I had the opportunity to ask Ron Ratner, Senior Associate Commissioner of the NEC, a few questions during a recent conference game. Ron has been with the NEC for 16 years, and is the longest tenured full-time employee in league history.
He handles external relations for the NEC, and serves as the primary publicity contact for men's basketball. He's the executive producer of the NEC basketball and football telecasts, and oversees NEC Front Row, the league's digital network.
We really appreciate Ron taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
Q: I've heard several members in the national media say that Robert Morris' victory over the Kentucky Wildcats last March was the biggest win in NEC history. Do you feel that way? Why or why not?
From an exposure and branding standpoint, Robert Morris beating Kentucky was as good as it gets for the NEC. From the good fortune of having RMU host the game, to beating the most storied program in college basketball history with the eyes of the nation watching, that game was a watershed moment for a Conference that has made great strides in hoops over the last six or seven years.
An overlooked aspect of that evening was the role social media played in instantly turning Robert Morris into a household name in the college basketball world.
Q: Every team has now played seven NEC games. Which team has surprised you the most thus far and why?
It has to be Fairleigh Dickinson. FDU really struggled last year, and with just five returnees and a new head coach, I figured the rebuilding plan would take shape, but not in a couple of months. Greg Herenda has done a fantastic job harnessing his talent, and you can see the buy in from the players, both newcomers and veterans.
Beating Rutgers and Seton Hall in back-to-back games was the breakthrough the program needed, and they've rode that momentum into NEC play.
Q: Which remaining games on the schedule are you looking forward to watching the most?
Much like the Bryant-Robert Morris game from last night (1/30), I've had the Wagner-Robert Morris TV game on the final day of the regular season circled since the schedule came out. Two NEC heavy-hitters in what will hopefully be a meaningful game on the eve of the postseason.
I'm also pumped for the TV doubleheader on February 16th with Bryant visiting Wagner in our CBS College Sports debut, followed by the Battle of Brooklyn between LIU Brooklyn and St. Francis Brooklyn on MSG. The BOB never fails to deliver.
Q: There are a lot of exciting and talented players in the NEC. Can you give me a list of five players who have stood out the most to you this season and why?
That's tough. I think coaches are in for some long, hard deliberation when they fill out their All-Conference ballots at year's end. To me, this is the year of the guard in the NEC. Karvel Anderson of RMU amazes me more and more every game and has shot the ball like no one in years in this league. Julian Norfleet has taken his well-rounded game to a level I never imaged for the Mount.
FDU's Sidney Sanders, Jr. has gone from a nice reserve to one of the NEC's elite point guards. Jason Brickman's playmaking ability has been well documented, and this may be his best season yet with most of his favorite weapons having graduated. Bryant's Dyami Starks is just a pure scorer who has helped transform the Bulldogs into an NEC contender the last two years.
I know this is more than five, but Bryant's Alex Francis, St. Francis Brooklyn's Jalen Cannon and Saint Francis U's Earl Brown are huge frontcourt talents who could play anywhere, and guys like Wagner's Kenneth Ortiz, SFBK's Brent Jones, Bryant's Corey Maynard and Mount's Rashad Whack can take over games at the drop of a hat. I've probably missed some All-NEC quality talents here, but the pool is pretty deep this season.
Q: We're nearing the halfway point of NEC play. Can you give me three teams that you think have the best chance of dancing in March?
Hard to say with the logjam in the standings, but Robert Morris and Bryant appear to be elite teams, based on their records and high level play in their head-to-head meetings. I do think there are four or five other teams that could make a run at things in March. That's how closely packed everyone is this season.