A week from today, the new college basketball season begins. Yes. Finally. What gets us all excited about the prospect of new hoops season is all the various unknowns which will slowly be uncovered and revealed as it goes along.
There are many, many questions in particularly in this 2014-15 Northeast Conference season which even adds more to the excitement. Many of the top players that have been dominating the NEC stat sheets over the last few seasons are now gone. Now it is time to see who steps and becomes the new wave of stars in this ever-evolving league. Which teams will surprise? Which will disappoint? The answers starts arriving in a few days.
I have come up with ten burning questions which should answer themselves as we being this annual road to March through the NEC men’s college basketball season.
1. Can the preseason favorite St. Francis Brooklyn pull it off and win the NEC for the first time in school history?
St. Francis Brooklyn were the NEC coaches preseason favorite but they weren’t the consensus preseason favorite as Robert Morris got that distinction. The fact is only four teams in the last 27 years who have gone on to win the NEC Tournament Championship after being picked as the preseason coaches favorite. Even though the Terriers have very good players in seniors Jalen Cannon and Brent Jones, the rest of their team remains a bit of a question mark. Will juco transfer Tyreek Jewell be able to fill the shooting shoes of the departed Ben Mockford? Can their defense carry this team to a championship? It bears watching.
2. Can the Mount pull off the late season run once again?
There is no doubt in my mind that they can. They are the one team I believe who could lose every single non-conference game and STILL win the NEC tournament because of their frenetic style of play which the Mayhem system is. By February when teams are starting to really feel the wear and tear of the season, the Mount is still running on a full tank which is why they seem they have gone on late runs the last two seasons. Now, the main cast who orchestrated those runs are gone but if they find who will become their next wave of shooters, look for them to be in the hunt at what ever seed they land in March.
3. Will CCSU’s Kyle Vinales be back on the court at any point this season?
Initially, when his October 24th arrest happened and I read the details of his arrest, I thought we had seen the last of Kyle Vinales in a CCSU uniform. Then, the girlfriend changed her story and said he did nothing wrong and she was to blame. He is currently away from the team until his pending December 5th court date. Now, I believe you will see him again this season. I believe there will be a good chance now the charges will be dropped on Vinales and the girlfriend will be charged with lying to authorities. It’s a mess. Yet, if the charges to Vinales are dropped, I can’t see a reason why he wouldn’t be back sometime in mid-to-late December and be a full go for the entire conference season.
4. Is this Robert Morris’ (and Andy Toole’s) year to finally breakthrough and win a NEC championship?
I believe that it will be. They are going to play a difficult non-conference schedule. I think they are going to win the NEC regular season and have home-court throughout the NEC tournament once again. The pressure will be on once they get to March. This could be the Colonials’ last big opportunity to win it all with Lucky Jones and Andy Toole still around, so the time to win is now. I see some early bumps and then things get rolling once conference play begins. Can they get over the championship game bug-a-boo?
5. What will be the marquee NEC win in non-conference play?
I would be shocked if the NEC didn’t have a couple of big wins under their belt in non-conference this season. A few games that the NEC can steal on the road I think are St. Francis Brooklyn over Rutgers on November 23, Mount St. Mary’s over Wake Forest on November 26, Robert Morris over Clemson on December 30. But the marquee win I think will come next Friday on November 14 when Bryant goes up to play the defending national champions Connecticut and shock the Huskies at home. That’s right, I have a feeling that one is going to go down to the wire. If not then, Bryant will get another shot later in the season but this time at home when they host Ivy League powerhouse Harvard on January 20. They will win at least one of those two games.
6. Who is the most irreplaceable player in the NEC?
If there is one player who just couldn’t be replaced and was most tied to the success of their team, it is Jalen Cannon at St. Francis Brooklyn. I believe if the Terriers don’t have Cannon in their lineup, they go from a top-tier, contending team to a bottom half, non-challenging team. He is the heart and soul of that team. His scoring and rebounding will have to carry that team all season along. Without Cannon, they are toast.
7. Who will become the best player in the NEC not many has heard about coming into this season?
There are several candidates for sure but I think that player will be Mount St. Mary’s transfer Chris Martin. He will finally get an opportunity to play. He is in a system where he will be encouraged to shoot a ton of shots and he certainly will. By all accounts, he can shoot the ball at a high level and fits perfectly into the Mount Mayhem system. He could end the season among the NEC leaders in scoring by year’s end.
8. How big of an impact will not having Dwaun Anderson for half the season be on Wagner?
I think it is going to have a huge impact during the non-conference part of the schedule. I see Wagner going from five or six non-conference wins to probably two or three non-conference wins. Now, it will give other young guys a chance to play some major minutes while Anderson is out and that should help the Seahawks once Anderson comes back in January. The thing will become how will the broken foot he suffered impact the rest of his season and only time will tell the answer to that.
9. What is the must-watch game of the NEC season?
Right now, it has to be the January 16th game between St. Francis Brooklyn and Robert Morris at RMU’s Sewall Center in front of nationally-televised audience on ESPNU. This is the NEC coaches and the consensus number one and number two teams going at it for the first time this season and this meeting will give a nice edge to the winner. These two teams should battle for the top spot in the league all season long.
10. Will the NEC get a seed that isn’t a 16 in the NCAA tournament?
I think the only team that can get a non-16 seed is Robert Morris. They play a tough non-conference schedule where if they can get some big wins and dominate the NEC, they can possibly get themselves a reasonable seed like a 14 or 15. Otherwise, I just don’t see it happening this season. The conference overall is just not as good as it has been in the past few years. RMU has the highest KenPom preseason ranking in the NEC and it is just 177. It is going to be a heck of a climb for NEC teams to get a top 75 ranking where it can realistically put them at a 15-seed or better. If any team other than Robert Morris or St. Francis Brooklyn wins the NEC, I think it going to be a virtual lock for another appearance to Dayton to the NEC tourney winner.