College Basketball Preview – Northeast Conference
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) –
OUTLOOK: For the first time since the 2001-02 season, the NEC sent two teams to
the postseason in 2005-06, as Monmouth represented the league in the NCAA
Tournament and the regular season champion, Fairleigh Dickinson, earned a spot
in the NIT. While Monmouth should be in the running once again for the league
title, FDU is in rebuilding mode with the loss of several key players. Central
Connecticut State, which finished second in the regular season, is one of
several teams with a good deal of experience returning and is certainly one of
the favorites for the league crown. Robert Morris and Long Island are two other
contenders that finished in the upper half of the league last season.
Quinnipiac and Wagner are teams that finished under .500 last year, but have
plenty of returning talent to make a charge toward the top this time around.
With a good mix of returning starters and talented newcomers, St. Francis-NY is
another team that will try to go from a losing record to conference champion.
Sacred Heart lost the league’s top scorer, but still has enough returning
talent to make some noise.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Central Connecticut State
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH:
1. Central Connecticut State; 2. Monmouth; 3. Robert Morris; 4. Long Island; 5.
St. Francis-NY; 6. Sacred Heart; 7. Wagner; 8. Fairleigh Dickinson; 9.
Quinnipiac; 10. Mount St. Mary’s; 11. St. Francis-PA
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
CENTRAL CONNECTICUT STATE – After posting just an 8-10 mark in the NEC in
2004-05, the Blue Devils made a charge up the league ladders last year,
finishing second with a 13-5 ledger. The team also posted an 18-11 overall
mark, although it was knocked off by Monmouth in the semifinals of the
conference tournament. With three starters back in the fold from last year’s
club, CCSU could be the cream of the NEC crop this season. The 2006-07 team
sports the solid backcourt duo of Tristan Blackwood and Javier Mojica.
Blackwood led the Blue Devils in both scoring (14.3 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg)
last season, while Mojica chipped in with 8.9 ppg. Forward Obie Nwadike will
once again provide CCSU with a big time presence in the paint, as he was one of
the few players in the nation to average a double-double with 12.3 ppg and 10.3
rpg a year ago. Four freshman and pair of juco transfers will help fill in the
remaining spots for what should be a talented group of Blue Devils.
MONMOUTH – The Hawks have been highly successful in the NEC over the last
several years, and although they fell short of winning their third straight
regular season title, they still managed to reach the Big Dance by winning the
conference tournament championship. Monmouth even beat Hampton (71-49) in the
opening round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to top-seeded Villanova
(58-45). The Hawks welcome back three starters from last year’s team that went
19-15 overall, making them a contender for the NEC title once again. The team
even returns its top two scorers in Dejan Delic and Marques Alston. Delic, a
6-6 guard, averaged a team-best 12.3 ppg in 2005-06, while Alston, a 6-4
forward, finished second with 11.6 ppg to go along with 5.3 rpg. Monmouth is
also expecting big things from 7-2, 320-pound center John Bunch, who was a key
reserve last season. Bunch averaged 8.0 ppg and 5.2 rpg off the bench, and was
also one of the top shot blockers in the league (3.0 bpg).
ROBERT MORRIS – The Colonials were expected to drop off last season with little
returning experience, but instead they went on to post their first winning
campaign in six years, finishing 15-14 overall. Four of five starters from last
year’s team that went 10-8 in league play return, making Robert Morris a threat
to win the NEC crown for the first time since 1991-92. Leading the charge for
the Colonials is A.J. Jackson, who is one of the premier players in the league.
The versatile forward did it all last season, finishing first in the league in
double-doubles (14), second in scoring (17.0 ppg) and third in rebounding (9.2
rpg). Robert Morris will also benefit from a backcourt that welcomes back three
starters in Jeremy Chappell, Derek Coleman and Tony Lee. Chappell is another
big-time scorer, as he averaged 14.1 ppg behind 39.6 percent shooting from long
range. Coleman added 11.9 ppg and dished out a team-high 4.7 ppg, while Lee
contributed 12.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg.
LONG ISLAND – The Blackbirds were plagued by injuries to key players last
season, but still found a way to finish an even 9-9 in the NEC. With all five
starters back from a team that went 12-16 overall, Long Island could be primed
for a big year. Leading the team is guard James Williams, who can simply do it
all, averaging 16.6 ppg and 3.3 apg a year ago. Aubin Scott, an athletic
forward/guard, is a player worth keeping an eye on as he could be set for a
breakout season after posting 9.8 ppg and 6.8 rpg in 2005-06. Guard Tyrone
Mattison (4.8 ppg) and forwards Esa Maki-Tulokas (6.8 ppg) and Kellen Allen
(6.9 ppg) all missed some time last year, but are ready to return to their
starting spots this season.
ST. FRANCIS-NY – The Terriers underachieved last season and finished just 7-11
in conference and 10-17 overall. However, with three starters back in the fold
and a solid crop of newcomers, St. Francis should find itself in the upper half
of the league standings in 2006-07. Guard Allan Sheppard is the team’s top
returnee after leading the Terriers in scoring (11.6 ppg) last season. Jamaal
Womack (5.9 ppg) will join Sheppard in the backcourt, while James St. Robert
(7.8 ppg) returns as the team’s most experienced player in the low post. St.
Francis could receive an added boost from newcomer Bass Yessoufou, a 6-9 center
from the Ivory Coast.
SACRED HEART – The Pioneers won five more games in league play and overall than
they did a year ago, posting an 8-10 conference mark and an 11-17 overall
record in 2005-06. The team welcomes back four of five starters from a year
ago, although the loss of 6-10 Kibwe Trim (19.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg) will be tough to
overcome. Still, the return of guard Jarrid Frye will certainly help compensate
for the loss of Trim. The 6-4 Frye was among the top scorers (16.1 ppg) last
season, and he also did a solid job on the boards, grabbing 6.4 rpg. Drew
Shubik (6-4) is another big guard for Sacred Heart, and he is coming off a year
in which he averaged 8.6 ppg. The low post is where the Pioneers need some help
and that may come in the form of 6-11 Jeff Salovski, who transferred in from
WAGNER – The Seahawks fared much better out of conference (7-2) last season
than they did in (6-12). The team welcomes back four starters from that squad,
including forward Durell Vinson. The 6-7 Vinson is a big-time presence in the
paint and nearly averaged a double-double last season with 15.2 ppg and 9.6
rpg. Mark Porter will run the show at the point, and he is coming off a solid
2005-06 campaign in which he averaged 11.9 ppg and a team-high 3.3 apg. Guard
Jamal Smith (8.0 ppg) and forward James Ulrich (6.3 rpg) are the other two
returning starters for Wagner.
FAIRLEIGH DICKINSON – The Knights won the NEC regular season title last season
with a 14-4 record, and also posted the league’s best overall mark at 20-12.
FDU, however, was denied its second straight NCAA Tournament appearance with a
heartbreaking 49-48 setback to Monmouth in the league tourney title tilt.
Still, the team earned a spot in the NIT, although it suffered another close
loss, 80-77, to Manhattan. With the loss of NEC Player of the Year Chad
Timberlake and two other key starters, the Knights will find it hard to
duplicate last year’s success. Guard Bernell Murray (6.9 ppg) and forward
Michael Peeples (9.4 ppg) are the team’s two returning starters and will be
counted on to lead FDU into battle. Incoming freshmen Sean Baptiste (guard) and
Lawrence Brown (7-1 center) should also play a big role by season’s end.
QUINNIPIAC – The Bobcats stumbled down the stretch, losing six of their last
seven games, and due to that fact, they finished just 7-11 in league play and
12-16 overall. The team, however, gained valuable experience and that coupled
with four returning starters, should give Quinnipiac what it needs to post a
winning season this time around. Karl Anderson, a 6-9 forward, appears ready to
load the team on his back after posting 9.4 ppg and 4.8 rpg a year ago. Victor
Akinyanju (6-6), who averaged 7.9 ppg and 5.5 rpg last season, should form a
solid tandem with Anderson in the frontcourt. Out on the perimeter is where
Adam Gonzalez will direct the team after averaging 10.5 ppg and a club-high 3.9
apg in 2005-06.
MOUNT ST. MARY’S – The Mountaineers were one of the top defensive teams in the
league last season, allowing just 62.9 ppg, and because of that they were able
to finish a solid 11-7 in conference. Playing solid defense this season is a
must for the Mountaineers, who lost three of their top four scorers from a year
ago. However, guard/forward Mychal Kearse does return, and he is one of the
more well-rounded players in the league, averaging 10.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg and 1.6
spg in 2005-06. Sam Atupem (6-7) and Gus Durr (6-6) combined to average 13.3
ppg a year ago and are just two options in a deep Mountaineer frontcourt.
Running the offense will be guard Joey Butler, who averaged 5.3 ppg and a team-
high 3.0 apg as a starter last season.
ST. FRANCIS-PA – The Red Flash followed their first winning season since
1997-98 by finishing dead last in the NEC standings at 2-16. St. Francis
stumbled to just a 4-24 overall record, although that could have been due to
several injuries to key players. One of them was 6-10 forward J.R. Enright, who
averaged 11.9 ppg and 7.3 rpg in the 11 games he played. He is apparently
healthy coming into this season, and coupled with 6-6 Jelani Lawrence (10.8
ppg), the Red Flash should have a solid frontcourt. Returning guards Grant
Surprenant (8.9 ppg) and Marquis Ford (6.9 ppg) should provide the Red Flash
with a productive backcourt as they hopefully learn from the experience they
garnered last year.