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2016-17 Northeast Conference Post-Mortem

August 17, 2017 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

The Northeast Conference has a problem on its hands, and it’s a problem without any apparent solution. Or at least, without any apparent enviable solution.

The conference has players who are having too much success.

Okay, it’s not that simple, really. But in a time where more players are not only transferring, period, but transferring up – from a conference like the Northeast to schools in a bigger conference like the Power 5 or even one like the Atlantic 10 – the Northeast Conference stands out above others. No conference is being bit by this portion of the transfer bug as badly as the NEC is.

This year was the worst of it for the NEC, but it didn’t happen in a vacuum. The last couple of years have built up to this.

Two years ago, Matt Mobley transferred from Central Connecticut to St. Bonaventure and Marcquise Reed transferred to Clemson. Last year, the conference watched scoring champion Cane Broome transfer to Cincinnati and Robert Morris lose Rodney Pryor to Georgetown, the latter as a graduate transfer. This year, two of the three underclassmen who made the All-NEC first team transferred up by early May and the other had announced his transfer but not his destination, believed to be for a school from a bigger conference. (Ultimately, that proved true as former Sacred Heart guard Quincy McKnight transferred to Seton Hall in June.) Only one senior made the all-conference second and third teams, but is it just a matter of time before most of the nine underclassmen there end up transferring as well?

The transfers didn’t end there, but those were the most notable of them.

The rash of transfers all over the landscape has claimed a number of coaches among its victims. In the Northeast Conference, there was surprisingly just one coaching change after the season, and it was one that got a lot of people talking. LIU parted company with Jack Perri despite coming in second by two games and winning 20 games, and then replaced him with former UMass head coach Derek Kellogg.

But it may not be long before others are claimed by it, namely those bit by the transfer bug the most. It all depends on how patient athletic directors are, as well as how coaches reinvent their programs to deal with this. We usually talk about high-major programs having to do that as they lose players early to the NBA Draft, but they aren’t the only ones needing to do it now. The reason is different, but the impact to the programs are the same.

The challenge in the Northeast Conference, and several similar ones, is evolving. It’s getting much tougher to build a program around a core that gains experience together and peaks when many who comprise that core are juniors or seniors. Nowadays, the best players simply are not sticking around that long, and it’s a trend that almost certainly won’t go away.

Final Standings

Northeast
Overall
Mount St. Mary’s
14-4
20-16
LIU Brooklyn
13-5
20-12
Wagner
11-7
16-14
Saint Francis U
11-7
16-16
Bryant
9-9
12-20
Robert Morris
9-9
14-19
Fairleigh Dickinson
9-9
11-19
Sacred Heart
8-10
13-19
Central Connecticut
4-14
6-23
St. Francis Brooklyn
2-16
4-27

Conference Tournament

The all-campus sites tournament consisted of the top eight teams, as has been the case for several years now, and this year there was clear separation between those top eight teams and the two who didn’t make it.

The quarterfinals had three dandies that were decided by a single possession and one that was a blowout. Ironically, the blowout came in the matchup that would usually figure would be the best matchup, as No. 4 Saint Francis blew out No. 5 Bryant 100-68. In the other three games, No. 1 Mount St. Mary’s barely held off No. 8 Sacred Heart 76-73 thanks to several clutch plays by Junior Robinson, No. 2 LIU Brooklyn was nipped by No. 7 Robert Morris 69-68 in the only upset, and No. 3 Wagner barely got past No. 6 Fairleigh Dickinson 72-70.

The semifinals were two good ones, both single-digit games. Saint Francis knocked off Wagner 71-70 on a three-pointer at the buzzer by Keith Braxton, then Mount St. Mary’s pulled away from Robert Morris 75-66 by ending the game on a 10-2 run.

In the championship game, Mount St. Mary’s trailed 31-23 at the half thanks largely to shooting less than 28 percent from the field, including 0-10 from beyond the arc. But the Mountaineers opened the second half on a game-changing 22-3 run, keyed by MVP Elijah Long, Robinson and Miles Wilson, and never looked back in a 71-61 win over the Red Flash.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Jerome Frink, LIU-Brooklyn
Rookie of the Year: Keith Braxton, Saint Francis U
Coach of the Year: Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary’s
Defensive Player of the Year: Josh Nebo, Saint Francis U
Most Improved Player: Iverson Fleming, LIU Brooklyn

All-Northeast Team
Michael Carey, Sr. G, Wagner
Jerome Frink, Sr. F, LIU Brooklyn
Elijah Long, So. G, Mount St. Mary’s
Quincy McKnight, So. G, Sacred Heart
Nisre Zouzoua, So. G, Bryant

Season Highlights

  • Mount St. Mary’s beat New Orleans in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Following this season’s NEC Tournament title, Mount St. Mary’s is 9-3 in the conference tournament under Jamion Christian, including 5-2 on the road.
  • Wagner opened the season by knocking off UConn on the road 67-58.
  • The top two players in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio – Bryant’s Ikenna Ndugba and LIU’s Jashaun Agosto – were both freshmen.

What we expected, and it happened: Wagner contended for the regular season title, though they fell three games short. Bashir Mason has the Seahawks in a good place right now.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Saint Francis U was expected to be near the bottom in a rebuilding season. Instead, they tied for third, reached the championship game and played in the CIT for the second time in three years.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: With most key players returning, Fairleigh Dickinson was projected to contend once again. Instead, they finished .500 in conference play and almost lost 20 games.

Team(s) on the rise: Saint Francis U. It’s time to recognize the job that Rob Krimmel has done at his alma mater, and a rather unexpected one at that. He was an assistant coach to one who was fired, and usually a person in that position doesn’t get to stick around, let alone get a promotion to the top job. It was a tough start, but the Red Flash have gradually improved and this year had the conference’s top freshman, so there is plenty to build around. They have won at least one game in the conference tournament the past three years (after not winning one for 18 years), and should be among the favorites next year.

Team(s) on the decline: St. Francis Brooklyn. No one appears to be on a noticeable long-term decline, but after a good run for three years, it was a swift fall for Glen Braica’s team this year. They can’t go much lower, and he’s a good coach with a good staff and talent base, but this year was one to forget.

2017-18 Northeast Conference Outlook

With the many key transfers, projecting the conference this far ahead is a lot harder than usual, but we can get some idea.

Discussion about favorites appears to begin with Saint Francis U and Mount St. Mary’s. The Red Flash return three All-NEC players from the team that reached the title game and played in the CIT. Mount St. Mary’s lost Elijah Long to transfer, but Jamion Christian has built a program that should contend often and still returns Junior Robinson and Miles Wilson to lead the way along with solid role players like Chris Wray, Mawdo Sallah and Greg Alexander, all of whom have championship experience.

Fairleigh Dickinson disappointed in 2016-17, but still returns the backcourt of Darian Anderson and Stephan Jiggetts, which is a great place to start. Wagner should still contend if they can make up for Michael Carey’s departure. Robert Morris should be in the mix with Isaiah Still leading the way.

If you can call anyone a sleeper, it would be Bryant. Chances are, not much will be expected of the Bulldogs with the transfers of Nisre Zouzoua and Marcel Pettway. But the Bulldogs will still have a quality perimeter unit with sophomores Ikenna Ndugba and Adam Grant bookending senior Hunter Ware, whose numbers dropped significantly as a junior but has shown the potential to be a good player. Bosko Kostur is also back, giving them another experienced player who can produce.

Sacred Heart once again has to regroup with their top player transferring instead of returning, but that also means Anthony Latina and his staff have been down this road before. The Pioneers will actually be a very experienced team with six seniors and junior point guard Sean Hoehn, who knows how to run a team, so they could be a sleeper as well if they repeat their effort on the glass and cut down on turnovers. St. Francis Brooklyn will be more experienced this time around, while Central Connecticut will continue to build in Donyell Marshall’s second year with a roster containing just one senior.

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