NEC Outlook

Last week when I planned on writing this piece, I didn’t think I would be too happy. You see, I planned on writing an NEC outlook piece today, Monday the 25th because of the timing.

League play is now almost halfway done. Thursday 1/28 marks the halfway point, as every team will have completed nine games. Releasing this piece on a Monday made the most sense, as it can run for a few days, opposed to Thursday after the halfway point with such a quick turnaround. It’s a good time to step back and take a good look at where things stand.

Anyway, I didn’t think I would be too happy because RMU was 1-4. Rodney Pryor, Aaron Tate, Jordan Lester and Andre Frederick were all out injured, with Tate likely done for the season. RMU had just had their doors blown off by Mount. The outlook looked bleak.

Then Conrad Stephens happened

The Colonials are now 4-4 in league play, and have won three in a row, the last two of which have been on the road. They are right back in the mix of things and a win Thursday at Mount St. Mary’s would put them just a game back of first place. Pryor is back. Elijah Minnie and Kavon Stewart are playing at a first team All-NEC level. The Colonials look rejuvenated.

Now lets get to that outlook.

NEC Standings (ESPN)

Above are your current standings. At first glance a few things standout….

1) CCSU is done. The Blue Devils, at 0-8 and 1-18 on the season seem like a lock to miss another NEC tournament (only the top eight teams make the postseason tournament). That means nine teams will chase eight spots.

2) The crowded pack in the middle of the league will make for a fun race to the finish line. FDU, Wagner, SFPA, SFBK, Bryant, Sacred Heart, and RMU are all within one game of each other, with the last four all tied at 4-4. LIU is only a game back of that group at 3-5. While we still have 10 games left, it’s clear there could be a few tiebreakers that decide seeding, home court and even who actually gets into the field. Head-to-head will be very important.

3) Wagner, SFPA, and FDU all sit at 5-3, just a game out of first. The Red Flash made a huge comeback on Thursday at Bryant to earn an impressive win away from home. Remember, no league member not named Robert Morris, LIU, or Mt St. Mary’s has represented the league in the NCAA tournament since 2007! Even crazier….only three of the 16 NEC Title game finalist in that eight year stretch were a team other than the above there (and one was Quinnipiac, who is no longer in the league). Wagner, SFPA, and FDU will try to break that trend.

4) Speaking of The Mount. They are off to the best start, going 6-2 so far. They did blow a game at home to Bryant, but other than that it’s been a great start. If there is a “team to beat,” there is no doubt they reside in Emmitsburg, MD.

5) So where do we go from here? KenPom predictions are pictured to the side. RMU slides in as the six seed, with a road game at FDU in the first round, while Mount is slotted to win the league at 13-5.

Kunkel Predictions: If you’re a betting man, go bet against all of these because that’s usually how these things work…

1) Mount — They are the leagues best team, and have enough depth to endure the gruel of the season.
2) RMU — Yea, I think RMU will get all the way up to the two spot. A caveat though. I don’t think they get close to MSM, and will probably finished tied with a few teams.
3) Wagner — The win at RMU is huge and they still get the Colonials at home. They have a very tough stretch upcoming.
4) SFPA — The offense is very good. The defense stinks. Freshman Isaiah Blackmon has been sensational.
5)  Sacred Heart — The Pios had a great weekend beating MSM (home) and Wagner on the road. They’ve also won at RMU. Cane Broome could win POY. If I had to pick a team I’ll likely regret putting too low, it’s SHU.
6) FDU — The Knights have been the biggest surprise in NEC play at 5-3, but they have yet to beat a team that I consider a contender.
7) SFBK — The defending champs have been about what everyone thought they would be. Really good on the glass, good defensively, pretty bad on offense. They did pick up a big win over LIU this past weekend.
8) LIU Brooklyn — The Blackbirds would miss the NEC tournament if it started today, but this is a team with a ton of talent. I think they’ll put it together and make the tournament. They have two big home games this week vs SHU and FDU.
9) Bryant — They’ve already lost at home to LIU, and have lost three straight overall (all at home) after a 4-1 start. They aren’t great offensively, and they stink defensively (outside the top 300 in both according to KenPom). They also play the next four games away form home.
10) CCSU — Only one question remains…will they win a game in the NEC? KenPom rates them as the worst team in D1 hoops.

–Lee Kunkel
–@Kunkel5

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