Saturday, October 15, 2005

Northeast Conference Preview


Monmouth and Fairleigh Dickinson were fighting for the regular season title to the very end, and Monmouth won it outright on the last day. There were four other teams with double figure wins in conference play. In the conference tournament, FDU defeated surprise finalist Wagner to win the automatic bid. They then gave Illinois a tough game in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, and were only trailing by one at halftime. However, as expected, they lost. Look for FDU to lead a pack of clear-cut contenders.

Favorite: Fairleigh Dickinson is the returning conference champion, and should be able to repeat this season, even without Tamien Trent. The NEC Preseason Player of the Year, Gordon Klaiber, is going to have a huge season for the Knights. Andrea Crosariol joins him in the frontcourt. He could be poised for a breakout season given his talent. On the perimeter, Chad Timberlake returns. The All-NEC guard is a good scorer and makes for a great inside-outside combo with Klaiber. Swingman Andre Harris should improve his numbers with more playing time. Bernell Murray needs to step in at the point.

Contenders: Wagner leads a pack of certified contenders chasing FDU. The superb backcourt of All-conference candidate Mark Porter and Defensive Player of the Year DeEarnest McLemore will be tough for most teams to stop. Jamal Smith and and Joe Mundweiler provide excellent depth on the perimeter. In the frontcourt, forwards Durell Vinson, Matt Vitale, and James Ulrich return. They are all solid players, and Vitale and Vinson are good scorers. Jamal Webb is another decent swingman. If they find some post depth, the Seahawks are going to be very difficult to compete with. Monmouth doesn't have any true standouts, but they have several consistent contributors. Tyle Azzarelli and Chris Kenny comprise an above average backcourt for the conference. Forwards Marques Alston and Dejan Delic will provide good all-around play up front. Two newcomers are expected to have immediate impacts. Freshman Tyson Johnson and Division III transfer John Bunch will be added to the frontcourt mix, and should see playing time right away. Long Island University returns all five starters and solid depth. All-Conference guard James Williams is the star of the group. He is an excellent scorer, and when combined with Randy Jones, is part of the best backcourt tandem in the league. Evan Meekins is a very good guard off the bench. Five forwards return that all averaged between 4.6 points and 7.9 points per game. Esa Maki-Tulokas and Aubin Scott are the best of the bunch, and are the three starters, along with Kellen Allen. Paulius Morkeliunas and Eugene Kotorabi are solid frontcourt players off the pine.

Sleepers: Central Connecticut State returns a very good offensive trio, consisting of potential All-Conference guard DeMario Anderson and forward Obie Nwadike, as well as guard Lenny Jefferson. Tristan Blackwood, Javier Mokica, and Justin Chiera are three other decent perimeter players for the Blue Devils. Jason Hickenbottom will step into the vacant forward slot in the starting lineup. Size could be a problem, however. St. Francis (NY) has a trio of guards that all averaged 11.4 points per game, but only one was a starter. Allan Sheppard may be an all-conference candidate this season, while Tristan Smith is going to be one of the best point guards in the league. Christian Brown is another very good scorer on the wing. Ruandy Melo could start at the point as well, while Nick Jones and Sean Dantzler are solid role players on the perimeter. Up front, the Terriers could be lacking. Devon Neckles and James St. Robert are the returning starters, but neither is extremely productive. Lex James should provide some sort of big body down low. Mount St. Mary's has one of the better guards in the conference in Landy Thompson, as well as another above-average guard in Mychal Kearse. Charles Cook and Kiel Butler form a solid forward tandem. Another option in the frontcourt would be ideal to add to that very good quartet.

Rounding Out the Pack: Robert Morris lost their top two scorers, but return a decent amount of talent to make some noise within the conference. The backcourt of Derek Coleman and Tony Lee are coming back to lead the way. JC transfer Steve Lancaster is an excellent shooter. East Tennessee State transfer A.J. Jackson should hold down the fort inside. Quinnipiac returns three starters who form an excellent trio, as well as a transfer that should be one of the best scorers in the league. Guard Craig Benson, forward Kevin Jolley, and center Karl Anderson form one of the best troikas in the NEC. John Winchester, a transfer from Tennessee, should add scoring from the perimeter. St. Francis (PA) is home to a very good pair of 5-10 guards. Rahsaan Benton is an excellent scorer, while Garrett Farha led the conference in assists and three-point field goal percentage. They have no proven players in the frontcourt, however. Sacred Heart has one of the best players in the conference in forward Joey Henley, in addition to four other starters and two reserves that averaged over seven points per game. Jarrid Frye, Drew Shubik, and Mike Parker round out the starting perimeter, while Luke Granato provides depth. Center Kibwe Trim joins Henley in the frontcourt, and Ryon Howard comes off the bench. Boston College Tavio Hobson should find a role to play.

Prediction: Fairleigh Dickinson should repeat as the conference champions, but it won't be easy. Wagner and LIU are stacked, while Monmouth is also very talented. However, neither of them have Gordon Klaiber. He is such a mismatch for any team to defend, given his size, athleticism, and shooting ability. Add Chad Timberlake and Andrea Crosariol, and you have a team ready to defend its crown. Expect a close race between the top three or four teams, though.

Player of the Year: Gordon Klaiber, PF, Fairleigh Dickinson

All-Conference Team:
G- Landy Thompson, Mount St. Mary's
G- James Williams, Long Island University
G- Chad Timberlake, Fairleigh Dickinson
F- Joe Henley, Sacred Heart
F- Gordon Klaiber, Fairleigh Dickinson

Second Team:
G- DeMario Anderson, Central Connecticut State
G- Allan Sheppard, St. Francis (NY)
G- Mark Porter, Wagner
G- DeEarnest McLemore, Wagner
F- Obie Nwadike, Central Connecticut State

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