Thursday, March 2, 2006

Northeast Conference Tournament Preview

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The Northeast Conference regular season championship came down to the final day of the season, when Fairleigh Dickinson defeated Monmouth to win the title by a game. FDU had a three-game lead with three games left, but lost two in a row to make it interesting. Central Connecticut State finished in second. The league was very balanced, but FDU began pulling away once they came together. Several teams have a chance to win the championship, though.

Favorite: Obviously, Fairleigh Dickinson has to be considered the odds-on favorite. They had won 11 in a row before dropping two in a row heading into the season finale. The duo of Chad Timberlake and Gordon Klaiber may be the best in the conference, while 7-footer Andrea Crosariol is one of the top big in the NEC. There are several role players that also contribute, led by forward Michael Peeples. The Knights are the highest-scoring team in the league, but are somewhat weak on the defensive end.

Contenders: Central Connecticut State has won 11 of their last 14 games, and are the only team in the conference not to lose to Fairleigh Dickinson. Four players average in double-figures for the Blue Devils, led by the backcourt duo of Tristan Blackwood and Justin Chiera. Inside, Obie Nwadike leads the league in rebounding and is a double-double threat every time he steps on the court. CCSU is very efficient on the offensive end, and are the best defensive team in the league. Monmouth had a chance to get a share of the regular-season title on the last day of the season, but lost to FDU. The Hawks have lost 3 of 6--not the best way to come into a tournament where the top teams are hot. Deki Delic and Marques Alston are the main options on offense, yet both only average about 12 points per game. I think they could be due for an upste in the first round.

Sleeper: Robert Morris is slumping lately, and have only won 3 of their last 9 games. However, they have one of the more balanced teams in the conference. They have possibly the best big man in the NEC in A.J. Jackson, a double-double monster. Tony Lee is an excellent all-around guard, while Jeremy Chappell and Derek Coleman also average double-figures from the perimeter. They have been competitive throughout the season, and I could see them making a run.

Prediction: Fairleigh Dickinson has the balance, the experience, and the talent to get the automatic bid. But they won't. Central Connecticut State has a myriad of options on the offensive end, and lead the league in scoring defense. If they are hitting their outside shots, the Blue Devils should get the automatic bid. Moreover, I have a feeling FDU is going to get upset by Robert Morris in the semi-finals. The two best rebounders in the league will face off in the championship, with CCSU coming away with the conference tournament championship.

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