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NEC Tournament Preview: Quarterfinals

March Madness; is there anything better?

It's been an awesome season for the Northeast Conference; it's a league full of really good seniors, was won by an up-start Merrimack squad transitioning from Division-II, and there is so much good, young coaching talent. With that said, there can obviously only be one winner.

On Wednesday, the NEC Tournament will begin, with the semifinals taking place Saturday 3/7, and the finals on Tuesday, 3/10 (the bracket is below, but remember that teams get re-seeded after the 1st round, and the highest seeded teams host).

Let's dive in:

The Bracket:

The Final Standings: As always, sorted by Efficiency Margin

#8 St. Francis-Brooklyn at #1 Robert Morris

Kenpom Projection: RMU 73, SFC 64

Season Series: Split 1-1

Things to Watch:

1. SFC At The Rim- The Terriers had the league's 9th most efficient offense, while Robert Morris finished 3rd in Defensive Efficiency. However, back on January 23rd St. Francis-Brooklyn scored 1.14ppp by converting 22 of 30 shots at the rim on their way to winning 78-57 in Brooklyn. The Terriers' guards were able to get into the paint and finish (Chauncey Hawkins was 5 for 7, Unique McLean was 6 for 7 and Rob Higgins 2-3), while Deniz Celen (4-5) and Christian Rohlehr (4-5) had little trouble getting it done in the paint as well. Andy Toole is without a true rim protector, so it's an area that Glenn Braica should look to exploit again.

2. Josh Williams- I generally dislike stats like the one I'm about to share, as it includes some natural selection bias and it oversimplifies what it takes to win a basketball game. However, I couldn't help but notice it; in Robert Morris' 13 wins, the sharp-shooter made 51.2% of his three-point attempts. In their 5 losses? just 30%. Of course, RMU can win without Williams going off (they won games in which he shot 0-5 and 0-4 from three, as well as 1-6), but if the senior is able to get some good looks, it could be a long night for the Terriers.

#7 Bryant at #2 Saint Francis

Kenpom Projection: RMU 78, BU 71

Season Series: Split 1-1

Things to Watch:

1. Bryant's Defense- Back in November/December, the Bulldogs had by far the league's most efficient defense. While they didn't continue to perform to that standard in NEC play, they were certainly solid; Bryant finished 4th in defensive efficiency, and held teams to a 47.6% eFG% (3rd). Saint Francis, meanwhile, finished 3rd on the offensive side of the ball with a 52.1% eFG% (1st in offensive efficiency). On February 1st in Loretto, SFU lit up the scoreboard (84 points in 72 possessions) thanks to a 53.4% eFG%, a lot of which was done inside the arc as they made 16 of their 28 field goal attempts at the rim. Bryant was able to hold teams to 54.7% shooting at the rim on the season, and with Hall Elisias and his 13.4% block rate in the paint, it'll be imperative to limit the close looks for the Red Flash.

2. Keith Braxton- The 2019 NEC Player of the Year was somewhat overshadowed by his teammate Isaiah Blackmon, who won the award this season, but Braxton remains a stud. While Jared Grasso has plenty of quickness on the perimeter, he doesn't have someone who can match-up physically to Braxton, who is listed at 6'5" 210 lbs. and is strong. On February 1st against Bryant, Braxton went off for 22 points on 9-12 from the field, and Grasso is going to have to find a way to force him to settle for jump shots (he shot 32% from three). If he's getting to the rim where he shot 62% this season, it'll be good night Bulldogs.

#6 Mount St. Mary's at #3 Sacred Heart

Kenpom Projection: SHU 71, MSMU 61

Season Series: SHU 1-0

Things to Watch:

1. Mount's Struggles- The Mount started off NEC play rather nicely; there was a 4-game winning streak in mid-to-late January, and on January 25th they sat at 5-2. However, it's been a struggle since then; they finished the season 2-9, including losing 7 of their final 8 games, and really struggled from the field; over those final eight contests, they had an eFG% of just 46.1% and shot just 32% from three. Damian Chong Qui was the only Mount player to shoot better than 33% from three (36.7%) on the year, but they do have the horses to put up a big game. Vado Morse and Jalen Gibbs have had their moments this season, as has Nana Opoku and Malik Jefferson down low. They will need efficient nights from at least a few of those guys to get it done Wednesday night.

2. The Boards- The Pios were the league's best offensive (and defensive) rebounding team, grabbing 36.6% of their misses. The Mount, meanwhile, was the 3rd best defensive rebounding team, holding opponents to a 27% OR%. Something will have to give! In the lone matchup between these two, a January 30th tilt in Fairfield, SHU managed just 7 offensive rebounds (21.2%), well below their season average, though Sacred Heart was still able to manage a 58-53 win. The Pios don't particularly shoot it well (49.5% eFG%, 6th in the league), and heavily rely on E.J. Anosike and Jare'l Spellman's ability to clean up misses. If the Mount can limit those opportunities, good things might happen.

#5 Fairleigh Dickinson at #4 Long Island

Kenpom Projection: LIU 80, FDU 75

Season Series: LIU 2-0

Things to Watch:

1. The FDU Backcourt- For over a month now, Greg Herenda's guards have been straight fire. Since January 30th, Jahlil Jenkins has shot 50% from three and his 116.1 O-Rating is 3rd only to Isaiah Blackmon and Keith Braxton amongst players with a usage greater than 17%. But it's not just Jenkins; again since 1/30, freshman Devon Dunn has shot 42.3% from three and has the 5th best eFG% in the league (61.8%), while Brandon Powell (59.7%) and Xzavier Malone-Key (59.6%) are 9th and 10th in eFG%, respectively. So it should surprise no one that FDU won 7 of their final 10 games, including their last three. Perhaps no NEC team comes into the NEC Tournament than the Knights.

2. The Three-Ball- It's 2020, and the three-pointer is essentially what will make-or-break almost every game. But for Long Island it's especially important; 48.4% of the Sharks' field goal attempts have come from three-point land, which is the 25th highest in the nation. However, they weren't exactly great; they made 34.5% of their attempts on the season (34.7% in league play), which is certainly above average, but they did have some clunkers- 5 for 24 in their road loss at SFU in February, 3 for 13 at Merrimack, 7 for 25 in a home loss to RMU, and 4-29 in their 2OT loss at Mount St. Mary's. In two wins over FDU, Long Island had little trouble, as they shot 23 for 56 (50%) from long-range. Jashaun Agosto (38.6%), Jermaine Jackson Jr. (37%), Julian Batts (41.2%), and Virshon Cotton (35%) can call kill you from deep, and Ty Flowers (29.3%) and Raiquan Clark (32.5%) can get going as well.

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