Since the NEC expanded its conference schedule to 18 games back in 2015, every team to win at least 11 league games has earned no lower than a 4-seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament. Why is that notable? Because each game of the NEC Tournament is played at the home sites of the higher seeds. So earning a 4-seed means a home quarterfinal game. Home games are better than road games.
Here are the records of the 4th place teams in the NEC over the past four seasons:
2015: 11-7 (Mount St. Mary’s)
2016: 11-7 (FDU, SFC, and SHU all technically tied for 2nd place, with SFC losing the tie-breaker)
2017: 11-7 (Wagner and SFU tied for 3rd)
2018: 10-8 (LIU and SFC tied for 4th, with LIU getting the home game and beating SFC in the quarterfinals)
As things stand today, the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils appear to be one of the top four or five teams in the league. And while goals should be fluid throughout the season, after not hosting an NEC Tournament game since 2011, a realistic goal for this team is to finish in the top 4. Which means, probably, winning 11 games.
With conference play beginning this week, I thought it was time to map out a blueprint for those eleven wins. And for you non-math nerds out there, that means losing 7. They aren’t going to finish 18-0.
Note: All win probabilities are per Kenpom, as of 1/2/19.
The “Must-Win”* Home Wins
Ahh, the “must-win”…one of my least favorite phrases in the sports world. Quite honestly, the only true “must win” is an elimination game of sorts. However, I’ll make an exception here. If the Blue Devils want to host an NEC Tournament Quarterfinal game in March, these two games are must haves.
2/2- vs. Bryant (81%)
2/21- vs. Mount St. Mary’s (77%)
As of now, Kenpom has Bryant as the 333rd ranked team in D1, with a projected NEC record of 6-12, while the Mount isn’t much better (323rd, and 7-11). It’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as an easy game, especially in league play- it doesn’t matter if it’s the NEC or the Big Ten. Conference games are difficult because opposing coaches know your sets, know what kind of defense you like to play, and know the players (from playing against them, as well as likely recruiting them). It’s a much more level playing field. But for a team hoping to win 11 games, home games against teams projected to finish below .500 are games that need to be won.
The “Should Wins”
1/21- vs. Robert Morris (69%)
1/31- vs. St. Francis-Brooklyn (68%)
2/23- vs. Sacred Heart (68%)
Bobby Mo hasn’t been as good as most people (including me) expected, primarily due to a difficulty scoring the ball. On the flip side, the Pios and Terriers have been much better than most people (including me) thought. Still, home games against teams projected to finish around .500 in the league are games that a title contender need to have.
Home Games Against The Other Contenders
1/3- vs. Wagner (57%)
1/26- vs. LIU Brooklyn (63%)
3/2- vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (62%)
As of now, Wagner, LIU and FDU are all in the hunt for one of the top 4 seeds, which makes these home games vital for tie-breaker purposes.
Winning all the games previously mentioned would get the Blue Devils to 8 wins. Ahh, but they play nine home games…what about St. Francis U? We’ll get to that one. But as things stand here, the Blue Devils need three more wins.
Favored Road Games
According to Kenpom, CCSU is favored (at this point, at least) in exactly two road games.
1/12- at Mount St. Mary’s (54%)
1/24- at Bryant (59%)
Told you road games are hard.
The Eleventh Win
Kenpom currently project the Blue Devils for 10 wins (T-Rank now has them at 9), which could be good enough to get the #4 seed. But the Blue Devils need to find #11 to feel good about their chances.
1/19- vs. St. Francis U. (58%)
CCSU is currently a 2-point favorite in its home game against the Red Flash, and St. Francis U. is actually a solid matchup for this Blue Devils team, as CCSU has a significant size advantage. It’s also worth noting that Central Connecticut won the game at Detrick last season 72-68, and took the Red Flash to overtime in Loretto. However, I personally believe SFU’s best basketball is ahead of them, and they will be much better than the 11-7 record they are projected to finish with according to Kenpom.
The Other Road Games
Let’s face it, things never work out this nicely. In at least one of the games listed above, CCSU will get upset (or in the case of the home game against SFU, simply lose to the best team in the league). It happens! But that means they need to find another win (or three) elsewhere. Here’s the list of remaining road games, from most likely to least likely.
2/9- at Robert Morris (44%)
2/16- St. Francis Brooklyn (43%)
1/5- at Sacred Heart (43%)
2/28- at LIU Brooklyn (38%)
1/10- at Fairleigh Dickinson (37%)
2/7- at St. Francis U. (33%)
2/14- at Wagner (32%)
Obviously the percentages will change as the season goes on, and the best laid plans often go awry- but the general point remains; take care of business at home and steal a few road games, and you’re hosting an NEC Tournament quarterfinal game. The math is actually pretty simple.
“But TBDD, forget all this #4 talk, what about finishing #2?”
That’s likely to require 13 wins, at least if you want to avoid tie-breaker hell. But we will leave that for another day (say, early February if the situation warrants it). You have to crawl before you can walk. Let’s worry about securing a home game first.