Picking Out the Best of the NEC Non-Conference Schedule

With every NEC team’s non-conference schedule finally released (thanks Saint Francis!), I went through the games I’m most looking forward to as a fan.  For a complete breakdown of every NEC program’s out-of-conference schedule, I highly recommend taking a look at Nelson Castillo’s NEC schedule breakdown over at The Blackbirds Hoops Journal.

To be perfectly honest, the 2014-15 campaign projects as a rebuilding season for much of the league; therefore the big upsets of last season may not be as numerous. But with 33 guarantee/paycheck games scheduled, you never know! Here were the most improbable upsets –- all coincidently road games — according to KenPom last season:

  • Fairleigh Dickinson (3.2% underdog) over Seton Hall, 58-54
  • Fairleigh Dickinson (4.4% underdog) over Rutgers, 73-72
  • St. Francis Brooklyn (8.3% underdog) over Miami, 66-62 OT
  • Robert Morris (8.7% underdog) over St. John’s (NIT first round), 89-78
  • Sacred Heart (14.7% underdog) over Fordham, 85-73
  • Mount St. Mary’s (19.9% underdog) over Norfolk St., 104-84

Overall, the NEC went 6-26 versus teams in the American Athletic, Atlantic 10, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences. And in case you were wondering, here were the three worst non-conference losses of last season in terms of win probability before the opening tip. Ironically, two of the three involved the NEC representative of the NCAA tournament.

  • Mount St. Mary’s (90.1% favorite) lost to Binghamton, 74-70, at home
  • Wagner (84.5% favorite) lost to UIC, 94-76, in Estero, Florida
  • Mount St. Mary’s (76.0% favorite) lost to Maryland-Eastern Shore, 78-71, on the road

Enough about last year, though. Here are my “circle the calendar” games for the NEC in November and December.

Robert Morris at Toledo, December 17

Andy Toole has never been shy about challenging his Colonials during the non-conference, and this season is no different. With eight games and a rare three game home-stand under their belt, Robert Morris will travel to nearby Toledo to take on the very best of the Mid-American Conference. The 27-win Rockets return most of their scoring including the backcourt duo of Julius Brown (14.9 PPG, 5.9 APG) and former Loyola (MD) standout Justin Drummond (14.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG). The former’s ability to distribute (33.2% assist rate) and the latter’s remarkable efficiency scoring (54.3 effective FG%) will serve as the biggest challenges to Robert Morris’ defense, which may struggle early on with seven newcomers. It doesn’t help that the Rockets had the 31st best offensive efficiency (1.13 points per possession) in the country last season. Ted Kowalczyk’s offense is so good, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Toledo as a 12/13 seed in the NCAA tournament.

St. Francis Brooklyn at Georgetown, November 15

Last season’s signature NEC victory came on opening night when St. Francis Brooklyn stunned Miami in their home opener. That overtime win and their near miss at Syracuse ten days later put the rest of the conference on notice – the Terriers had emerged as a bona fide conference contender. One season later, Jalen Cannon, Brent Jones and company will look to pull another major upset when they travel to Washington, D.C. to take on Georgetown. The Hoyas are coming off a disappointing 2013-14 campaign (18-15, 8-10 Big East) and graduated all-conference player Markel Starks and glue guy Nate Lubick, so John Thompson’s team has a lot of question marks. Despite the uncertainty, St. Francis will have difficultly containing the presumably eligible 6’10″ center Josh Smith (11.5 PPG) and guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (17.6 PPG, 5.0 RPM). It won’t be easy in the month of November for Glenn Braica’s team – the Terriers begin their season with three guarantee games in their first four.

Fairleigh Dickinson at Rutgers, November 19

Here we go again. After pulling off an improbable upset, the Scarlet Knights will seek revenge when Fairleigh Dickinson takes the short bus ride to Piscataway. In last season’s showdown, Sidney Sanders led the Knights with 22 points and 10 assists. FDU shot 48% (11 of 23) from the three-point line while sinking 20 free throws on 25 attempts. Greg Herenda’s crew will need to produce in those facets to pull off back-to-back upsets, but where the Knights’ scoring comes from is anyone’s guess. Sophomores Matt MacDonald and Malachi Nix will likely play an integral role in the offense, but more will be needed from this young group.

Bryant at UConn, November 14

Since fully transitioning into a Division I program, Tim O’Shea hasn’t been shy about getting his team big-time exposure in their season opener. This year will be no different with the Bulldogs traveling to Storrs for the right to face off against the defending national champions in UConn. With the departures of Shabazz Napier, DeAndre Daniels, and Niels Giffey, Kevin Ollie must retool, yet Bryant has a tall task ahead of them. The Huskies forced opponents to shoot just 42.2% from inside the arc last season, so sharpshooting veterans Dyami Starks, Joe O’Shea and Shane McLauglin will need to light it up on the perimeter for the Bulldogs to stay close. The crowd will be stoked, yet the raucous atmosphere shouldn’t overwhelm Bryant after traveling to Indiana and Gonzaga for the past two season openers.

Mount St. Mary’s at American, December 20

Jamion Christian’s club leads the NEC in paycheck games – contests that pay the mid-major team (usually around $100,000) to play a big program at their arena. These program-funders aside, the most intriguing matchup is one that requires little more than 90-minute drive through Maryland into Northwest DC. The American Eagles are coming off a shocking NCAA tournament berth and are set to return most of their possession minutes. Last season, the Mountaineers held on late to grind out a victory over Mike Brennan’s club, but a win this season will be a much taller task. Defending do-all point guard Darius Gardner (11.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and slasher Jesse Reed (13.8 PPG) in the Princeton offense won’t be easy since Julian Norfleet and Rashad Whack are no longer walking through that door. Nonetheless, the Mount’s length and backcourt athleticism should give the Eagles some problems taking care of the ball. Expect a matchup that should go down to the wire.

LIU Brooklyn vs. Stony Brook, November 27 (Madison Square Garden)

It’s unknown what the visibility of this game will be since it’s being played at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Not only will it be a great experience for Jack Perri’s team to compete at the basketball mecca, it will be a nice test to see how the Blackbirds match up against one of the very best in the America East conference. Stony Brook returns power forward Jameel Warney (14.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 BPG), one of the best mid-major players in the country in my opinion. How Nura Zanna and company match up with Warney and friends will be fascinating and quite a challenge – the Seawolves scored more than 1.08 points per possession (PPP) and grabbed a terrific 35% of their misses on the offensive glass in conference play last season. Seeing how LIU Brooklyn had one of the worst defensive units in the country (1.18 PPP), they’ll likely need to score 75+ points to have a chance at the moderate upset.

Other notable games:
Delaware at Robert Morris, December 13 – The defending CAA regular season and tournament champions handed the Colonials their third worst loss of last season. Can the Colonials get revenge at The Chuck?

Bryant at Vermont, November 26 – This is a home coming for senior forward Joe O’Shea, but more importantly, this America East matchup will serve as a litmus test for Bryant. John Becker may have lost five seniors from last season’s 22-win club, but the Catamounts will be far from a pushover at their friendly confines. They also win host Wagner on December 14.

Central Connecticut vs. Towson – The veteran Blue Devils should give Pat Skerry’s resurgent Tigers all they can handle at the NABC College Basketball Experience Tournament. One day later, the Blue Devils will clash with their former NEC rival, Monmouth.

You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride

2 thoughts on “Picking Out the Best of the NEC Non-Conference Schedule

    1. Yeah I missed that one, although I don’t think it was on Bryant’s schedule initially. But yeah, that game would’ve absolutely been part of the list had I known.

      Starks, and others, will need to light it up behind the arc for Bryant to have a chance, but the prospect of the Bulldogs’ young bigs guarding studs like Saunders, Moundou-Missi, and Travis sounds tremendously daunting. I’m at least confidence the crowd will be electric that night, providing a necessary boost to Bryant.


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