There are just two weeks remaining in NEC play, and to say it’s crowded at the top would be an understatement.
But while January brought us a number of surprises, the race to the finish in February has an air of familiarity. Look no further than the two teams tied for first place.
Here’s a refresher.
2011 NEC Championship Game: LIU Brooklyn 85, Robert Morris 82 (OT)
2012 NEC Championship Game: LIU Brooklyn 90, Robert Morris 73
Two rivals, linked by their common success, once again at the top of the pack in the NEC.Is anyone surprised?
LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris enter play this week tied for first place with 10-4 NEC marks.
The Blackbirds have won four straight and are 10-1 in their last 11 games following an 0-3 start.
“Our guys have been resilient,” said LIU head coach Jack Perri after Saturday’s win over FDU. “They keep their poise and we still have a lot of seniors, and that’s big.
Likewise, the Colonials are 10-2 in their last 12 outings. Should the two teams wind up in dead heat at season’s end, the tiebreaker would go to RMU by way of its 60-57 win over LIU on February 2.
But by no means is their lofty perch secure. And that’s because they have company, and plenty of it at that.Within one game of the two NEC powers are Bryant, a half-game back at 9-4, followed by Wagner (9-5) and Quinnipiac (8-5).
So not only is the race for the NEC regular season title looking like a classic battle, but the race for a top-four spot could be epic.In the NEC Tournament, a top-four spot guarantees a team a home game in the quarterfinals, so the difference between being the four and five seed is huge. This isn’t the case in leagues in which the tourney is contested at a neutral site. Entering play this week, Quinnipiac and Wagner are straddling the four-five line, and both teams are red-hot after weekend sweeps. Quinnipiac has won six of its last seven games, while the Seahawks have won six-of-eight.
“My expectations for them were that they’d be at a certain level quicker,” said Tom Moore, Quinnipiac’s sixth year head coach. “It just didn’t happen. I had to step off and let it evolve a little bit and let them breathe.”“I think we’re getting healthy at the right time,” said Wagner first year head coach Bashir Mason. “All year we’d been dealing with injuries and guys going in and out of the lineup. Now I think we’re getting into a really good groove.”
Both squads are nipping at the heels of Bryant, which had led the league all season until falling twice on the road last week. The Bulldogs still have to make up a game with Sacred Heart, which accounts for the half-game separation in the standings.Bubbling under is another white hot team in Mount St. Mary’s (7-7 NEC). Mount Mayhem ran wild last week with a huge win over Bryant (84-70) on Thursday, followed by an NEC-TV victory over CCSU (89-80) two days later. The Mountaineers, who hit 26 three-pointers in the sweep, have won three in a row and five-of-six to pull to within a half-game of sixth place Sacred Heart (7-6). “When I drew up how I wanted our team to look and how I wanted our team to play, I think we’re starting to shape into that,” said the Mount’s Jamion Christian, another first year head coach. “I think we have a very talented basketball team scoring the ball. I know for a large part of the year I was probably the only guy who thought that.”
And then there is the battle for inclusion, otherwise known as a top-eight spot in the standings.CCSU currently owns the key to the final NEC Tournament spot with a 6-7 record, but St. Francis Brooklyn is just a half-game behind at 6-8. And then there is 5-9 Monmouth, which scored a huge 73-64 win over the Terriers on Saturday to stay right in the mix.
We’re headed down the backstretch, just 16 days away from the start of March Madness.
And the best part?
It promises to be a wild ride getting there.February 18, 2013