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Breaking Down the NEC Non-Conference Schedules

With CCSU and Wagner being the last to do so on Tuesday, every school has officially released its respective schedule. Which means the season is almost here!

Every program has different priorities when filling out its non-conference schedule. For some, playing as many money games as possible in order to fund its athletic department is necessary (like Mount St. Mary's), while others, such as Bryant, are trying to create some excitement around a new head coach.

The best part about the non-conference portion of the schedule is finding some of the answers to the big off-season questions (and perhaps coming up with new questions). How will Andy Toole replace Dachon Burke's production on both ends of the floor? Can the Red Flash integrate Isaiah Blackman into an already productive lineup? Can Jared Grasso get Bryant to improve on the defensive end? What does the CCSU backcourt look like?

Games to Watch: We start with highlighting one non-conference game from each of the NEC programs. And we kick off with probably the best one of all of them...

11/6 St. Francis (PA) at Buffalo: This one was easy. Buffalo looks to be the class of the MAC and one of the best mid-major teams in the country. Three days after this game, the Bulls head to Morgantown to take on West Virginia. Could they overlook the Red Flash? Sure, Buffalo will be favored (as they should be), but Rob Krimmel’s crew is plenty capable of pulling off an opening night upset. We here at The Blue Devils Den really wish this game wasn’t on the same night as…

11/6 CCSU at Hartford: The annual opening night CCSU-Hartford matchup has provided some really good games over the past few years (with last year's game going to OT), and this season should be no exception. The Hawks will likely be picked near the top of the America East, while CCSU’s two best players (Tyler Kohl and Deion Bute) are seniors. The pressure is on Donyell Marshall to get this team into the top half of the league, and this game will be a good test for his inexperienced backcourt.

11/14 St. Peter’s at Bryant: The home opener for the Bulldogs, and likely the first game that Grasso’s bunch won’t be moderate-to-heavy underdogs (they’re first two games are on the road against URI and Seattle). The Peacocks have a senior-laden team led by big 6’7” 240 pounder Samuel Idowu and 6’0” combo guard Davauhnte Turner, and will be a good barometer to see how far Grasso has brought this bunch. Another thing to watch; does the excitement around the program result in increased attendance?

11/21 North Carolina A&T at Mount St. Mary’s: New coach Dan Engelstad certainly has his hands full, as not only is the roster almost completely turned over after Jamion Christian left for Siena, but the Mount faces six Power 6 schools in the non-conference schedule. The Aggies have a young and inexperienced roster, and present possibly the best chance for Mount St. Mary’s to pick up a D1 win prior to New Year’s Day.

11/24 Rider at Wagner: Rider coach Kevin Baggett has this thing rolling in Lawrenceville; he returns almost everyone off a team that finished 15-3 in the MAAC last season. However, this game pre-dates a trip to Morgantown (just like Buffalo above), and it’s in Staten Island. If Bashir Mason can figure out his rotation while leaning on senior Romone Saunders, this could be a big time upset for the Seahawks.

11/28-30 LIU-Brooklyn vs. TBD- While the pairings have not been officially announced, the Blackbirds will be playing in a MTE in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It’s a great experience for one of the most talented squads in the league, and absolutely have a chance to win two games. Matchups could include Buffalo, Albany, Dartmouth, Marist, or Stephen F. Austin.

12/15 Siena at Robert Morris- Jamion Christian and Andy Toole had some epic battles in the NEC, so it’s great to see these two great, young coaches face off this year in the non-conference. Christian is trying to turn that program around, and figures to take some lumps in his first season, while Toole is looking to fill the void left by the Dachon Burke transfer. He’ll figure it out, he always does.

12/23 Manhattan at St. Francis (NY)- The Battle of the Boroughs. The Jaspers look to be down after last year’s 9-9 finish in the MAAC, and the Terriers have one of the best players in the league in combo-guard Glenn Sanabria. This is one of just 2 non-conference D1 home games (UMass-Lowell is the other), and a good opportunity for a win.

12/29 Fairleigh Dickinson at South Florida: South Florida is a really bad AAC program, but it is still an AAC program. Meanwhile, many people (including this very author) are really high on the Knights given the way the team played down the stretch last season. While FDU will likely be underdogs in this game (it’s on the road, after all), it can absolutely win this game. And by the way, there’s nothing that says the Knights can’t beat UMass on 12/21 either.

12/29 UMass-Lowell at Sacred Heart: Anthony Latina has a super young group this season that could struggle mightily in the non-conference, especially with three “Power 6” teams on the schedule. UMass-Lowell lost its two best players off last year’s disappointing 12-18 team (6-10 in the AE), and is similarly rebuilding.

Best overall schedule: Bryant, hands down. Honestly, the job that Jared Grasso has done since arriving in Smithfield has been A+. First, he was able to keep all the key pieces from last year’s squad, he brought in a difference making transfer, and he’s hit the recruiting trail hard. Plus Bryant has the best social media presence in the NEC. And just as importantly, he has put together a schedule that has the Bulldogs playing the most home games of any NEC team (5), are the only team with a schedule full of D1 opponents, and only leave the Greater Providence area four times. Scheduling URI was a major coup, and the team will also travel to play Iowa and Seattle.

Most Common Opponent: UMass-Lowell will play five times against four NEC opponents. Yes, you read that correctly. The RiverHawks will play Sacred Heart in the Brown Bears Tipoff Classic in Providence on 11/16, then travel to the Pitt Center to play the Pioneers on 12/29. UML will also play at Central Connecticut and St. Francis (NY), and will host Wagner. This is nothing new for UML, which has gone 5-8 against the NEC over the past three seasons, including 1-3 last year. Perhaps UMass-Lowell should have been invited to join the NEC instead of Merrimack...

Other common opponents:

4- Hartford, NJIT, St. John’s, St. Peter’s

3- American, Brown, Lafayette

2- Army, Binghamton, Boston College, Dartmouth, Fairfield, Holy Cross, Lehigh, Morgan St., North Carolina A&T, Providence, Rider, Seton Hall, Virginia Tech

Conference Count: NEC teams will play 14 games each against the America East Conference and the Patriot League. The MAAC comes in third highest (12), followed by the Big East (9), Ivy League (8) and ACC (7).

Last season, the NEC played 18 games America East opponents, going 11-7, and finished 7-5 against the Patriot League. In 14 matchups against MAAC schools, the NEC went just 3-11.

Non-D1s: Fans generally don’t like seeing non-D1 teams on their favorite schools’ schedule. Unfortunately, it’s become common place towards the bottom of Division 1, and that includes the Northeast Conference. NEC teams will play 16 games against non-D1 schools, including two each for: CCSU, FDU, Mount St. Mary’s, RMU, SFC, SFU and Wagner. LIU and Sacred Heart each play one non-D1 school, while Bryant is the only school with a schedule full of D1 programs.

NCAA Tournament Teams: NEC teams will play ten different schools that made the NCAA Tournament last season, including a pair of 2-seeds in Purdue (RMU) and North Carolina (SFU). The Red Flash will play three such teams (UNC, Virginia Tech and Buffalo), while CCSU, Mount St. Mary’s and Robert Morris will play two each.

Top Ten Opponents (based on 2017-18 Kenpom ranking):

1. Purdue (5) vs. RMU

2. North Carolina (8) vs. SFU

3. Seton Hall (26) vs. SHU and Wagner

4. Virginia Tech (33) vs. CCSU and SFU

5. Louisville (38) vs. RMU

6. Maryland (39) vs. Mount St. Mary’s

7. NC State (46) vs. Mount St. Mary’s

8. USC (51) vs. RMU

9. Rhode Island (52) vs. Bryant

10. UCLA (56) vs. SFU

Road Warriors: Mount St. Mary’s plays a league high nine games away from home, compared to just two D1 home games (Lehigh and NC A&T). However, they only leave the eastern time zone what time, to play Minnesota. CCSU, Robert Morris and Sacred Heart each play eight away games.

Top 100 games: Based on 2017-18 data from Kenpom, CCSU and St. Francis (PA) both play a league high four teams who finished in the top 100. The Blue Devils face off against Virginia Tech (33), Providence (63), Georgetown (94), and Oregon State (100), while the Red Flash get North Carolina (8), Virginia Tech, UCLA (56), and Buffalo (67).

Bottom 51 games: On the flip side, Mount St. Mary’s and Robert Morris will each play four teams that finished below 300 in Kenpom last season. CCSU is next with three, and St. Francis (PA) plays two.

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