Northeast Conference tournament preview
The Northeast Conference tournament logo/Photo: Northeast Conference website

Northeast Conference tournament preview

In a very average year for the NEC, all eight teams have a realistic chance of claiming the league crown.

john-lupo
John Lupo

The Northeast Conference tournament kicks off with no clear favorite among the eight participating teams. Mount St. Mary's edged LIU-Brooklyn for the regular season title by a single game.

When: Quarterfinals (Wednesday), semifinals (Saturday), final (March 7)

Where: The higher seed hosts every game in the tournament. If one of the top four seeds loses in the quarterfinals, the conference will re-seed the teams for the semifinals.

Matchups:

Quarterfinals: (Wednesday)

#8 Sacred Heart at #1 Mount St. Mary's, 7 ET

#5 Bryant at #4 St. Francis (PA), 7 ET.

#6 Fairleigh Dickinson at #3 Wagner, 7 ET.

#7 Robert Morris at #2 LIU-Brooklyn, 9 ET.

Semifinals: (Saturday)

Semifinal #1, 12 ET.

Semifinal #2, 2 ET.

Final: (March 7)

at the highest remaining seed, 7 ET.

Mount St. Mary's fades down the stretch, holds off LIU-Brooklyn for regular season crown

In a year of parity, it was Mount St. Mary's (14-4, 15-16) who won the league for the first time in 21 years. The Mountaineers started out 10-1 in NEC play, but were just 4-3 down to nearly give away the conference title. Led by the trio of Elijah Long (14.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 40.9% 3-pt FG), Junior Robinson (13.4 ppg, 87.7% FT, 39.9% 3-pt FG) and Miles Wilson (11.4 ppg, 45.8% FG), the Mount will look for their first NCAA bid since 2014.

Frink is easily the best player in the league for a 20-win LIU team/Photo: Mike Lawrence
Frink is easily the best player in the league for a 20-win LIU team/Photo: Mike Lawrence

LIU-Brooklyn (13-5, 20-12) closed the season on a six-game winning streak, including a 62-58 win over Mount St. Mary's and are led by NEC Player of the Year Jerome Frink (17.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg), a transfer from Florida International who collected 13 double-doubles. Iverson Fleming (14.5 ppg, 35.3% 3-pt FG) and Jashuan Agosto (11.1 ppg, 38.6% 3-pt FG) give the Blackbirds a pair outside threats to compliment Frink on the inside.

Wagner paces rest of league

Picked to finish second in the league a year after hosting the conference championship game, Wagner (11-7, 15-13) finished third and are paced by Michael Carey. The senior guard has been a consistent double-double machine for the Seahawks, compiling 10 on the year and is one of 18 players in the nation this season to finish with 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game, recording 21 points and 22 boards against FDU on January 5. Carey averages 12.6 ppg and leads the conference in rebounding with 9.0 per contest.

Carey is the type of player that can carry Wagner to the NEC title/Photo: Dafe Saffran
Carey is the type of player that can carry Wagner to the NEC title/Photo: Dafe Saffran

St. Francis (PA) (11-7, 14-15) is the fourth placed team in the NEC and boast both the NEC Rookie of the Year in Keith Braxton (13.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and the NEC Defensive Player of the Year, Mike Nebo (12.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 24. bpg) as the Red Flash seek their first NCAA bid since 1991.

Fifth place went to Bryant (9-9, 12-19). Led by the outstanding Nisre Zouzoua (20.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 77% FT) as well as NEC all-rookie team member Adam Grant (13.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 78.6% FT), the Terriers won four of their last five games to rally for a .500 mark in conference play.

Zouzoua is one of the best players in the NEC/Photo: Bryant athletics website
Zouzoua is one of the best players in the NEC/Photo: Bryant athletics website

Defending NEC champions Fairleigh Dickinson (9-9, 11-18) had a very disappointing season. Predicted to repeat as league champions, the Knights finished sixth. Darian Anderson (16.9 ppg, 81.8% FT) and Stephan Jiggetts (13.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 81.8% FT) are hoping to help FDU live up to the preseason billing rather than the poor regular campaign.

Robert Morris (9-9, 13-18) are also usually at the top of the league, but they were seventh. Led by sophomore guard Isiah Still (15.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg), the Colonials won their last three games, but face a stiff challenge in their conference tournament opener as they travel to LIU-Brooklyn.

Sacred Heart (8-10, 13-18) finished eighth, but in first team all-NEC performer Quincy McKnight (18.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 77.8% FT) and NEC third teamer Joseph Lopez (13.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg), the Pioneers are a dangerous group in this year of mediocrity in the conference.

McKnight's brilliance makes Sacred Heart a threat even as the eighth seed in the NEC Tournament/Photo: Sacred Heart athletics website
McKnight's brilliance makes Sacred Heart a threat even as the eighth seed in the NEC Tournament/Photo: Sacred Heart athletics website

Who will go dancing?

This is one of the worst seasons in conference history as evidenced by Mount St. Mary's winning the league with a losing overall record and a putrid 1-12 non-conference mark. The NEC champion has gone to Dayton for the First Four the last two seasons and it's a good bet the winner of the tournament will make it three straight years. LIU is the NEC's only chance of staying out of Dayton and despite finishing second, they very well could host the championship game as parity suggests the top seeds may not make it all the way to the end. Due to having the best player in the league in Frink and playing the best of any team coming down the stretch, the Blackbirds are the pick to reach the NCAA's for the fourth time in the last seven years.

Prediction: LIU-Brooklyn defeats St. Francis (PA) in the final.

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