The most commonly used saying when talking about basketball during the month of March is “if seeding holds”.
Its how we predict what the best matchups will be. Its how us media folks try and build our schedules during the month. Its how ESPN tries to predict which games it will broadcast. Think about it like this: if seeding holds, than I am going to have a great time covering the Final Four for the CAA Tournament.
I got a feeling that in the NEC Tournament, seeding is not going to hold. One reason? The conference is deep. Seven teams finished with double figures wins. They had three teams finish the regular season with more than 20 wins. That’s rare when you play in a league where guarantee games make up a large portion of the regular season. Another reason? The computers don’t love favorite LIU. John Templon of NYC Buckets has been running tournament projections for a number of conferences, and LIU only made the finals in just over half of his projections. Wagner, his computer suggests, in the favorite while three-seed Robert Morris won the tournament almost a third of the time.
Games aren’t played in a calculator, but if the numbers are right — and, quite often, they are — this is going to be en exciting tournament to follow.
Where: Campus sites
When: March 1st-March 7th
Final: March 7th, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
Favorite: Long Island
LIU is the reigning tournament champion. They won the conference this season. They have the league player of the year on their roster. This group can play, and they proved over and over again during the year. There is also adequate reason for impartial fans to root for the Blackbirds: this team plays at the third-fastest pace in the country. They get up and down the floor, and is there anything better than watching a talented basketball team let its athletes get out in the open court and make plays?
And if they lose?: Wagner
The sentimental pick is an easy one. In 2010, Wagner won just five games. Now? They are 24-5 after finishing second in the NEC with a league record of 15-3. Their head coach is Danny Hurley, the brother of Duke legend Bobby Hurley and the son of famed New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley, who has built St. Anthony into a powerhouse. Wagner is an aggressive defensive team that thrives on forcing turnovers. Two things to consider: the Seahawks won at Pitt this year, but they went 0-2 against LIU.
Sleepers: Robert Morris finished the season in third and, like Wagner, they are a stalwart defensive team. They are also the best rebounding team in the conference. Most telling, however, is that Bobby Mo has been the NEC’s tournament representative a handful of times recently. This group won’t be intimidated by the pressure of a knockout tournament. Quinnipiac and St. Francis (NY) are also worth keeping an eye on.
– Julian Boyd, LIU: The NEC’s POY this season, Boyd is a versatile and strong 6’7″ forward that will remind some folks of Rob Jones of St. Mary’s.
– Kyle Vinales, Ken Horton and Bobby Ptacek, CCSU: These three all average more than 17.6 ppg and sit in the league’s top four in scoring. How often do you see that at the Division I level?
– Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart: Playing on a team without many offensive options, Gibson averaged 22.0 ppg without turning into a gunner. He shot 43.6% from three and had the ninth-highest efficiency rating of any player in the country that used at least 28% of his team’s possessions.
– Velton Jones, RMU: Jones is the engine that makes Bobby Mo go. He’s a terrific on-ball defender and a dangerous penetrator and creator.