2022 Northeast Conference men's basketball tournament preview: Bryant seeks first NCAA Tournament bid
Photo: Kris Craig/The Providence Journal/USA Today Network

The first conference tournament of the 2022 college basketball postseason will occur with the Northeast Conference tipping off on Monday.

The main storylines are the top two seeds, Bryant and Wagner. The Bulldogs defeated the Seahawks Saturday to claim the regular-season title.

With the action beginning tonight, VAVEL takes a look at how the action should unfold.

Tournament schedule

For the first time in conference history, all eligible teams will participate. There are ten teams in the NEC, but Merrimack is ineligible due to still being in their reclassification period.

All games will played at the higher seed with the first round and quarterfinals on NEC Front Row. The semifinals will be shown on ESPN3 with the final on ESPN2.

First Round (February 28)

#9 Central Connecticut State at #8 Fairleigh Dickinson, 7pm

Quarterfinals (March 2)

Central Connecticut State/Fairleigh Dickinson at #1 Bryant, 7pm

#5 Saint Francis (Brooklyn) at #4 Mount St. Mary's, 7pm

#6 Sacred Heart at #3 LIU-Brooklyn, 7pm

#7 Saint Francis U at #2 Wagner, 7pm

Semifinals (March 5)

The teams are re-seeded after the quarterfinals if any of the road teams win. The semifinals will be at 6pm and 8pm.

Final (March 8)

Semifinal winners, 7pm

The favorite

Winners of four straight, Bryant defeated Wagner 78-70 in the regular-season finale to claim the top seed for the conference tournament. Guard Peter Kiss leads the nation in scoring, averaging 25.1 PPG and

Charles Pride is averaging 17.8 PPG and scored 44 points against St. Francis U at the beginning of the month. Along with Kiss, they form one of the highest-scoring and most potent duos in the country.

They've rarely been healthy together but they showed what they were able to do in their conference regular season clinching win over Wagner on Saturday.

The Bulldogs are a high-octane offense, leading the NEC in scoring at 78.6 points per game, their tempo is fifth in the country and their offensive rebounding down low is 50th.

The challenger

Wagner sprinted out to a 15-1 league record before losing their final two games, including a dispiriting loss to an FDU team that finished the season 4-21, which opened the door for Bryant to seal the league title.

Alex Morales is averaging 18.5 PPG and is a first-team all-NEC member. His backcourt mate Elijah Ford went down with a season-ending knee injury in early February, a key loss especially on the defensive end.

The Seahawks are 11-1 at home and will host up to a potential third matchup with Bryant in the final, but their recent form will need to turn around if they are to reach March Madness for the first time since 2003. 

The darkhorses

LIU has a chance to upset the top two based on their inside play.  Ty Flowers (19 ppg, 7.7 rpg), Eral Penn (17.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg), and Isaac Kante (11.9 ppg, 7.5 rpg) might be the best frontcourt trio in the whole country.

The Sharks are hot at the right time, having won 11 of their last 12 games, most of those coming in dominant fashion. Their tempo is ranked eighth, so they can keep up with Bryant in a high-scoring game.

Defending champion Mount St. Mary's lost three of their last four, which saw them slip to fourth in the final standings. Jalen Benjamin has stepped in for the departed Damian Chong Qui by averaging 13.1 ppg.

Analysis

This is Bryant's tournament to lose. The Bulldogs don't have to leave Smithfield to reach the NCAA's and they have what you need at this time of year with an elite backcourt in Kiss and Pride.

Wagner has long been the standard-bearer in the conference, winning the regular-season title three of the last seven years, but something always seems to go wrong this time of year.

The Seahawks have reached the NEC Championship game twice in that span, losing in 2016 and 2018 and got beat at the buzzer on a halfcourt shot in 2017.

LIU is a contender only because of their six-game winning streak heading into the tournament and their ability to put the ball in the basket while Mount St. Mary's has a history of success this time of year.

The NEC is a fun conference because all of the games are played on campus, giving it that real March feel of a home-court advantage. Look for Bryant to ride that to their first-ever NCAA bid.

Prediction: Bryant def. LIU-Brooklyn

 

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