For those of you not looking forward to the BCS National Championship Game there is a full slate of games in the NEC (LIU is off after beating future NEC member Bryant the other night) that'll most likely do more to muddle the conference picture than provide clarity. Monmouth may be the league's hottest team after impressive wins over Sacred Heart and CCSU over the weekend, and they'll head north to take on a struggling St. Francis (NY) club. Four teams are tied for first place in the loss column (LIU and Robert Morris are 3-1; Wagner and Quinnipiac 2-1), and the Colonials will visit Tom Moore's Bobcats tonight in what should be a good game. Wagner will take on CCSU in New Britain, FDU visits a Mount St. Mary's team looking for its first league win and St. Francis (PA) visits a Sacred Heart team that has lost six of their last seven games. All games will begin at 7 PM EST, and feel free to add your thoughts on tonight's schedule.
Fairleigh Dickinson @ Mount St. Mary's
You've got five teams in the NEC who sit just a game out of first place in the loss column with two losses apiece, and surprisingly the Knights are one of those teams despite a 2-11 overall record. Sean Baptiste is one of the best guards in the NEC, but truth be told he hasn't received much help thus far. Head coach Tom Moore is also trying to work in some four-years transfers and the adjustment has been a little tougher than some anticipated heading into the season. Also, even with those newcomers they've got to improve on the defensive end of the floor. Allowing teams to shoot 48.8% from the floor (last in the NEC) is inexcusable even with their tough early-season schedule. But for as tough as the early going has been for FDU, did anyone expect to see the preseason favorites alone in the cellar at 0-3? Two of the losses, to Sacred Heart and Robert Morris, can be blamed on the lack of defense played by Milan Brown's team. But with five of their next six NEC games at home, the Mountaineers could be poised to get back into the race. My pick: Mount St. Mary's.
Wagner @ CCSU
The Seahawks have gotten it done on the offensive end of the floor with balance; Justin Drummond (9.8 ppg), Llewchean Radford (13.1), Jamal Smith (13.3) and Joey Mundweiler (14.4) have all been solid options for head coach Mike Deane. Howie Dickenman's Blue Devils, on the other hand, have struggled offensively (62.3 ppg) and have lost five of their last six. Ken Horton, Robby Ptacek and Shemik Thompson will not only have to produce themselves but get something from their supporting cast in order to make a serious run at the NEC title. Central is the NEC's best when it comes to defending the three pointer (29.7%), which could serve them well in a game against the league's best three-point shooting team (Wagner shoots 38.6% from distance). My pick: Wagner.
Robert Morris @ Quinnipiac
Arguably the game of the night in the NEC with two of the conference's best players meeting in Hamden. Quinnipiac's James Feldeine leads the NEC in scoring (19.2 ppg) but RMU's Jeremy Chappell isn't too far behind, with his 17.4 ppg ranking third. The difference in this one could be the guys who won't find their names on the marquee in this game, most notably Quinnipiac's Justin Rutty and James Johnson along with Robert Morris' Rob Robinson. The Bobcats are also the best rebounding team in the NEC, besting opponents on the glass by an average of 7.6 boards per game. Robert Morris is third in the NEC with a margin of +1.5, and they'll have to win that battle if they're to win this game on the road. Even with the unpredictable nature of this race tonight's game could be a preview of the championship game to be played in March. My pick: Quinnipiac.
Monmouth @ St. Francis (NY)
For some it may be difficult to categorize a 4-12 team as "hot", but the Hawks are just that after winning three of their last four games (including back-to-back wins over Sacred Heart and CCSU by double digits). But Dave Calloway's team may be finding its way with the youngsters getting more and more comfortable with his system, and some mainstays getting healthier. And even with that unimpressive overall record, don't be so quick to write them off in the NEC; their last tournament team (2005-06 season) started out 1-7 before righting the ship. Six players are averaging between seven and eleven points per game, with the "scoring by committee" philosophy looking good in making up for the loss of Whitney Coleman in the season opener. Things are far from rosy in Brooklyn for the Terriers who have lost their last five. But keep this in mind: their two NEC losses (St. Francis (PA) and Wagner) came on the road by a combined six points and they did win at Robert Morris. But their defense has left something to be desired in recent weeks, and the Terriers are allowing opponents to shoot 44.5% from the field and 38.9% from behind the arc. My pick: Monmouth.
St. Francis (PA) @ Sacred Heart
Neither team comes into this game in good shape, with Red Flash losing their last four and Sacred Heart dropping three straight. St. Francis' problem has been their offense (tied for last in the NEC in scoring offense) and their defense (9th in scoring defense, 10th in field goal percentage defense). Sacred Heart has performed better on the defensive end despite giving up 74.6 points per game; their issue has been turning the ball over. Dave Bike's Pioneers average more than eighteen turnovers per game (18.3 TPG) this season, the worst number in the NEC (FDU is pretty close with 18.3 TPG). Four Pioneers are averaging double figures in scoring, while the Red Flash will counter with the versatile Devin Sweetney. Neither team takes great care of the basketball, so this could be a game in which someone gives it away as opposed to someone taking control of it. My pick: Sacred Heart.