With four to five conference games remaining, it remains anyone’s guess as to how the NEC playoffs will eventually align. Of course, there appears to be a distinct top five, but then again top seeds Robert Morris and LIU Brooklyn haven’t even clinched a spot in the playoffs. (They are really close though.) As a result, please allow me to sift through the madness and break it all down.
Top Tier: Teams in Excellent Shape
1) Robert Morris*, 10-4
2) LIU Brooklyn, 10-4
3) Bryant, 9-4
4) Wagner, 9-5
5) Quinnipiac, 8-5
*owns head-to-head tiebreaker over LIU
I still view Robert Morris, LIU Brooklyn, Bryant, and Wagner as being in the driver’s seat for a NEC home playoff game. Robert Morris must end their regular season at Bryant and CCSU, but with home games versus Monmouth and FDU and with a tiebreaker over LIU (thanks Velton Jones!), the Colonials have the edge to grab the #1 seed. All eyes, however, could be on the Robert Morris at Bryant showdown on February 28th. With the exception of the Bulldogs, all these teams have been playing well as of late. Each team is essentially one more victory away from getting the clinched playoff berth asterisk next to their name.
Bobcat fans may take offense to the first sentence, but they conclude with a difficult final five games (38-29 combined record of opponents left), with four of them on the road. On the other hand, Wagner finishes the season off with FDU, Monmouth, and St. Francis Brooklyn. The Bobcats may only be a half game back of Wagner and are hot, but I’d be surprised if they leapfrog Wagner. If anything, Quinnipiac’s upcoming home showdown with Bryant could determine who plays in their friendly confines for the first round of the playoffs. As the last team in this cluster, Quinnipiac currently holds a comfortable 2.5 game lead over ninth place St. Francis Brooklyn.
Second Tier: Plenty of Work to Do
6) Sacred Heart, 7-6
7) Mount St. Mary’s, 7-7
8) Central Connecticut, 6-7
A few weeks ago, the Mount had a NEC record of 2-6, in serious danger of missing the NEC postseason for the third straight year. Since then, Jamion Christian’s club has won five of their last six, and now with a very manageable schedule to finish the season (LIU, SF Brooklyn, @Monmouth, @FDU), the Mount is in the best shape of the second tier to play playoff basketball. If they can find a way to split their two home games versus LIU and SF Brooklyn, then they’re probably in. It also helps that the Mount owns head-to-head tiebreakers on Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, and CCSU. It sure sounds like someone will have Mayhem visiting their gym in the first round. (Ooh ooh, can I request a Mount St. Mary’s at LIU Brooklyn first round matchup??)
Sacred Heart is going in the opposite direction, and with a brutal schedule remaining (39-28 combined record of opponents left), it wouldn’t surprise me if they continued their tailspin out the playoffs. With the exception of Mount St. Mary’s though, the teams below SHU are struggling just as much, so I still believe they’ll find a way to sneak into the NEC tournament bracket. It would certainly behoove them to pick up a win or two versus Quinnipiac and CCSU coming up at home, because after that, a three game road stretch of Bryant, LIU, and SF Brooklyn is less than ideal.
Third Tier: Teams in Big Trouble
9) St. Francis Brooklyn, 6-8
10) Monmouth, 5-9
Monmouth kept their season alive with a badly needed home victory over SF Brooklyn and in the process may have crippled the Terriers’ playoff prospects. Still, Monmouth is on life support sitting at two games back of CCSU and having lost head-to-head tiebreakers over SHU, Quinnipiac, and CCSU. Anything short of a perfect finish to the season most likely knocks the Hawks out, so King Rice needs to find a way to defeat Robert Morris and Wagner on the road. Good luck with that.
For SF Brooklyn, the playoffs essentially begin on Thursday when they host Wagner. After that, they square off against a Mount St. Mary’s team that is very good in Emmitsburg (8-2 overall). Without the tiebreaker against CCSU, you have to think the Terriers must win AT LEAST three of their final four games and then hope that SHU or CCSU continues their downward spiral. Right now, the best Glenn Braica could hope for is that their final game of regular season against SHU becomes a play-in game for the NEC tournament. If that’s the case, I may have to make the 3.5 hour bus trip to Brooklyn just to see the game! (I can already see my wife rolling her eyes.)
Follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride