Thursday, March 5, 2009

Northeast Conference Tournament Preview

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The Northeast Conference did not have much of a regular-season race for the top spot, as Robert Morris took the reigns of the league early in conference play and never let them go, winning the title by three games. However, three teams jockeyed for second-place, with Mount St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart and Long Island all tying at 12-6. Quinnipiac made a nice run late to finish above .500 in conference play, the only other team with double-digit NEC victories.

Favorite: Robert Morris lost its first conference game, back on Dec. 4, and has only lost two Northeast contests since then, back-to-back defeats in late February to Monmouth and Wagner. Still, the Colonials remain the favorite. They shoot the ball very well, both inside and outside the arc. Guard Jeremy Chappell is one of the best all-around players in the conference, at both ends of the floor, while Jimmy Langhurst can really shoot the ball from three. Rob Robinson is a solid scorer and rebounder up front.

Contenders: Mount St. Mary’s won eight in a row during the middle part of conference play, before dropping three of its last seven. The Mountaineers have arguably the best backcourt in the league in Jeremy Goode, one of the better guards in the NEC, and Jean Cajou. Kelly Beidler is a tough rebounder who can also score. Sacred Heart is on a five-game winning streak, and the Pioneers have won 10 of their last 12. Joey Henley is an all-conference performer at forward, and Ryon Howard can do a little of everything. In the backcourt, both Corey Hassan and Chauncey Hardy can score in double-figures and shoot the three. Long Island is playing well lately, winning five of their last six games to end the season. The Blackbirds are excellent on the glass and push the ball well. They have an explosive backcourt duo in Jaytornah Wisseh, who can get into the lane and create for himself and his teammates, and shooter Kyle Johnson. Sixth man Julian Boyd is solid up front.

Sleeper: Wagner struggled mightily during the middle part of the NEC season, losing six in a row in January and early February. However, the Seahawks bounced back to win six of their last seven, including wins over Robert Morris and Mount St. Mary’s. They have four double-figure scorers, including the frontcourt trio of Jamal Smith, Llewchean Radford and Justin Drummond. Guard Joey Mundweiler can really shoot the ball; he leads the team in scoring.

Prediction: Despite Robert Morris winning the regular-season title going away, the automatic bid is not going to go easily to the Colonials. RMU has only two double-digit wins since January, so it’s not as if they are running roughshod over the league. Mount St. Mary’s has very good guards; Sacred Heart has inside-outside balance; and Long Island leads a host of teams playing well to end the season. In the end, it is going to come down to RMU and MSM in the title game. I’m going with the upset, as the Mountaineers have the experience of winning last year’s automatic bid, as well as enough offensive balance and versatility.

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