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)


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