Let's start this preview of our bottom-5 teams in the NEC by going in reverse order.
10. Fairleigh Dickinson Knights
Overview - Someone has to finish last. This prediction has less to do with a lack of faith in head coach Greg Herenda or his returning roster. It's mostly the result of the one man who is not returning (see Key Departure). If FDU is going to have a chance at surprising anyone this year, it's going be on the backs of returning starters Mustafaa Jones and Matt McDonald.
Jones was side-by-side with Sid Sanders as they both turned in a 20-pt night in a huge upset over Rutgers University. Both Jones and McDonald will have ample opportunity to shoot, but, the loss of both frontcourt starters, Scooter Gillete and Mathias Seilund, leaves an even bigger question for FDU to answer. With more questions than answers, the Knights may not find their way back to the NEC Tournament.
Key Addition - College graduate Darius Stokes - Yes, FDU's key addition already graduated college. The 6'7 graduate from Iowa is bringing the Big Ten to the NEC. Even if his time on the court was limited, Stokes will bring experience that few "newcomers" would dream of having.
Key Departure - Point guard Sidney Sanders Jr. - Sanders turned in a truly remarkable season for FDU last year. Just look at these achievements.
- 1st team All-NEC
- NEC Most Improved Award recipient
- Top NEC scorer (19.1 ppg)
- #1 NEC ball-thief (2.2 spg)
- 1st team All-Beard
Simply put, that's an amazingly difficult resume to replace.
Overview - 2014-15 could be an exciting year for Sacred Heart. After all, finishing last year at the very bottom of the NEC means there's only one direction Sacred Heart can go. A core consisting of Tri-Captain seniors combined with a sophomore coming off an NEC All-Rookie year gives Pioneer fans reason to be excited for this year.
Senior point guard Phil Gaetano and his 6.26 apg (good enough for second in the NEC last year) will still command the ball. Gaetano will still have three of his five favorite targets along side him as well. Evan Kelley and Steve Glowiak (Tri-Captains with Gaetano) will both be bringing back their double-figure scoring averages. Gaetano's other scoring option will be in the form of sophomore forward De'von Barnett, an All-NEC Rookie selection last year. With an 11 ppg average last year, Barnett could certainly see an increased opportunity to contribute.
Key Addition - Filip Nowicki - I have an irrational bias towards new additions that already bring experience from a level of competition, apart from high school. Nowicki has reps (granted, not too many reps) with the Under-18 Polish National Team. Add that to his 6-10, 255 pound frame and he has an opportunity to make an impact in the NEC.
Key Departure - Forward Louis Montes - Losing a team's top scorer is never easy. But, in the universe of teams that are moving on without their top scorer, Sacred Heart will have an easier time than most. Montes and his 12.8 ppg average were equally matched by Evan Kelly. Still, losing a senior leader always leaves a bigger void to fill than just the box score.
Overview - On paper, it should make sense. Five critical players gone. Almost half the roster consisting of brand new faces. Teams just don't bounce back from that. But, then I look at head coach Bashir Mason. The youngest coach in Division I basketball has rolled out 19 wins in each of his last two seasons at Wagner. He and the Seahawks are bringing back starter Dwayn Anderson along with their own "NEC microwave" in Marcus Burton. If Burton can average 11 ppg as a 6th-man, he may have even more to offer as a starter.
Key Addition - Stedman Allen - With 6 new names on the roster, you could really take your pick. In keeping with irrational bias of experience outside of high school, Allen travels to Staten Island with 18.1 ppg from community college last year. Allen will certainly get a chance to prove his quality.
Key Depature - Point guard Kenneth Ortiz - I could have easily said Naofall Folahan, Orlando Parker, Latif Rivers and Mario Moody. All gone, along with Ortiz. But, losing Ortiz, the 3-time Defensive Player of the Year will hurt more than the rest.
7. LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds
Overview - To say that not much will change is a bad thing for LIU Brooklyn. A ninth place finish in the NEC could easily be repeated. Half of this year's squad was wearing a different uniform last year. The other half was on their way to a 4-12 NEC record. Gone is point guard Jason Brickman along with his 11.3 pgg & 10 apg. Enough of the bad news, here's a quick peak at what could boost the spirits of LIU.
Returning senior guard Gerrell Martin found the basket from 3-pt range to the tune of 44%. He will need the ball... a lot. Fellow senior (and fellow returning starter) Landon Atterberry contributed 10.8 ppg while shooting 52% from the field. Very respectable numbers. If both Atterberry and Martin can find extra points between them while keeping those amazing percentages, the Blackbirds might find themselves out of the basement and into the playoffs.
Key Addition -Trevon and Trevin Woods - I'm cheating a little because I'm always a fan of twins on the same team. And, when only one letter separates their names, I'm an even bigger fan! Both listed at 6'6, the twins from Texas will be part of a big class ready to lead LIU back into the playoffs. And remember, Jason Brickman was from Texas.
Key Departure - Point guard Jason Brickman - 1,009 assists in four years. NCAA assist leader... twice. TWICE! It's a rare occasion to watch someone who is truly gifted at passing the basketball. LIU will miss Brickman this year. So will anyone else who enjoys watching a true pass-first point guard take the court.
6. Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers
Overview - If it didn't bother them being picked to finish 6th last season it sure won't matter here. Mount St Mary's took that 6th place preseason pick and carried it straight to an NEC championship. Thanks to head coach Jamion Christian and his "Mount Mayhem" basketball, the Mountaineers can now list "back-to-back NCAA appearances" on their resume.
Now, the challenge is to continue on without their three top scorers in guards Rashad Whack, Julian Norfleet and Sam Prescott. Part of that movement forward will be 3-pt marksman Will Miller (39.9%) and 7-footer Taylor Danaher. Both Miller and Danaher will be ready to see what genius Christian can put together for another 6-seed projection.
Key Addition - Guard Chris Martin - A transfer from Marshall last year, Martin got to watch Whack, Norfleet and Prescott carry the load all the way to an NEC title and the NCAA tournament. Now eligible for playing time, Martin must be itching to get on the court and pick up where there guards of "Mount Mayhem" left off.
Key Departure - Guard Rashad Whack - It could easily be Julian Norfleet here as well. Losing one 2nd-team all-NEC is hard enough. Losing two is worse. Whack's 17.6 ppg (and 83 3pt FGs) will be sorely missed.