Tuesday , Feb , 28 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Northeast Conference Tournament Preview

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: All games to be played at home of higher seed.
Dates: March 2-8. Television: MSG, CN8 and ESPN2 (Championship Game). Annual:
25th. Defending Champion: Fairleigh Dickinson.

OUTLOOK: With a 79-62 victory over the Monmouth Hawks in their season finale,
the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights earned the regular season title of the
Northeast Conference with a record of 14-4. Along with the regular season
title comes the top seed and homecourt advantage throughout the tournament
for the Knights, who won this event last year. Monmouth could have taken the
top seed in the tourney with a victory over FDU, but will now have to settle
for the third-seed behind the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, who
claimed the second spot with a 79-67 win over the Quinnipiac Bobcats on
Monday. The Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers nabbed the fourth-seed with a record
of 11-7 in league play and will also get to host a quarterfinal home game. The
Robert Morris Colonials were the final team to post a winning record during
league play and therefore landed the fifth-seed. The Long Island Blackbirds
went an even 9-9 in league play and claimed the sixth-seed, while the Sacred
Heart Pioneers and Quinnipiac Bobcats grabbed the final tournament slots and
will enter as the seventh and eighth seeds, respectively. The winner of the
NEC Tournament will receive and automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

The 2006 NEC Tournament kicks off on Thursday with top-seeded FDU hosting
eighth-seeded Quinnipiac. The Knights defeated Wagner in the finals of last
year’s tournament and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since
1998. FDU posted a 9-2 record at home this season, including an 8-1 mark
against league foes. Quinnipiac on the other hand, went just 2-7 on the road
versus NEC opponents, although it did earn a split of the regular season
series with FDU.

Second-seeded Central Connecticut State squares off with seventh-seeded Sacred
Heart in another quarterfinal matchup. The Blue Devils finished the regular
season just one game back of FDU in the standings at 13-5 thanks to five
straight wins down the stretch. The team boasts a 10-3 mark at home this
season, including an 8-1 ledger versus conference foes. As for Sacred Heart,
it went just 3-11 on the road during the regular season and has dropped
its last five outings on an opponents home floor. The two teams split a pair
of meetings during the regular season.

Third-seeded Monmouth will look to avenge a 78-72 setback during the regular
season to sixth-seeded Long Island, when they meet in the quarterfinals. This
time however, the Hawks will have the luxury of playing at home, where they
have gone 7-2 against league foes thus far. Long Island posted 3-6 record on
the road in league play, but enters the tournament having won four of its last
five outings.

The final game of the quarterfinal round features fourth-seeded Mount St.
Mary’s versus fifth-seeded Robert Morris. Mount St. Mary’s took both games
during the regular season from Robert Morris, winning by a combined three
points. The Mountaineers posted a 6-3 mark at home in NEC play, while the
Colonials went just 3-6 on the road.

In terms of the history of the NEC Tournament, Robert Morris has claimed five
titles over the years, with its most recent coming in 1992. FDU comes in next
with four titles and has won more games (25) in this event than any other
current member. Monmouth checks in with three titles, winning it last in 2004.
Central Connecticut State has posted a 10-5 tournament record, which has led
the Blue Devils to two titles in the past six years. Long Island and Mount St.
Mary’s have also won two championships, while St. Francis-PA and Wagner have
each claimed one title. Three other current teams in the conference have yet
to win championships, with St. Francis-NY playing the most games (30) without
a title.

FDU is clearly the team to beat, as it not only won the tournament last
season, but it also earned the top-seed this time around. The Knights
however, will be pushed by both Central Connecticut State and Monmouth, each
of which has a strong history of success in this event. Still, with homecourt
advantage throughout the tournament, the Knights should be able to fight off
any challengers in becoming the first team since Rider (1994-95) to capture
back-to-back NEC Tournament crowns.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Fairleigh Dickinson