It's hard to believe that we are a mere two weeks (and a day) from the NEC Quarterfinals. It feels like just last week we were starting conference play. And guess what? The standings aren't much more settled than they were on January 1st.
Sure, St. Francis U. is well on their way to winning the regular season crown, but every team will be playing for something this Thursday. No team has secured a home quarterfinal game, and technically only the Red Flash have clinched a berth into the NEC Tournament.
Things are about to get wild.
1. St. Francis University (10-4) The winning streak is now at seven, as they haven't lost since dropping a home game to Wagner on January 24th. The Red flash are scoring 1.10 PPP, tops in the league, and have seemingly corrected the offensive issues they were having back in January.
They are clearly the class of the league, just as we all expected back in October, though they're not exactly blowing teams away; six of their last seven wins have been by single digits. They'll be the favorites in the NEC Tournament, but not overwhelmingly so.
2. Fairleigh Dickinson (8-6) Another team trending in the right direction, the Knights are the winners of 7 of their past 9 games, and they're shooting the lights out; they're in the top 3 in both 3P% and 2P%. Jahlil Jenkins has been awesome and may be the best point guard in the NEC. FDU's final 4 games are certainly winnable (2 home games and roadies at Mount St. Mary's and CCSU).
3. St. Francis-Brooklyn (8-6) I mentioned a couple weeks ago on Twitter that the Terriers were a team to watch given how many home games they had remaining. Well, they went out and won 3 of their last 4 to give themselves a shot to get a QF home game, or perhaps more. They made 21 of their 43 three-point attempts last week, and if they can shoot it like that they can get far. Their combination of quickness on the perimeter and size up front are as good as anyone. Working against them; they head out to western PA this week.
4. Sacred Heart (8-6) At one point, the Pios had the best defensive efficiency in the NEC. However, in their last three games they've allowed 1.05 PPP to the Mount, 1.47 PPP to Bryant, and 1.13 PPP to LIU-Brooklyn. They're still scoring the ball (105 points against Bryant, 84 against LIU), but they have to get back to getting stops like they did earlier in the season. Finishing strong is imperative for SHU's NEC Tournament title hopes, as they're just 2-5 on the road.
5. Robert Morris (8-6) The Colonials were 7-1 on 1/26 and looked like they were on their way to a regular season title. However, three straight losses has RMU in danger of dropping out of the top 4. What's concerning is that the struggles have been on the defensive end; they've allowed at least 1.04 PPP in five of their last six games (all losses), and were swept by the Red Flash (and also lost to at home to Central Connecticut and at Mount St. Mary's). Three of their final four games are against teams with winning records.
6. Wagner (8-6) The Seahawks won two games last week that they needed to win; a home game against Central Connecticut and against Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg. Their defense has been stout: they haven't allowed more than 1.02 PPP since January 24th at St. Francis U. The lack of consistency concerns me (after looking like world beaters against CCSU, they needed a last second shot from Romone Saunders to beat the Mount) and their final 4 games consist of games at Bryant and FDU, and home against RMU and SFU. Can they win two?
7. LIU-Brooklyn (6-8) I just can't quit the Blackbirds. Perhaps the most disappointing team in the NEC this year (though the #9 team may have something to say about that), they've been just "ok" on both sides of the ball, though the talent suggests they should be really strong offensively. But when they play like they did on Saturday when they took care of Sacred Heart at home, they can beat almost anyone in the league. Could they pull off a #7 over #2 upset in the quarters? Absolutely, however their 2-5 road record should be concerning.
8. Bryant (5-9) Jared Grasso has this team playing hard and scoring it at a high clip (104.6 points per 100 possessions, including 1.48 PPP against SHU on Thursday), but they just can't get stops. They rank last in the league in defensive efficiency, and lost to the Pios despite dropping in 104 points. With that said, they own the tie-breaker with CCSU as it stands today thanks to a win over the Red Flash, and has a really good chance of sneaking into the Tournament.
9. Central Connecticut (5-9) Just when you think the Blue Devils were turning it around, they get swept in winnable road games at Wagner and St. Francis-Brooklyn. One of the biggest concerns in watching this team is that there appears to be a lack of an identity. They rank 9th in offensive efficiency and 7th in defensive efficiency, and they're allowing teams to take, and make, a ton of three-pointers.
10. Mount St. Mary’s (4-10) How about Dan Engelstad for NEC Coach of the Year? He likely will not win the award, but should be in the conversation. He has the Mount playing well, and despite having a team made up entirely of freshmen and sophomores, they are still in the mix for qualifying for the NEC Tournament. Unfortunately three of their final four games are on the road, though two of them are against the teams they are chasing (CCSU and Bryant). If I wasn't a CCSU alum, I'd be rooting hard for the Mount.