Thursday, March 29, 2012

The 2011-2012 Northeast Conference End of Season Recap - Part 2

For Part 1 of the NEC Season Recap, go here.

6.  Monmouth Hawks, 12-20 (10-8 NEC) 
For more than half of the season, the Monmouth Hawks looked like the same old mediocre team, as they stumbled out to a 3-16 and 1-5 conference record.  At that point however, first year head coach King Rice's effect on the roster began to take hold, as the Hawks finished the season improbably winning 9 of their final 13 contests.  The late season surge was thanks to playing inspired defense and using a well balanced scoring attack, led by diminutive junior guard Jesse Steele.  Now, the future looks brighter for the Rice's kids, especially with the impressive recruiting haul coming in for the 2012-13 season.  With that said, I would be cautious to project an improvement from 10 conference victories, but make no mistake, NEC teams can no longer expect an easy victory when they play the Monmouth Hawks.

5.  Quinnipiac Bobcats, 18-14 (10-8 NEC)
It was another season of controlling the boards for Quinnipiac, as they finished 2nd in the nation in rebounding percentage.  Ousmane Drame showed glimpses of how dominating he and front-court mate Ike Azotam could be when each is playing at a high level.  When the defensive intensity was there for Tom Moore’s squad, the Bobcats could certainly get by most nights with a victory.  But when they squared off against the offensively powered NEC elite, specifically Wagner and LIU, the Bobcats simply couldn’t match their opponent's offensive output.  Losing All-NEC 2nd Teamer James Johnson won’t help, so the big question heading into next season is how much will the rest of the team, mainly Zaid Hearst, Nate Gause, and Jamee Jackson pick up the scoring slack?  Quinnipiac has been close the last couple of years, but offensive efficiency still impedes their ability to secure their first ever NCAA tournament bid.

4.  St. Francis (NY) Terriers 16-15 (12-6 NEC)
If you take out the first 5 games and the last 3 games of the Terrier’s season, it was a fantastic run for the team that called Pope Education Center home.  Unfortunately, the entire season counts and injuries depleted Glenn Braica’s roster just enough to be ousted in the first round of the NEC tourney by Quinnipiac.  Even with the early round exit, Braica rightfully earned NEC Coach of the Year honors, as he did a masterful job squeezing 12 conference wins out of a no-name roster that lost starting guard Dre Calloway to a shoulder injury.  Looking ahead, the nucleus of Ben Mockford, Travis Nichols, Brent Jones and Jalen Cannon should give NEC teams a battle every single night.  Given how competitive the conference has become however, projecting St. Francis to match their 12 conference wins next season may be a tad bullish.

3.  Robert Morris Colonials, 26-11 (13-5 NEC)
With much of the hype on Wagner and Long Island throughout the season, all the Colonials did was quietly compile a 13-5 conference record en route to a #3 seed in the NEC tourney.  From there, Velton Jones and company essentially ended Dan Hurley's career at Wagner with a grinding, defensively inspired semifinal victory.  In the end, Andy Toole's team fell just short in the finals, but it was another impressive effort nonetheless.  Robert Morris has now averaged more than 14 NEC victories in each of the past 5 seasons, and with a roster that only graduates Lawrence Bridges, the Colonials will once again be part of the NEC elite moving forward.

2.  Wagner Seahawks, 25-6 (15-3 NEC)
The media darlings of the Northeast Conference did everything this season except win the NEC regular season and postseason championship, and it dearly cost them.  25 wins, 12 of which were on the road, and a non-conference record of 9-2, just wasn’t enough to warrant a NIT invite.  Perhaps as a result (although I’m guessing $4 million dollars played a slightly larger role), the Hurley brothers left to coach the University of Rhode Island.  Hurley’s departure however, didn’t scare off the top notch recruits coming to Wagner next season, as both Eric Fanning and Dwuan Anderson have allegedly remain committed to Seahawk basketball.  Pair them with NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz, All-NEC 2nd Teamer Latif Rivers and young big men Mario Moody and Naofall Folahan and you have a scary good lineup.  The transaction next season won’t be seamless, especially with the departure of the underrated Tyler Murray, but Wagner should again compete for the NEC title, as long as the youngest coach in college basketball Bashir Mason can pick up where Dan Hurley left off.

1.  Long Island University Blackbirds, 25-9 (16-2 NEC)
It was another remarkable season for Jim Ferry’s Blackbirds, as LIU dominated their NEC opponents by averaging 1.10 points per offensive possession.  As great as NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd and All-NEC 1st Teamer Jamal Olasewere were in the front-court, it was super sophomore Jason Brickman that catalyzed the mastery of LIU’s offense.  Brickman was fifth in the nation with 7.3 assists per game and he -- along with back-court mate Michael Culpo -- shot 38.4% from behind the arc.  Throw in slasher C.J. Garner, and you have an offensive juggernaut that ultimately pushed LIU to their second straight NCAA tournament.  There’s little chance of regression since the Blackbirds only lose Culpo to graduation with the core of Boyd, Olasewere, and Brickman still in tact.  Sure, the Blackbird’s 26 game home winning streak will probably be snapped at some point next season, but the back-to-back NEC champions still have one last run in them before the roster is turned over.

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