BROOKLYN — Saint Francis University is the favorite to win the Northeast Conference, according to the preseason poll released Wednesday at NEC Social Media Day.
The Red Flash received nine out of 10 first-place votes, with Saint Francis coach Rob Krimmel voting for Fairleigh Dickinson (he can’t pick his own team). Defending conference champion Mount St. Mary’s placed fourth, right after Wagner, but if the Mountaineers want to repeat, they will have to do so without Elijah Long and Miles Wilson, who both transferred.
The general consensus at Social Media Day was that the Red Flash, behind Keith Braxton and Isaiah Blackmon, would be the team to beat, but after that, the field is wide open. The NEC was ravaged by transfers in the offseason, and as a result, most teams are still forging their own identities.
Below, you’ll find the preseason NEC poll, but bear in mind that the coaches’ opinions could change drastically even in the next month or so.
NEC Preseason Poll:
(first-place votes in parentheses)
1. Saint Francis U. (9)
2. Fairleigh Dickinson (1)
4. Mount St. Mary’s
5. Sacred Heart
6. LIU Brooklyn
7. Robert Morris
9. Central Connecticut State
10. St. Francis Brooklyn
Joseph Lopez (Sacred Heart)
Darian Anderson (Fairleigh Dickinson)
Keith Braxton (Saint Francis U.)
Isaiah Blackmon (Saint Francis U.)
Junior Robinson (Mount St. Mary’s)
News and Notes:
The Mount has solidified leadership
Many questions have surrounded Jamion Christian’s squad heading into this upcoming season. Will offseason injuries linger and affect the team’s play early on and into NEC play? How will a lineup composed of mainly freshmen come together, and can that lead to a successful season? With lots of questions, one thing is certain: Christian is confident in his senior leadership of Junior Robinson, Chris Wray, and Greg Alexander. Christian said that in practice, he sometimes even refers to the three senior leaders as “coaches.”
Bashir Mason is very excited...
Wagner head coach Bashir Mason expressed a few reasons why he is excited about this year’s team. One reason is the veteran leadership in the backcourt with senior Jojo Cooper. The Seahawks struggled frequently in the turnover department last season, so having a steady presence could help alleviate turnover problems. Mason is also high on freshman Tyler Plummer, who was the seventh-ranked recruit out of Canada and could make an immediate impact. Mason feels that this is the most development he has seen from a team since the previous season in his time at Wagner.
Close games are a commonality in the NEC
Last year, Robert Morris lost nine NEC games and six of those nine were decided by two possessions or less. Robert Morris, however, was not the only team which had these experiences with close games; it was a widespread occurrence throughout the league last season. Andy Toole laughed and deflected a question about how competitive the league is to sophomore Dachon Burke. Burke laughed as well and noted how Toole is always on him and the other players in practice about being able to close out games.
Joel Hernandez is healthy, hungry after a year on the bench
It was frustrating for Joel Hernandez to sit on the bench last season and watch as LIU Brooklyn fell just short of their NCAA Tournament dreams. The Blackbirds went 13-5 in conference and earned a home game in the NEC Tournament before Robert Morris shocked them on a Kavon Stewart jumper with three seconds to go.
“I was watching the games, learning a lot, and I really put that into working hard this summer,” he said. “I feel like this year I’m in a better position to showcase what I can do.”
Hernandez started 30 games as a junior in 2015-16 and averaged 12.2 points and 6.1 rebounds, and seemed primed to be one of the best seniors in the conference last season. Instead, his season lasted less than a game — a 17-point effort against John Jay — before leaving the game with a thumb injury.
A silver lining: Hernandez was unable to use his right hand while he healed and says as a result his left hand is much better than it had been before the injury.
Marshall: Central Connecticut finally has options
At times last year, Austin Nehls played like one of the best guards in the conference. The problem was that Central Connecticut didn’t have any weapons to play alongside him. So, as head coach Donyell Marshall explained, when teams keyed in on Nehls, it left the Blue Devils with little else in terms of offensive firepower.
As a result, Nehls played about 38 minutes a game last year and admits that he tired heading down the stretch and that his shot suffered.
Marshall does not expect that to be the case this year.
“We have people at every position,” Marshall said. “A lot of teams’ philosophy was to take away Austin. If you take away Austin this year, we have a lot of other weapons. You have to pick who you want to try to stop.”
Marshall specifically praised Tyler Kohl, who was recruited by high majors before going the junior college route. Then there’s Deion Butte, who Marshall called a “relentless worker” and an upgrade. Marshall also said there were four or five guys who could shoot instead of just Nehls.
“We’re not going to sell ourselves short this year because we feel like we have the pieces,” Marshall said.
Tim O’Shea talks how to recruit in the NEC
Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea knows that the Bulldogs aren’t recruiting against schools in the Power 5. Those just aren’t the guys that his program will attract.
Instead, he goes for guys that fly under the radar — ones who are loaded with athletic potential, even if their high school stats haven’t translated yet.
“You find a kid with elite athleticism and you try to bring them in and develop them,” he said. “That’s what we look for. Upside.”
He mentioned Brandon Carroll, specifically, who played at the prestigious Iona Prep, buried behind higher profile players. O’Shea showed reporters a video of him pulling off a circus dunk and said that was enough for him to know Carroll could get a shot.
He also talked about Sebastian Townes and Adam Grant, who are undersized but O’Shea believes have skill and a high upside.
“We have to be creative in our recruiting and opportunistic,” he said.
O’Shea says there could be another high-upside addition to the Bulldogs’ roster coming soon. If that’s happening this late in the offseason, it will be worth watching out for.