How Many Will Dance? – Four NEC Bowling Teams Hopeful for NCAA Selection

It most definitely won’t be fewer than two, but probably won’t exceed four.  The answer is only hours away as the eight-team NCAA Bowling Championship bracket will go public in a Selection Show to air live Wednesday on NCAA.com.  Click here to access NCAA.com Selection Show.

Hoping to at least match, if not double, the conference’s representation from one year ago, Kutztown, New Jersey City, and Sacred Heart all hope to join defending NCAA champion Fairliegh Dickinson (103-19) at the national title tournament, which will unfold in Detroit, MI on April 14-16.

In addition to FDU, which dealt Nebraska a 4-to-3 loss during a riveting championship match, New Jersey City also represented the NEC on the national stage last April.  Actually, the Gothic Knights did a lot more than just represent the NEC.  NJCU served as the host institution for the meet, welcoming the NCAA’s top teams to Carolier Lanes in New Brunswick, NJ.  Frank Parisi’s Gothic Knights, who have qualified for the NCAA Championships every year of the meet’s existence, were one of the final four teams left standing at the 2010 tournament.

New Jersey City (84-35), which posted a .667 win percentage in NEC play but went 1-2 at the conference championship meet on March 26, hopes to keep its streak of NCAA appearances alive. 

FDU has qualified six out of a possible seven years, making it through to the semifinal each time.  Sacred Heart (75-38), which fell to Adelphi (81-58) in the NEC semifinal, has made the NCAA field four times, but not since 2008.

Meanwhile, there is one NEC program hoping to introduce itself to the NCAA championships for the first time ever.  In only its fourth season of existence, Kutztown (97-33) bowling has emerged as a national juggernaut under head coach Joe Ambrose.  The Golden Bears, who won the inaugural NEC regular season crown back in 2008-09, have the fifth highest win percentage (.746) in the entire NCAA and hope that mark translates into a championship berth.

How Overtime Sees It…
Locks
Fairleigh Dickinson, Kutztown

On the Bubble
New Jersey City, Sacred Heart

 Check Out FDU battling Adelphi in last Sunday’s NEC Championship Match at Parkway Lanes in Elmwood Park, NJ.

Can LIU shock the world and earn a spot in NCAA Tournament lore on Friday? The Overtime! blog is on the case.

After a whirlwind week following its NEC men’s basketball title game victory, the Long Island men’s basketball program is set to vault into the national conscience.  In just two days, the bright lights of CBS will be shining on the Time Warner Cable Arena floor in Charlotte, NC and the network’s top team of Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Tracy Wolfson will be on hand when the Blackbirds hit the floor to face national power North Carolina in second round NCAA Tournament action.

Can LIU shock the world?

In the long history of the NCAA Tournament, only four #15 seeds have knocked off #2 seeds.  Former Robert Morris coach Mike Rice was unfazed by the long odds when his team rolled into Providence for a matchup with second-seeded Villanova in the 2010 tourney.

“We’ve repeated to our guys the list that (includes) the No. 15 seeds beating No. 2,” Rice said at the time. “There’s four of them. We have the list, and they’d like to join that list. We’ve talked a little bit about that stuff.”

The Colonials stepped on the floor that day believing they could pull off the upset, and came within a whisker of doing just that as Villanova escaped with a 73-70 overtime victory that left Wildcat head coach Jay Wright impressed.

“You deserved to win,” Wright told Rice as they crossed paths after the game. 

“The whole building gave them a standing ovation,” continued Wright.  “I did too.  That’s what you love about the NCAA Tournament.”

The NEC has had other near misses in NCAA games with long odds.  In 1983, Robert Morris dropped a two-point decision to #5 Purdue, and in 1985, Fairleigh Dickinson came up just short in a four-point loss to #1 Michigan, a game that was chronicled years later in the New York Times.

In more recent vintage, Central Connecticut State played #2 seed Iowa State even for nearly 35 minutes before succumbing, 88-78, in the 2000 NCAA Tournament.  In 2006, Monmouth gave top-seeded Villanova all it could handle in Philadelphia before a late run lifted the Wildcats a 58-45 victory.  A year earlier FDU trailed by just one point at the half against Illinois, the overall #1 seed in the tournament, before falling, 67-55.  Some NEC fans might remember this memorable moment from that game, which elicited an iconic “Oh My!” from legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg.

Moments like these – regardless of the game’s outcome – are not fleeting.  They live on for the players, their families and the program’s supporters.

The questions remains, however, can LIU string together enough “moments” to earn a spot in NCAA lore?

The Blackbirds are not your typical #15 seed.  LIU is just the second 27-win team in NCAA Tournament history to be seeded as low as 15th and enters the game with a national-best 13-game win streak.  The Blackbirds put up points in bunches (fourth in the nation in scoring), get to the free throw line better than any other team in the country (over 30 attempts per game) and rebound with the best of them (third in Division I with nearly 42 per game).

They will need to bring their best to beat a North Carolina squad that is peaking at the right time, and features two of the nation’s top freshman in Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall.

The last time we saw the Blackbirds, the celebration was on in Brooklyn.

But after all the press conferences and hype are behind them, it will all come down to 40 minutes on Friday.  LIU has been granted the opportunity to perform on a national stage against the ultimate opponent.

Do you believe?

Well, at least one famous fan – albeit a new one – does.

Go Blackbirds!

(Posted on March 16, 2011).

By 9:00 pm a new NEC men’s basketball champion will be crowned. The Overtime! blog puts it all in perspective.

Championship Wednesday has arrived and by 9:00 pm or so, a new NEC men’s basketball tournament champion will be crowned.

For Long Island, it has been a long road since they last found NEC glory back in 1997.  In those days, it was the run-and-gun Blackbirds with 30-point per game scorer Charles Jones leading a high-powered attack that also included New York City playground legends Richie Parker and Mike Campbell.  The trio helped pack the old Brooklyn Paramount with an entertaining, freewheeling style of hoops.

In that 1997 title game, Monmouth slowed the game down to a crawl whenever possible, but it was Jones – the nation’s leading scorer that year – that burned the Hawks in the final 30 seconds with one of the better one-on-one moves you will ever see.  Parker then iced the game at the line, causing “Pandemonium at the Paramount.”

There are certainly similarities between the 1997 and 2011 versions of the Blackbirds.  This year’s LIU team is also a high-scoring outfit that piles up points in transition and spends much of the game at the free throw line. 

While the current incarnation of the Blackbirds may lack a superstar of Jones’s caliber, they more than make up for it with balance and a nine-deep rotation.  LIU proved that in Sunday’s semifinal win over Central Connecticut State with 33 of the team’s 69 points coming from reserves, including a game-high 16 from super-sub Jason Brickman and 10 more from sharpshooter Michael Culpo.

On the other side, Robert Morris is one win away from making history as the first program to ever win three consecutive Northeast Conference Tournament championships.

The Colonials are already the winningest program in NEC history with seven titles, and a win this year could go down as the sweetest of them all.  Robert Morris is without the services of leading scorer and 2010 NEC Tournament MVP Karon Abraham, who is out with an Achilles injury.  Down to just eight rotation players – six of whom are underclassmen – the Colonials have gutted out two postseason wins, mainly due to the performances of sophomore captain Velton Jones.

Jones leads all NEC players with 21.0 points and 7.0 assists per game in the postseason, a huge leap from his season averages of 11.9 ppg and 4.0 apg.  Talk about stepping up.

With the score tied at 62 on Sunday, Jones somehow hit a fadeaway runner – if that’s even possible – with 4.3 seconds to play to beat Quinnipiac and punch a ticket to tonight’s finale.

Was it deja-vu?  Big shot Velton hit a similar runner late in last year’s NEC title game as well.

So tonight it’s the Steel City versus the Big Apple.  These two teams met in the first-ever NEC title game 30 years ago and will lace them up again tonight at 7:00 pm on ESPN2.

The question is this: Who Will Go Dancing?

(Posted March 9, 2011)

Working Overtime! to Break Down the Women’s Bracket

The men tipped off NEC Tournament play yesterday, now tomorrow it’s the women’s turn.  Overtime! gives you the scoop on the 2011 NEC Women’s Basketball Quarterfinals.

#1 Saint Francis (PA) vs. #8 Fairleigh Dickinson in Loretto, PA
On paper it looks a lot less lop-sided than your average 1- vs.-8 matchup.  No. 1 Saint Francis (PA), the defending NEC champion, and No. 8 seed Fairleigh Dickinson played a pair of tightly-contested affairs during the regular season.  The Red Flash needed overtime to defeat Fairleigh Dickinson at home, 73-70, before falling short when the two met again in Hackensack. 

Despite the clear disparity in championship titles, these two teams have more in common than one might think. 

Both have fourth-year coaches who have made the programs better than what they inherited.  The most-glaring similarity between the two is that each team has a player capable of taking the game over.

Fairleigh Dickinson has a junior guard who just may be the most explosive player in the NEC.  All-NEC first teamer Mariyah Laury has made a habit of victimizing opponents with her lightning-quick first step and shooter’s touch.  She sits second on the NEC’s scoring leader board, behind only Saint Francis (PA) senior Samantha Leach.  Having become the fifth woman in Red Flash history to capture the NEC Player of the Year award two days ago, Leach will look to led Saint Francis back to the NEC final for a third straight season.   

2010-11 meetings: SFPA 73, FDU 70 (OT) (Jan. 15); FDU 62, SFPA 58 (Feb. 19)

#2 Monmouth vs. #7 Quinnipiac in West Long Branch, NJ
Two of the league’s most-respected veteran coaches, Monmouth’s Stephanie Gaitley and Quinnipiac’s Tricia Fabbri have seen a lot of each other over the years, particularly of late.  Monmouth and Quinnipiac will face each other in the NEC quarterfinal round for the third consecutive year, although the prior two meetings came in the 4- vs. -5 matchup.  The Hawks have taken the last two meetings, but not much ever seems to separate these two programs.  They split the 2010-11 regular season series each winning on its opponent’s home court.

Although Quinnipiac’s all-star selections are in the frontcourt in the form of first team all-NEC  senior center Courtney Kaminski (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and all-rookie forward Brittany McQuain (9.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg), one should underestimate the strength of the Bobcats’ guard play.  Sophomore Felicia Barron is as quick and athletic as they come and will need to be to check Monmouth’s second team all-NEC backcourt tandem of sophomores Alysha Womack and Erin Rooney ().  Monmouth can counter Kaminski and McQuain down-low with sophomore Abby Martin

The Hawks’ M.O. this season, as is usually the case with Gaitley-coached teams, has been defense.  The NEC’s top-ranked scoring defense will look to quiet the Bobcats’ second-ranked scoring offense and earn a fourth consecutive trip to the NEC final four.

2010-11 meetings: QU 60, MON 57 (Jan. 7); MON 62, QU 56 (Feb. 28)

#3 Sacred Heart vs. #6 Central Connecticut in Fairfield, CT
What was once a severely tilted rivalry has morphed into an intriguing matchup in recent years.  Constitution State rivals Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State met in the 2010 NEC Tournament playing the 3- vs. -6 match-up on a neutral court in Loretto, PA.  Central upset the higher-seeded Pioneers, something it had not done often, if at all.  Not until their regular season meeting on January 21, 2010 did the Blue Devils snap a 17-game losing streak in its all-time series with Sacred Heart.

CCSU actually made it three in a row over the Pioneers when they took the first meeting of the 2010-11 series in Fairfield before Sacred Heart returned the favor on the road in New Britain.

Sacred Heart’s Ed Swanson, the Dean of NEC coaches, has more NEC wins than any other head coach in league history, while all-time Blue Devil Beryl Piper, who returned to her alma mater to take the coaching reigns four years, has restored had Central in the NEC semifinals each of the last two seasons.

Few teams have been able to guard Central’s senior center Justina Udenze (11.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg) during the season’s second half, while Sacred Heart’s Callan Taylor presents matchup problems galore for opponents.  The 6-foot-1 Taylor (15.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg), a first team all-NEC forward, can score on the block, handle the ball, and shoot the three.

2010-11 meetings: CCSU 65, SHU 62 (Jan. 17); SHU 71, CCSU 55 (Feb. 21)

#4 Robert Morris vs. #5 Long Island in Moon Township, PA
Exactly three seasons ago, it was these two teams who met in Moon Township in the NEC Championship Game on ESPNU.  Robert Morris prevailed, but a lot has changed since then.  For starters, Long Island has a different coach.  Gail Striegler, a former Atlantic Sun Coach of the Year at Central Florida, is in her third season at LIU.  After a 9-win showing in her first season at the helm, Striegler orchestrated the NEC’s top turnaround last year when she had the Blackbirds back in the NEC title tilt.  Long Island entered the 2010-11 campaign as the “team to beat” according to the preseason coaches’ poll, but wound up in fifth place after dropping the final two games on its regular season slate.  Sure they’ve hit bumps along the way, and point guard Kiara Evans has been less than 100 percent much of the season, but ultimately the Blackbirds have 19 wins and any team with a player like first team all-NEC forward Ashley Palmer is always a threat to win it all.

Meanwhile, Robert Morris has had a different go-to player in each of the last three years, but roster turnover hasn’t slowed Robert Morris’ success in the slightest.  Currently at 15 wins overall, Robert Morris is looking for its sixth 20-win campaign in seven years.  Perennially, one of the league’s more athletic teams, head coach Sal Buscaglia has been able to implement his up-tempo style to a T year in and year out.  This year, senior point guard Yohanna Morton (13.7 ppg), an all-NEC second team selection, has been vital to the unit’s success.  Without her in the lineup, Robert Morris is 1-4 against NEC opponents, but with her, the Colonials own an 11-2 mark.  The game may actually be won or lost in the frontcourt where NEC Rookie of the Year Artemis Spanou resides.  The RMU rookie won the conference regular season rebounding title (9.5 rpg) and sits second in double-doubles (11). She’ll go up against one of the league’s top post defenders in LIU senior Chelsi Johnson on Saturday.

2010-11 meetings: RMU 62, LIU 50 (Dec. 5); LIU 65, RMU 61 (Jan. 24)

 

NEC’s young guns delivered in a big way in 2010-11. Will they shine in the postseason?

It seems like the season just started in many ways, so it is hard to believe March Madness has arrived.

On the men’s side, the regular season champion has been crowned and the postseason goodies have been handed out.

But before we head on to the playoffs, it seems a good time to reflect on what has been an outstanding year of NEC hoops.  Prior to the start of the season, there was some cause for concern.  There were four new head coaches in place, all taking over collegiate programs for the first time.  Of the league’s 10 all-conference players, eight were lost to graduation or attrition, along with the top six scorers in the conference.  Youth, for better or for worse, would be the league’s calling card in 2010-11.

And boy did the young guns deliver.

Just one glance at the NEC All-Rookie team – along with a host of talented freshman who were also deserving of the honor, but didn’t quite make the cut – and it is easy to see why the future of the conference is in good hands.  From NEC Rookie of the Year Alex Francis (Bryant) and his 43-point explosion, to the late-game heroics of Wagner’s Latif Rivers to the Pistol Pete-like court vision of LIU’s Jason Brickman, first year players more than just filled roles…they played like veterans.  And lets not forget the sophomore class with names like Shane Gibson (Sacred Heart), Julian Boyd (Long Island), Umar Shannon (Saint Francis (PA)) and Karon Abraham (Robert Morris) that have already become synonymous with the conference.

The end result of the youth movement was the NEC climbing 11 spots in the conference RPI rankings, by far the biggest jump in the nation.  The #18 ranking is the best for the league since the landmark 1995-96 campaign that saw three NEC teams reach the postseason.

(By the way, its not just the men.  The women are also at a high-water mark at #18 in the ratings, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed.)

With that said, the madness begins on Thursday with eight men’s teams entering the postseason with their eye on the prize.

Necbracket

Predictions?  Well, there are two schools of thought that have been bounced around here at Overtime!

The history book tells us that the seeding has held up for the most part as quarterfinal round play has been a rather predictable affair in recent years. The #1, #2 and #3 seeds are a perfect 15-0 in the quarterfinals over the last five seasons. Likewise, home teams have posted an 11-1 record in the quarters the last three years and a 20-4 mark since the switch to campus sites in 2005.

On the other hand, if there was ever a year for a rollercoaster ride, this may be the one for a simple reason: the four lower seeded teams each posted victories over their higher seeded quarterfinal opponents during the regular season.

In any event, the spotlight shines squarely on the NEC over the next seven days, and many questions will be answered.

– Can high scoring Long Island put a stamp on one of the best seasons in school history with its first tournament crown since 1997?
– Will two-time defending men’s champion Robert Morris become the first program to ever win three consecutive NEC Tournament titles?
– Can Quinnipiac take the next step and capture the program’s first-ever NEC championship after reaching the title game a year ago?
– Can NEC Player of the Year Ken Horton carry the Blue Devils to their fourth conference title since 2000?
– Will first year head coaches Glenn Braica (SFNY), Robert Burke (MSM), Dan Hurley (WC) and Andrew Toole (RMU) find success in their initial foray into the postseason?
– Can Saint Francis (PA) end its long winless drought in NEC postseason play by scoring the first-ever #8 over #1 upset in tourney history?

The action all begins on Thursday, so be sure to visit NEC Tournament Headquarters and check out a special 30th anniversary series entitled “This Date in NEC Tournament History” presented by TD Bank. As a reminder, both NEC semifinal games will air on Sunday at noon (MSG Network) and 2:00 pm (Fox College Sports, ESPN3 and ESPN Full Court).  Next Wednesday, a champion will be crowned before a nationwide audience on the Worldwide Leader at 7:00 pm.

Feel free to leave any comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

See you at the games!

(Posted on March 2, 2011)