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NEC Tournament bracket, preview, and schedule: Bryant looks for their first NCAA Tournament bid

The first conference tournament tips off on Monday

Bryant v Maryland Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

It’s finally here!

On Monday evening, Central Connecticut State and Fairleigh Dickinson will take the court for the first game of conference tournament season. Although it won’t say it’s March on the calendar just yet, it will feel like it.

All season it has been a two-horse race in the NEC. Wagner opened league play with a 13-0 start but lost two straight to end the season. Wagner faced off against the team which ultimately won its first NEC Championship ever on the last day of the season, Bryant, led by the nation’s leading scorer and one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the country, Jared Grasso.

Don’t sleep on the rest of the league, as it’s gotten wide open over the last couple of weeks. LIU has won six straight and is 11-1 at home. At the bottom of the league, Fairleigh Dickinson just pulled off one of the biggest upsets all season, beating Wagner.

With the whole league (except for Merrimack who is still transitioning to D-1) playing in the conference tournament, it’s truly anyone’s game.

Bracket

Schedule

Site: All Higher Seeds

All Times Eastern

First Round (Monday, February 28th), NEC FRONT ROW

Game 1: No. 9 Central Connecticut State vs No. 8 Fairleigh Dickinson, 7 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Wednesday, March 2nd), NEC FRONT ROW

Game 2: Game 1 Winner vs No. 1 Bryant, 7 p.m.

Game 3: No. 5 St.Francis (NY) vs No. 4 Mount Saint Mary’s, 7 p.m.

Game 4: No. 6 Sacred Heart vs No. 3 LIU, 7 p.m.

Game 5: No. 7 St.Francis (PA) vs No. 2 Wagner, 7 p.m.

Semifinals (Saturday, March 5th), SNY, MASN, ESPN3

Game 6: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs Highest-Remaining Seed, 6/8 p.m.

Game 7: Second Lowest-Remaining Seed vs Second Highest-Remaining Seed, 6/8 p.m.

Finals (Wednesday, March 8th), ESPN2

Game 8: Lowest-Remaining Seed vs Highest-Remaining Seed, 7 p.m.

The Favorite

Bryant (19-9, 16-2): Winners of four straight, this member of the NMTC has one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country and is by far the favorite to win the NEC Tournament.

Peter Kiss leads the country in scoring with 25.1 PPG and has been an absolute menace in the month of February, averaging 31.8 PPG. Next to him, he has Charles Pride who is averaging 17.8 PPG and dropped 44 points against St.Francis (PA) at the beginning of the month. The thing is, these guys have very sparingly played healthy together but they showed what they were able to do in their conference regular season clinching win over Wagner on Saturday.

Their tempo is tough to keep up with (fifth in the country) and their offensive rebounding down low is nearly unmatched (50th in the country).

Expect them to be heavy favorites in Vegas.

The Dark Horse

Wagner (19-5, 13-3): If it wasn’t for such a poor run this past week, I would’ve had Wagner right up there with Bryant as a favorite. Now, heading into the conference tournament as losers of two straight, they must find an extra spark. Alex Morales has stepped up to become a first-team All-NEC player, averaging 18.5 PPG. They had a three-headed monster in the backcourt just like Bryant, but Elijah Ford went down with a season-ending knee injury in early February. Their defense hasn’t been the same since then. Luckily for the Seahawks, they’ve secured a home game through their first two, so they have a chance to defend their home court, a place where they’re 11-1.

The Long Shots

LIU (15-13, 12-6): The Sharks are a WAGON at home. Entering the tournament at 11-1, they’ve won all but four by double digits. Along with that, their tempo is the only one matched with Bryant’s fifth-ranked tempo, at eight. Ty Flowers (19 PPG/7.7 RPG), Eral Penn (17.4 PPG/7.5 RPG), and Isaac Kante (11.9 PPG/7.5 RPG) might be the best big man trio in the whole country.

Mount Saint Mary’s (13-15, 9-9): They did it last year and if it wasn’t for a 1-3 run down the stretch, the Mountaineers could be sitting at that three seed. Gone is Damian Chong Qui but Jalen Benjamin has stepped up at 13.1 PPG. Mezie Offurum and Nana Opoku are still there. Last season, they beat Bryant in the championship game by a score of 73-68. If everything were to go chalk, they’d play them in the semifinals.

Players to Watch:

Peter Kiss, Bryant (25.1 PPG, 6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 45.7% FG%)

Charles Pride, Bryant (17.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 45.7% FG%)

Adham Eleeda, Bryant (10.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 34.8% FG%)

Alex Morales, Wagner (18.5 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 3.7 APG, 51% FG%)

Will Martinez, Wagner (13 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3 APG, 49.1% FG%)

Delonnie Hunt, Wagner (7.6 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 38.7% FG%)

Ty Flowers, LIU (19 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 45.7% FG%)

Eral Penn, LIU (17.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 43.5% FG%)

Isaac Kante, LIU (11.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 52.7% FG%)

Jalen Benjamin, The Mount (13.1 PPG, 4.1 APG, 39.7% FG%)

Mezie Offerum, The Mount (11.2 PPG, 5 RPG, 45.4% FG%)

Nana Opoku, The Mount (10.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 56.8% FG%)

Michael Cubbage, St.Francis (NY) (13.6 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 39.9% FG%)

Tyler Thomas, Sacred Heart (16.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 41.6% FG%)

Aaron Clarke, Sacred Heart (16.2 PPG, 4 APG, 42.8% FG%)

Josh Cohen, St.Francis (PA) (12.9 PPG, 7 RPG, 57.5% FG%)

Maxwell Land, St.Francis (PA) (11.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 39% FG%)

Nigel Scantlebury, Central Connecticut State (13.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 41.3% FG%)

Brandon Rush, Fairleigh Dickinson (14.1 PPG, 3 RPG, 38.7% FG%)

Prediction:

Bryant will ease its way into the NEC Finals and make their first-ever NCAA Tournament in a win over LIU.