Yesterday, Robert Morris finally released their out-of-conference schedule, making them the last NEC team to do so. Several NEC teams are playing their fair share of marquee games throughout the non-conference slate, therefore we’ve sifted through all the non-conference games to give you the ones you should keep on your radar this upcoming season.
Ohio at Robert Morris – Charles Sewell Center, Saturday, December 1st
Last season, Robert Morris handed a tough Ohio team their second out-of-conference defeat – the first was a 5-point loss at Louisville – by winning a nail-biter on the road, 70-67, despite committing a season high 31 turnovers and 24 personal fouls in the contest. Ohio ended up recovering from the non-conference defeat just fine; they went on to earn the Mid-American Conference automatic NCAA bid and then improbably made in it to the Sweet 16 as a 13 seed, only to succumb to the big bad North Carolina Tarheels in the end. Now, the Bobcats head to Moon Township to complete the home-and-home series. Each team returns their top seven scorers from last season, so this match-up will serve as a terrific litmus test for the ascending NEC. A Colonials victory would surely boost their tournament resume, should they end up dancing in March.
Mount St. Mary’s at Loyola (MD) – Reitz Arena, Saturday, December 15th
Speaking of litmus tests, the mid December showdown between Mount St. Mary’s and the Loyola Greyhounds will serve as one for first year head coach Jamion Christian. Other than facing Loyola, the Mount schedule is mostly filled with very winnable games (Hartford, at Binghamton, Navy, UMBC) and very losable games (at Pitt, at Georgetown, at Indiana, at George Washington). In addition, this battle of Maryland mid-majors will showcase two contrasting styles of play. Loyola typically slows down the tempo somewhat (66.8 possessions per game), limits turnovers, and plays stingy defense, whereas the Mount – in Jamion Christian’s words – will play at an extreme pace by pushing the tempo on both ends of the floor. The game’s tempo may very well determine the winner.
Villanova at Monmouth – the MAC, Saturday, December 22nd
I’m a huuuuuuge fan of the NEC, but why exactly did a Big East team agree to play at a NEC school? Whatever the reason, major kudos to King Rice and his Hawks for scheduling a must-see game at the beautiful MAC (I still have never been, so I’m going off other people’s opinions). History is not on Monmouth’s side – in the past 10 seasons the Big East has compiled a 147-4 record versus NEC schools! Granted, most of those games were played at a Big East school or a neutral site, but asking a rising low mid-major program to knock off a rebuilding Villanova team is still asking a ton. Nevertheless, it will be fun to watch Jeese Steele, Deon Nesmith, and company attempt the mammoth feat in an atmosphere that’s sure to be electric.
Long Island University at Kentucky – Rupp Arena, Friday, November 23rd
As LIU’s upperclassmen embark on making a third straight NCAA tournament, they’ll find themselves in Rupp Arena in a SOS boosting match-up that resembles a typical #16/#1 seed showdown. John Calipari’s reloaded lineup of freak athletes will certainly look to push the tempo, so expect nothing less than a high scoring, highlight reel filled contest. Things will probably get out of hand for the Blackbirds by the second half, but at the very least, Jack Perri and his team should gain some valuable experience before taking on conference foes. Gambling note: please take the over on 170 points with these two offensive juggernauts.
Lehigh at Sacred Heart – Pitt Center, Sunday, November 25th
Normally, this would be nothing more than a pedestrian match-up between the NEC and Patriot League. This time around, however, the Lehigh Patriots come in as the reigning Patriot League Tournament Champions and, more notably, slayer of the second seeded Duke Blue Devils in the second round of last year’s NCAA tourney. Lehigh’s senior guard C.J. McCollum, who averaged nearly 22 points per game last season, enters the Pitt Center as the rare low mid-major NBA prospect with lots of hype. With the equally impressive Shane Gibson opposite of McCollum, this game will have two of the best mid-major guards in the country. I’d say that absolutely deserves your attention.
(Note: For those of you that miss out on Lehigh’s trip to Sacred Heart, you’ll have additional opportunities to catch C.J. McCollum live vs. Robert Morris at Pitt on Monday, November 12th, at Quinnipiac on Monday, November 27th or at St. Francis (PA) on Saturday, December 8th)
Quinnipiac vs. Iona – Virgin Islands, Wednesday, November 22nd
I’m a little biased, but to me this is the best first round match-up of the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Virgin Islands. In this corner, you have Quinnipiac, a rebounding juggernaut that boasts one of the best mid-major frontcourt duos in Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame. In the other corner, stands an Iona club that pushes the pace better than any team in the country and has some terrific guard play in Momo Jones and Sean Armand. Something has to give. And added bonus – if Quinnipiac pulls off the minor upset, they will most likely take on UConn in the semifinals.
St. John’s vs. St. Francis (NY) – Barclays Arena, Saturday, December 15th
The Terriers get Steve Lavin to come to Brooklyn. The fact that this game isn’t in Queens or Madison Square Garden is a great first step for St. Francis. Still, St. John’s returns a lot of talent from last season’s rebuilding project and it’ll all be a year older. Glenn Braica’s team returns a lot of firepower as well. If St. Francis can shoot well from beyond the arc there’s the possibility for an upset. No matter what it is a classic New York City battle.
Manhattan at LIU-Brooklyn – Wellness Center, Sunday, December 16th
It’s not often when a non-conference match-up features six players capable of earning All-Conference honors at season’s end, but that’s exactly what you’re getting with this New York City battle between the Jaspers and Blackbirds. Steve Masiello’s Manhattan squad will enter the Wellness Center most likely with an opportunity to end LIU’s run of dominance in Brooklyn. The Blackbirds have won 28 straight at home, so it’ll be interesting if Julian Boyd, Jamal Olasewere, and Jason Brickman can hold off one of the favorites to win the MAAC. Every tri-state area resident within a walking distance of the subway certainly wouldn’t regret venturing out to see potential MAAC player of the year George Beamon.
Are there any non-conference match-ups we missed? Let us know in the comments box!