The first game of the NCAA tournament provided the event’s customary drama.
Fairleigh Dickinson came from 13 down to defeat Prairie View, 82-76, on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton to join the rest of the field later this week with a matchup against the West regional’s No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday.
Prairie View built an early double-digit lead thanks to a monster first-half effort from 3-point range in which they connected on eight of 12 shots from distance while also collecting six offensive rebounds. Fairleigh Dickinson, though was able to halve the deficit in time for half to go into the locker room down just seven.
The Panthers once again pushed their lead to 13 in the second half’s opening minutes, but Knights tied the game with 7:33 left and subsequently took the lead only to give it back to Prairie View. The Knights, though, wrestled the lead back on a 3-pointer from Jahlil Jenkins that kickstarted an 8-0 run that put Fairleigh Dickson up six. Prairie View cut the lead to two in the final minute but couldn’t close the gap.
Darnell Edge scored 33 to lead the lights while Jenkins had 22. Gary Blackston had 26 for the Panthers.
Fairleigh Dickinson shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game after converting at a 68 percent clip after halftime to win the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game.
The Knights will now have to jet west to take on Gonzaga (30-3) in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The Zags figure to be huge favorites but just a year removed from UMBC upending Virginia, 16 seeds will likely be imbued with an extra dose of confidence this March.
NCAA Tournament 2019: Instant Analysis West Region
The West Region has an intriguing draw with Gonzaga gaining the top seed and Michigan, a Final Four team from last season, getting the No. 2 seed. This region has some potential darkhorse Final Four team and some trendy potential upsets to keep an eye on during the first weekend.
The No. 1 seed is Gonzaga. Despite a loss to Saint Mary’s in the WCC title game, the Bulldogs still earned a No. 1 seed out west as they face the play-in winner between No. 16 seeds Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M.
It should be a matchup of a lot of length and athleticism when No. 8 seed Syracuse and No. 9 seed Baylor collide. The health of Orange star guard Tyus Battle (hip) and Bears senior guard Makai Mason (toe) could very well decide who advances in that one.
The best lead-guard matchup of the first round goes down in Hartford with No. 5 seed Marquette and All-American Markus Howard battling OVC champion and No. 12 seed Murray State and Ja Morant. The Golden Eagles struggled down the stretch in Big East play as they went from Final Four darkhorse into a potentially-popular first-round matchup.
A dangerousNo. 4 seed could be Florida State as the Seminoles just knocked off Virginia in the ACC tournament over the weekend. Coming off of an Elite Eight appearance last season, the Seminoles could be a sleeper Final Four team out of this region. The Seminoles collide with No. 13 seed Vermont, a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The America East champions had a beatdown of UMBC in the conference tournament title game.
After an impressive season in the MAC in which they became a consistent top-25 team, Buffalo gets a No. 6 seed. The Bulls could get a fascinating first-round matchup as they await the winner of the play-in game between No. 11 seeds Arizona State and St. John’s. If the Sun Devils advance past Dayton, it’ll be a matchup of Bobby Hurley-coached programs as he left Buffalo for Arizona State a few years ago.
TexasTech earned the No. 3 seed out of the Big 12 following an impressive regular-season title. Although the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight last season, the roster is almost entirely different from last season. But the Red Raiders have a star in Jarrett Culver and the nation’s best defense. Northern Kentucky, the No. 14 seed, draws Texas Tech after winning the Horizon League title.
Following a disappointing regular season, Nevada is a No. 7 seed facing No. 10 seed Florida. The Wolf Pack had preseason top-10 hype but failed to deliver results in the regular season behind a loaded roster that is mostly in-tact from last season’s Sweet 16 team. The Gators needed some late wins this season to get in — most notably over LSU in the SEC tournament. Florida is dangerous but extremely inconsistent.
Rounding out the West is No. 2 seed Michigan as the Wolverines attempt to return to the Final Four. Guard Charles Matthews recently returned from injury as Michigan appears to be near full-strength heading into the Big Dance. The Wolverines face No. 15 seed Montana to open things up as the Grizzlies represent the Big Sky.
Andrew Toole hoping Robert Morris can ‘get over the hump’ and back into NCAA Tournament in 2015
For 18 weeks last season Mount St. Mary’s carried a losing record. However, the Mountaineers picked up momentum beginning in March with four straight wins, three of which came in the Northeast Conference Tournament.
On March 11, Mount St. Mary’s ran away with an 88-71 win against top-seeded Robert Morris, dashing the Colonials NCAA tournament hopes for the second consecutive season.
A week later, one day after St. Patrick’s Day, the Mountaineers’ luck ran out, as Albany ended their season with a 71-64 victory in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. On the same night, Robert Morris head coach Andrew Toole had a postseason game of his own, as the Colonials went into Carnesecca Arena and defeated St. John’s, 89-79, in the first round of the NIT.
Despite the postseason success and a 72-37 (42-11 NEC) record over the past three seasons, Robert Morris hasn’t appeared in an NCAA tournament since 2010 when it nearly upset No. 2 seeded Villanova.
Toole has maintained the success of the program, never finishing lower than third in the conference during his tenure as head coach. There’s an established tradition at Robert Morris with 11 regular season conference titles, but bittersweet success is what is driving Robert Morris during the first few weeks of practice.
“It’s something that pushes us and motivates us,” Toole told NBCSports.com. “We keep saying that if we continually get back to that spot you’ll eventually get over the hump. It’s not easy to get back into those tournament championship games.”
This year more than others there is uncertainty around the league. Many of the top players have graduated, including Robert Morris guard Karvel Anderson, who was named NEC Player of the Year in 2013-2014. Mount St. Mary’s graduated three 1,000 career scorers. Wagner is without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and Bryant forward Alex Francis, a two-time first team selection, is also gone.
“There is a lot of unknowns,” Toole added. “You look at that teams that return the most, a lot of people are choosing those teams toward the top of the league because they have more proven entities than some of the other groups.”
Central Connecticut State has four starters back, including a healthy Kyle Vinales. St. Francis (NY) returns six of its top nine scorers, including first-team all-conference forward Jalen Cannon. However, both those teams committed the most turnovers in the league last season. St. Francis (PA) has the same starting five as last year, but is this the year for the Red Flash to end a 23-year tournament drought?
Robert Morris, like Bryant, Wagner and Mount St. Mary’s has its personnel losses to overcome, however, each of those teams have the pieces to be in the conversation come March.
By the end of the season, the Colonials were down to just eight scholarship players. Two of those players — Anderson and starting point guard Anthony Myers-Pate — exhausted their eligibility. Fortunately for Toole, all six of those returning players logged 15 or more minutes, headlined by wing Lucky Jones, who averaged 13.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in an all-NEC second team junior season.
The 6-foot-6 Jones has been a stapel in the Colonials lineup, starting 66 of 70 games in the past two seasons. He’s also a reliable big-game player, going for 25 points, nine boards and five assists in a NIT win over the Johnnies in March. The previous year, he scored a team-high 15 points in the monumental win over Kentucky.
“It’s huge [having Lucky],” Toole said. “He’s a guy that is so versatile and can do so many things on the floor, whether it’s rebounding, scoring or defending. He can give us a little bit of confidence as we go into games because we know what we can get from Lucky and we can build from there. Having him on the roster and him as a senior is invaluable to us.”
Will arguably the conference’s top player, six key contributors and a competitive non-conference schedule (North Carolina, Georgetown, Toledo) be enough to push the Colonials over that hump and into the field of 68? In a conference as unpredictable as the Northeast has been over the last few seasons it’s too early to tell. But one thing is for certain, Toole will have his guys ready.
“There are so many teams that can compete for a championship,” Toole said. “If you aren’t prepared or playing with the urgency you need to play with, I think that can beat you. That goes across the board, from top to bottom, in the conference. Like I said, there’s a lot of unknowns. Each and every game is going to be a challenge, as it has been every other year we’ve been in the NEC.
“It’s a long, long process and we can’t take any shortcuts as we build toward conference play because everyone is going to be at their best, everyone is going to try to win those league games and I think everyone believes they have chance.”
Robert Morris head coach Andy Toole has guided his program to back-to-back 20-win seasons, although his Colonials have no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. For two straight seasons, Robert Morris has been relegated to the NIT following an upset in its conference tournament at the hands of Mount St. Mary’s.
Despite having one of the best young coaches in the nation and arguably the conference’s top player again this season, the Colonials have had trouble navigating through the NEC field, and this season the conference could resemble a minefield.
The Colonials lose the back court of Karvel Anderson and Anthony Myers-Pate, but six returning players, led by all-NEC second teamer Lucky Jones, logged 15 or more during the 2013-2014 season. Toole also brings in a six-man recruiting class (two JuCo transfers), which should help add size up front and depth on the perimeter.
While Robert Morris looks to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 2010, St. Francis (NY) is looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time in school history. The Terriers bring back six key contributors from a season ago, including all-NEC first team selection Jalen Cannon, who averaged 14.9 points and 8.2 rebounds as a junior. Bryant may be without Alex Francis and his 2,000-plus career points, but Dyami Starks gives Tim O’Shea a go-to scoring option for a team coming off a third-place finish.
One of the conference’s others top scorers, Kyle Vinales, was sidelined with a finger injury for Central Connecticut State last season. The 6-foot-1 Vinales is one of four returners for the Blue Devils, a team looking to jump from the middle of the pack to conference contenders. St. Francis (PA) also returns the bulk of its lineup, led by second-team selection Earl Brown.
Mount St. Mary’s, which reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, has to account for the loss of three 1,000 point scorers. Wagner will be without the conference’s three-time defensive player of the year, Kenneth Ortiz and second-leading scorer, Latif Rivers. But both the Mountaineers and Seahawks have quality pieces that could continue to make this low-major conference and interesting one to track as the season shifts into March.
PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Lucky Jones, Robert Morris
As a junior, playing alongside NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson, Jones averaged 13.9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game, earning all-NEC second team honors. The 6-foot-6 wing will carry a heavy load for Robert Morris this season: on offense, on defense and on the glass. He’s been a stable part of the program’s success from its two regular season conference titles to his 15-point performance in the Colonials’ NIT upset win over Kentucky in 2013.
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.
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.
In: N/A Out: Monmouth and Quinnipiac
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.