With the exception of Robert Morris, the NEC hasn’t exactly gone according to plan based on our original predictions. Therefore, before NEC play begins this Thursday, John and I had an e-mail chat over the better half of a week to make sense of the unexpected developments and recalibrate our preseason team rankings. Here is Part 1 of our discussion.
Ryan: So John, what a difference two months can make! We both wholeheartedly agreed with a preseason top-tier of LIU Brooklyn, Robert Morris, Wagner and Quinnipiac. But now, Boyd is out for the year, Wagner’s offense is anemic, and Quinnipiac has trouble sinking even 40% of their shots. Who do you have in your top four now? Robert Morris obviously has been the most consistent team in the conference – after their slow start to the year – with solid wins over Cleveland St, Ohio, and Louisanna-Lafayette, among others. I think we’d both agree Velton Jones and company are the team to beat. But who is your number two team behind them?
Bryant is coming off an ultra-impressive road win over Lehigh (one that will cripple Lehigh’s NCAA at-large bid chances), but am I crazy enough to believe Bryant with Dobbs, Francis, Maynard, O’Shea, and Starks is the second best team in the NEC right now? They won two games last year, John! Two freaking games! Please make some sense of this for me, because my head is starting to hurt…
John: I hope you’re not really considering Bryant as the second best team in the league, because even though the Bulldogs have two of the NEC’s best wins they also have some questionable losses.
Robert Morris is the clear favorite in my mind, but if I’m forced to pick a number two team, I’m going with Wagner. I know the Seahawks do one thing exceptionally well, play defense. Sure, the offense isn’t exactly a work of art, but it gets it done. I expect Bashir Mason won’t let this club let up all season.
Teams three and four are a little harder. If I had to guess though, the top quartile looks something like Quinnipiac and LIU Brooklyn. I know I just picked the same four teams from the beginning of the season and one of them just lost at Lamar and plays the first two conference games short-handed, but I’m skeptical about the league’s second tier. Though it wouldn’t surprise me if LIU ceded some ground to Bryant, CCSU or St. Francis Brooklyn this season. Why yes, I believe a 4-7 team is a definite contender for a NEC Tournament home game.
I know you’re bullish on Bryant. How has Matt Hunter’s big game at Indiana changed your opinion of the Blue Devils?
Ryan: I’m bullish on Bryant, no question, but not second best team in the conference bullish. I’m just trying to generate e-mail discussion for all of your fans, John. I think as crazy as it may have sounded two months though, I would place Bryant between slots three and five.
I agree with you, Wagner is the number two choice right now. I love the defensive effort from the Seahawks; that attribute should come in handy when playing all of those close conference games. It will certainly help if Jonathan Williams and Latif Rivers can come back fully healthy, because they (along with Kenneth Ortiz at times) are the only ones who can generate any kind of offense. It has been quite shocking how ineffective Dwaun Anderson has been, given his hype.
CCSU gets lumped into the St. Francis Brooklyn, LIU, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary’s, Quinnipiac, and Sacred Heart muddle. And while I have been impressed with JUCO transfer Matthew Hunter, the Blue Devils have a lot of question marks. Vinales seems to already be tiring; his last four games have been less than stellar, as he’s averaging only 12 points but four turnovers per game. Howie Dickenman’s depth is a real issue, especially when he’s forced to give a walk-on guard three to five minutes per game. If Vinales, Hunter, and Malcolm McMillan miss any time due to injury, they’re toast. And given the Blue Devils ridiculous workload, there’s a lot of risk for injuries to occur.
Right now I have: 1) Robert Morris, 2) Wagner and then I would begrudgingly place Bryant at number three (man, I can’t believe I’m typing this). I can’t trust Quinnipiac, especially now without the instant scoring of James Johnson and the same offensive issues that limited the Bobcats last season. How do you feel about LIU, sans Boyd? They haven’t look good since losing him.
John: I’d have Quinnipiac third, for the record. (I may have already said that.) LIU has certainly struggled since Julian Boyd got injured. Once the emotion wore off post the Manhattan blowout, the Blackbirds haven’t been able to find a rhythm. Losing at Lamar was just the latest ugly result in a slew of recent ones. It’s almost assumed that LIU will start conference play 0-2 as well due to the suspensions. I think at this point 10-8 in conference is about what I’m expecting. That might be enough to get a home playoff game, but it might not. There’s going to be a bunch of teams fighting for that fourth playoff spot. I think LIU is still a contender for it, but who do you think will get it?
For Part 2 of our discussion, click here.