Blackbirds Hoops Journal’s 2012-13 NEC Men’s Basketball Preseason Preview

One of the most anticipated Northeast Conference men’s basketball season is fast approaching and soon the NEC will be releasing their 2012-13 preseason coaches poll at the NEC “Social” Media Day on October 23. Now that we can close the book on the LIU suspensions front and we all can begin to look ahead at what should be one of the most fierce and exciting NEC season in quite a while.  With that in mind, it is time to release the first ever Blackbirds Hoops Journal NEC preseason preview:

(12) St. Francis (PA) Red Flash (Last season: 5-13 ; 10th) – The Red Flash are in major transition mode. They have a new head coach in Rob Krimmel and lost their leading scorer from last season in Scott Eatherton who transferred to Northeastern. Senior Anthony Ervin is their leading returning scorer from a year ago and he will joined by redshirt junior Umar Shannon returns after missing all but one game due to an knee injury. Even with Ervin and the return of Shannon, I think this is going to be a long, tough season for the Red Flash. Krimmel will have to play a lot of young and relatively unproven players and this is probably not the best year in the NEC to have to do that.  Record prediction: 2-16

(11) Bryant Bulldogs (Last season: 1-17 ; 12th) – Bryant has a couple of great players in Alex Francis and Frankie Dobbs. Problem is there isn’t much of a proven supporting cast after these two guys. Australian Corey Maynard could be a viable third option so they will be in a lot more competitive in game this season. They should have enough talent to get them enough wins to make it out of the NEC basement. This team shouldn’t go 1-17 like they did last season. Record prediction: 4-14

(10) Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (Last season: 2-16 ; 11th) – FDU will be improved. They won’t match their 2-16 NEC season from last year. I believe they will be in the race for the final playoff position until the final week. Lonnie Hayes and Melquan Bolding could make an All-NEC third team with good seasons on their end. Watch out for freshman guard Sekou Harris. I believe he has All-NEC Rookie Team potential. Record prediction: 6-12

(9) Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (Last season: 10-8 ; 6th) – CCSU has been a NEC tournament staple for many, many years. Yet with the major losses in losing two high scoring seniors in Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek, I can’t help to think that CCSU is going to take a step back this season as they look to build around All-NEC’er Kyle Vinales. Vinales will have to do it all to keep this team competitive but he has the talent to do it. Add the coaching of Howie Dickenman and this team could actually sneak into the NEC playoffs. I think they will fall just short. Record prediction: 7-11

(8) Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (Last season: 6-12 ; 9th) – There is a lot of people jumping on the Mount St. Mary’s bandwagon this season with addition of new head coach Jamion Christian. I’m not one of them. Although, I do think they will be a bit better than last year, I don’t think there is going to be dramatic improvements in year one. Some publications have them finishing as high as fifth, I think they will just sneak into the 8th position. Record prediction: 7-11

(7) Sacred Heart Pioneers (Last season: 8-10 ; 8th) – Sacred Heart is a team that is capable of making a nice jump in the standing this season. This team has a lethal weapon in potential NEC Player of the Year Shane Gibson and some good supporting players in Justin Swidowski, Chris Evans, Louis Montes, Evan Kelley, and Phil Gaetano. According to John Templon of Big Apple Buckets, they have the most returning possession minutes of any team in the NEC. This is a veteran group who has played a lot with one another. I think they could finish as high as 5th but with the competitiveness of the NEC this season, I think they will end up in the 7th spot which is one better than last season. I just think that are just too many better teams ahead of them. Record prediction: 9-9

(6) Monmouth Hawks (Last season: 10-8 ; 7th) – I have been high on the Hawks since the end of last season. Head Coach King Rice did a great job in year one at the Shore and he returns a couple of impact players from a year ago in Ed Waite and probably one of the most under-the-radar players in the NEC in point guard Jesse Steele. Many people are not convinced of Monmouth, I’ve seen publications pick them as low as 10th. They returning alot of their scorers from last season. I think they will match last season’s win total and move up one spot in the standings. If this becomes the case, look out for King Rice to become NEC Coach of the Year at year end. Record prediction: 10-8

(5) St. Francis (NY) Terriers (Last season: 12-6 ; 4th) – The Terriers were last season’s biggest surprise. This season, they are not going to sneak up on anyone and I don’t think they have to. They lost steam at the end of the year which ended in a quarterfinal loss at home in the NEC Tournament. Although, they won’t match the 12 wins of last year, they’ll get close. St. Francis (NY) will look for Ben Mockford, Akeem Johnson and Jalen Cannon to have big seasons. Dre Calloway returns from injury this season which will be a nice lift for the Terriers. Record prediction: 11-7

(4) Quinnipiac Bobcats (Last season: 10-8 ; 5th) – Quinnipiac is threatening to crash the Top Three party with the array of talent on their roster. This might be Head Coach Tom Moore’s deepest team since he’s been at Quinnipiac. QU is loaded with quality big men in Ike Azotam, Ousmane Drame and Jamee Jackson. They don’t lack in guard-play either with guys like Dave Johnson and Zaid Hearst. QU is one of the best rebounding teams in the NEC and that should continue this season. I think the Bobcats will increase their win total and get at least one home playoff game. Record prediction: 12-6

(3) Wagner Seahawks (Last season: 15-3 ; 2nd) – Now, we get to the nitty gritty. Wagner might have the deepest team of any team in the NEC this season. They return all but one starter from a team that went 25-6 and 15-3 in the NEC. They were upset at home by RMU in a foul-plagued NEC semis and then saw head coach Dan Hurley bolt to Rhode Island. In comes in, assistant coach Bashir Mason to become the head coach. Top Hurley recruits, Eric Fanning and Dwaun Anderson decide to stay at Wagner and then Anderson gets his waiver to play immediately. This all may add up to Wagner excelling the record success they had last season. I think in the end, Wagner will fall just short of finishing in the top two but that doesn’t mean you won’t see the Seahawks at the NEC final. They are a major contender for an NEC championship this season. Record prediction: 13-5

(2) Robert Morris Colonials (Last season: 13-5 ; 3rd) – RMU have incredibly been to four straight NEC championship game, winning the first two and losing the last two. It will be a bit of a shock if RMU didn’t return back for a fifth straight time. RMU has great coaching in Andy Toole. They have a bulldog leader who is tremendous in the clutch in senior point guard Velton Jones. They have great depth in their roster with players like Lucky Jones, Coron Williams, Russell Johnson, Mike McFadden and on and on. RMU can no doubt win this league. Things will need to go their way against the NEC elite for that to happen. It may come down to one or two games that will either put them over the top or will keep them out of the NCAAs for the third straight year. Record prediction: 14-4

(1) LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (Last season: 16-2 ; 1st) – LIU is the two-time defending NEC champs. LIU returns 4 starters from last season. Reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd returns. All-NEC’ers Jamal Olasewere and Jason Brickman returns. The question marks going into this season was how is new head coach Jack Perri going to handle this high-octane offense and their lack of bench depth. Perri who was on the LIU staff for the last seven years, has indicted that nothing is going to change with the way the Blackbirds play. Also to address the bench, Perri and his staff has added three good freshman and a couple of transfers to solidify the bench so the Blackbirds should be ready to go. This is a veteran team with six seniors who are motivated to three-peat. The added depth will help keep the starters fresh especially late in games. As we all know by now, LIU will not have Boyd, Olasewere, C.J. Garner and Troy Joseph for the first two games of the NEC season (@SHU and @QU). This could caused them to get off to a slow start in NEC play and might end up costing them this number 1 seed. I think though they will recover and take off and get some big wins during conference play that will insure them of the 1 seed. Everyone will be gunning for them so they will be in some highly-tested battles but I think in the end, they will finish in first and become the 2nd NEC all-time to win three straight NEC regular seasons (Rider) and look to be the first NEC three-peat NEC Tournament champions. Record prediction: 15-3 (Originally had it at 16-2 before announcement of players 2 games NEC suspensions.)

Award Predictions:

NEC Most Improved Player – Justin Swidowski – Sacred Heart

NEC Defensive Player of the Year – Velton Jones – Robert Morris

NEC Rookie of the Year – Dwaun Anderson – Wagner

NEC Coach of the Year – King Rice – Monmouth

NEC Player of the Year – Julian Boyd – LIU Brooklyn

All-NEC First Team Predictions:
Julian Boyd – LIU Brooklyn
Jamal Olasewere – LIU Brooklyn
Ike Azotam – Quinnipiac
Shane Gibson – Sacred Heart
Velton Jones – Robert Morris

All-NEC Second Team Predictions:
Jonathon Williams – Wagner
Alex Francis – Bryant
Latif Rivers – Wagner
Jason Brickman – LIU Brooklyn
Kyle Vinales – Central Connecticut

All-NEC Third Team Predictions:
Justin Swidowski – Sacred Heart
Jalen Cannon – St. Francis (NY)
Kenneth Ortiz – Wagner
C.J. Garner – LIU Brooklyn
Jesse Steele – Monmouth

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