Northeast Conference Notebook
by Zach Smart
Ah, to be an NEC team during this juncture of the season. This is when the league begins to turn up the volts, when the top-of-the-line team floats down to the middle of the pack before the blink of an eye. The NEC world is where out-of-conference action rarely affects your team confidence. Even freefalling into an 0-5 non-conference hole and suffering a brutal, 37-point whopping to the cross-town rival won’t derail post-season aspirations. The morale of the program is fully counting on you during these evenly-matched, unpredictable battles.
Teams that live in the NEC know that there is no established food chain here. There is no top-flight team in the up-for-grabs, free-for-all conference. Last year, Central Connecticut ripped through the conference as the clear-cut favorite, their season culminating with a loss to Ohio State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
Not this year.
Robert Morris did what few teams at this tier of basketball can do back on Jan. 7, stamping a 57-51 victory over Boston College in a game that surely dropped jaws of hoop junkies throughout the nation. But just when the Colonials thought they had put themselves on the map, they were shellacked, 82-69, by Sacred Heart.
On top of the world one moment, funneled down to fifth place the next. That’s life when you’re battling for mid-season supremacy in a wide-open conference that will instantly vault one team to titanic exposure and NCAA college basketball lure when all is said and done.
“Right now, I think it’s really too early to determine which teams are going to come out on top,” said Mount St. Mary’s coach Milan Brown last week.
As of right now, Wagner (12-5, 5-1 NEC) and eccentric head coach Mike Deane appear to be the team to beat. They are currently tied for first place with Quinnipiac (9-8, 5-1), who have ripped off four wins in their last five games. Sudden success is something you’d expect from a team whose head coach is earning a king’s ransom to revitalize the program and establish a basketball culture.
As for Deane, who can be seen sporting sunglasses on the sideline, a new aspect of his quirky coaching tools has emerged: A seatbelt.
The Seahawk coach with a penchant for jumping out on the court and becoming easily animated has implemented a seatbelt that straps him to his chair throughout the game. Hopefully Wagner’s group of assistants won’t have to tighten the screws too often.
Deane has subscribed to this new method of restraining himself after the officials have made it clear they will be less tolerant this season.
“After a turnover, I’d expect him to be up yelling at me,” says Wagner guard Joey Mundweiler, who must have felt like a punch-drunk fighter when he first saw that his coach was seated.
But Deane doesn’t have much to yell about at Mundweiler these days. The off guard is averaging 11.1 points and shooting 52 percent from the floor. Mundweiler is just a key cog in the Seahawks’ well-balanced offense that has allowed them to surface as the top team.
No player averages more than 14 points a game, with Mark Porter leading the way with 14.4. The 6-2 point guard has also orchestrated this well-oiled machine effectively, handing out a team-high 5.6 assists.
- Showing Some Heart: After a dreadful 0-6 start, the skeptics began to surface, as Sacred Heart – who the coaches pegged as the conference favorite – appeared to be suffering from identity theft. The team that advanced all the way to the conference finals last season has re-emerged, behind the play of Brice Brooks, Chauncey Hardy, and Drew Shubik.
- DA’s World: After scoring 16 points the first few games of the season, DeMario Anderson has been on a tear for the Quinnipiac Bobcats. The 6-foot-4 swingman is one of nation’s elite scorers, averaging 20.8 per game. This past week, Anderson was named Choice Hotels NEC player of the week after averaging 23 points, eight boards, and three steals while shooting an efficient 53 percent from the floor. The Bobcat boat will only go as far as Anderson, who played for Central Connecticut his first two seasons, steers them.
- Dolla, Dolla U-Billa: With graduation claiming top scorers Andre Harris (18.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG) and Michael Peeples (11.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG), FDU knew that they would need someone to jump in and fill the void.
Enter Manny Ubilla. Ubilla is averaging 21.4 points and 6.3 assists in what is easily his best season as a collegian. The senior, who hung 39 on nationally-ranked Rhode Island in a 94-63 loss, has upped his scoring average by nearly 10 points from last season. He has emerged into one of the conference’s premier point guards and is playing like a sure-fire first team all-conference selection.
- 1. Wagner: Free throw shooting has hurt them, but if the ‘Hawks balanced offense continues to work the way they have, Deane will need to buckle up his seatbelt because it’s going to be a ride.
- 2. Quinnipiac: Bobcats are sizzling as of late, will need to continue to shoot the ball and not rely too heavily on Anderson should the NCAA tournament come calling.
- 3. Robert Morris: The trio of A.J. Jackson, Tony Lee, and Jeremy Chappell could drive this team deep into the post-season for first-year head coach Mike Rice.