Blackbirds Hoops Journal’s 2013-14 NEC Men’s Basketball Preseason Preview

Four of the top five players in the NEC to watch out for. (L to R: CCSU's Kyle Vinales, Bryant's Alex Francis, LIU Brooklyn's Jason Brickman, Wagner's Latif Rivers) Photo Credits: (L to R)

Four of the top five players in the NEC to watch out for. (L to R: CCSU’s Kyle Vinales, Bryant’s Alex Francis, LIU Brooklyn’s Jason Brickman, Wagner’s Latif Rivers) Photo Credits: (L to R)

Last season, the Northeast Conference for the second straight season sent three teams to the postseason. It was a wild season as was expected going in. Now, with the two less teams in the NEC and many of the NEC stars that were have grown accustomed to watching no longer around, the NEC is going to be one of the most fascinating conferences in college basketball this upcoming season.

The unpredictability of the NEC this season may be at an all-time high. There is legitimately at least six schools who have a realistic chance of winning the NEC tournament come March and go on to the NCAAs. There are some many question marks going into this season revolving most of these NEC teams, it is hard to wrap your head around it all. Hopefully we can start shedding some light into what is undoubtedly one of the hardest conferences to predict in 2013-14. With all that said, it is time to release our second annual Blackbirds Hoops Journal NEC preseason preview:

(10) Fairleigh Dickinson Knights (Last season: 7-24; 2-16 NEC, 12th) – FDU enters the Greg Herenda era after Greg Vetrone was fired after four straight losing seasons. Herenda, who is coming from former Division II school UMass-Lowell, will be focusing on rebuilding this once proud FDU program. Unfortunately for Herenda, there isn’t too much returning talent for him to work with. In fact, there are only six players returning from last year’s squad. The top returning player is senior Mathius Seilund who scored just 5.9 ppg last season. This is a young team with just three seniors and one junior on it. Most people have picked them to finish at the bottom again and I really can’t disagree. In a tough NEC this year, it is going to be hard to see where many of their wins are going to come from. Best thing for this team is to get experience and get themselves better this season. Other than that, there isn’t much to hang you hat on with this team. NEC Record Prediction: 2-14

(9) St. Francis University Red Flash (Last season: 5-24; 5-13 NEC, 11th) – Head coach Rob Krimmel enters year two of the rebuilding phase at SFU. It was tough year overall getting just five wins but four of those five came in the final month of the season which included wins at St. Francis Brooklyn and at Sacred Heart. His young team is now one more year experienced. Ten players are returning from last year’s team including junior rising star Earl Brown (10.1 ppg/8.1 rpg) and two All-NEC Rookie team selections in Ben Millaud-Meunier (9.3 ppg, 47.6 3FG%) and Stephen Mosley (7.9 pp, 4.4 rpg). SFU ranked dead last in the NEC in possessions per 40 minutes and was tenth in points per possessions. Although I can see a slight improvement with this Red Flash team, at best I see them as an 8 seed but I just think the league is too top-heavy for them to make any serious advancements in the standing this season and grab that final NEC tournament spot. Ninth-place seems like the most logical finish for SFU this season. NEC Record Prediction: 4-12

(8) St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (Last season: 12-18; 8-10 NEC, 8th) – SFC went into last season with great expectations after a fourth place finish in 2011-12 and a 12-6 NEC record. The Terriers had most of their pieces coming back so their stock was high. Glenn Braica’s team started the NEC season well at 4-2 but quickly faded after the nice start and had to get a win on the last game of the season just to get into the NEC tournament. This season could be equally as tough to get beyond an 8-seed. Although they have some solid players in second team All-NEC star Jalen Cannon (14.7ppg/8.8 rpg) and a healthy Kevin Douglas (7.4 ppg/3.4 rpg) returning, they are a lot of question marks within this team. Senior Ben Mockford (11.1 ppg, 39.8 3FG%) is a player that runs to streaky for my liking. Junior point guard Brent Jones has to really improve on his decision-making and taking care of the basketball. Alex Isailovic who was highly touted shooter was off the mark a lot last season. There are some nice bench players in P.J. Santavenere and Lowell Ulmer. Sophomore Amdy Fall has gotten some attention and could be a big positive for SFC this season. Overall, I don’t know if there is enough on this team to get them to compete with the next tier of teams in the NEC. NEC Record Prediction: 6-10

(7) Sacred Heart Pioneers (Last season: 9-20; 7-11 NEC, 9th) – Sacred Heart missed out on the NEC tournament last season after collapsing in the last five weeks going 1-9 after a fast 6-2 start. The Pioneers saw the end of the great college career of Shane Gibson. Weeks later, long-time head coach Dave Bike announced his retirement and assistant coach Anthony Latina would finally become the new head coach. Latina has not been shy about telling folks he wants his Pioneers to run a lot more. Expect to see more team cohesion from SHU this season with more ball movement and touches being spread around. Running this new offense will be junior point guard Phil Gaetano (4.8 ppg/7.9 apg) who will get the ball to hit shooters and playmakers quickly. Senior Louis Montes (14.4 ppg/6.2 rpg) I expect will have a great season in this new offense. Junior sharpshooter Steve Glowiak (10.4 ppg/37.4 3FG%) should see plenty of looks from deep. SHU also gets back redshirt juniors Evan Kelley and Chris Evans back from their injuries. They also have a touted freshman in forward De’von Barnett. I believe Latina’s new offensive philosophy will help SHU get back into the NEC tournament and could sneak up on some teams who are having off nights. NEC Record Predictions: 7-11

(6) Central Connecticut State Blue Devils (Last season: 13-17; 9-9 NEC, 7th) – If there is a sleeper pick a lot of NEC experts are looking at this season, it is undoubtedly CCSU. Head coach Howie Dickenman (now the longest tenured head coach in the NEC) has got back some dynamic players and then has added some nice pieces around them to make this a team to watch out for this season. Everything starts with All-NEC first teamer Kyle Vinales and his tied for NEC-best 21.6 ppg. Vinales nearly left CCSU but returned to delight of CCSU faithful. Also happy to see Vinales return are teammates Matt Hunter (15.7 ppg/7.7 rpg) and Malcolm McMillian (8.2 ppg/4.3 rpg/3.5 apg). Also returning are Terrell Allen (6.2 ppg/3.9 rpg) and All-NEC Rookie Team performer Brandon Peel (4.4 ppg/5.5 rpg). Added on freshman Kevin Mickle and Khalen Cumberlander and CCSU has some really good pieces. As much as people are liking CCSU to do some special things this season, I’m not one of them. I like their team, I like some of their players. I’m just not convinced that they will put everything in place to go above .500 in the NEC and make a deep run come NEC tourney time. Obviously, I could be wrong but my gut tells me CCSU is still a year away from getting to that next level of NEC teams. NEC Record Prediction: 8-8

(5) Bryant Bulldogs (Last season: 19-12; 12-6 NEC, 5th) – Talk about a turnaround season. Bryant had one of biggest turnarounds in NCAA history last season, improving by 17 games. The turnaround was helped led by All-NEC third teamer Frankie Dobbs, All-NEC first teamer Alex Francis (17.4 ppg/8.6 rpg), and Corey Maynard (9.3 ppg/5.2 rpg). But it was two key transfers who helped rejuvenate the Bryant program with their additions, one was Joe O’Shea (8.3 ppg/ 3.7 rpg), the nephew of Bryant’s head coach Tim O’Shea and the other was All-NEC second teamer Dyami Starks (17.7 ppg, 40.8 3FG%). This team was the front runners for most of the NEC season before fading at the end. They enter this season with a big question mark at the point guard spot after the graduation of Dobbs. Who will run the point for the Bulldogs? Will Tim O’Shea let senior Maynard run the show or will he hand the keys off to either redshirt freshman Declan Soukup or true freshman Justin Brickman, younger brother of LIU Brooklyn star point guard Jason Brickman. Who ever O’Shea decides to run his offense, Bryant will be in contention for an NEC title. Francis is one of the best forwards in the NEC and Starks in one of the NEC’s best shooters. Overall depth is still a bit of a question mark on this team as it was last season. It cost them to fade last year, I think it will prevent them from getting a NEC tournament home game this season. NEC Record Prediction: 10-6

(4) LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds (Last season: 20-14; 12-6 NEC, 3rd) – It was a roller coaster season which ended in a third straight NEC championship for LIU Brooklyn last season. For the Blackbirds to make this a #sour4four season, they are going to have do it with guys taking on new major roles and several new faces coming in to help continue the winning ways in Downtown Brooklyn. Second year head coach Jack Perri got a big blow in losing Julian Boyd until January with a second ACL tear which happened over the summer. Perri though still has guys who are familiar to the LIU ways. It all starts with All-NEC second team senior point guard Jason Brickman (9.5 ppg/8.5 apg/46.2 3FG%), he is going to need to up his game even more and help make the guys around him better. Those guys will be sophomore E.J. Reed (7.7 ppg/4.0 rpg) who now enters the starting lineup with the departure of 2013 NEC Player of the Year Jamal Olasewere. Juniors Gerrell Martin (3.7 ppg/41.2 3FG%) and Troy Joseph (3.2 ppg/42.1 3FG%) both now could likely get their opportunities as starters and both are capable to fill it up. The main question surrounding LIU is who fills in for Boyd while he is out and will Boyd be back by January as hoped and will we see the Boyd the NEC is accustomed to seeing or are we going to see a lesser version of 2012 NEC Player of the Year. With these questions and also the unknown of what all the new faces will bring to the court at LIU, the Blackbirds are really a wait and see team. What fans will see in November will likely be nothing like they will see in February. But for now, with they have enough talent on this team to get finish in the top half of the NEC standings. NEC Record Prediction: 11-5

(3) Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (Last season: 18-14; 11-7 NEC, 5th) – Head coach Jamion Christian debuted his Mount Mayhem system last season. It was a slow go the first half of the season. The Mount at one point was 7-12 and 2-6 in the NEC after a loss at Robert Morris. From them on, the Mount lost just twice the rest of the season. With their top three scorers returning for one more season in seniors Rashad Whack (13.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Sam Prescott (11.1 ppg/4.2 rpg) and Julian Norfleet (10.8 ppg/3.2 apg), the Mount are primed for another run at the NEC title. One player they will miss is Shivaughn Wiggins, last season’s NEC Rookie of the Year, who transferred over the summer. No team shot more three-pointers last season than the Mount (811 3FGAs) so don’t be surprised to see them continue that trend this season. The question regarding the Mount is, was the Mount really as good as they were during the last month of the season or were they a team that just got hot at the right time? I tend to believe that they figured out the way they want to play and figured out who are the players to play the style Jamion Christian wants to play. I think they get off to good start this season and carry that level of play throughout the season. NEC Record Prediction: 12-4

(2) Robert Morris Colonials (Last season: 24-11; 14-4 NEC, 1st) – So how would you describe RMU’s season a year ago. Andy Toole’s team got 24 wins, went 14-4 in the NEC and finished in first for the first time since 2009. Then they got upset at home by Mount St. Mary’s in NEC tournament semifinals. They had to settle for a trip to the NIT but wind up with mighty Kentucky and by circumstance get a home game out of it which lead to 59-57 victory and mass hysteria in Moon Township. Now they return with more national attention than ever and the pressure to capitalize on their NIT success with a trip to the NCAAs this season. Although Toole has a lot of good talent returning, he has to replace three key members of last season’s team in Russell Johnson, two-time All-NEC first teamer Velton Jones and Coron Williams who transferred to Wake Forest for his final year. RMU also lost senior Lijah Thompson who missed all of last season with a torn ACL but who decided to leave RMU. Andy Toole does have back senior sharpshooter and RMU’s leading scorer Karvel Anderson (12.5 ppg/43.9 3FG%) along with All-NEC third teamer Lucky Jones (11.6 ppg/5.9 rpg). Senior Anthony Myers-Pate (5.9 ppg/2.7 apg) takes over at the point. Toole will look for guys like David Appolon and Stephan Hawkins to step up this season. The freshman to watch for this season in the NEC may be 6’6″ forward Jeremiah Worthem out of Philly. RMU should once again be in contention for an NEC title this season. Their coaching and talent will keep them back near the top of the NEC standings. NEC Record Prediction: 13-3

(1) Wagner Seahawks (Last season: 19-12; 12-6 NEC 2nd) – The time is now at Wagner. After two straight seasons of NEC tournament heartbreak, Bashir Mason’s squad this season now has the players this season to make a full run at the NEC championship and a return back to the NCAAs. They have just one significant loss from last season in Jonathon Williams. The returning cast is quite impressive. Seniors Latif Rivers (13.0 ppg/39.4 3FG%) and All-NEC third teamer and NEC Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Ortiz (11.8 ppg/5.4 apg) are back for one more go-around. Juniors Marcus Burton (8.6 ppg), Mario Moody (6.9 ppg) and Orlando Parker (5.5 ppg) also return. Add on a year of experience to explosion two-guard Dwaun Anderson who could be the NEC most-improved player this season plus the addition of junior transfer Jay Harris and freshman Nolan Long and Gregory Senat and Wagner may have the most talented and deepest team in the NEC. This team showed last season, if they want they can play a defensive, grind-out game. If they want, they can play a fast, high-scoring game. There isn’t a style they don’t mind playing that will get them a win versus an opponent which makes a hard team to try and beat. I think anything but an appearance in the NEC final will be a disappointment for this team this season. They have it all to make it far this season and break the postseason drought. NEC Prediction Record: 14-2

Award Predictions:

NEC Most Improved Player –  Dwaun Anderson – Wagner

NEC Defensive Player of the Year – Kenneth Ortiz – Wagner

NEC Rookie of the Year – Jeremiah Worthem – Robert Morris

NEC Coach of the Year – Bashir Mason – Wagner

NEC Player of the Year – Alex Francis – Bryant

All-NEC Third Team Predictions:

Louis Montes – Sacred Heart
Matthew Hunter – Central Connecticut
Phil Gaetano – Sacred Heart
E.J. Reed – LIU Brooklyn
Rashad Whack – Mount St. Mary’s

All-NEC Second Team Predictions:
Kenneth Ortiz – Wagner
Lucky Jones – Robert Morris
Karvel Anderson – Robert Morris
Julian Boyd – LIU Brooklyn
Dyami Starks – Bryant

All-NEC First Team Predictions:
Jason Brickman – LIU Brooklyn
Alex Francis – Bryant
Kyle Vinales – Central Connecticut
Jalen Cannon – St. Francis Brooklyn
Latif Rivers – Wagner


  1. Jerry Williams says:

    Very well done sir

  2. Dan From Staten Island says:

    Wow! St. Francis Brooklyn in 8th! Not very neighborly at all! Think that Terrier fans seem a similarity to two seasons ago when Jalen Cannon, Kevin Douglas and Brent Jones were relatively unheralded newcomers and flew in under the radar to give a big lift to a program that no one expected much from. This season the Terriers are adding a shot of serious home-bred talent to a very experienced core group: Fall (the Bronx), Martin (Brooklyn), Hagigal (Long Island) and Hopkinson (Manhattan). Don’t be surprised if the Remsen Streeters again make another strong move toward the top of the NEC to the complete surprise of the pre-season prognosticators. Coach Glenn Braica loves to be underestimated.

    • Sorry Dan, I know you’re a big SFC fan but I think it just going to be too tough for SFC to break out anything beyond a 7 seed this season. I picked Sacred Heart ahead of SFC because I really like Phil Gaetano’s game way over Brent Jones. I love Cannon, I really like Douglas but I’m not in love with either Jones or Ben Mockford. SFC really needs production out of Alex Isailovic from the perimeter. I’m interested to see what the newcomers have to offer especially Fall. Honestly, where else besides 7th or 8th would you place this team?

      • Dan from Staten Island says:

        Think that most people tend to easily dismiss the Terriers because of the size of the school and the limited budget for the program. Coach Braica does more with less dollars than any coach in the East. As far as Brent Jones is concerned, if he doesn’t come out of the gate with a strong performance, you may see Yunus Hopkinson start to push him at the point. This is Mockford’s last go-round, but he may be in the same boat as Jones. He may feel some pressure from scorer Sheldon Hagigal, if he doesn’t show some consistency early on. He can’t bring it one game and then practically disappear from the scoring column the next. The overall depth of the Terrier roster will keep the intensity level pretty high every night. Guess that we’ll just have to wait and see how these teams shake out when the smoke clears in late February. By the way, that was an excellent overall preview of the NEC. Nice work.

      • I appreciate the nice words. We shall see how they do. I was high on them last season and they disappointed. I’m not as high on them this season so they might end up doing well.

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