Sunday, March 3, 2013

NEC first round set

The NEC tournament is set! 

The beginning of March is the best time of the year to be a mid-major basketball fan. No matter how your team did in the regular season, it really comes down to your performance in the conference tournament. March madness begins now for the fans of Robert Morris, Wagner, Long Island, Bryant, Mount St. Mary's, Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut State, St. Francis (Brooklyn), and mid-majors all throughout the country. Of course there are exceptions everywhere, as there are plenty of mid-major programs throughout the country that will  receive at-large bids to the big dance, but that won't be the case in the NEC, as the winner will likely receive a 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

Ryan Peters of Big Apple Buckets recapped all of Saturday's games, the last of the NEC regular season. We encourage you to give it a read if you missed this slate of games, but here is how the first round of NEC games will shape up:

(1) Robert Morris vs. (8) St. Francis (Brooklyn)
(2) Wagner vs. (7) Central Connecticut State
(3) Long Island vs. (6) Quinnipiac
(4) Bryant vs. (5) Mount St. Mary’s

Karvel Anderson is proving to be more than
a spot-shooter.
This is a really fun slate of match-ups. Of course, our Colonials are the regular season NEC champions and will host all conference games for as long as they go. RMU is fresh off a revenge weekend of sorts, as they took down Bryant Thursday and Central Connecticut State yesterday by 20. Those two teams beat RMU to begin conference play at the Sewall Center and gave the Colonials a wake-up call with an 0-2 conference play start.

Since then, Robert Morris has only lost two games (ironically, one of which was to St. Francis Brooklyn). Even though RMU has lost a game to the Terriers of Brooklyn and two straight overall against them, I don’t think there is much to fear. Jalen Cannon is a great player for St. Francis but is it enough? Robert Morris simply has too many scorers for anyone to handle, even for a solid defense like St. Francis. Karvel Anderson (who will be in-studio with us Tuesday at 9pm) is playing with a broken wrist and is still dropping 20+ in big games. His aggressiveness makes him even more dangerous and is freeing up Coron Williams, who has really found his shooting stroke.

More important than anything, though, is the health of Velton Jones, who looks as healthy as he has all year. His role as a crunch time scorer and facilitator is opening up a new dynamic for RMU. Velton has been more known as a score-first point guard throughout the career but that has not been the case as much this year. Jones has done a really great job of protecting the ball, finding the open man, and scoring when needed.

I think RMU and Wagner are safe in their first round games. Kyle Vinales and Matt Hunter are going to have to have huge games for CCSU to upset Wagner and even if that happens I'm not sure they have enough firepower to stop Wagner's big time offense. 

I can’t say I’m bringing that same confidence towards Long Island and Bryant. LIU had a nice win against Quinnipiac yesterday to secure at least one home conference tournament game but it wasn’t without struggle; LIU trailed by as much as eleven in the second half and needed a monstrous 33-10 game from Jamal Olasewere (on 11-15 shooting, 2-4 from three). QU has beaten LIU once this year, albeit it was without a slew of Blackbird players due to suspension. Bobcats point guard Dave Johnson has had two of his best shooting games of the year against LIU (15-27, 5-9 from three).
Can Sam Prescott come close to duplicating his last
performance against Bryant?

Mount St. Mary’s will go on the road to face Bryant. The last time these two teams met, Sam Prescott went off for 40 points and Kelvin Parker added 19 for a MSM 84-70 win in Bryant. The atmosphere is going to be a lot different this time around but that doesn’t dismiss the Mounts recent hot streak. They’re winners of their last seven and nine of their last ten overall. The “havoc” style of play the Mount brings is a pain in the you-know-what for this time of year, especially against a team that gives significant minutes to only seven guys. Will the energy of the Chase Athletic Center be enough to keep Bryant fresh? Will Bryant be able to avenge their earlier loss and slow down Prescott and Rashad Whack? I’m skeptical.

When it comes down to it, I think we see an upset of Bryant or Long Island in the first round. What are your predictions? Here are my first round picks:

Robert Morris over St. Francis Brooklyn 80-61
Wagner over Central Connecticut State 94-80
Long Island over Quinnipiac 85-81
Mount St. Mary’s over Bryant 83-82

Just a reminder that the NEC tournament reseeds.

--Chris Cappella

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