Hi, and welcome to TIE-BREAKER SZN (or #weirdNEC, if you prefer).
By the time February rolls around, leagues are supposed to be largely figured out. The good teams beat the bad teams, especially at home. Not in the Northeast Conference, my friends.
On Saturday, Central Connecticut (4-7) won at Robert Morris (8-3) and Mount St. Mary’s (2-9) won at Sacred Heart (7-4), while Fairleigh Dickinson and Wagner both won road games against teams with the same records (St. Francis-Brooklyn and LIU-Brooklyn, respectively). And in the nightcap, St. Francis U. needed a late rally to finish off Bryant in Loretto.
So here we are with just six regular season games remaining, and six schools are within two games of first place while Bryant, which would not qualify for the NEC Tournament if the season ended today, is just two games out of the all-important 4th place (which gets a home quarterfinal game). And by the way, no team is mathematically eliminated from winning the regular season, as Mount St. Mary’s is five games out of first place. Parity!
If you are curious about tie-breakers, go read up here. If the season ended today, here is what we’d get (I’m ~78% sure this is correct):
#1 SFU 8-4 (1-0 vs. RMU, re-match 2/16)
#2 RMU 8-4
#3 SHU 7-5 (1-0 vs. FDU, re-match 2/21)
#4 FDU 7-5
#5 SFC 6-6 (swept Wagner)
#6 Wagner 6-6
#7 LIU 5-7 (2-0 vs. CCSU/BU)
#8 CCSU 5-7 (1-1 vs. Bryant, both teams are 1-3 vs. SFU/RMU, however CCSU is 1-1 against FDU/SHU, while BU is 0-2).
What follows is the TBDD Rankings for Week 6, based on which team I think is most likely to win the NEC Tournament.
1. St. Francis U. (8-4) Winners of five straight, the Red Flash are back on top thanks to the top-rated offense in the NEC. Head coach Rob Krimmel has gone back to a largely 4-guard lineup, which served him well in 2017-18, and it has worked- especially since Isaiah Blackmon appears to be back to form after missing last season with a knee injury. Last season they lacked depth, however with guys like Andre Wolford, Myles Thompson and Mark Flagg coming off the bench, SFU is well set up to handle matchups and foul trouble come March. Plus, they already own a win in Moon Township. The rematch with Robert Morris is this coming Saturday. Massive.
2. Fairleigh Dickinson (7-5) The Knights have won six of their last seven games, including Saturday’s 10-point win over St. Francis-Brooklyn, and have 4 straight home games coming up beginning with Thursday’s rematch with St. Francis U. (FDU won in Loretto 79-61 on 1/5). The offense is clicking at the right time, Thursday’s 69-63 loss at Sacred Heart notwithstanding, and they should feast on their remaining schedule (which includes Bryant, Wagner, Mount St. Mary’s, and Central Connecticut).
3. Robert Morris (8-4) After starting the season 7-1, Bobby Mo has lost 3 of 4 including its most recent setback- a 77-68 home loss to now 5-7 Central Connecticut. And the problem, surprisingly, has been the defense. After allowing just one team (FDU) to score > 1.00 PPP in their first 8 games, they’ve allowed 1.14 PPP, 1.18 PPP, and 1.08 PPP in losses to SFU, FDU, and CCSU. The first two were less surprising, as the Red Flash and Knights have two of the best offenses in the NEC, but Central Connecticut has struggled to score points. Andy Toole figures things out, but he’s going to have to in a hurry.
4. Sacred Heart (7-5) The Pioneers offense has forsaken Anthony Latina, as they’ve scored fewer than 0.92 PPP in each of the last three games. Luckily that vaunted defense was up to the challenge in wins over SFC and FDU. But on Saturday, 2-9 Mount St. Mary’s came to Fairfield and put up 1.05 PPP en route to a 76-73 win. There’s not much cause for concern; the Mount got hot from the field, and the Pios stormed back in the second half but ultimately fell short. What is cause for concern is a 4-game road trip beginning on Thursday with a visit to Smithfield, then at LIU, FDU and CCSU. SHU probably has to at least split those games to have a shot at a regular season crown, but 3-1 would put them in a good spot. They do have games against all three teams I have rated ahead of them, so they fully control their own destiny.
5. St. Francis Brooklyn (6-6) How often do you see teams with the same exact offensive efficiency as defensive efficiency (99.9 points per 100 possessions)? Essentially, the Terriers are “fine” on both ends of the floor. However, the last three weeks have not been fine; they are just 2-4, including a tough loss at home to Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday that could have vaulted SFC into title contention. Similarly to FDU, St. Francis Brooklyn closes with 4 of their final six games at home (including home games against CCSU, Bryant, and Mount St. Mary’s). But they will need to pull off an upset or two (they head to western PA on 2/21 and 2/23), or get some help, to sneak into that top 4.
6. LIU-Brooklyn (5-7) I know, I look crazy having the Blackbirds ahead of Wagner after the Seahawks just swept the season series, and on back-to-back weekends no less. But I’m still buying into the talent, specifically on the offensive end, and I think they have the ability to get hot.
7. Wagner (6-6) The Seahawks continue to be a roller-coaster; After scoring just 0.73 PPP in a 51-44 loss at St. Francis-Brooklyn, they turned around and notched 1.06 PPP in sweeping LIU-Brooklyn. They now own the tie-breaker with the Blackbirds, and will likely finish ahead of them in the standings (plus they have an easier slate to finish out the season). However, I’m less convinced they have the ability to play a good 120 minutes of basketball in a tournament in March.
8. Bryant (5-7) The Bulldogs did what they were supposed to do in western PA; they lost them both. However, they were closer than the final scores look, as Bryant held leads in the final ten minutes in both games before running out of steam. But the good news is that, as things stand today, they own several tie-breakers over CCSU; especially if you think St. Francis U. is going to win the league outright (as I do), thanks to the Bulldogs' win over the Red Flash back on January 21st (SFU swept the Blue Devils). They also have wins over SFC and Wagner, which could come in handy.
9. Central Connecticut (5-7) If you asked me who is better right now, CCSU or Bryant, I’d have to say Central Connecticut, and no it’s not because I’m an alum. The Blue Devils have the superior efficiency margin (-4.8 compared to -7), and have been much better over the past two weeks as winners of three of their past four (including a win at Robert Morris). The two teams split the season series, but CCSU likely needs to finish ahead of Bryant in the standings given the tie-breaker scenarios…either that or finish tied but have Robert Morris win the league outright.
10. Mount St. Mary’s (3-9) The nation’s second youngest team went to Fairfield and broke their 4-game losing skid with a 76-73 victory over Sacred Heart on Saturday. What a moment for this squad, which is building momentum for next season. However, this season is not over, though they’d need a ton of help to sneak into the NEC Tournament. They’d likely need to beat both Bryant and Central Connecticut (on the road), as well stealing one more (at home against Wagner next Saturday?)…and even then they’d probably need both Bryant and CCSU lose out. Possible, but unlikely.