2001-02 Northeast Conference Preview
by Lon Samuelson
Also known as “The NCAA sacrificial lamb” the other (Big East) other (A-10) other (MAAC) conference based in the New York / New Jersey Metro area is the Northeast Conference. One of the few conferences to have never won an NCAA tournament game (0-20) one team looks to be rid of that proverbial “monkey off their back”.
1. Monmouth: Pulling off one off the most impressive comebacks in the NEC tournament final (a 20 point deficit to St. Francis) to win a trip to the Big Dance highlighted the Hawks conference championship run. Falling prey to National Champion Duke in the first round did not. The Hawks look to build off last season’s effort. NEC Player-of-the-Year senior point guard Rashaan Johnson has the potential to repeat his post-season success and get Coach Calloway’s team back to the dance.
2. Wagner: Back in 1983 guard Dereck Whittenburg played a vital role in NC State’s winning of the national title. In 2001-02 Coach Whittenburg hopes to play an equally vital role in getting the Seahawks into the Round of 64. Junior forward Jermaine Hall is the centerpiece of a solid group of upperclassmen that should be in the NEC title game.
3. Long Island: From the category “size doesn’t matter” we bring you the LIU Blackbirds, who do not have a player taller then 6’8 on their roster. With that said coach Ray Martin will rely heavily on one of the best backcourts in the conference in 6-0 junior point guard Maurice Yearwood and 6-0 senior guard Antawn Dobie to get the Blackbirds back to their perch atop the NEC.
4. Mount St. Mary’s: Forget about Cats and Cal Ripken for career longevity. How bout Coach Jim Phelan? The Mountaineers’ main man embarks on his 48th season in Emmitsburg. He may have a surprise in store for the NEC with the return of 6-10 junior center Melvin Whitaker. Add in a solid crew around the big fella and the dancing scene may be in the cards.
5. Maryland-Baltimore County: The youth movement will be in action down in Baltimore for Coach Tom Sullivan, who is without a senior on his roster. Don’t worry about experience for the Retrievers with the 2001 NEC Rookie-of-the-year Peter Mulligan on the perimeter and 2001 NEC All-rookie team center Will McClurkin on the inside.
6. Central Connecticut State: Not to be mistaken with the Blue Devils from Durham, these Blue Devils will have a tough time getting the opportunity to play basketball in mid-March. NEC first-teamer senior Corlsey Edwards will lead Coach Howie Dickeman’s team.
7. Fairleigh Dickinson: Transition is in the air for Coach Tom Green and the Knights. One starter, 6-10 senior center James Felton, returns from last year’s disappointing 13-15 campaign. Newcomers 6-9 junior Doug Whitler and 6-5 freshman Ryshaun Sunkins look to revitalize this NEC power.
8. Robert Morris: Another year another new coach for the Colonials. Mark Schmidt takes the reigns from Danny Nee (Duquesne) out in Western Pennsylvania. Senior forward Wesley Fluellen will be the go-to guy for a team that hopes to qualify for this year’s conference tournament.
9. St. Francis (New York): It was a difficult season finale, to say the least, for Ron Ganulin’s troops. The Terriers had a 20 point lead disintegrate as Monmouth came back to win the NEC crown. Bouncing back will be difficult with the loss of 4 starters from last year’s regular season championship team. Senior forward Cliff Strong is the lone returning starter.
10. Quinnipiac: Coach Joe DeSantis’ Braves have been on a roller coaster ride of sorts since joining the NEC from the D-2 ranks in 1999. A fourth place finish in 1999-2000 was followed by the last place finish in 2000-2001. Seniors Jared Grasso and Bill Romano will provide the firepower.
11. Sacred Heart: Yet another recent D-2 alum, the Pioneers finished in 11th place last year. Coach Dave Bike has 7-2 center Mading Mading to lean on as they try to move up in the conference standings.
12. St. Francis (Pennsylvania): The basement of the NEC could be in the future for the Red Flash. Coach Bobby Jones will have to rebuild with 5 freshmen to avoid the dubious distinction of being last in the NEC. Freshman guard Darshan Luckey will be at the front of this group.
The only thing consistent about the NEC is that it’s inconsistent. Since 1997 a different team has represented the conference in the Tournament. Monmouth should stop that streak, though Wagner and LIU will have something to say about it. The conference tournament allows one more participant this year (from 7 to 8) so four teams will be left in the cold.