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2013-14 Northeast Conference Post-Mortem

June 30, 2014 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

The Northeast Conference has had a good run in recent years, from one of its best seasons in 2011-12 to seeing a new member become a contender as they become eligible for the conference tournament. The conference always has some good basketball with its top teams, and this year was no exception. Part of that was once again evident in the conference tournament, as the regular season champion once again didn’t take home the title.

Robert Morris has been a mainstay for several years now. You could argue that the Colonials are the signature program in the conference, as they have won at least 12 conference games each of the past seven seasons. The past two seasons, they have won the regular season title by two games. Yet a conference championship remains elusive, as they captured two straight in 2009 and 2010 but have yet to do it again.

That’s not to say that the Colonials are a bad tournament team. The reality is that other teams have gotten better, and the Colonials are good, but not unbeatable. Since Dan Hurley revived Wagner, they have been a contender, as former assistant Bashir Mason has kept them going. Bryant has emerged in its first two years eligible for the conference tournament, although they have yet to win a game there despite hosting twice. Glenn Braica has turned a previously moribund St. Francis Brooklyn program into at least a middle-of-the-pack team. And now Mount St. Mary’s is on the rise again, making another run to the title game this season. This time, the Mountaineers finished it and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Jamion Christian, who played there, is bringing his alma mater back in a big way.

LIU had carried the flag for the conference for a while, but fell on hard times in part due to injuries this season. Jason Brickman had a tremendous season, leading the nation in assists, but he didn’t have a lot of help. Meanwhile, the future looks promising for Saint Francis University and Fairleigh Dickinson.

In all, the Northeast Conference looks like it will remain the kind of conference it has typically been: highly competitive with tough teams and a conference tournament that can be quite unpredictable. Some of the names may change in parts of the standings, but the game remains relatively the same.

Final Standings

Northeast Overall
Robert Morris 14-2 22-14
Wagner 12-4 19-12
Bryant 10-6 18-14
Mount St. Mary’s 9-7 16-17
St. Francis Brooklyn 9-7 18-14
Saint Francis University 7-9 10-21
Central Connecticut 7-9 11-19
Fairleigh Dickinson 6-10 10-21
LIU Brooklyn 4-12 9-20
Sacred Heart 2-14 5-26

Conference Tournament

The tournament started with three thrillers, including an upset. Wagner was the only one to breeze to victory, as they beat Central Connecticut 83-59. Robert Morris held off Fairleigh Dickinson 60-53, while Mount St. Mary’s edged St. Francis Brooklyn 72-71. Saint Francis University pulled off the shocker, going to Smithfield and rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second half to beat Bryant 55-54 behind the game of a lifetime from Ronnie Drinnon (20 points, 18 rebounds).

The semifinals were both great games, with Robert Morris beating pesky Saint Francis 60-57 and Mount St. Mary’s going on the road to beat Wagner 77-72. The Mountaineers were in the conference championship game for the second year in a row, and this time they finished the job as they couldn’t miss at the offensive end en route to an 88-71 win at Robert Morris to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Karvel Anderson, Robert Morris
Rookie of the Year: Malik Harmon, Saint Francis University
Coach of the Year: Andrew Toole, Robert Morris
Defensive Player of the Year: Kenneth Ortiz, Wagner
Most Improved Player: Sidney Sanders Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson

All-Conference Team
Karvel Anderson, Sr. G, Robert Morris
Jason Brickman, Sr. G, LIU Brooklyn
Jalen Cannon, Jr. F, St. Francis Brooklyn
Alex Francis, Sr. F, Bryant
Sidney Sanders Jr., Sr. G, Fairleigh Dickinson

Season Highlights

  • Jason Brickman led the nation in assists by handing out ten per game, over two more than anyone else.
  • Alex Francis completed a stellar career at Bryant, as he is the only player ever to rank in the top five in career points (2,085) and rebounds (990).
  • Wagner’s Kenneth Ortiz won the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year award for an unprecedented third time.

What we expected, and it happened: Robert Morris was the top team in the regular season. The Colonials had some adversity in non-conference play, but their tough schedule helped them once January came.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Fairleigh Dickinson was expected to be a bottom-feeder once more, but they jumped up to make the conference tournament. New head coach Greg Herenda is already changing the culture in Teaneck, and the early returns are all positive.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Saint Francis University made a big jump to the point where the future looks very bright. The Red Flash have the reigning Rookie of the Year and a solid group around him, and beating Bryant on the road in the NEC Tournament should do wonders for this team’s confidence.

Team(s) on the rise: Mount St. Mary’s. In Jamion Christian’s first two years at his alma mater, the Mountaineers have made late-season runs to get to the championship game, winning it this past season. There’s a lot of room for growth, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that will happen. Also: Fairleigh Dickinson, as Herenda’s early work portends good things to come.

Team(s) on the decline: Central Connecticut. Howie Dickenmann can coach, and he’s had a good deal of success at the school. But the last couple of years haven’t been memorable ones, and there’s not a lot of reason at first glance to think next season will be much different.

2014-15 Conference Outlook

The conference watches a lot of production depart next season, although there is some potential among the second and third team all-conference selections this season. Still, at first glance, a repeat of 2011-12, when three teams won at least 25 games, doesn’t appear likely.

Potential favorites will once again start with Robert Morris. The Colonials lose the conference Player of the Year, who was also a big leader, but return an experienced team with young talent ready to emerge and a solid coaching staff. Bryant loses a lot with the graduations of Francis and point guard Corey Maynard, but still has Dyami Starks and a good supporting cast around him. Mount St. Mary’s loses some key seniors, but Jamion Christian is building his alma mater back into a program that will contend often.

In the middle of the pack are a few teams that have a lot returning and could be sleeper contenders. Saint Francis University and St. Francis Brooklyn are both in that category. The Red Flash bring back much of their team, led by reigning Rookie of the Year Malik Harmon and team leader Earl Brown. The Terriers, meanwhile, lose two starters, including second-leading scorer Ben Mockford, but return an experienced core led by Jalen Cannon. Wagner loses a great deal of experience, production and intangibles, but don’t rule them out as they have some good holdovers and have established a culture of winning.

Rebuilding will probably continue at places like Sacred Heart, LIU and Central Connecticut, although the Blue Devils will at least have a player worth watching in Kyle Vinales.

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