As we march towards November 8 and the official start of the 2013-14 basketball season, Mid-Major Madness will be bringing you conference previews on a regular basis to get you ready for tip-off. We'll also be highlighting these conferences and speaking with experts and coaches on our weekly podcast.
You might as well call this the Apple Conference, what with all the turnover on everyone's rosters. *Pausing so you can let the pun wash over you like a smooth shot of Scotch*.
Nearly every team in the conference lost some significant contributor (or two or three) from a year ago, and ever squad will vary this season, both in how much of a hole those departures leave, as well as how much talent they have to fill them. The top tier of the conference might not change too much, but the team that winds up taking it all in the end could certainly surprise.
Quinnipiac and Monmouth both departed for the Metro-Atlantic (MAAC) in the off-season, and while everyone is sad to see Monmouth go, it just means a thinner herd and less margin for error by everyone who remains. The absence of a top talent from the previous season means more when there's one less occupant in your conference's cellar who can't take advantage of that weakness.
1. Central Connecticut State
Last Season: 13-17 (9-9),7th
Key Departures: Joe Efese (7.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg. 1.6 bpg), Adonis Burbage (10.3 ppg)
Key Returners: Kyle Vinales (21.6 ppg, 3.8 apg), Matt Hunter (15.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.6 spg)
CCSU won both the regular and post-season titles in the NEC three times between 2000 and 2007. With all of the young talent they have coming back - especially now that Kyle Vinales changed his mind about leaving for Toledo - they might finally get back to that level. Vinales was a revelation as a sophomore, finishing seventh nationally in scoring, and he brings back with him the entire starting rotation save for Efese, who was a strong shot blocker but not irreplaceable. If they can turn the ball over a little less frequently and find someone other than Vinales to consistently distribute the ball, you may be looking at your conference champion Blue Devils.
2. Bryant Bulldogs
Last Season: 19-12 (12-6), T-2nd
Key Departures: Frankie Dobbs (13.4 ppg, 5.3 apg)
Key Returners: Alex Francis (17.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg), Dyami Starks (17.7 ppg), Corey Maynard (9.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.5 apg)
The bad news: Dobbs, their starting point guard from last season is gone. The good news: just about everything else. Everyone else is back from a team that went from two wins to 19, and the conference's youngest member added former Boston College head coach Al Skinner as an assistant. If Maynard can improve his handling from a season ago as his role grows, the Bulldogs would be unlikely to miss a beat, let alone finish lower in the conference than last season. If Maynard and whatever combination of bodies fill the hole that Vlad Kondratyev vacated down low are able of picking up the slack, they could easily win the division.
Last Season: 24-11 (14-4), 1st
The bad news for "Bobby Mo" is that between graduation and transfers, they lost a third of their regular rotation from last season. The good news is that they did not lose their leading scorer (Karvel Anderson), and they also bring back a big man in Mike McFadden who has a solid 1500 minutes under his belt in Andy Toole's system. It's hard to say how this team will look this season - while Velton Jones was the team's point guard and leading assist man, he and Johnson also represented the Colonials' two least efficient offensive options. With a full season of a healthy Karvel Anderson and a bigger presence down low, the Colonials might not repeat, but I doubt they will fall too far.
Last Season: 19-12 (12-6), T-2nd
Key Departures: Jonathon Williams (15.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
The Seahawks saw their best player from last season depart, but the rest of the group returns and there's still plenty to go around. With Ortiz back to run the show one more time and Rivers an improving threat from long-range, the Seahawks might... or might not improve on a very average offense from last season. However, as long as they can continue what was a very strong defensive performance last season, it won't take a lot of improvement on offense to rise to the top of a very muddled conference picture.
5. Mount Saint Mary's Mountaineers
Last Season: 18-14 (11-7), T-5th
This is probably the hardest team in the conference to predict. They had the biggest turnaround by a team not named Bryant, but they also had the most roster turnover. Five players transferred over the offseason, and while four of them played regularly, only one would really be considered a loss. Replacing Wiggins at point guard will be a challenge for coach Jamion Christian, but when your head coach really cares about academics and you don't, it's hard to keep your spot on the team for long. Julian Norfleet returns for his senior season with last year's strong transfer acquisitions in Whack (pronounced WOK) and Prescott alongside him. Maybe this is the group that puts it all together, or maybe the middle of the pack is where they will hover for now.
6. Long Island University - Brooklyn
Last Season: 20-14 (12-6), T-2nd
Key Returners: Jason Brickman (9.5 ppg, 8.5 apg), EJ Reed (7.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Take a look at those departed stats again. If you believe, like I do, that Julian Boyd will not be nearly his former self when he returns in January - if he returns at all - that's 53 points and 19 rebounds per game vanished from last year's offense. Sure, Brickman is a respectable floor general, but who is he going to pass to? Kenny Onyechi has the next most playing experience on the roster, and I'm not sure that's a great thing. After losing two of their three best players from last season, repeating their recent success was going to be a struggle for sure, but Boyd's absence makes it darn near impossible. They may not even be the best NEC team in Brooklyn this season.
7. Saint Francis Brookyln Terriers
Last Season: 12-18 (8-10), 8th
Key Returners: Jalen Cannon (14.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg), Ben Mockford (11.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
Does it tell you what you need to know about this team (and/or school) that they re-branded themselves in the middle of last season and almost no one outside of Brooklyn noticed? St. Francis (PA) will remain the same, but their nearby neighbors have dropped the "(NY)" and are now St. Francis Brooklyn. Which is good, because we all know how terrifying those Brooklyn Terriers are compared to a regular one. The Terriers will be replacing some size without Calloway, but Mockford and Cannon should have little difficulty picking up the slack, since they are, among other things, much more efficient scorers than Johnson and Nichols were. If only they could get their point guard to either shoot better or shoot less (especially that .548 FT %), they might make some noise this season.
8. St. Francis (PA) Red Flash
Last Season: 5-24 (5-13), 11th
Key Returners: Earl Brown (10.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg)
Shannon's transfer to Quinnipiac was a big blow. At least they get the benefit of not having to face him now that his new team also has a new conference, I guess. Kam Ritter, who played all of three minutes from Christmas on last season (but 26 mpg the year before) is now the lone senior on the team, so who will step up to lead the Red Flash? I suppose that may fall to Earl Brown, or perhaps Dominique Major, or maybe Ben Millaud-Meunier. There are some positive options for leadership and production, but it will still be a tall task removing the team from the bottom of the conference.
Last Year: 9-20 (7-11), 9th
Key Departures: Shane Gibson (21.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
The Pioneers lost players other than Gibson, but his absence will affect them far more than any other. He was a big reason theirs was the second best offense (adjusted for pace) during conference play last year, and he leaves a gaping hole on a squad that regularly deferred to him. Gaetano, Montes, and Steve Glowiak are no slouches, but replacing one of the best players in the conference is never easy, and they were a middle-of-the-pack team with him at least in part due to some serious defensive deficiencies. Maybe that changes this season, but I'm not going to hold my breath.
10. Fairleigh Dickinson
Last Season: 7-24 (2-16), 12th
Key Returners: Matthias Seilund (5.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg), Xavier Harris (4.1 ppg, 3.4 apg)
Your top four scorers are gone; so are three of your four best rebounders, your best overall shooter and your best long-range shooter. Then again, when you finished last season 7-24, and a Mustafaa Jones three-pointer with 20 seconds left against Saint Francis kept you from ending the season on an 18 game losing streak, is that really a bad thing? The Knights will hit the reset button this year and see if Jones, Harris, and Sidney Sanders Jr. can increase both their roles and their production and at the very least pull FDU up off the conference doormat.