NEC Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Jalen Cannon (AP Photo)

St. Francis of Brooklyn is the oldest college basketball program in New York City, dating all the way back to 1896. They also happen to be one of just five programs that have been in existence since the NCAA tournament began in 1948 to never take part in the event. That could very well change this year, as the Terriers head into March having clinched the outright regular season title two weeks ago. They’ll be tested — Bryant has the league’s best scorer, Mt. St. Mary’s is coming off of a title run last season, and Robert Morris is the NEC’s best program — but they’ll also be favored throughout, playing every game at home. Is this the year the streak ends?

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Bracket

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When: March 4, 7, 10

Where: Campus sites (better seed in all rounds, reseeded after quarterfinals)

Final: March 10, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: St. Francis (NY)

The Terriers were the best team in the conference this season. They also have the league’s best front court player in Jalen Cannon as well as the conference’s best guard in Brent Jones. But there are two things to note: St. Francis split with the other three teams at the top of the conference, and they were just 9-1 in games decided by single digits. They win close games, but they’re not steamrolling the league. They’re beatable.

And if they lose?: Robert Morris

Andy Toole has kept Robert Morris in the conversation as one of the nation’s best mid-major programs, and while they’re not the favorite to win the automatic bid, they’re anything but a pushover. Bobby Mo has had some roster turnover in recent years, but they have three guys this year — Rodney Pryor, Marcquise Reed and Lucky Jones — who can take a game over.

Sleepers:

  • Mt. St. Mary’s: Jamion Christian is another member of Shaka Smart’s coaching tree that has found instant success at his new school.
  • Bryant: No one has done as impressive of a job rapidly developing a program as Tim O’Shea has at Bryant. It helps when the league’s leading scorer — Dyami Starks — is one your roster.

Player of the Year: Jalen Cannon, St. Francis (NY)

Cannon will go down as one of the all-time greats in the NEC, finishing his career as the all-time leading scorer in St. Francis history and one of just two players to ever score 1,500 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in conference history. Cannon averaged 16.5 points and 10.2 boards this season.

Coach of the Year: Glenn Braica, St. Francis (NY)

The Terriers were predicted to win the NEC this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected them to clinch the regular season title with two weeks remaining. Playing all three rounds of the league tournament at home will make SFNY the favorite to win their first ever NCAA tournament berth.

All-NEC Team:

  • Cannon
  • Rodney Pryor, Robert Morris – Pryor was the most dangerous weapon for Andy Toole’s club this season, averaging 16.5 points and shooting 43 percent from distance.
  • Dyami Starks, Bryant – Starks was the league’s leading scorer this season, a veteran guard that can take over a game.
  • Brent Jones, St. Francis (NY) – Midway through the season, there could have been a strong case for Jones to be conference Player of the Year over his teammate, Cannon. His scoring numbers slowed down by season’s end, but that didn’t hurt the Terriers.
  • Earl Brown, St. Francis (PA) – The Red Flash struggled late in the season, but Brown did finish with nine double-doubles in league play, averaging 15.8 points and 7.6 boards on the season.

CBT PREDICTION: St. Francis (NY) makes their first appearance in the Big Dance.