With Conference Play Looming, It’s Time for the #NECWBB Mid-Season Report

Like 2013, the non-conference women’s basketball schedule is history.

St. Francis Brooklyn (9-2) was the big winner over the season’s first two months, but the Terriers, like everyone else, are still 0-0 in NEC play.

Sarah Benedetti (11.7 ppg) is one of three SFBK Terriers scoring in double figures.

Sarah Benedetti (11.7 ppg) is one of three SFBK Terriers scoring in double figures.

As the coaches insinuated with their preseason coaches’ poll, the race for the NEC’s automatic bid to the Big Dance is as wide open as ever.

Will it be one of the usual suspects such as Sacred Heart or Saint Francis U? Will Robert Morris make good on its preseason favorite status?

Will a first-timer like Bryant or Central Connecticut capture the conference crown?

Will a team like Wagner turn the preseason poll upside down?

The answers lie ahead as each team tips off its 18-game league schedule on January 4.

#NECWBB Opening Day Schedule

Robert Morris at Central Connecticut, 1:00 pm – Watch on Front Row
Fairleigh Dickinson at Bryant, 1:00 pm – Watch on Front Row
Mount St. Mary’s at St. Francis Brooklyn, 2:00 pm – Watch on Front Row
Saint Francis at Sacred Heart, 2:00 pm – Watch on ESPN3
LIU Brooklyn at Wagner, 3:00 pm – Watch on Front Row

Milestone Mania

All five members of the Preseason All-NEC Team have reached scoring milestones already this season. Meanwhile, Central Connecticut’s Jessica Babe made program history and Sacred Heart’s Ericka Norman is on the cusp of NEC history.

Artemis Spanou (Robert Morris)

All-time Leading Scorer in RMU history

The Greek-born Spanou passed former Colonial Laura Lindak (1,633 points) for the program’s all-time scoring record on December 18 at Duquesne. She has 1,662 points and 1,224 rebounds in her career. (Keep in mind the NEC rebounding record is 1,295).

Alli Williams (Saint Francis)

1,500-point Club

The Keystone State native became the eighth player in Red Flash annals to reach t 1,500-point mark, doing so on December 8 against Duquesne. Her 1,598 points place her sixth of the SFU all-time leader board.

Sydney Henderson (Mount St. Mary’s)

1,000-point Club

The explosive guard added her name to Mount’s list of 1,000-point scorers during her 25-point effort in an 86-77 win over IPFW on November 16. She currently has 1,152 career points.

Gabby Washington (Sacred Heart)

1,000-point Club

The guard entered her junior season with 941 points and went over the 1K mark during a 23-point performance against Villanova on November 20. She currently has 1,102 points.

Naana Ankoma-Mensa (Bryant)

1,000-point Club

The Canadian-born forward ended 2013 by joining the 1K Club. Her 14 points in a December 30 rout of Columbia upped her career total to 1,007.

Jessica Babe (Central Connecticut)

Triple-Double

Babe totaled 15 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds in a road game at Rider on December 21 to become the first player in CCSU’s Division I history to drop a triple-double.

Ericka Norman (Sacred Heart)

NEC Assists Record

The senior point guard (583) is seven assists away from becoming the NEC’s all-time career leader.

The Team Reports

Bryant

Non-Conference Record: 5-6

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Seventh

The Scoop: After enduring a tough stretch during which they lost six of seven games, the Bulldogs are one of the NEC’s hottest teams heading into the New Year. Bryant, which has four starters averaging double figures in scoring, has won three in a row.

Fact: Bryant is 3-0 against America East members at home this season.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Bryant at Central Connecticut on March 3 … Both of these teams want to rule the roost amongst the NEC’s New England-based contingent. More importantly, they’d like to claim their first-ever Northeast Conference crown. With this game being the regular season finale for both teams, it could carry  major postseason seeding implications.

Central Connecticut

Non-Conference Record: 6-4

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Fifth

The Scoop: Thus far, the Blue Devils’ balanced attack has helped CCSU to the second-best overall record amongst NEC teams. After back-to-back season-opening losses to a pair of Florida-based AAC members, Central has won six of eight games heading into the conference schedule.

Fact: Central Connecticut is a perfect 4-0 at Detrick Gymnasium.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Central Connecticut vs. Saint Francis on January 6 … Beryl Piper’s Blue Devils will have an early chance to make a statement against a long-time conference power, which ended Central’s 2012-13 season in the NEC Tournament quarterfinal.

Fairleigh Dickinson

Non-Conference Record: 1-10

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Ninth

The Scoop: First, FDU had to cope with the preseason loss of double-double machine Erika Livermore. Then, seven games into the season, the Knights lost emerging star Brianna Thomas (16.4 ppg) to injury.

Fact: FDU has blocked 36 shots over the first 11 games, accounting for the second-highest total in the NEC.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: FDU vs. LIU Brooklyn, January 20 … After playing four of their first five conference games on the road, a return to the Rothman Center should be a welcome sight for the Knights. Interestingly, however, home-court advantage meant little when these two teams met last year with the visitor winning twice.

LIU Brooklyn

Non-Conference Record: 2-9

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Eighth

The Scoop: It seems to be coming together for the Blackbirds right in time for conference play. After dropping their first eight games, they won two of their last three in 2013. Both wins (Monmouth, Northern Arizona) came of the road.

Fact: Senior Cleandra Roberts (18.7 ppg) has five 20-point performances to her credit, tied for second-most in the NEC.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: LIU Brooklyn vs. St. Francis Brooklyn (at Barclays Center) on January 11 … Borough bragging rights aside, there will certain be pregame hype surrounding this one. The contest will be played at the one-year old Barclays Center, a crown jewel of Downtown Brooklyn, and will air live on ESPN3 as the #NECWBB Game of the Week.

Mount St. Mary’s

Non-Conference Record: 5-7

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Third

The Scoop: The Mountaineers were peaking, having won three in a row until their New Year’s Day loss to ACC member Boston College. Senior guard Sydney Henderson (18.9 ppg) has lived up to her preseason all-NEC billing thus far and a solid supporting cast has produced as well.

Fact: The Mount is 3-1 at home with the lone loss coming by a single point to Davidson in the opener.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Mount St. Mary’s vs. Robert Morris on February 1 … It’ll be the first of two meetings between these two rivals this season. This one presents a prime opportunity for the Mount, which has always been tough to beat in Knott Arena. The two teams, who were picked to finish first (RMU) and third (MSM) in the 2013-14 NEC standings, met only once last year with RMU eking out a 61-59 win in Moon Township.

Robert Morris

Non-Conference Record: 4-7

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: First

The Scoop: The NEC preseason favorite had won three in a row before falling into a five-game losing funk that ran from November 29 (Northern Kentucky) through December 18 (Duquesne). The Colonials slammed the brakes on the skid by posting an impressive win over Cornell on December 21 and, then, nearly upset ACC member Virginia Tech (Dec. 29) in their final non-conference contest.

Fact: Senior forward Artemis Spanou accounted for the second-longest string of consecutive double-double performances in NCAA Division I history. Her 33-game streak came to an end on Dec. 21.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Robert Morris at Saint Francis on March 1 … This late-season clash of Keystone State rivals will almost definitely have some sort of postseason implication and will be one of the final times for fans to see two of the most-accomplished forwards in league history – Artemis Spanou (RMU) and Alli Williams (SFU).

Sacred Heart

Non-Conference Record: 3-8

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Second

The Scoop: It’s been a rollercoaster ride of results thus far for Sacred Heart in its first season under head coach Jessica Mannetti. The Pioneers took Big East members St. John’s and Villanova into overtime before falling. After an overtime road win over MAAC member Saint Peter’s, SHU suffered a six-game slide that ended with a 76-75 win over Maine on December 29.

Fact: Sacred Heart’s owns the NEC’s top turnover margin (+3.1/game).

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Sacred Heart vs. Saint Francis U on January 4 … What a way to open the #NECWBB conference schedule on ESPN3 – with the two teams who have won 14 of the last 18 NEC titles facing one another.

Saint Francis U

Non-Conference Record: 2-9

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Fourth

The Scoop: Head coach Joe Haigh has tried a number of different combinations, but the results have all been similar. Saint Francis has consistently scored a lot of points, but has also allowed more scoring than any other NEC team over the season’s first two months. Ten different Red Flash players have made starts this season with only Alli Williams starting all 11 of the team’s games.

Fact: Alli Williams is tied atop the NCAA Division I leader board with 3.6 steals per game.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Saint Francis vs. Sacred Heart on February 8 … The Red Flash will tip off a four-game mid-February home-stand against the Pioneers. Both teams hope to be jockeying for first place by that time.

St. Francis Brooklyn

Non-Conference Record: 9-2

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Sixth

The Scoop: The Terriers have continued their remarkable turnaround in their second season under head coach John Thurston. They are off to the program’s best start in four decades and carry a five-game win streak into 2014. Their lone two losses are against members of Division I power conferences – St. John’s (Big East) and Miami (ACC).

Fact: SFBK has had five different players lead the team in scoring over the season’s first 11 games.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: St. Francis Brooklyn vs. Central Connecticut on February 1 … It’ll mark the second time in seven days these two teams will meet. The Terriers and Blue Devils had the two-best non-conference showings in the NEC, but will they still be atop the standings come February?

Wagner

Non-Conference Record: 1-10

NEC Coaches’ Predicted Finish: Tenth

The Scoop: The Seahawks are one of the younger teams in all of Division I, but second-year head coach Lisa Cermignano clearly has some talent to work with. Sophomore guard Jordyn Peck is averaging 16.5 points per game (4th in NEC) as a follow-up to her 2013 NEC All-Rookie campaign. Freshman Jasmine Nwajei leads all NEC rookies in scoring (11.5 ppg) and dropped 20 points in a win over MAAC member Monmouth.

Fact: Wagner’s 52 blocks are a league high.

Can’t-Miss Matchup: Wagner at LIU Brooklyn on February 22 … The Seahawks will make the trip across the Verrazano Bridge to face another youthful squad in LIU Brooklyn. It’ll be interesting to see which species of birds is further along in their development at that juncture.

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