Posted on: February 28, 2012 5:15 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:37 am

What-to-know tourney previews: The NEC

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.


  1. Julian Boyd, Long Island-Brooklyn
  2. Jamal Olasewere, Long Island-Brooklyn
  3. Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart
  4. Ken Horton, Central Connecticut
  5. 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

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 10, 2011 9:16 am
Edited on: March 10, 2011 9:38 am

Welcome to The Dance, Long Island Blackbirds

NEW YORK — The Blackbirds are crowing.

Long Island University is back in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years, and the student body celebrated as though they’d waited that long — in a way, they did — after the top-seeded Blackbirds’ 85-82 overtime win against No. 3 Robert Morris Wednesday night. A tiny little Brooklyn-based campus that’s bracketed and clamped by constrictions — Brooklyn Hospital owning a lot of the late around the LIU campus prevents any sort of campus expansion — has gotten its chance to break through in basketball once again.

It took a bonus five minutes for LIU to kick out the two-time defending NEC champions, Robert Morris. But, wow, was it worth it. The students swarmed the team and court once RMU’s Russell Johnson missed what would’ve been a game-tying 3 with .8 left. The confetti machine was promptly rolled out and so began the first NCAA tournament celebration at Long Island University since 1997.

The game made Madison Square Garden look second rate, in terms of energy. It was the first NEC title game — the conference is now in its 30th year — to need an extra, five-minute session. What could be the most bland name of any Division I college basketball gym — the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center — had the crowd inside more than make up for its generic title.

That’s a Brooklyn crowd for you. The Blackbird Pep Squad chirped organized cheers from the stands every 10 minutes or so. The painted-up and half-naked students on both ends of the court — not as organized, but just as frenzied. On the national stage, LIU couldn’t have looked more passionate or worthy of the field of 68. An incredible energy inside the building.

“What a phenomenal basketball game,” LIU coach Jim Ferry said. “Talk about representing the Northeast Conference well. Both teams went out and just played with a lot of emotion. There were great plays by both teams. Our kids, like they have done all year, played together, played unselfishly and grinded it out. The entire season all the kids sacrificed for the big picture, and that’s what college athletics is all about. It was a great college basketball game.”

Jamal Olasewere picked a heck of a time to have a career night. Prior to Wednesday ‘s game, the LIU sophomore’s career high for points in a game: 21. How about 31 and 11 boards in the biggest game in the Blackbirds’ biggest game in more than a decade? Olasewere now has five double-doubles in five career tournament games at LIU and is certainly the most vital factor in the ‘Birds’ success.

“What can I say, it was a nutcracker,” Olasewere, the tournament MVP, said .” We just wanted to pull it out, and we did. … It’s all so surreal right now. For a team like this to take a conference championship? It’s just all so surreal right now.” It was in doubt late, to an extent, because LIU couldn’t close. Though Johnson missed the 3-point attempt in overtime, he did nail one with 18 seconds left to effectively push the game into the extra session.

“I told the guys ‘How about we get to play in this environment for five more minutes?’” Ferry said. “Not one kid had their head down. All I said was let’s have fun with it, and it was the kids who were talking about getting stops. It was all the kids.”

The endearing, and dangerous, thing about Long Island is how many pieces contribute. Ferry, per usual, had eight guys see at least 11 minutes last night. One of those big contributors off the bench was Jason Brickman, a first-year player with a massive heart who didn’t play as though he was intimidated by the ultimate nature of the moment.

“It’s exciting. I didn’t expect this in my freshman year,” Brickman said. “I thought I’d come here and learn a lot, get some experience. But to do this? This is great.”

A quick note on Robert Morris, which won’t be going to the tournament for a third straight year, and is a team many felt got robbed by the officials last season when it nearly defeated No. 2 Villanova.

“This is worse than Villanova last year,” RMU guard Velton Jones said. After the postgame press conference ended, he slowly peeled off his jersey in the hallway as he walked away from the room of reporters. The contrast of emotions was stark and clear.

But LIU gets its chance to rep the conference and earn its first NCAA tournament win. And the scary thing: If this team gets a 15 seed, it can certainly take an elite seed to the wire. The depth and speed are the most noticeable strengths of the Blackbirds, but the athleticism and power of the 6-5, 6-6 and 6-7 “big men” makes them worth their salt.

“They better watch out,” Olasewere said. “We’re taking this to a national stage.”

The team, its talents and, hopefully, the majority of that ridiculous crowd that stuck around 30 minutes and watched the team cut down the nets, hug friends and family members and take to the streets to celebrate. Put them on all the national stage once more.

Player to know: Julian Boyd. Despite Olasewere's great play as of late, Boyd's a 6-7 player with deer-like speed, bull-like strength and cat-like touch. He can move up and down the floor, handle the ball, and then stop and pop from 17-feet. Boyd had a bad night against RMU, which is a good sign for LIU's chances, so long as he stays out of foul trouble in the first round of the NCAAs.

The Vitals:

  • Record: 27-5, 19-2 NEC
  • Team colors: Black and yellow
  • We’re thinking: 15-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 120
  • RPI: 81
  • Best win: at Robert Morris
  • Worst loss: at St. Francis (PA)
  • Notable stat: The Blackbirds just don't foul you. If you want to beat them, it's going to happen anywhere but the charity stripe. Only Ohio State allows fewer trips by opponents to the foul line.
  • Most recent tournament history: 1997, lost 101-91 as a 13 seed to No. 4 Villanova.
Posted by Matt Norlander

Photo: AP
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 7, 2011 3:15 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2011 8:48 pm

NEC title-game preview: LIU hosts Robert Morris

Somewhat remarkably, 18-13 Robert Morris is back in the NEC title game for the third straight year and staring a third consecutive NCAA tournament trip right in the face.

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

Photo: AP

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 2, 2011 12:15 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2011 12:46 pm

Conference tourney preview: Northeast Conference

The Northeast Conference tournament is going to be about two big men: Quinnipiac's Justin Rutty and Long Island's Julian Boyd. Both are legitimate guys inside, but while Rutty's an incredibly efficient rebounder, Boyd's game expands to the 3-point line. And Boyd can also run in transition.

Long Island went 16-2 in the NEC this season; Quinnipiac 13-5 to earn the two seed. Robert Morris, the three, finished at 12-6, but with the recent news that starting point guard Karon Abraham was done for the year with an Achilles injury, the Colonials don't stand much of a chance. This is one conference bracket that seems to be a two-team tussle.

If you are looking for a sleeper, Central Connecticut's the way to go. The other Blue Devils have made The Dance three times in the past decade, and Howie Dickenman's teams have surprised some in the past, and this one has Ken Horton, who led the league in scoring (20 PPG) and was chosen as the 2010-11 NEC Player of the Year.

But LIU is very deep, playing 10, 11 guys on the regular, and it's a team that could push a one or two seed to late in the second half, no doubt. The Blackbirds are experiencing a year of success it expected last season, but that was pushed aside due to Boyd having to sit out with a heart ailment, along with players leaving the program to pursue careers overseas. 

LIU shoots the 3 well, shoots a lot of free throws and doesn't foul too often. A winning formula at the mid-major level, for sure.

Quinnipiac hosted last year's final on its home floor against RMU, but lost a tight one. Now it's got to hope someone can upset LIU, lest it get its shot at an automatic berth in Brooklyn. For Bobcats coach Tom Moore, it's all about rebounding, which is remarkable, considering this team isn't the biggest out there. That speaks to Rutty (right), but know that Quinnpiac's star player missed a decent portion of the year with an elbow injury that required surgery.

It may be now or never for Quinnipiac, as Rutty is a senior.

Ken Pomeroy's log5 predictor gives Long Island a 53-percent chance of winning the title; Quinnipiac is second at 19 percent. Since the Blackbirds are the one seed, they'll have every game they plan in the NEC tournament at home, and that's a big deal.

Only the top eight in this 12-team league qualify for the postseason bracket, meaning Fairleigh Dickinson, Sacred Heart, Monmouth and Bryant miss the show.


Title game: Wednesday, March 9, ESPN2.


  1. Julian Boyd, Long Island
  2. Justin Rutty, Quinnipiac
  3. Ken Horton, Vermont

Conference RPI: 18

KenPom.com rating: 25

Sagarin rating: 25

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: 1997, 13 seed, lost 101-91 to Villanova

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

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Matt Norlander

More College Basketball coverage

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com