2016-17 NEC Season Preview: Is Fairleigh Dickinson for real?

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the NEC.

The way that last season played out in the NEC was a bit of a stunner. Fairleigh Dickinson – who was coming off of a 3-15 season in the NEC, who started four sophomores and a freshman on a team with just one upperclassmen, who was picked 9th in the league’s preseason poll over hapless CCSU – went 11-7 in league play and won the NEC tournament. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unlikely turnaround anywhere in college basketball last season, and the run shouldn’t stop there.

Why?

Because essentially everyone from that team returns. Juniors Earl Potts, Darian Anderson and Stephan Liggetts are all back, as is sophomore Mike Holloway, and those four will be the crux of the FDU attack, which was the best in the NEC offensively. Their issue was on the defensive end of the floor, where they were one of the worst teams in the country in defensive efficiency and defensive rebounding. An uptempo style of play plus an infusion of talent earned FDU a tourney bid. If they learn how to get stops as the players become veterans, the Knights might have a chance to actually win a game in March.

If FDU is the favorite to win the league, Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner shouldn’t be all that far behind. The Mount was the pick to win the league in 2015-16, but they struggled down the stretch of the season and finished in 5th play in NEC play. 5-foot-5 Junior Robinson is back, but with three of the top four scorers from last season gone, Jamion Christian’s club has some holes that will need to be filled.

Wagner, on the other hand, returns just about everyone: Michael Carey and Corey Henson both made all-NEC teams. Ramone Saunders and Mike Aaman return as well. Head coach Bashir Mason, who won his first NEC Coach of the Year award as the Seahawks won the league’s regular season title last year, added a class full of athletes to fill roles alongside their veteran core. This team has the horses to win the league again.

Bryant was expected to have a bit of a down season as they graduated three of the best players in program history the last two years, but I’m not sure anyone predicted the Bulldogs finishing ninth in the league last year. The good news is that Tim O’Shea has found his cornerstones in sophomores Nisre Zouzoua and Marcel Petteway. The bad news? They’ll likely be starting a true freshman at the point. Sacred Heart took a massive blow when Cane Broome, the NEC Player of the Year that averaged 23.1 points as a sophomore, decided to transfer to Cincinnati. With two more double-figures scorers graduation, the Pioneers will have to rely on sophomore Quincy McKnight.

LIU Brooklyn would have been considered a title contender if they hadn’t lost their starting back court, one to transfer and one to the professional ranks. Glenn Braica is a two-time NEC Coach of the Year for a reason, but with nearly two-thirds of his scoring from last season graduating, the St. Francis (NY) will have his work cut out for him. St. Francis (PA) was atop the conference at 9-4 at one point last season but lost their last six games and graduated three key seniors.

Robert Morris had a disappointing year in 2015-16 and lost their two best players to transfer. Donyell Marshall is a legend in the state, but he’ll have his work cut out for him turning around a once-proud Central Connecticut State program.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 

PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Earl Potts, Fairleigh Dickinson

Potts was the leading scorer for the Knight as a sophomore last season, and not much should change this year. With the amount of talent that FDU has coming back, this could be the year that we actually predict the NEC champs correctly. If so, Potts will be their best player.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-NEC TEAM:

  • Michael Carey, Wager: The second-leading scorer and leading rebounder on last year’s regular season champs.
  • Corey Henson, Wagner: Likewise, Henson is the leading returning scorer on last year’s team.
  • Jerome Frink, LIU-Brooklyn: The big man averaged 16.6 points and 8.9 boards a year ago. If only the Blackbirds brought back their back court.
  • Nisre Zouzoua, Bryant: The NEC breakout star?

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @pioneer_pride

PREDICTED FINISH

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