College basketball fans, it is crazy to believe we have arrived at conference tournament time. The NEC regular season lived up to the hype of a wide-open field, and the tournament figures to be more of the same.
Bashir Mason’s Wagner squad finished the season with an impressive 14-4 NEC record and locked up the first seed. Mount St. Mary’s gained the second seed as a result of winning a tie breaker with St. Francis PA, the third seed, and LIU Brooklyn is the 4 seed. The rest of the teams, in order of seed, are St. Francis-Brooklyn, Fairleigh Dickinson, Robert Morris, and Central Connecticut State.
The tournament will consist of three rounds with no teams receiving byes. The field will re-seed after each round so that the highest remaining seed plays the lowest.
How To Watch
The quarterfinal and semifinal rounds will be streamed online at NEC Front Row, with ESPN3 also picking up the semis. The finals will be shown on ESPN2.
All games on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m. ET
1. Wagner vs. 8. Central Connecticut
2. Mount St. Mary’s vs. 7. Robert Morris
3. St. Francis PA vs. 6. FDU
4. LIU Brooklyn vs. 5. St. Francis-Brooklyn
The higher seeds will host a pair of Saturday semifinals at noon and 2 p.m.
Higher seed will host the final on March 6 at 7p.m.
There is irony in the predictions we are about to make. In the NEC preview earlier in the year, we said that the NEC would be such a toss up this year that seeds from 1-7 could have a legitimate shot of winning the NEC. This still holds true, but the way the bracket is set up, we see the higher seeds holding their own and advancing through to the semifinals in every game, except the 4-5 match-up, where St. Francis will knock off LIU.
That will set up semifinal matchups of Wagner vs. St. Francis-Brooklyn and Mount St. Mary’s vs. St. Francis PA, the latter being a rematch of last year’s NEC championship. From here, Wagner will take care of business and advance through to the championship game. The other semifinal game is more of a challenge to predict. The Mount swept St. Francis in their two games this season, but those two games were decided by a combined total of four points.
But this time, St. Francis will travel into Knott Arena and get revenge on The Mount in a tight battle and advance to face Wagner in the conference championship game. St. Francis is the more experienced team, has fought through the adversity of losing arguably its most important player, and is the hottest team in the conference as they ended the season on a five-game winning streak.
Wagner head coach Bashir Mason has been flirting with an NCAA Tournament berth through his six-year coaching career at Wagner, but has yet to get over the hump.
At some point the odds have to play out, and this will be the year Mason wins his first NEC title. The Seahawks were undefeated at home in conference play, and will be home throughout the conference tournament. Wagner has not just protected its home court, but has been dominant. Wagner has also been aided by the emergence of arguably the two biggest surprises in NEC play: leading scorer sophomore Blake Francis and NEC Player of the Year candidate JoJo Cooper.