Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Northeast Conference Preview


The Northeast Conference was another league that didn’t feature an exciting race for the regular-season championship. Central Connecticut State went 16-2, winning the NEC by four games over Sacred Heart. They had the championship clinched with several games left in the season. Outside of Sacred Heart and 11-7 Quinnipiac, no team finished above .500 in conference play. In the conference tournament, the top two teams in the regular season met in the title game. SHU was up by ten in the second half, but lost the lead. CCSU fell to Ohio State in the Big Dance. This season should feature a more exciting league race.

Favorites: Despite a race last season that was not relatively close at all, this season should feature more of a wide-open championship hunt. Sacred Heart, who lost in the tournament title game, returns three starters from last season. The Pioneers return one of the best frontcourts in the conference, led by Joey Henley. He can do a variety of things on the court. Brice Brooks and Ryon Howard join him in a very good frontline. The backcourt is also extremely deep and talented. Drew Shubik is one of the best point guards in the league, while Luke Granato and Ryan Litke were very good shooters. Chauncey Hardy is a good scorer, and Boston University transfer Corey Hassan will make an impact. Although not on the same level yet as Sacred Heart, Robert Morris has arguably the best trio in the league and will carry that to success. Tony Lee and Jeremy Chappell form one of the better wing duos in the conference. Lee can do it all on the court, and Chappell is a good scorer. A.J. Jackson is a dominating inside presence. Freddie Harris is solid down low. At the point, several freshmen and newcomers will fight for the job, led by Gary Wallace. Wagner looked to be on the rise five years ago when they won 21 games, but they have not won more than 13 games since then. That will change this year. The Seahawks regain the services of all-conference big man Durell Vinson, who was suspended last season. In addition to him, James Ulrich also returns up front. They will combine for the best inside duo in the league. On the perimeter, Mark Porter leads a trio of double-figure scorers that also includes Jamal Smith and Joey Mundweiler. Freshman Jaron Haley is expected to make an impact.

Contenders: Central Connecticut State loses three starters from its NCAA Tournament team, but returns one of the league’s best players in Tristan Blackwood. Blackwood can do-it-all, and will have to carry the Blue Devils this season. Also in the perimeter will be Dannie Powell, who will play the point, and Joe Seymore, who could be primed for a big year. Up front, freshman Tamir Johnson and a host of other newcomers are expected to make an impact. Mount St. Mary’s is led by a very good backcourt, and could be a sleeper this season. Chris Vann excels on both sides of the ball, and can shoot the three well. Jeremy Goode is one of the best point guards in the conference, and will only improve this year. Wings Kelly Beidler and Will Holland also return. Up front, returnees Sam Atupem and Markus Mitchell lead the way. Quinnipiac loses four starters from a team that finished in third place last season, but hired Connecticut assistant coach Tom Moore in the offseason to fill its head coaching vacancy. Additionally, all-conference guard DeMario Anderson returns and will be even better this year. Casey Cosgrove and Boston University transfer Brian Geffen could start on the perimeter. Up front, Karl Anderson leads the way, but several newcomers will push for time.

Sleepers: The two St. Francis’, St. Francis (NY) and St. Francis (PA), will attempt to make a move this season. St. Francis (PA) returns four starters, led by all-conference candidate Devin Sweetney, a versatile forward who can score and rebound very well. Chris Berry is another solid scorer and rebounder who can also play defense. In the backcourt, Marquis Ford and Cale Nelson return. Both were good distributors who could also shoot. A mix of returnees and newcomers will fight for the final starting spot. St. Francis (NY) also returns four starters, and has one of the best players in the conference in forward Robert Hines. He can score both inside and outside and is tough to match-up with. Joining him up front will be Sami Pekkola, Bass Yessoufou, and Kayode Ayeni. The starting backcourt of Jamaal Womack and Marcus Williams also returns.

Rounding out the Pack: Fairleigh Dickinson did not end last season strong, and the loss of three starters does not help, either. However, one of the best backcourts in the conference returns in Cameron Tyler and Manny Ubilla. Tyler is a very good point guard, while Ubilla can do a little of everything. Bernell Murray and Sean Baptiste also return as contributors on the perimeter. Up front, Eric Hazard can really shoot the ball, while Lawrence Brown hopes to make an impact. Monmouth had its worst season in a long time last year, but will look to bounce back. The backcourt of Jhamar Youngblood and Whitney Coleman will have something to say about that. Both are very good shooters and defenders. Up front, redshirt freshmen Dutch Gaitley and Adam Dobriansky will look to make an impact immediately. Long Island disappointed last season, and it looks it might be headed towards that again. The frontcourt is the strength of the Blackbirds. Eugene Kotorabi had a good finish to the season, while Aurimas Adomaitis, Paska Morkeliunas, and Kellen Allen also return. Tyrone Mattison is a solid point guard, but someone needs to step on the wing.

Prediction: I don’t expect something like last year, when CCSU won the conference by four games, due to a more wide-open top of the league. However, Sacred Heart is going to be a tough team to beat night-in and night-out. They have ample depth both inside and outside and can score with any team they will face. Robert Morris and its terrific trio will give them a run, as will Wagner and its balanced starting five, but in the end, the Pioneers are just too good in all facets of the game to not get to the NCAA Tournament.

Player of the Year:
Tristan Blackwood, G, Central Connecticut State

All-Conference Team:

G- Tristan Blackwood, Central Connecticut State
G- DeMario Anderson, Quinnipiac
G- Tony Lee, Robert Morris
F- A.J. Jackson, Robert Morris
F- Durell Vinson, Wagner

Second Team:
G- Cameron Tyler, Fairleigh Dickinson
G- Jhamar Youngblood, Monmouth
F- Devin Sweetney, St. Francis (PA)
F- Joey Henley, Sacred Heart
F- Robert Hines, St. Francis (NY)

Photo Credit: AP

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