Heading for a wild finish in NEC men’s basketball

Only four games remain in what has been a highly entertaining and rather unpredictable NEC men’s basketball season. After 14 games played, seven of the eight NEC tournament playoff spot have been accounted for, leaving just one more spot to fill. Let’s take a look at the NEC standings through seven weeks of NEC play:

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(Graphic courtesy of northeastconference.org)

The eighth and final spot is still up for grabs but for all intents and purposes, that spot is going to go to Sacred Heart. They are four games ahead of ninth place Fairleigh Dickinson with four games to play. All Sacred Heart has to do is win one game or have FDU lose one game to get that final NEC playoff spot. FDU’s next game is at St. Francis Brooklyn so things aren’t looking very good for them. CCSU with the heartbreaker loss to Robert Morris on Saturday is the first NEC team to be officially eliminated from postseason contention.St. Francis Brooklyn, Robert Morris, Bryant, Saint Francis U., LIU Brooklyn, Mount St. Mary’s and Wagner have all clinched entry in the 2015 NEC Tournament.

With the NEC tournament teams pretty much decided with four games to go, the rest of the way now becomes a race for NEC tournament seeding. Let’s take in depth look on how things might shake out.

First of all, St. Francis Brooklyn has virtually locked up the NEC regular-season championship and thus will earn, at minimum, a trip to the NIT postseason tournament and will not have to leave their friendly confines of the Pope Center on Remsen Street through the entire NEC tournament. At 12-2, with a three-game cushion between them and the two second place teams, all the Terriers need to do is win just one of the next four games and have either Bryant and Robert Morris lose one more game and they are the champs. If the Terriers win two of the next four games, then are the champs no matter what.

St. Francis Brooklyn’s next two games are at home (vs FDU, vs SFU), so if they win those two games, the last two games on the road (at LIU, at Bryant) become academic. Kenpom.com predicts the Terriers to win out the rest of the regular-season and finish with a 16-2 record.

After St. Francis Brooklyn, things get very interesting. Seeds two through eight after this past weekend of games, are within three games of each other. Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up.

Sacred Heart is currently eighth. They close the season with two away games sandwiched around two home games. Their next game is at home versus Robert Morris. Kenpom has Sacred Heart favored to win all four of their remaining games. If that happens, SHU will finish with 10 wins and be in the hunt for a five or six seed. I think with them being two games back of the fourth place teams with four games to go, getting a top four spot is a bit of their reach. It is more than likely they will get at least two wins out of the next four and finished with 8 or 9 wins and get somewhere between a six and eight seed.

Wagner is currently holding the seventh place spot. Their next game is at home against Bryant and they finish out their season with three straight road games (at LIU, at RMU, at Mount St. Mary’s). Kenpom give them a chance against Bryant at home although they are a one-point underdog but doesn’t think they will win another game the rest of the regular season. If they close at 1-3, they’ll get to 8 wins and either be in a tie with Sacred Heart or finish below them and take the eight-seed. If they get at least one upset win on the road and get to nine wins, they’ll probably finish with a six or seven-seed.

Next come the group of fourth-place teams currently at 8-6 with Saint Francis U., LIU Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s. At the moment, according to NEC tiebreaker rules, SFU is the four-seed by virtue of overall winning percentage (SFU is the only team of the three with an above-.500 overall record), Mount is the five-seed (they currently have the head-to-head win over LIU) and LIU Brooklyn is the six-seed. Mount has to play both LIU (at home) and SFU (on the road) in the final four games. The Mount is the only team of the three with three home games remaining and Kenpom likes them winning their home games. If that happens, the Mount should get a top four seed.

SFU is on the road for three of their last four games with their only home game against the Mount. Two of their road games won’t be a piece of cake either with trips to St. Francis Brooklyn and Robert Morris. Kenpom predicts a 2-2 finish for the Red Flash. That might not be enough for a top four finish.

Finally, LIU have two road games sandwiched between their two final home games. LIU is currently the hottest of the three teams as they are winners of four straight and six of their last seven games. LIU’s next game is at the Mount and that game will likely give the winner a huge edge at getting up to the top four in the NEC standings. LIU host Wagner and St. Francis Brooklyn before ending their regular season at Sacred Heart. Kenpom only gives LIU a win versus Wagner although they give them a chance against the Terriers at home. Kenpom though has predicted a loss for LIU in each of their last five games and LIU has gone 4-1 in that span. For LIU to have a chance at a two-seed, they will need to win out and get some help along the way. More realistically, three more wins should get them a first-round home game. Two wins, and they’ll likely finish as a five or a six-seed.

The final group are the two second-place teams in Bryant and Robert Morris. Bryant is the best position of the two with three home games remaining and one of which is against Robert Morris, a team they have already beaten on the road. Two wins including a second win over RMU could be enough for them to earn the two-seed. Three wins and they should be golden. Three wins is exactly what Kenpom thinks they will get to close it out.

Robert Morris is just holding on to a tie for second-place after needing a last second tip to beat last-place CCSU at home on Saturday. RMU has lost three of their last five games and head on the road for their next two games before finishing with two home games. Kenpom predicts road losses and home wins for RMU to finish things out. If that becomes the case, they will finish with 11 wins. That might be just enough for them to get a three or four-seed and host a first-round game.

Obviously, there is no one perfect scenario especially with two weeks remaining in the NEC regular seeding for any team. That is why the last two weeks of the season is going to be with filled with a lot of angst, hard-fought determination, some more close games, probably a few more buzzer-beaters and will be a heck of a lot of fun. The last two weeks is going to be like watching a car race. There will be some falling behind, some passing, probably a bunch of wrecks in between and likely a wild final lap on the final day of the season. Count me in!

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