The Northeast Conference may not produce teams that win games in the NCAA Tournament, but it regularly provides us with some of the most heated rivalries and exciting action of all the Under the Radar conferences. It is also a conference whose regular season continues to have meaning, as the 10 teams compete for 8 conference tournament spots and the right to host those games on their home courts.
The team to beat this season may be the Red Flash of St. Francis University. They return four starters, get a key player back from injury and have some talented newcomers joining the lineup. Fairleigh Dickinson, Sacred Heart and Mount St. Mary’s could all be factors in the conference race as well. For Sacred Heart, this may be a chance to qualify for a postseason tournament for the first time in the school’s Division I history — and with a senior-laden roster, it may be their only chance to do so for a few more years. One other team to keep an eye on is LIU-Brooklyn, as the Blackbirds welcome in former UMass head man Derek Kellogg as their new head coach.
Predicted Order of Finish
- St. Francis (Pa) – The Red Flash have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1991 with four returning starters, led by guard Isaiah Blackmon, the return of a now-healthy Malik Harmon, and several key newcomers such as junior college transfer Luidgy Laporal.
- Fairleigh Dickinson – The Knights should be a lot better than last year’s 11-19 record despite losing a pair of double-digit scorers. Darian Anderson is poised to score a ton of points, and newcomers that include New Hampshire transfer Pat McNamara should help complement him.
- Sacred Heart – The Pioneers have never played in a postseason tournament at the Division I level, but this season they may be eyeing the Big Dance itself with four starters back. They will certainly have experience, as five of their top six returning players are all seniors.
- Mount St. Mary’s – The Mountaineers will need to blend three seniors with a group of eight freshmen if they want to repeat their NEC regular season and conference tournament championships. Having Junior Robinson’s 14 points per game back will help.
- Wagner – The Seahawks have a pair of guards that should be able to compete with anyone in the conference — JoJo Cooper and a now-healthy Romone Saunders. However, they have way too many question marks in the frontcourt to contend for a top spot in the league, and the late decision of Corey Henson to transfer to Nevada hurts.
- Long Island University – The Blackbirds welcome in a new head coach in Derek Kellogg and welcome back Joel Hernandez, who missed last season with injury after averaging over 12 points per game the year before. However, with 3 of their top 4 starters gone, matching last year’s 20 wins will be a difficult.
- Robert Morris – The Colonials will be without their top two scorers and three of their starting five from last season, so they may be closer to missing the conference tournament than finishing near the conference’s top. The good news is that there are no seniors in the lineup and the experience gained this season may pay off next.
- Bryant – The top two scorers from a team that lost 20 games decided to transfer after the season, meaning that this may be a rebuilding year for Tim O’Shea’s team. The good news is that three of the top four returning players are only sophomores, so the future remains bright.
- Central Connecticut – Head coach Donyell Marshall’s team should improve with the pairing of Austin Nehls at guard and Mustafa Jones at forward. Of course, it is not hard to improve off of only 6 wins last year.
- St. Francis (Brooklyn) – The Terriers return four starters, but those same players lost 27 games last season and ended the year on a 16 game losing streak. It may not be much better this season, but at least it probably can’t be worse.