on the road Wednesday night at 7 p.m.: it did once already this year, back on Dec. 2.
Having said all that, Long Island should be considered the favorite. We've told you about Julian Boyd and his comeback story. Really, his redemption speaks to the team's overarching culmination of a successful season, as this group anticipated playing at home for the NEC title a year ago. The Blackbirds are chasing after their first NCAA tournament appearance in 14 years. Boyd, C.J. Garner and Kyle Johnson will be only part of the 10-man rotation RMU has to deal with.
Velton Jones and Russell Johnson have stepped up in a big way since Abraham went down. They'll both need monster games to get the Colonials a win.
How they got here: No. 3 Robert Morris defeated No. 6 Wager (78-74) and No. 2 Quinnipiac (64-62); No. 1 Long Island defeated No. 8 St. Francies (90-75) and No. 4 Central Connecticut State (69-67).
Should be an exciting one, and I'm hoping to hop the Subway and get from Manhattan to Brooklyn so I can write on this, then jet back over to Madison Square Garden by 10 p.m. to catch the last game of Wednesday night's Big East quadruple-header.
Posted by Matt Norlander
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