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Northeast Conference Preview

November 10, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Northeast Conference Preview

by Keith Burdette

Departure was the consistent theme of the Northeast Conference this offseason. Wagner, the conference’s lone NCAA tournament team, was hit hardest losing coach of the year Derek Whittenburg to Fordham and player of the year Jermaine Hall to graduation. Mount St. Mary’s is the only team to return all five starters but they lost coach Jim Phelan and his 830 wins to retirement. The conference even lost a team as the University of Maryland Baltimore County bolted for the America East Conference. However, all these departures will only make the conference race that much tighter as any one of six squads has a legitimate chance at finishing in the top spot.

Sophomore Darshan Luckey is one of two all-conference players to return this season. Last year he became the first freshman in ten years to make the all-conference team and also led the league in scoring. The other all-conference returnee is Ron Robinson of Central Connecticut State who led the league in rebounding. These players make their teams prohibitive favorites at the outset. Despite its losses, Wagner still has a chance with three returning starters. Quinnipiac returns four starters from the team that posed the biggest challenge to Wagner in the conference tournament. Monmouth lost defensive player of the year and second team all-conference center Kevin Owens, but returns four starters from the team that finished second in the regular season. Don’t be surprised if any of these teams walk away with the title.


Player of the Year
Darshan Luckey St. Francis PA

Most Improved Player
Gordon Klaiber Fairleigh Dickenson

Newcomer of the Year
James Williams Long Island

All Conference Team
Darshan Luckey St. Francis PA
Ron Robinson Central Connecticut State
Maurice Carter Robert Morris
Rashaun Banjo Quinnipiac
Courtney Pritchard Wagner

1. Central Connecticut State Blue Devils

(12-6 conference record, 15-13 overall, 3 returning starters)

Over the last five years, no team in the NEC has won more conference or regular season games than the Blue Devils. They lose their leading scorer Ricardo Scott, but there’s still plenty left in the cupboard for them to go after their third NCAA tournament appearance in five years. All-conference forward Ron Robinson returns with a chance to become the leagues all-time leading rebounder. Sophomore Justin Chiera takes over one of the starting guard spots after averaging nearly ten points a game and finishing second on the team in assists en route to an All-NEC rookie team selecction. Six freshmen join the team, including Antonio McMillion who was forced to redshirt last season after an eye-injury during the preseason. Early games in the Mohegan Sun Classic as well as dates with regional major conference foes UMass and Providence should provide an indication if this team can go all the way. Keys will be Robinson and Chiera emerging as consistent scoring threats and the freshmen stepping up to form some semblance of a bench.

Projected Starters
Sophomore Guard Justin Chiera 6-1
Sophomore Guard Lenny Jefferson 6-0
Senior Forward Ron Robinson 6-7
Junior Forward Rich Pittman 6-6
Junior Forward/Center Rob Barrett 6-7

2. St. Francis (PA) Red Flash

(10-8 conference record, 14-14 overall, 4 returning starters)

The Red Flash’s chances rest on the shoulders of Darshan Luckey. After sitting out the 2001-2002 year, Luckey showed everyone how talented he was by leading the league in scoring last year. This earned him many honors including rookie of the year and first team all-conference. The team also improved its record by eight games and they hope for a similar jump this season. Lost in all the hype was the emergence of Erick Wills and Jason Osbourne. Luckey and Wills form one of the highest scoring tandems to return to the NEC this season. Wills has been penciled in as the starter at point to replace Dan Swoger. Osbourne gained eligibility last December and gave the Red Flash a presence in the post they had lacked. Guard Rashaan Benton returns after back surgery last year, he had been an all-rookie team performer in 2001-2002. He provides a strong scoring threat off the bench. St. Francis opens the season with four games on the road including in-state major conference rivals Pittsburgh and Penn State. A strong performance in these games could give them a boost to a high conference finish.

Projected Starters
Senior Guard Erick Wills 6-0
Sophomore Guard Darshan Luckey 6-5
Senior Forward Steveroy Daley 6-5
Junior Forward Rodney Gibson 6-5
Junior Forward Jason Osbourne 6-8

3. Wagner Seahawks

(14-4 conference record, 21-11 overall, 3 returning starters)

Despite leading the Seahawks to their first ever NCAA tournament berth, Derek Whittenburg jumped ship for greener pastures at Fordham in the Atlantic 10. Mike Deane takes over as head coach and brings with him four NCAA tournament appearances and 343 career wins in stops at Lamar, Marquette, Siena and Oswego State. He needs to find replacements for Jermaine Hall and Dedrick Dye, the team’s two leading scorers. Back are Courtney Pritchard who led the team in assists and averaged ten points a game, including 18 points a game in the NEC title run; Nigel Wyatte, the team’s leading rebounder and third leading scorer; and Teoine Carroll who led the team in free throw percentage and poured in 9 points a game. The bench is largely untested as only two players outside the starters averaged over ten minuets a game over the course of the entire season. Freshman Jermone Day could see significant minutes after a stellar high school career for the Blue Ridge School. Before jumping into NEC conference play, Wagner travels to Brown and Dayton as well as playing four games in the Pittsburgh Tournament. The emergence of a bench will greatly determine the Seahawk’s fate this season.

Projected Starters
Senior Guard Courtney Pritchard 6-0
Sophomore Guard DeEarnest McLemore 6-1
Senior Guard/Forward Doug Viegas 6-6
Junior Forward Sean Munson 6-8
Senior Forward Nigel Wyatte 6-9

4. Quinnipiac Bobcats

(10-8 conference record, 17-12 overall, 4 returning starters)

After challenging Wagner to its toughest game in last year’s NEC tournament, the Bobcats looked poised for a tournament run of their own this season. The strength starts in the backcourt with two second team all-league performers in Kason Mims and Rob Monroe. Mims led the team in scoring and assists while Monroe led the team in three pointers and minutes per game. The frontcourt returns CJ Vick who led the team in FG percentage and Rashaun Banjo who tied for the lead in scoring. Jeremy Bishop, the team’s leading rebounder, is the only missing starter and his void could be filled by junior college transfer Pierre Faye or freshman Christian Burns. Local product Craig Benson will provide a spark off the bench again this season after averaging 6 points a game in the same role as a freshman. The Bobcats open the season with two tournaments in warmer climates, the first at Florida International and the second at Hawaii-Hilo. The conference season opens on December 6th with a game at Central Connecticut State and also includes a January 7th game with St. Francis NY as part of a quadruple header at Madison Square Garden. Experience could carry Quinnipiac to the league title.

Projected Starters
Junior Guard Rob Monroe 5-10
Senior Guard Kason Mims 6-3
Senior Forward Rashaun Banjo 6-6
Freshman Forward Christian Burns 6-7
Junior Forward CJ Vick 6-9

5. Monmouth Hawks

(13-5 conference record, 15-13 overall, 4 returning starters)

After a strong second place conference finish last season, Monmouth’s NCAA tournament hopes were dashed in the first round by seventh seeded Fairleigh Dickinson. The pieces are there for another chance at the elusive conference championship. Second team all-conference player Dwayne Byfield is one of four returning starters. He led the team in scoring and three pointers made last season. Tyler Azzarelli, the team leader in assists, Jason Krayl and Blake Hamilton complete the returning quartet. Second team all-league and defensive player of the year Kevin Owens will be sorely missed. Appalachian State transfer Brian Boxler looks to fill the void left at center by the team’s leading rebounder and shot blocker. The season opens with the University of Virgin Islands Paradise jam which includes Boston College. Dates with Big East schools and fellow Jersey residents Rutgers and Seton Hall also highlight the schedule before conference play. Defense has always been the strength of this team, leading the NEC in scoring defense 10 out of the last 15 years. If a suitable replacement for Owens can be found in the matchup zone, Monmouth should again challenge for the league title.

Projected Starters
Sophomore Guard Tyler Azzarelli 6-1
Junior Guard Dwayne Byfield 6-2
Senior Forward Jason Krayl 6-5
Senior Forwarrd Blake Hamilton 6-7
Senior Center Brian Boxler 6-11

6. Robert Morris Colonials

(7-11 conference record, 10-17 overall, 4 returning starters)

After narrowly missing the NEC tournament last season, the Colonials look in prime shape to return to the postseason. The team shouldn’t lack experience as four starters return including Maurice Carter who was third in the conference in scoring, second in three pointers made and a second team all league performer. He is supported by forwards Aaron Thomas and Chaz McCrommon, a trio which combined for 48 points a game last season. Penn State transfer Daren Tielsch becomes eligible in January and should give the Colonials the depth they lacked last season as four of the starters averaged well over 30 minutes a game. Christopher Gooden and Derek Coleman look to fill the void at point guard left by DaMarcus Ellis. Robert Morris opens the conference season in December with a game against St. Francis but has tough road dates with Pittsburgh and St. Bonaventure before that. With some bench help to spell the starters, the Colonials should have little problem qualifying for the NEC tournament.

Projected Starters
Junior Guard Christopher Gooden 6-1
Junior Guard Maurice Carter 6-0
Senior Forward Chaz McCrommon 6-6
Senior Forward Aaron Thomas 6-7
Senior Forward Bobby Davenpart 6-9

7. Long Island Blackbirds

(7-11 conference record, 9-19 overall, 3 returning starters)

Unlike many of its NEC brethren, the strength of the Blackbird lies in the frontcourt. Raymond Edwards, Derek Bell and Brandon Thomas will present matchup problems for any conference foe. Edwards is the team’s leading returning scorer and Bell was the team’s leading rebounder last season. The backcourt lost much talent as Antawn Dobie, the team’s leading scorer and an all-league performer, JaJa Bey, the team’s second leading scorer and spark off the bench, and Maurice Yearwood, the team leader in three pointers all depart. Morgan Williams is the only guard with significant playing experience to return and figures to slide into the role of off-guard. A highly-touted freshman class comes in with the chance to play key minutes. James Williams has been penciled into the starting point guard spot after leading his high school team to the Texas Class 5A state title. Dates with Rutgers and Texas A&M highlight the non-conference schedule which also includes a trip to the College of Charleston tournament. If Morgan Williams and James Williams can cement themselves as starters, the Blackbirds should improve on the 8th seed they got last season in the NEC tournament.

Projected Starters
Freshman Guard James Williams 5-11
Sophomore Guard Morgan Williams 6-2
Sophomore Forward Brandon Thomas 6-6
Junior Forward Derek Bell 6-7
Senior Forward/Senior Raymond Edwards 6-7

8. Sacred Heart Pioneers

(6-12 conference record, 8-21 overall, 4 returning starters)

After failing to make the NEC tournament in last year’s injury plagued season, the Pioneers are poised to make a run at the postseason. They return four starters from last year’s squad including the backcourt of Maurice Bailey and Omar Wellington, both seniors. Bailey led the team in scoring while Wellington led the team in assists and was the top threat from downtown. Zach Spivey was the only true postman last season, posting an admirable 6 points, 5 rebounds a game after seeing limited minutes his first two seasons. He will be greatly helped by the return of Kibwe Trim and Mading Mading, both players injured in the early part of last season. At 7-2, Mading presents matchup difficulties for all teams and Trim was on the verge of breaking out before being sidelined last year. The schedule takes them to Big East powers Boston College and Connecticut as well as Wisconsin for Final Four participant Marquette before the start of the conference season. With the development of solid threat in the frontcourt, the Pioneers could surprise a lot of teams.

Projected Starters
Senior Guard Omar Wellington 5-10
Senior Guard Maurice Bailey 6-0
Junior Guard James Samuels 6-4
Junior Forward Kibwe Trim 6-10
Senior Center Zachary Spivey 6-9

9. Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers

(6-12 conference record, 11-16 overall, 5 returning starters)

While returning nearly every player from last year’s squad, the team lost its most influential member when coach Jim Phelan retired. He had been behind the bench for the past 49 years. His successor Milan Brown was still 17 years from being born when he started coaching at Mount St. Mary’s. Brown inherits a young team that gained invaluable playing experience last season. Guard Landy Thompson started all but one game last season and was selected to the all-rookie team while leading the Mountaineers in scoring. Along with Thompson, Chris Summer, Kiel Butler and Charles Cook were other members of the freshman class that saw significant action. Adding to the depth of that class is Northeastern transfer Antonio Johnson who averaged 7 points a game his only season for the Huskies. Non-conference road games with Notre Dame, Virginia and Maryland will get this team battletested for NEC play. They maybe a year or two away from contending; but with solid seasons from seniors Nick Dodson, Pat Atangana and Jamion Christian, the Mountaineers could sneak into the NEC tournament.

Projected Starters
Sophomore Guard Landy Thompson 6-1
Sophomore Guard Chris Summer 6-1
Senior Forward Pat Atangana 6-6
Sophomore Forward Kiel Butler 6-7
Senior Center Nick Dodson 6-10

10. St. Francis (NY) Terriers

(9-9 conference record, 14-16 overall, 2 returning starters)

The Terriers will be hard-pressed to match last season’s run to NEC tournament final. Three starters depart, all conference player Clifford Strong, the team leader in rebounds and second leading scorer; Bronski Dockery, the team’s leading scorer; and Chris Sockwell, the team’s leading shot blocker and third leading scorer. John Quintana looks to step into a starting role after an all-rookie team selection and a strong performance in the tournament which put him on the all tournament team. Tori Cavalieri and Christian Brown return to starting roles in the backcourt but the real question is who will earn the minutes in the frontcourt. Eric Thompson is the only returnee with much playing time last season. The lack of experience could give Brian Franklyn, a freshman from Brooklyn, the chance to earn a starting job. The Terriers open with UMass in the Preseason NIT and would advance to face Davidson or Texas Tech with a win. Penn State and St. John’s are other marquee names that round out the non-conference schedule. By getting younger players minutes this season, St. Francis NY could be a serious title contender a year or two from now.

Projected Starters
Sophomore Guard John Quintana 6-1
Junior Guard Tori Cavalieri 6-0
Sophomore Guard Christian Brown 6-4
Senior Forward Eric Thompson 6-8
Freshman Center Brian Franklyn 6-8

11. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights

(9-9 conference record, 15-14 overall, 2 returning starters)

Like St. Francis NY, the Knights will have trouble matching last season’s success. The upset of Monmouth in the first round of the NEC tournament capped an 11 game improvement over the season before. Gone are two of the players to make that happen, Lionel Bomayako, the team’s leading scorer and Matt Hammound the team’s leading rebounder and second leading scorer. The only returning starters are Marcus Whitaker, the team leader in assists and Gordon Klaiber, the team leader in blocks. Chad Timberlake figures to join the starting five after playing sixth man last season, averaging 6 points and 3 assists a game while earning an all rookie team selection. The loss of Hammond leaves a big hole in the frontcourt which was addressed in the off season by bringing in freshmen Andrea Crosariol, Jordan Ingram and Matt Ross, all at least 6-7 and sure to be plugged into the rotation from the start. Trips to Nebraska and Florida State highlight the non-conference schedule. The conference schedule starts December 13th with a trip to Long Island. How quick the freshman can adapt to the college game will be a large part in figuring how far this team can go.

Projected Starters
Senior Guard Marcus Whitaker 5-9
Senior Guard Mensah Peterson 6-2
Sophomore Guard Chad Timberlake 6-4
Senior Guard Brandon Edwards 6-4
Sophomore Forward Gordon Klaiber 6-8


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