IS THIS NOT AMERICA!
Somehow, some way we omitted a preview of the Patriot League, which got underway last night, with Army and Loyola-Maryland dispatching of the lower seeded American & Lafayette, respectively. Army handled it in dominating fashion, whereas the Greyhounds finally took the lead with just under 3 minutes left, and never looked back, en route to a 3 point win. As the tournament does not resume until tomorrow night, we will commence with the preview tomorrow before the next round gets going.
LET'S PLAY UP IN THE NORTHEAST
- March 1, 4 & 7 (ESPN2) - campus sites, tournament reseeds after results of quarterfinals.
- 8 Sacred Heart @ Mt Saint Mary's
- 5 Bryant @ St Francis-PA
- 6 Fairleigh Dickinson @ 3 Wagner
- 7 Robert Morris @ 2 LIU-Brooklyn
An old face returned to the top of the NEC heap, while no stranger to the NCAAs, having just visited in 2014, Mount Saint Mary's had not won the regular season crown since 1996. The Buffet was graduating HS, Braveheart was Best Picture, and the Macarena was the Billboard hottest music. Yes, people, that's 1996 for you. Well, it's 2017, and despite a late stumble, and a home loss to Long Island-Brooklyn that made things interesting, MSM took down St. Francis (NY) last Saturday to clinch the outright NEC title. Elijah Long is the straw that stirs this drink, leading the team in point, assist and rebounds.
The last paragraph had a note to keep your eye on. On February 23rd, Long Island went to Emmitsburgh and knocked off the Mountaineers, this after a thrilling 2-point buzzer beating loss to them in late December. The Blackbirds are a potential problem for the NEC champs. Then again when isn't LIU a tournament threat come March? But after all the turnover - With a trio of scorers this could be the non-chalk the Buffet's been waiting for. Would be so much nicer if key senior Joel Hernandez hadn't suffered a season-ending injury to his thumb back in a non-D1 game to start the season, but this inconsistent team and throw it in first gear - especially with their own NEC all-ever performer, Jerome Frink, who is joined by a pair of scorers - Iverson Fleiming and Jashuan Agosto.
Looking down the standings, where might the upsets come from? Well, we could've gotten funky and highlighted Central Connecticut State, who was 4-14 in conference and has wins over both LIU & Mount Saint Mary's, but, sadly these Blue Devils aren't playing in a conference tournament. Bryant, who knocked off MSM by 1 in early January, boasts the conference's leading scorer in Nisre Zouzoua, at 20 points per game. Wagner, who just lost a 4 point game and holds a win over the conference champs AND walked into Connecticut and won can't be ignored. Robert Morris enters the tournament playing good ball, having won 3 straight -- problem is they run right into a road game against a team who has won 6 straight.
The most interesting case? Fairleigh Dickinson. Why would the 7th place team be interesting? For one, Darian Anderson is good. Earl Potts has found a stride. But this team was hanging at the top, 8-1 in conference on January 27th. Then their inexplicable slide began, losing 8 of their final 9. That's not exactly playing your best basketball in March, but this team is capable, only 1 of those losses was double digits (1o points) and only 2 were even above 6. Watch for this team.
Prediction: LIU-Brooklyn is the conference's hottest team having won 6 straight entering the tournament. We like teams playing well. They avoid Mount Saint Mary's until the final, and then they get a chance to do what they did just about a week ago - beat the regular season champs in the road. We say here that they will.
Jack Leasure Madbomber Candidate: The previously mentioned Nisre Zouzoua of Bryant, 89 3s at 37%
VERMONT VERMONT VERMONT
- American East Tournament 3/1, 3/6, 3/11 (ESPN) - campus sites (no re-seed)
- 8 Maine @ 1 Vermont
- 5 UMBC @ 4 New Hampshire
- 6 Hartford @ 3 Albany
- 7 Binghamton @ 2 Stony Brook
When you run the table in conference, you get long period of the Buffet's previous of your conference tournament devoted to you. Vermont - you have earned the word count. An 18-game winning streak (which is an on-going program record for consecutive wins - previously 15), While they're never going to blow you away with their offense output (although they do sit 53rd in KenPom adjust offense) but they have 3 guys averaging 11+ per game, and another 4 between 6 and 9, but they also are the 19th best team, from a point allowed per game basis, are considered a top 50 win by those who believe in the RPI, but how good are they? The lack of at-large resume win and their height ceiling of 6'8, does draw their overall basketball team standing into question, but for now, until they actually hit the tournament, we just analyze them versus the rest of their conference -- and in that context, they have the newly crowned AmEast player of the year, Trae Bell-Haynes, the conference freshman of the year, Anthony Lamb 6th man of the year, Darren Payen and coach of the year, John Becker, oh yeah, they ran through the conference season 15-0.
Now, they did have a couple close calls -- none closer than Feb 12 in Baltimore, Maryland versus UMBC. After K.J. Maura of UMBC hit a baseline jumped to cut it to 2 with 20 seconds left, the Retrievers actually stole the ball and had a chance to tie, but questionable decision-making led to a rushed/forced air ball, a few free throws and strategic fouling by Vermont to prevent tying 3-point attempt later, and Vermont escaped But in 2 games versus UMBC, who had an inconsistent conference season to finish a 9-7 fifth place showing, but anytime you have Will Darley & all-world talent Jairus Lyles (18 ppg) taking the floor, you're a threat.
Speaking of threats, not possible to discuss the America East tournament without discussing Lucas Woodhouse and Stony Brook. The Seawolves started the conference season going toe-to-toe with Vermont at 5-0, then a couple stumbles (which against an undefeated juggernaut is fatal), but they figured it out to go on a 6 game February win streak -- but then came the 2 teams listed in the previous 2 paragraphs, and 27 points of losses later, the momentum was halted. But as the 2 seed and AmEast Conference tested, don't lose sight of them.
Who else not to lose sight of? The streaky Wildcats of New Hampshire. The team some folks thought would be the class of America East, showed flashes, but not enough light. In conference steaks of 2, 3, were paired with a 4 game losing streak that ultimately gave way to a season closing 5 game winning streak that makes them the hottest conference team not named Vermont. That opening rounder between them and UMBC should be fun, as both teams can offer some resistance of substance to the Catamounts. They do hold the conferences best non conference work -- both road games -- beating Winthrop in Rock Hill and Temple in Philly. Keep your head towards Tanner Leissner and his 17 points, automatic free throw shooting (and second most attempts in the conference), and 7 rebounds per game. And as you'll see below, Daniel Dion drop 3point BOMBS
Hard to see a path for the 3 seed, though they did win several impressive road games -- at Penn State, New Hampshire and swept UMBC -- but hard to see them as a threat (which probably means they'll win the thing). Equally tough to see Hartford taking a run, but Jalen Ross can score in this conference, so you never know...
Prediction: Except you do. Vermont.
Jack Leasure Madbomber Candidate: Daniel Dion, New Hampshire, 91 3s at 42%
WHAT'S UP BELMONT, TIME TO DO THIS AGAIN?
The always complicated, but structured to give the top seeds the advantage, minus the whole part where they don't just play at campus sites, OVC schedule
3/1-3/4 (espn2) Nashville
- 3/1: Game 1 - 5 SE Missouri St v. 8 Tenn State; Game 2: 6 Tenn Tech vs 7 Murray St
- 3/2 Game 3 - Game 1 Winner vs. 4 Jacksonville State; Game 4 - Game 2 Winner v. 3 Morehead State
- 3/3 Game 3 Winner vs 1 Belmont; Game 4 Winner vs. 2 UT-Martin
- 3/4 Championship
For the fifth straight year, Belmont walks into the OVC tourney with the top seed and conference best record, losing only once in conference play. Problem is, they're only 2-2 in coming out of the tournament and into the NCAAs. Also, they've never advanced past NCAA round 1 (the best showing a 1 point loss to Duke in 2008). But let's focus on the hear and now. This is a veteran team,: there's still Evan Bradds along with Taylor Barnette, Amanze Egekeze and a much more significant contribution from returners Nick Smith, Dylan Winder and especially Austin Luke, who has slid into the floor leader spot vacated Craig Bradshaw, and, in our opinion, has been more effective. The issue with Belmont is they just didn't challenge themselves enough out of conference, and failed to stake a claim to a victory when they did (usually not terribly competitively -- losses to Florida, Middle Tennessee (at home), Rhode Island and Vanderbilt - all those teams are in, mostly in, or maybe in), but they ran through the OVC, finished the season winning 18 of 19, their only slip up was at Tennessee Tech, who would have to run through the entire bottom of the bracket to see Belmont again.
First, before evaluating spoilers we trim the fat -- Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Illinois, SIU-Edwardsville, and defending tourney champs Austin Peay all did not finish high enough in the OVC to qualify -- Austin Peay tried it, winning 3 of 4 to close the season, but ultimately the one in that 4 was one too many. Now, as for close shaves versus Belmont? We mentioned their loss to Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State gave them a run in Nashville (falling by 5) and Morehead held a second half lead before falling by 6. Other than that? We can manufacture close games, Murray State had it tied at 54, before losing 12? Just keep an eye on Jonathan Stark who fills the scoreboard 21 per game, as well Jacolby Mobley of Tenn-Martin and Antonius Cleveland of SE Missouri State, and hopefully watch Belmont cruise, so we can see exactly what they've developed in at the NCAA level.
Last night in the Waiting Line...
Last night was all about this: