Thursday, March 6, 2008

Northeast Conference Tournament Preview

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The Northeast Conference featured one of the best title races in all of college basketball. Three teams finished within three games of each other at the top, and Robert Morris knocked off both Sacred Heart and Wagner in the final three games of the season in order to hang on for the championship. Sacred Heart had the early lead in the race, but it lost three of its final five games to drop to third. Overall, five teams finished at least 11-7, while four teams were 4-14. It should a great conference tournament.

Favorite: Robert Morris looked like one of the main contenders for the league title, beating Fordham and Boston College on the road in non-conference play, but two double-digit home losses in its first five league games dropped the Colonials back. Still, they have the best trio in the conference in guards Tony Lee, one of the best all-around players in the mid-major world, and Jeremy Chappell, and big man A.J. Jackson. Defensively, they love to force turnovers. RMU has won 13 in a row, and are rolling.

Contenders: Wagner
won seven of its last eight heading into the tournament, but the lone loss was by 22 at Robert Morris and three of the wins came in overtime. The Seahawks are extremely balanced, with five guys averaging in double-figures. Mark Porter is a very good all-around guard, while Durell Vinson is a 15-10 lock every night out. They play solid defense. Sacred Heart struggled down the stretch, but the Pioneers have the depth and weapons to turn it around. Drew Shubik is an outstanding all-around playmaker, while Brice Brooks is a tough inside player. Ryan Litke came on strong down the stretch. They like to get steals and push the ball.

Sleeper: Central Connecticut started out 0-3 in the conference, and 4-10 overall, but the Blue Devils went 10-5 the rest of the way, with three of the losses coming by six points or less. Tristan Blackwood is good enough to carry CCSU to a couple of wins, while Ken Horton is a decent inside-outside option and Joe Seymore can shoot. The Blue Devils play Sacred Heart in the first-round – a team they just beat by 13 on the road in the season finale.

Prediction: The Northeast is a top-heavy league, which will make the conference tournament very interesting to watch, especially in the semi-finals. Robert Morris has the best trio in the league, while Wagner may have the balance and Sacred Heart the most quality depth. In the end, I think that CCSU will upset Sacred Heart again in the first-round, and Wagner and Robert Morris will end up meeting in the final. Led by the versatile Tony Lee, the Colonials will get the win and automatic bid on their homecourt.

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