Every season tells a story, and in the world of college basketball, much of that narrative is written during the non-conference portion of the campaign. As such, each NEC program has approximately 50 days and anywhere from 11 to 13 games to prepare for the rigors of conference play. For those who expect to contend for the NEC crown, the non-league slate is where reputations are built and postseason fates can be determined. Statement wins turn into RPI builders, and by the time January hits, the various postseason tournament committees have assembled no shortage of material from which to judge a program against its peers.
“In the end it comes down to this: Who did you play? Where did you play? How did you do?
– Jeff Hathaway, Former NCAA MBB Committee Chair, addressing NEC basketball coaches last April
Robert Morris vs. Lehigh
November 12 – Preseason NIT – Pittsburgh, PA
Lehigh’s win over Duke in last season’s NCAA Tournament was an eye-opener nationally, but not all that surprising to those familiar with the Mountain Hawks. With Preseason All-American guard and future NBA lottery pick CJ McCollum back in the fold, Lehigh could be even better this year when they take on Robert Morris in this Preseason NIT opener. The Colonials are coming off a school record 26-win campaign and have established themselves as one of the nation’s top mid-major programs with 117 wins over the last half decade. Andy Toole and the Colonials have their own impact guard in Velton Jones, and the matchup with McCollum will be one to keep your eye on. This one earns the Overtime! stamp for most anticipated game of the non-league season.
Quinnipiac vs. Iona
November 16 – Paradise Jam – Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Quinnipiac has racked up 63 wins and made postseason appearances in each of the last three years, and with a loaded frontcourt, shows no signs of slowing down under Tom Moore. Part of Moore’s motivation in taking part in this year’s Paradise Jam was the chance to take on top notch opponents at a neutral site venue. A win over Iona, fresh off its breakthrough NCAA at-large bid, could put the Bobcats on everyone’s radar early on in 2012-13 and set up a second round game with UConn or Wake Forest.
Lehigh at Sacred Heart
November 25 – Fairfield, CT
Shane vs. CJ. Two players all mid-major fans in the Northeast should know on a first-name basis. These two are so dynamic, their potential mano-y-mano battle is worth the price of admission alone. (Plug time – watch it for free on NEC Front Row!) Sacred Heart is on the upswing, and with a deeper, more athletic lineup this season, could earn a statement win over the Patriot League power before a home crowd on Thanksgiving weekend.
Wagner at Temple
December 1 – Philadelphia, PA
Wagner stunned the world last December with its 59-54 triumph over 13th-ranked Pitt, and rode the momentum of that victory to a 25-win campaign, the most in school history. The Seahawks may be even deeper and more dangerous this go-around under first year head coach Bashir Mason, and this December 1st tilt in the City of Brotherly Love – against a Temple team that has reached four straight NCAA Tournaments under Fran Dunphy – could be another headline maker for the Green & White.
St. Francis (NY) vs. St. John’s
December 15 – Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival – Barclays Center – Brooklyn, NY
St. Francis (NY) shocked pundits last season with its fourth place NEC finish, and with nearly everyone back, this season could even be better for Glenn Braica and his charges. In their Barclays Center debut, the Terriers take on local rival St. John’s in what promises to be a fun holiday season matinee between two programs on the rise. St. Francis took Seton Hall to overtime last season, and has set its sights on upsetting the Red Storm for the first time since 2005.
LIU Brooklyn vs. Seton Hall
December 22 – Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational – Barclays Center – Brooklyn, NY
There will be numerous opportunities for NEC teams to take their shots against Big East programs this season. Perhaps the most appetizing matchup between the two leagues pits Seton Hall against two-time defending NEC champion and senior laden LIU Brooklyn playing in its adopted home arena. The Blackbirds will have other opportunities against major conference powers (Kentucky, Maryland), but this one could make for an early holiday present for Jack Perri and Co.
Villanova at Monmouth
December 22 – West Long Branch, NJ
Staying with the Big East motif, the chance to host a game against a venerable program is rare, but for the second time in three years, Monmouth will get that opportunity against Jay Wright and his Villanova squad. The Hawks figure to be a much improved outfit in year two of the King Rice regime, and if the Hawks can “Pack the MAC,” it could be a special night in West Long Branch.
So there it is…seven games, seven opportunities that will help write the book that is the NEC season. Of course, there will be other games that make a difference. You can be rest assured that Overtime! will be there to document what will hopefully be a season that’s worthy of a sequel.
November 8, 2012