Throughout the offseason we’ll be looking back at each 2016-17 mid-major conference tournament champion to see how probable (or improbable) it was that they ended up on the sport’s grandest stage. An explanation of the exercise, and factors we’ll be considering, can be found here.
The Northeast Conference had been a slot machine heading into last season.
Over the past four years, the league had sent four different schools to the NCAA Tournament, none of which had won the NEC regular season title in those years. After LIU Brooklyn’s run of success from 2011-2013, the league had seen a constant shuffle.
Jamion Christian and Mount St. Mary’s won the bid last season, just like they had in 2014. That year, the Mountaineers turned an underwhelming 9-7 NEC season into gold. Let’s see if that’s how it played out this time around.
Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers
- 2016-17 NEC regular season (14-4) and tournament champions
- No. 16 seed, East Regional
- Beat No. 16 New Orleans (67-66), Lost to No. 1 Villanova (76-56)
At 20-16 (14-4), the Mountaineers won their first regular season title under Christian. That clearly counts for something. On the optimistic side, a brutal non-conference schedule at least yielded what turned out to be a solid win at George Mason. A point is docked because nearly a third of the league finished within three games of the Mountaineers. And an overtime loss to LIU Brooklyn (13-5) had the title up for grabs until the regular season’s last day. But nonetheless, Mount St. Mary’s had firmly established itself in the NEC’s upper tier.
The Mountaineers set too high a standard during the early part of conference play. They ripped off an eight-game winning streak from Jan. 7 to Feb. 2. Anything would look sluggish after that, including their 4-3 finish to the regular season. For a team that had shot itself to the top of the league, Mount St. Mary’s had some off nights leading into the NEC Tournament. During that win streak, they shot under 50 percent on two-point field goal attempts just once. But in the next seven games, they shot under that mark three times.
Chistian essentially played a lean six-man rotation, that he would occasionally stretch out to seven. All of these players were healthy, and star guard Elijah Long even had 22+ points or more three times in the regular season’s final two weeks. He’ll be gone next season — along with promising freshman Miles Wilson — after a rash of transfers, but the roster was intact at the end of the 2016-17 regular season.
The Mountaineers were a small team, even relative to the NEC. Much of that is due to 5’5’’ scoring machine Junior Robinson playing so many minutes, but Mount St. Mary’s still struggled on the boards throughout the year. Other than that? The Mountaineers were solid everywhere else. They had a disruptive defense that finished with the second-best defensive efficiency mark in NEC play. On the end of the court, they took care of the ball and were money from inside the three-point line, with a NEC-best 53.2 percent two-point field goal percentage. That’s a recipe for plenty of wins, and that’s just what happened as they beat Sacred Heart, Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA) en route to the NCAA Tournament.
Hope Index: 16.5
The Mountaineers were another team that should’ve surprised no one by playing deep(ish) into March. Here’s where we stand:
|Mount St. Mary's||16.5||Little surprise|
|UC Davis||16||Little surprise|