by Patrick Gustavson
Mid-major college basketball has always been known for its wide-open nature: any team can win their respective conference. This holds true for the Northeast Conference, which is perhaps the most open and unpredictable conference in the nation.
However, there is an incorrect notion that a team can simply just get hot at a four-day tournament. Regular season games build the foundation for teams to make a run at a coveted spot in the NCAA tournament.
Following six in-conference games for all ten teams, Robert Morris is leading the way with a stellar 5-1 record. The Colonials have not overwhelmed in any statistical category, but have taken care of business, handling every opponent thus far except for Saint Francis (PA).
As for the SFU, they have bounced back following an opening loss against CCSU, winning four in a row, before falling to Mount St. Mary’s last Saturday. Their strong suit is shooting, leading the conference in field goal and three-point percentage. They are led by junior guard Jamaal King, who ranks third in the conference in scoring, while averaging just under four assists per game. The Red Flash were projected to win the conference in the pre-season coaches’ poll, and seem destined to make some noise down the line.
Also tied for second is the defending champion Mountaineers from Mount St. Mary’s. Many players have returned from last year’s championship team, that even hung around with Villanova in the first half of their NCAA game. What makes the Mountaineers so dangerous is that they have the best player in the conference, guard Junior Robinson. Not only does he lead the conference in scoring with 21.9 points per game, he ranks in the top 20 in the entire nation.
Wagner, no stranger from NCAA tournament berths, also slots in at 4-2. In addition to boasting a strong offense, the Seahawks have the best scoring defense in the conference, but the most impressive aspect of the team is their undefeated record at home, both in and out of conference. If the team can win some big road games, they will certainly be in the thick of things come February.
The most pleasant surprise has been Saint Francis (BKN), who was projected to finish dead last in the preseason poll. They’ve made their way to .500 in the conference alongside LIU Brooklyn. It appears the Terriers will shatter expectations and make the conference tournament.
Entering Saturday’s games, three teams were tied at the bottom of the conference with a 1-4 record: Sacred Heart, as well as CCSU and Bryant, who faced off to avoid falling to last place. CCSU prevailed, leaving the Bulldogs with an uphill battle to make the conference tournament. Sacred Heart also beat Fairleigh Dickinson, who both now enter a three-way tie with CCSU at 2-4.
The biggest games of this week will take place at Wagner’s home court, when they take on SFU on Thursday, then Robert Morris on Saturday. If the Seahawks continue to dominate at home, it could propel them to the top of the standings.