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November 10, 2011

Previewing and predicting the Northeast Conference

ColonialsCorner has crunched the numbers, examined the schedules, pored over the rosters, stared into the crystal ball and come out with the following projections for the 2011-2012 basketball season in the Northeast Conference.

What follows is the analysis for every team in the NEC, organized by predicted order of regular season finish.

We don't dare pick the NEC tournament and post-season champion this far out. The NEC tournament has become a forecaster's nightmare, and we'll need to see these teams in action first before we go that far.

But for now, here's how ColonialsCorner sees the regular season shaking out.

2011-2012 NEC Season Preview
1. Long Island
Last year/Key Players: 27-6, 16-2 /// F Jamal Olasawere, F Julian Boyd, G Jason Brickman
Why Here: The defending champions deserve the top spot, as the core of the team that edged Robert Morris in the NEC championship is back. Brickman is an excellent budding point guard and will certainly be more polished with a year of experience. But this team will go as far as Boyd and Olasawere takes it. If they can dominate games as a duo and not trade off dominant solo efforts like they did last year, they'll pose a problem. Outside of Brickman, LIU doesn't have the dominance at guard like some programs (RMU, for one). But they do have a significant advantage up front if Boyd and Olasawere click at the same time.
No. 2 Robert Morris
Last year/Key Players: 18-14, 12-6 /// G Velton Jones, G Coron Williams, G Russell Johnson
Why Here: Several outlets, including Rivals, have couched any Robert Morris projection with the caveat that if they had Karon Abraham, they'd be the favorite. How quickly everyone forgets that Abraham wasn't playing during the team's hottest stretch, which led them to the title game against LIU. Will they miss his offense? Sure. But the key to this team isn't in the backcourt. Even without Abraham, this is Jones' team. And Coron Williams was a revelation last year. No, this team's success will hinge on Johnson's consistency and on whether the front-court figures it out. If Lijah Thompson and Mike McFadden put it together together or one of the freshmen step up, this is the only team with the front court depth and athleticism (albeit not the experience) to handle LIU. If they get it, they become the favorite.
No. 3 Central Connecticut State
Last year/Key Players: 19-12, 11-7 /// F Ken Horton, G/F Robby Ptacek, F Joe Efese
Why Here: Though it is an improving league filled with deeper teams, the NEC is still a league where an excellent player can dominate and lift his team. Ken Horton can be that man. He has a skillset that matches and occasionally surpasses that of LIU's duo, and he's more of a true power forward. He'll take over games, and if someone - maybe Efese - steps up in support of him, CCSU becomes dangerous. They need help in the backcourt, but they'll have time to develop that.
No. 4 Quinnipiac
Last year/Key Players: 22-10, 13-5 /// G James Johnson, G/F Jamee Jackson, F Ike Azotam
Why Here: ColonialsCorner differs from the coaches in that we believe James Johnson is too experienced and too potent to not guide the Bobcats to a Top 4 finish. The main question is how much Johnson and Azotam will play early on. The two are facing assault charges for an on-campus fight. It's likely they'll miss some time, but they'll probably return for NEC play. Once they do, the question revolves around the host of freshmen Tom Moore brought in. If they put it together quickly and provide some depth, no one will want to play at Quinnipiac in late February/early March.
No. 5 Wagner
Last year/Key Players:13-17, 9-9 /// G Tyler Murray, F Josh Thompson, G Latief Rivers
Why Here: Everyone expected the Hurley brothers to do well at Wagner. Just not this soon. They've turned the Seahawks into a nationally relevant team with some high profile recruits. They're young. They're inexperienced. But they're talented. Murray and Rivers form an excellent tandem at guard, but the big one will be any developments up front. Thompson could be key here, as he's a solid rebounder and very athletic. Plus, he became a fan favorite with his dunk over his mom that made national highlight reels. Now it's time for him to wow in games.
No. 6 Bryant
Last year/Key Players: 9-21, 7-11 /// G/F Alex Francis, G Frankie Dobbs, G Corey Maynard
Why Here: Though they're not eligible just yet for the NEC Tournament (that happens next year), Bryant will play a major role in shaping what the tournament looks like. They can play a significant part as spoiler, mostly because of their excellent guard play. Francis is a legitimate player and he's only going to get better now that Bryant can play him out on the wing. That's because of the emergence of Dobbs and Maynard in the backcourt. Dobbs averaged 5.3 assists per game, and Maynard could approach that this year after putting up half of that this year. That's a lot of movement and a lot of potential scoring.
No. 7 Mount St. Mary's
Last year/Key Players: 11-21, 9-9 /// F Raven Barber, G Lamar Trice, G Julian Norfleet
Why Here: There's some talent here, but when is it all going to come together? Mount St. Mary's looks like the typical NEC teams of yesteryear, teams that used to win the league before the infusion of better coaches and players: Talented but capable of drifting. Raven Barber should be a star by now, but he didn't even lead the team in rebounds or scoring. Trice is jammed into a role where he shouldn't be, and Norfleet is inconsistent. But they'll be the ones leading this team. If they get it, Mount could jump up a few spots.
No. 8 St. Francis (Pa.)
Last year/Key Players:9-21, 7-7 /// G/F Umar Shannon, G Chris Johnson, G/F Anthony Ervin
Why Here: Don Friday's team gets it. They're still catching up in terms of talent and being able to play consistently. But St. Francis figured it out at times against some of the better teams in the league down the stretch, and they'll be better this year. This could be the year Umar Shannon takes off as one of the top swingmen in the league, and the Red Flash are full of all-around players who will crash the boards or look for the open man at any spot on the floor.
No. 9 Sacred Heart
Last year/Key Players: 11-18, 6-12 /// G/F Shane Gibson, F Stan Dulaire, G Evan Kelley
Why Here: Gibson is a lock to be a consistent threat every night from any point on the floor, whether it's drifting out to the perimeter or slashing to the basket. He'll also do everything Dave Bike asks of him. But he neds help, and he might get it in a couple of sleepers: Dulaire and Kelley. Dulaire can be a more potent big man if he can hang better in the paint. Kelley has some extraordinary competition, but it should help him cut his teeth against the best guards in the NEC. If the light goes on for him, he and Gibson could make a dangerous duo. But they may not have a lot of help.
No. 10 Monmouth
Last year/Key Players: 9-21, 5-13 /// G Michael Myers-Keitt, F Ed Waite, G Jesse Steele
Buzz: The question for Monmouth is how fast they buy into King Rice's new system. Monmouth was known for their 2-3 match-up zone defense, but Rice will be instituting a system similar to what Long Island, Robert Morris, and Mount St. Mary's have run. The problem is for the last few years, Dave Calloway recruited to his style. It'll take some time for Monmouth to adjust and it could be a little rocky.
No. 11 St. Francis (N.Y.)
Last year/Key Players: 15-15, 10-8 /// G Dre Calloway, F Akeem Johnson, G Stefan Perunicic
Buzz: The Terriers were hit hard by graduation, with their top two scorers heading out the door, and it doesn't appear that the current crop can become go-to guys every night. Perunicic has been a one-trick pony since he entered the league and Robert Morris helped show the league how to shut him down. Calloway is a good but not great point guard, and Johnson just doesn't have the high ceiling that some of the other balanced forwards in this league have. It's going to be tough for Glenn Braica's group this year.
No. 12 Fairleigh Dickinson
Last year/Key Players: 5-24, 3-15 /// G Melquan Bolding, F George Good, G Lonnie Hayes
Why Here: Speaking of roster changes, Greg Vetrone probably needs name tags and a cheat sheet to figure out his roster. Vetrone brought in a host of transfers and new recruits, highlighted by former Duquesne guard Melquan Bolding. The problem is the newbies join a team that didn't really have anything of significance. Bolding will be part of a group that includes two graduate students, some junior college transfers, and freshmen. That's pretty tough to stitch together anything resembling success in that environemtn.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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