2012 Conference Tournament Breakdown: Will Wagner Win the NEC?

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2012 Conference Tournament Breakdown: Will Wagner Win the NEC?
The Hurley Brothers have their Wagner Team Playing Great Basketball

The Shakedown

The top eight teams from the Northeast Conference will battle it out over a seven-day stretch to find out who will be dancing in March. The NEC ended its regular season on Saturday and has a five-day rest period before the conference tournament begins Thursday night.

LIU-Brooklyn was last year's NEC representative and gave North Carolina some major fits. What does the NEC have to offer this year? Let's take a look! 

The Breakdown

1. LIU-Brooklyn 22-8 (16-2 NEC)

LIU-Brooklyn won the regular-season crown. A team with some NCAA Tournament experience, the Blackbirds look to make their second consecutive trip this season.

LIU-Brooklyn has used its up-tempo offense to try to run teams out of the gym. The Blackbirds average 82.2 points per game, which ranks fourth in the NCAA. In the NEC, the Blackbirds lost only to Robert Morris and Monmouth. They would not meet either team until the championship. 

2. Wagner 24-5 (15-3 NEC)

The Hurley brothers have kicked Wagner into gear. The Eagles have won 17 of their last 19 games and competed well against a solid non-conference schedule. Wagner defeated Pittsburgh on the road in December and has been playing sensational basketball ever since.

Who Will Win the NEC Conference?

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The Eagles have lost both games against LIU-Brooklyn, a team they would most likely square off with for a chance to dance. 

3. Robert Morris 22-9 (13-5 NEC)

Robert Morris is looking for its first NCAA trip since 2010. The Colonials played great basketball down the stretch to finish with a very respectable 13-5 conference record. They handled Monmouth at home and may be looking at a potential semifinal against Wagner, which won the only regular-season matchup 80-69 in February.

4. St Francis (NY) 15-14 (12-6 NEC)

St. Francis (N.Y.) has been a consistent climber in the NEC since 2007. This year the Terriers look to use a first-round home game to build momentum heading into what could be a colossal semifinal matchup with LIU-Brooklyn. The Terriers lost both regular-season games to LIU-Brooklyn, but only by three and nine points, respectively.  

5. Quinnipiac 17-12 (10-8 NEC)

The Bobcats of Qunnipiac might have something to say about that semifinal matchup between St. Francis and LIU. The Bobcats will look to take down the Terriers in the first round. Qunnipiac lost both regular- season meetings against St. Francis but is playing much better now. The Bobcats are second in the NCAA in rebounding at 43.4 boards per game. If they can control the offensive and defensive glass, they may be a strong candidate for an upset or two. 

Highlights From LIU NEC Championship in 2011

6. Monmouth 12-19 (10-8 NEC)

Monmouth has come on strong after starting the season 3-16. They won eight of their last 10 regular-season games, including a 106-78 upset of LIU-Brooklyn last Saturday. Monmouth is a dark horse in the conference race, but its play of late has me thinking they could make some noise in the NEC tournament. 

7. Central Connecticut State 13-15 (10-8 NEC)

Central Connecticut State will be a long shot as it takes on Wagner in the first round. Wagner defeated the Blue Devils by nine at home earlier this season. Despite being the No. 7 seed, it will be important to keep an eye on this Blue Devil team. They destroyed the same Wagner team they play Thursday by 17 this past Saturday. Wagner was resting some players and tending to some injuries, but there is no doubt that it will work as a confidence booster for the Blue Devils. 

8. Sacred Heart 14-17 (8-10 NEC)

Sacred Heart is the last qualifier for the NEC tournament. They face a tall task in the first round as they travel to Brooklyn to face the Blackbirds. The good news for the Pioneers is that they have played LIU-Brooklyn very well this season. Most recently, they pushed LIU-Brooklyn into overtime on the road. I doubt Sacred Heart will get over the hump in the rematch, but it could be interesting to watch. 

9. Mount St. Mary's 8-21 (6-12 NEC)

Which Lower Seed is the Biggest Threat in the NEC Tournament?

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* Did not qualify for NEC tournament

10. St. Francis (Pa.) 6-23 (5-13 NEC)

* Did not qualify for NEC tournament

11. Fairleigh Dickinson 3-26 (2-16 NEC)

* Did not qualify for NEC tournament

12. Bryant 2-28 (1-17 NEC)

* Did not qualify for NEC tournament

The Takedown

Here is how I see the NEC tournament playing out.

Quarterfinals

No. 1 LIU-Brooklyn over No. 8 Sacred Heart

No. 2 Wagner over No. 7 CCSU

No. 6 Monmouth over No. 3 Robert Morris

No. 5 Quinnipiac over No. 4 St. Francis (N.Y.)

Semifinals

No. 1 LIU-Brooklyn over No. 6 Monmouth

No. 2 Wagner over No. 5 Quinnipiac

Championship

No. 2 Wagner over No. 1 LIU-Brooklyn

America East Champion: 27-5 (No. 15 Seed in NCAA Tournament)

The Final Buzzer

Just like some of the other smaller conferences, a certain championship matchup could be epic. If Wagner and LIU-Brooklyn square off for a chance to dance, it would be an instant classic. After sweeping the season series, LIU-Brooklyn would get the home-court advantage in the title game. Wagner lost at Brooklyn by five points earlier this season.

It would be interesting to see what either of these teams could do in the NCAA Tournament. Wagner beat No. 13 Pitt earlier this season and lost a tough game to No. 4 UConn. Since then, however, it's become clear that Pitt and UConn are not the teams they have been in the past. Neither is ranked.

 

LIU-Brooklyn's regular season schedule was not as strenuous. They lost to Penn State by nine earlier in the season but didn't any other major conference teams this season. That alone makes me a little bit nervous for the big game setting we could be seeing on March 7.

The first round games in this tournament will be fantastic. In almost every game, we are looking at the lower seed as a real threat to win. Whether they knocked off the higher seed or played them extremely tough, its a possibility that all of the low seeds advance. It will be March, anything can happen.  


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