Four Questions for the NEC Championship

Tonight on ESPN2 LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris will meet again with the NEC title, and the NCAA tournament automatic bid that comes with it, on the line. Last season the Blackbirds pulled out the home victory in overtime. Earlier this season though the Colonials got the 75-66 win at the Charles L. Sewall Center. Looking back on that game here are four key questions and things to watch.

1. Will someone else step up? — The last time these two teams played Julian Boyd scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Jamal Olasewere added 18 points and that was about it. The Blackbirds scored 66 points that night, the third fewest this season and the fewest when Boyd was completely healthy. Michael Culpo was 0-10 from the field and the LIU shot 3-16 from three as a team. That can’t happen again. LIU’s defense just isn’t good enough to score fewer than 70 points and win. Thus someone else is going to have to step up. Whether it’s Jason Brickman getting involved offensively, C.J. Garner slicing down the lane or Culpo knocking down jumpers, a third scorer must emerge.

2. What happens at the free throw line? — One thing that might help LIU’s offense is that the Blackbirds will be playing at home. Last time LIU shot 19-20 from the free throw line, but Robert Morris actually had more attempts, going 17-27 from the line. LIU has lost all three games in which its opponent shot more free throws (at Hofstra, at Norfolk State and at Robert Morris). How the officials call the game will impact this contest just as much, as it completely destroyed the rhythm of RMU’s semifinal against Wagner. If officials call the touch fouls it could be a long night for the Colonials. During the conference season RMU was the worst in the NEC in defensive free throw rate. LIU was the best at getting to the line. A parade of free throw shooters wouldn’t be aesthetically pleasing, but it’d certainly get the job done.

3. Who guards Velton Jones? — Jones scored 25 points in the win over Wagner, including 14-16 from the free throw line. He also scored 23 points the last time these two teams met. Jones is RMU’s heart. If you can contain him there’s always a shot. Robert Morris is 2-3 when Jones scores fewer than 10 points this season. A big, physical point guard he’s a bad matchup for LIU. It’s likely the Blackbirds come out in a zone and hope that RMU has a cold shooting night from three.

4. Can LIU hang onto the basketball? — At the beginning of the season it seemed like LIU couldn’t stop itself from turning the ball over. When LIU turns the ball over on more than 25% of its possessions there’s a ton of vulnerability. Last time against RMU that number was 26.9%. Brickman, Garner and Olasewere each had four turnovers in the last game and Boyd had five. That can’t happen tonight.

Bonus tip: LIU was the best three-point shooting team in the NEC during conference play at 37.5%. Robert Morris was the worst team at defending the three during conference play allowing opponents to shoot 39.1%. If playing at home is the magic formula from beyond the arc it should help the Blackbirds.

Extra bonus tip: Check out these articles on potential NEC seeding and the NEC title game by the numbers from Colonials Corner.

This should be a great game. If you can’t make it to Brooklyn be sure to watch.

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