NEC Reset: Week 8
There are just two games remaining in the regular season for every NEC team, and there are still five teams that could win at least a share of the regular season crown. In fact, all ten programs are still mathematically alive for the right to play in the NEC Tournament. Parity right to the end.
There’s no need for much more of a preamble this week. Next week is when the real fun begins.
1. St. Francis U. (11-5) #WeirdNEC struck again on Saturday, as the Blackbirds of LIU-Brooklyn walked into DeGol Arena and broke the Red Flash’s 8-game winning streak 69-66 on senior day. SFU was held under 1.04 PPP for the first time in ten games, and struggled from three (3 for 16). Should fans be concerned? Absolutely not; anything can happen in a 40-minute basketball game. Plus, they still have a 1-game lead on both Fairleigh Dickinson and Robert Morris, and have a leg-up in the tie-breakers based on their sweep of the Colonials. Two difficult road games remain (Wagner and Sacred Heart), however.
2. Fairleigh Dickinson (10-6) The Knights continue to roll, as they are winners of 9 of their past 11 matchups after sweeping Sacred Heart and Wagner at home. In fact, after an inauspicious start, FDU now has a +5.0 overall efficiency margin, which is tied with Sacred Heart and is just below St. Francis U. (+5.1). Fairleigh Dickinson finished 7-2 at home in NEC play, so good luck walking into the Rothman Center and coming out victorious. Two road games remain, however they are at Mount St. Mary’s and Central Connecticut, both certainly winnable. Getting a share of the regular season title is certainly within their sights.
3. Sacred Heart (9-7) No other team in the NEC has a larger dichotomy between how they’ve played at home and on the road; the Pios are a league-best 6-1 at the Pitt Center, yet just 3-6 away from home. However, they took care of business on Saturday at short-handed CCSU 80-66, and now get Robert Morris and St. Francis University at home to close out the regular season. I have a difficult time believing they'll lose at home to anyone, which makes getting as high of a seed as possible all that more important.
4. Robert Morris (10-6) after losing 5 of 6 (including three straight), the Colonials did what you’d expect them to do; swept a pair of home games against the Brooklyn teams, holding them to a cumulative 0.83 PPP in the process. Two difficult road games await (SHU and Wagner), but winning at least one will almost assure them of a quarterfinal home game, where they finished 7-2 this season. Of note; Koby Thomas, last season’s NEC ROY, has returned after missing the first 13 games of the conference season. He could be a wild card for RMU’s title hopes.
5. St. Francis Brooklyn (8-8) After being my darkhorse pick for the last few weeks, the Terriers got swept on the PA trip this past week, and now sit at just 8-8 in the league. However, they finish out their season at home against Bryant and Mount St. Mary’s, which means they still have a good shot to get into the top 4. They’d better hope that happens, because they are just 3-6 on the road in league play (though it’s worth noting they won three non-conference road games, the most of any team in the league).
6. LIU-Brooklyn (7-9) That’s why I’ve been putting the Blackbirds ahead of Wagner for the past few weeks. On Saturday, LIU knocked off league leader St. Francis U. 69-66 and showed they can beat anyone anywhere. Unfortunately those kind of nights have been few and far between for a team with as much talent as anyone. Can they win three road games in March while playing just 7 players? It’ll be difficult, but they will be a tough out.
7. Wagner (8-8) The Seahawks' inconsistency continued with a pair of road losses last week to Bryant and Fairleigh Dickinson, and they've continued to struggle when Romone Saunders doesn't have a high-scoring night (he had just 7 points in the loss at FDU). That defense is great, but they have the worst offensive efficiency in the league, and it'll be difficult to pull off three straight upsets if they can't consistently knock down shots.
8. Bryant (7-9) Well, hello Bulldogs! After losing five straight, Bryant turned around and took care of business at home last week with wins over Wagner and Mount St. Mary's (by 23). Unless the unthinkable happens, Jared Grasso will have Bryant back in the NEC Tournament. And with the way they can score it, they have the goods to pull off a first round upset.
9. Mount St. Mary's (5-11) The loss at Bryant effectively ended any hope that the Mount had at sneaking into the NEC Tournament, but make no mistake about it; the league's youngest roster has made things difficult for the upper half of the league, and is team that will be on everyone's radar in 2019-20.
10. Central Connecticut St. (5-11) Easily the league's most disappointing squad, Central suspended their two leading scorers, Tyler Kohl and Joe Hugley, indefinitely after an incident on the bench during Thursday's loss to Mount St. Mary's (you can read more about it here).