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Preview: 2019 men’s basketball NEC tournament

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Preview: 2019 men’s basketball NEC tournament

Photo credit: Avin Patel

Photo credit: Avin Patel

Photo credit: Avin Patel

Photo credit: Avin Patel

Matt Kurtik, Contributor

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MOON TOWNSHIP — The Northeast Conference (NEC) playoffs begin this Wednesday and four teams are slated to host the first round of games. The tournament will go through Loretto as St. Francis (PA) was rewarded the No. 1 seed after the conclusion of the NEC regular season this past weekend. In a conference where teams play extremely well at home and rather poorly on the road, Saint Francis (PA) seems to have the upper hand. The rest of the seeds in the tournament, as well as their records in the NEC this season are as followed:

1. Saint Francis University (16-13, 12-6 NEC)

2. Fairleigh Dickinson (17-13, 12-6 NEC)

3. Sacred Heart (15-16, 11-7 NEC)

4. Robert Morris (16-15, 11-7 NEC)

5. St. Francis Brooklyn (17-14, 9-9 NEC)

6. LIU Brooklyn (15-15 9-9 NEC)

7. Wagner (13-16, 8-10 NEC)

8. Bryant (10-19, 7-11 NEC)

Every team in the tournament, except Wagner (7-7), has a winning record at home this season and every team in the top five have at least 10 wins at home. These records prove that home court advantage should be exceptionally relevant this March. Each team has shown promise and only one game separates seeds 1-4.

Contenders

Saint Francis University

After winning their first regular season NEC championship, the Red Flash come in as favorites this season. Two years ago, the Red Flash knocked off Wagner in dramatic fashion on a three-point shot at the buzzer to advance to the NEC Finals before eventually losing to Mount St. Mary’s (9-22, 6-12 NEC).

Saint Francis (PA) is second in the NEC in scoring (76.9 PPG) and also boasts a great home record (10-2). The team features two of the top scorers in the NEC with junior Keith Braxton (16.4 PPG) and senior Jamaal King (15.3 PPG). Braxton also leads the NEC in rebounding (9.7 RPG) and is tied for first in steals averaging 1.7 SPG. The guards look to lead the team to victory and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991.

Fairleigh Dickinson

The Knights look to advance to their second NCAA Tournament berth in the last three years. They previously won their last five games after starting conference play off poorly with a 1-4 record. The team features the two players in Darnell Edge (.879) and Jahlil Jenkins (.859) who lead the NEC in free throw percentage. Edge also leads the NEC in three-point percentage (.476) and is sixth in scoring in the conference (16.2 PPG). The Knights lead the NEC in scoring margin (+2.9), three-point percentage (.399) and steals (7.6 SPG). This team is a dangerous one and has entered March on a hot streak.

Sacred Heart

The Pioneers look to advance to their first NCAA Tournament berth since joining NCAA Division I in 2000. Last week, they were fourth in the conference but beat Robert Morris 87-63 and Saint Francis (PA) 94-84 this past week in dominant fashion to move to the third seed.

Senior Sean Hoehn is the Pioneer’s leading scorer and is third in the NEC in scoring (17.9 PPG). Sophomore E.J. Anosike is second in the NEC in rebounds with 8.1 RPG, third in field goal percentage (.522) and first in offensive rebounds (3.3 RPG). Freshman Cameron Parker leads the league in assists (7.0 APG) and junior Jare’l Spellman is third in the conference in rebounds (7.3 RPG) and first in blocked shots (3.1 BPG). The Pioneers lead the NEC in scoring with 80.5 ppg, defensive rebounds (27.2 RPG), rebounding margin (+4.4), and assists (14.9 APG). This offensive juggernaut looks to continue their dominance on the offensive end.

Robert Morris

The Colonials were atop the NEC through most of the season, starting the conference season 7-1. Many close losses, including two against Saint Francis (PA) both by three points and another three-point loss to Fairleigh Dickinson in double overtime, helped the Colonials fall in the standings. The Colonials are no stranger to the NEC Tournament and have advanced to the semi-finals as a seventh seed each of the past two years. Earning a first round home game should help the Colonials advance again.

Senior Josh Williams leads the team in scoring with 13.9 PPG and leads the NEC in three-point field goals (91). Senior Malik Petteway and sophomore Charles Bain each average around 10 ppg as well. Senior Matty McConnell leads the league with 54 steals (1.7 spg). The Colonials boast the second best scoring defense, limiting opponents to 67.9 ppg, and steals (7.2 spg). They lead the NEC in rebounding defense (33.1 RPG). The Colonials typically hold opponents to under 70 points and when they do, they are 11-0 in conference play. When they let opponents score more than 70 points, they are 0-7. The key to their success lies in their defensive play.

St. Francis Brooklyn

The Terriers were the NEC regular season champion in 2015, but suffered a loss in the finals of the tournament that year to Robert Morris. That is the closest they have been to the NCAA Tournament. They enter the tournament in a slump, losing three of their last four, including a loss at home to ninth place finisher, Mount St. Mary’s.

Jalen Jordan is one of the best three-point shooters in the NEC (.422). The Terriers have the potential to beat Robert Morris away, as they were winning by eight points at halftime before falling 67-62 at Robert Morris.

LIU Brooklyn

The Blackbirds are the reigning NEC Tournament winner, and winners of four of the last eight tournaments. They are also winners of their last three conference games, including first seed Saint Francis (PA).

LIU Brooklyn has the league’s leading scorer in senior guard Raiquan Clark (19.4 PPG). He is also sixth in the league in rebounding (6.8 RPG) and field goal percentage (.507). The team leads the NEC in field goal percentage defense (.425), blocks (4.8 BPG), and three-point field goals made at 253 (8.4 per game). This team can shoot and return four starters from their 2018 run, making them a dangerous team.

Wagner

It was odd to see the Seahawks struggle as much as they did this year. They also struggled at home this year (7-7), compared to last year (16-1). That being said, they are a good team with talented players.

Senior Romone Saunders was the fourth leading scorer in the NEC this year (16.7 PPG) and senior Elijah Davis was not far behind (11.8 PPG). The Seahawks are the best defensive team in the conference (67.6 PPG), while also being the worst offensive team in the conference (66.5 PPG). If Saunders and Davis can get hot, the Seahawks are a team to watch for. They have previously struggled in the past in the NEC Tournament, but do not count them out this season.

Bryant

The Bulldogs return to the NEC Tournament after a three-year hiatus. Each of the past three years, they have finished either ninth or tenth in the conference standings. Most of their team statistics fall between fifth and 10th place in the league. Junior Adam Grant is their leading scorer (15.9 PPG) and junior Juan Cardenas is third in the NEC in blocks (1.6 BPG). Grant is third in the NEC in three-point field goals made (80) while also taking the second most three-point field goal attempts with 205. They are in for a tough time in Loretto, but they split the series with the Red Flash this season, each team taking the home game.

Prediction

The Sacred Heart Pioneers have been the hot team late and will continue their streak throughout the tournament. In March, you have to be able to score and that is something that they can do extremely well. Scoring the most points in the conference can help propel this team to a victory in the championship game on Tuesday, March 12th.

Overall, the NEC is an extremely even conference. Each team has the potential to beat any team on any given night and this March should give the viewers an entertaining tournament.

It is also worth noting that no team from the NEC has ever got past the second round in the NCAA Tournament. In recent years, Mount St. Mary’s and Robert Morris both won games in the First Four before advancing and losing to number one seeds, Villanova and Duke. Whoever wins the tournament looks to end that streak.

Only one sixteen seed has ever beaten a number one seed and that was when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County beat Virginia last year’s tournament.

The tournament will begin Wednesday, March 6th, when Sacred Heart and LIU Brooklyn tip off at 6:00 p.m.

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About the Writer
Matt Kurtik, Contributor

Matt Kurtik is a senior sport management and marketing major and is in his second full semester at RMU Sentry Media. He is a beat writer for the RMU Men's...

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