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October 4, 2010

League preview: Northeast Conference

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

29. Northeast

By David Fox

The Northeast Conference came close to a signature moment when Robert Morris, two-time champion of the league, took second-seeded Villanova to overtime before losing 73-70 in the first round of last season's NCAA tournament.

If the NEC is going to threaten the big boys again this season, the conference will do it with new coaching blood. Robert Morris replaced Mike Rice, who left for Rutgers, with 30-year-old assistant Andrew Toole. The Colonials, who return only five lettermen, are one of four teams in the conference with new coaches.

NEC favorite Quinnipiac will look to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history with reigning NEC player of the year Justin Rutty, who averaged a double-double last season. The Bobcats tied Robert Morris for the conference regular-season title before losing to the Colonials in the NEC tournament final.

Long Island has won 23 NEC games the past two seasons and could be positioned to continue its climb up the conference standings. The Blackbirds return four starters, led by Gs Kyle Johnson and David Hicks and Fs Kenny Onyechi and Jamal Olasewere. The departed starter, though, is a big one -- Jaytornah Wisseh led the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons.

Central Connecticut State, which has made three NCAA tournament appearances under longtime coach Howie Dickenman, faltered the past two seasons. The Blue Devils should be at full strength in the frontcourt by midseason once Ken Norton, who missed last season with a hip injury, returns to full strength and David Simmons becomes eligible.

Like Robert Morris, Mount St. Mary's has enjoyed success in the NEC, but the Mountaineers also are rebuilding under a new coach. American assistant Robert Burke replaces Milan Brown. More important, Mount St. Mary's must find a way to replace star G Jeremy Goode, who led the team in scoring in each of the past three seasons.

St. Francis (N.Y.), St. Francis (Pa.) and Fairleigh Dickinson have some intriguing pieces in place and some potential. Any could make noise in the league. Monmouth had one of the league's best players in Travis Taylor, but he transferred to Boston College. Wagner was one of the worst teams in the nation last season, but there's optimism because of the arrival of new coach Dan Hurley and his first signing class. Sacred Heart lost four starters off a 14-win team, while Bryant won one game last season (at Wagner).

F Ken Horton, Central Conn. State (6-6/195, Jr.)
F Justin Rutty, Quinnipiac (6-7/240, Sr.)
G Karon Abraham, Robert Morris (5-9/150, Soph.)
G/F Akeem Bennett, St. Francis (N.Y.) (6-6/180, Jr.)
G James Johnson, Quinnipiac (6-0/183, Jr.)
F Will Felder, St. Francis (Pa.) (6-6/200, Soph.)
F Ed Waite, Monmouth (6-5/225, Soph.)
G Ricky Cadell, St. Francis (N.Y.) (6-3/180, Sr.)
G Mike Scott, Fairleigh Dickinson (6-0/180, Sr.)
G Shemik Thompson, Central Conn. State (6-0/190, Sr.)
PLAYER OF YEAR: F Justin Rutty, Quinnipiac
NEWCOMER OF YEAR: F Tevin Baskin, Quinnipiac (6-7/190, Fr.)

1. Quinnipiac
2. Long Island
3. Robert Morris
4. Central Connecticut State
5. Saint Francis (N.Y.)
6. Mount St. Mary's
7. Saint Francis (Pa.)
8. Fairleigh Dickinson
9. Monmouth
10. Sacred Heart
11. Wagner
12. Bryant

New coaches: Glenn Braica at St. Francis (N.Y.) (had been assistant at St. John's); Robert Burke at Mount St. Mary's (had been assistant at American); Dan Hurley at Wagner (had been coach at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J.); Andrew Toole at Robert Morris (promoted from assistant); Greg Vetrone, Fairleigh Dickinson (promoted from interim coach)
Regular-season winner last season: Robert Morris and Quinnipiac
Tourney winner last season: Robert Morris
League RPI rank in each of past 3 years: 29th in 2009-10, 28th in 2008-09, 23rd, 2007-08
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2008, Mount St. Mary's in play-in game.
2011 conference tournament: March 3, 6, 9, campus sites

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