The Northeast squads can push it. Averaging 67.9 possessions per game (that stat according to KenPom.com), the NEC was the third-fastest league in the nation. Collectively, what does it not do well? Block shots and hit 3s. So lot of run-and-gun, layups and mid-range jumpers should come about in the three-tiered, eight-team bracket play that begins Thursday night.
Long Island-Brooklyn is your head honcho. It finished 16-2 in the league, 22-8 overall and is the defending champ. It made its first NCAA tournament appearance in 14 years last season, and with most everyone back, the team looks even better. It boasts league POY Julian Boyd, a multi-faceted big who’s an adept ball-handler that averaged 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. He had 13 double-doubles this season and became the first Blackbird in 23 years to grab 20 boards in a game.
Beyond Boyd, Jamale Olasewere — fellow First-Teamer in the NEC — is a tough matchup problem. Toss in compact, fearless point guard Jason Brickman, who averages 7.1 assists per game (No. 5 in the country), and it’s tough to see why LIU-Brooklyn won’t win this thing two years straight.
The biggest competition comes from media darling Wagner. The Seahawks finished one game behind the Blackbirds in the standings. They are coached by Danny Hurley, brother of famous Duke guard Bobby Hurley, who’s also on staff. Many things have been written about this team’s resurgence. Danny is in just his second season there and already the team gets to a 24-5 regular-season record. In 2010, this was a 5-26 team. The Seahawks are a very aggressive team; they force a turnover one out of every four possessions. If Wagner makes it to the NCAAs, I promise you it will be one of the two biggest non-major conference storylines leading up to the opening weekend.
|Julian Boyd and the Blackbirds want back-to-back appearances in the NCAAs for No. 1 LIU-Brooklyn. (AP)|
Ironically, Danny Hurley didn’t win the league’s Coach of the Year award despite winning 15 games. St. Franics (NY) Glenn Braica earned the Jim Phelan Coach of the Year trophy. His team finished fourth after getting picked 11th in the preseason.
In the 3 spot is Robert Morris, a group that’s played extremely well all season and really cannot be ignored at all. Bob Morris represented the league in recent years and is the best offensive-rebounding team in the NEC. It also plays defense as well as Wagner. What it lacks: reliable shooting.
One last thing: this was how LIU-Brooklyn won the NEC title last year. What an atmosphere. If seeding holds, I’ll be back there again to witness it.
Schedule: March 1, 4, 7
Title game: Wednesday, March 7, ESPN2.
- Julian Boyd, Long Island-Brooklyn
- Jamal Olasewere, Long Island-Brooklyn
- Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart
- Ken Horton, Central Connecticut
- Velton Jones, Robert Morris
Conference RPI: 24
KenPom.com rating: 26
Sagarin rating: 27
NCAA Tournament Locks: None
NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: None
Last NCAA Tournament Appearance:
- Bryant: N/A
- Central Connecticut State: 2007, 16 seed, a 78-57 loss to Ohio State
- Fairliegh Dickinson: 2005, 16 seed, a 67-55 loss to Illinois
- Long Island Blackbirds: 2011, 15 seed, lost 102-87 to North Carolina
- Monmouth Hawks: 2006, 16 seed, won opening-round game over Hampton, 71-49, lost in first round to Villanova, 58-45
- Mt. Saint Mary's Mountaineers: 2008, 16 seed, won opening-round game over Coppin State, 69-60, lost in first round to North Carolina, 113-74
- Quinnipiac Bobcats: N/A
- Robert Morris Colonials: 2010, 15 seed, lost 73-70 to Villanova
- Sacred Heart Pioneers: N/A
- St. Francis (NY) Terriers: N/A
- St. Francis (PA) Red Flash: 1991, 15 seed, a 93-80 loss to Arizona
- Wagner Seahawks: 2003, 15 seed, an 87-61 loss to Pittsburgh
-- Matt Norlander