2013-2014 NEC Preview: Changes at the top

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

One would have to go back to 2008 to find the last time an NEC team not named LIU Brooklyn or Robert Morris reached the NCAA Tournament. The two teams have had a stranglehold on the league during this stretch with LIU Brooklyn having won three straight league titles (2011-13) and Robert Morris two straight (2009-10). Even though the Colonials missed out on the big dance last season, you may remember they defeated Kentucky at home in the NIT. There’s little doubt who’s owned the NEC for the past half-decade, but that figures to change.

Although the Blackbirds won the NEC tournament last season, they finished 12-6 in the regular season – good for a three-way tie for second place. With graduation claiming Jamal Olasewere and sixth-year senior forward Julian Boyd — who will be out until at least January after re-tearing the ACL in his right knee — a question mark all season, LIU Brooklyn’s run atop the NEC is in danger. Robert Morris will challenge, but losing Coron Williams to Wake Forest and Velton Jones to graduation are big voids to fill.

(MORE: Can Robert Morris build off of their upset win over Kentucky?)

There’s a new sheriff in town, and that’s the Wagner Seahawks. In his second season as head coach, Bashir Mason, the youngest coach in America, has Wagner in a prime position to build on their 12-6 conference record from last season. Mason, who took over for Dan Hurley in 2012, inherited a talented team with Southern Mississippi transfer Kenneth Ortiz in the backcourt playing alongside Latif Rivers. Perhaps Wagner’s top player, however, was watching from the sidelines last season – Jay Harris, a transfer from Valparaiso. Also keep an eye on former top 100 recruit and Michigan State transfer Dwaun Anderson.

Along with Wagner, upstart Bryant — who had won 19 games last season after just two in 2011-12 — will be a contender. Tim O’Shea returns perhaps the league’s best player in 6-foot-6 forward Alex Francis, along with sharpshooter Dyami Starks who connected on better than three three-pointers per game a season ago.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: N/A
Out: Monmouth and Quinnipiac

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Lucky Jones shoots over Archie Goodwin (AP)

PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alex Francis, Bryant

Francis (17.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 apg) has been a staple in Bryant’s lineup since his freshman season. Assuming he scores at the same rate he did last year, he will eclipse the 2,000 point career scoring mark.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State: There was a moment where it looked like Vinales would transfer to Toledo, but in returning to CCSU he’ll have a chance to lead the NEC in scoring for the second straight year.
  • Jay Harris, Wagner: The transfer from Valparaiso who sat out last season will be a fixtutre in Bashir Mason’s lineup.
  • Jason Brickman, LIU Brooklyn: The best point guard in the NEC, Brickman ranked top five nationally in assists per game a season ago.
  • Lucky Jones, Robert Morris: Will step into more of a leadership and go-to scoring role this season; one of the top three-point shooters in the league.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW@pioneer_pride

PREDICTED FINISH

1) Wagner
2) Bryant
3) Robert Morris
4) Mount St. Mary’s
5) Central Connecticut
6) LIU Brooklyn
7) Sacred Heart
8) St. Francis (NY)
9) St. Francis (PA)
10) Fairleigh Dickinson

Sunday’s NCAA Tournament Elite Eight schedule, tip times, and announcer pairings

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Regional Finals – Sunday, March 26

2:20 p.m.,CBS, New York
No. 7 South Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida (Verne Lundquist, Jim Spanarkel, Allie LaForce)

5:05 p.m., CBS, Memphis
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Kentucky (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, Tracy Wolfson)

Steve Alford: ‘I’m very happy at UCLA’

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UCLA head coach Steve Alford was still processing an 86-75 season-ending loss to Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on Friday night when he had to answer questions about another blueblood program.

Sine the dismal of Tom Crean at Indiana, Alford has been one of the names rumored to be in the mix for the coaching vacancy. A reporter in the press conference in Memphis didn’t even get a chance to finish his question before Alford cut him off and a publicly state that he was happy in Westwood.

“I said it last week, and I’ll reiterate it again even more so, I guess, that I love Los Angeles,” Alford said. “To begin with, it’s a beautiful place, and our family has fallen in love with it. I’ve got two sons now, Kory first and now Bryce, that have graduated. Bryce is done, so he’s graduating from UCLA, so I’ve got two sons that are graduates from there, a daughter that loves the school she’s going to in Thousand Oaks. I’m very happy. I’m at UCLA. I don’t know of a lot of people that are out there wanting to leave UCLA.

“This is a pretty special place. We’ve worked awfully hard. Our staff has worked hard. We’ve got the No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year. We’re opening a brand-new, state-of-the-art, 60-plus million practice facility, Mo Ostin Center, that is going to be spectacular that we’ve worked awfully hard to be a part of that, and I want to see that through, and we’ve got some special kids that are coming to join us.

“I’m very, very happy where I’m at, and hopefully, that’ll continue.”

Alford won a national championship with the Hoosiers in 1987, scoring more than 2,400 points in his career under head coach Bob Knight. He has been with UCLA since 2013, reaching the Sweet 16 in three of his four seasons with the Bruins.

Crean was fired on March 16 after nine season in Bloomington.

Lonzo Ball has officially declared for the 2017 NBA Draft

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Following a season-ending loss in the Sweet 16 of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, UCLA freshman point guard unsurprisingly announced that he will enter the NBA Draft.

“That was my final game for UCLA. I appreciate the fans,” Ball told reporters.

The 6-foot-6 point guard has a strong case to be the No. 1 overall pick. It could be almost too enticing for the Los Angeles Lakers to pass on a Southern Cal product if the ping pong balls fall in their favor. New Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka were in Memphis for Friday night’s Sweet 16 matchup with Kentucky.

Ball, in an All-American freshman season with the Bruins, averaged 14.7 points, 6.1 rebounds and a nation’s best 7.6 assists per game, while shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three.

He ended his college career with an 86-75 loss to the Wildcats, scoring 10 points, off 4-of-10 shooting, with eight assists.

VIDEO: Florida’s Chris Chiozza beats Wisconsin at the buzzer

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NEW YORK — So you didn’t think the NCAA Tournament had enough excitement this year?

Wisconsin and Florida solved that problem for you.

The Badgers started things, as they erased a 12-point deficit in the final 4:15 to force overtime, a stretch that included an 8-0 run at the end of regulation that was capped by a Zak Showalter running three with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to tie the game at 72.

Wisconsin jumped out to a lead in overtime, but the combination of an inability to make free throws and and this epic chasedown block from Canyon Barry left the door open for the Gators, who eventually won the game on this running three from Chris Chiozza:

What.

A.

Game.

If we get a better one than this, I just hope I’m courtside for it.

KeVaughn Allen led the way for the Gators with 35 points, and no one else on the Gators scored more than eight points, but it didn’t matter. The Gators are still headed to the Elite 8, and Mike White will have a chance to play for the right to go to the Final Four in his first NCAA Tournaments.

Replacing a legend like Billy Donovan was never going to be easy, but White is doing an admirable job.

The other subplot here: With the win, Florida becomes the third member of the SEC in the Elite 8, and with a regional final against South Carolina on Sunday afternoon, it guarantees that there will be at least one SEC team in the Final Four.

While there were celebrations in the Florida locker room, Wisconsin’s was one of devastation.

The Badgers started four seniors, including tournament stalwarts Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, who played in their 17th career NCAA Tournament games.

Hayes had 22 points, but he’s going to be haunted by the free throws he missed. He was 7-for-14 from the line on the night, including four missed freebies in overtime. The end was similarly heart-breaking for Koenig, as he was a non-factor in overtime due to an injury he suffered on the possession before Showalter’s game-tying three.

Both of them are going to spend years thinking ‘What if?’ That’s how the NCAA Tournament works.

Everyone leaves in tears, either because they’re cutting down the nets at the Final Four or because their season — their career — just came to an end.

Hayes and Koenig were no different.

VIDEO: Canyon Barry saves Florida with epic chase down block

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Florida’s Canyon Berry had the best chase down block since LeBron James in the 2016 NBA Finals.

It kept Wisconsin’s lead at two points and gave the Gators a chance to tie and, eventually, win the game.

Look at this: