NEC Tournament Betting Preview, Bracket & Odds: Can Anyone Topple Bryant or Wagner?
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Jared Grasso & Luis Hurtado Jr. (Bryant)
The Northeast Conference kicks off the beginning of tournament season on Monday. This marks the start of the best time of the year for college basketball fans across the country.
The NEC standings largely stuck to the form of the preseason rankings.
Wagner and Bryant dueled throughout the season for the No. 1 seed, which came down to a winner-take-all matchup Saturday afternoon. Bryant came out victorious, which makes the road to the NEC Championship go through Smithfield, Rhode Island.
Given the wide variety of playing styles, the NEC is one of the more intriguing conferences to handicap.
Bryant and Long Island University play at a top-10 tempo in the country. Meanwhile, Mount St. Mary’s and Merrimack play at a snail’s pace.
That will make for some interesting matchups between contradicting playing styles throughout the tournament.
Last season, the conference allowed only the top-four teams into the league tournament due to COVID-19 concerns.
This year, everything is back to normal, with nine eligible teams up for a shot at their chance to earn a NCAA Tournament bid.
We are still waiting on odds for the NEC Tournament (as of writing), but here’s the full bracket (and schedule):
NEC Tournament Bracket & Schedule
Wagner has been the cream of the crop in the NEC over the last two years. The group has won 25 of its last 30 conference matchups dating back to last season.
The Seahawks were bounced in the first round of the conference tournament last year by Mount St. Mary’s. But they are out to avenge that loss after returning four double-digit scorers, including three super-seniors from 2020-21.
Elijah Ford is one of those returning seniors, but he’s out for the year after injuring his knee in early February. His production has been sorely missed of late, but the Seahawks have leaned on their depth to pick up the slack.
Alex Morales is among that group and is the favorite to be the NEC Player of the Year. Morales is putting up 18 points per game and snatching eight rebounds per contest while shooting above 52% from the field.
Will Martinez has stepped up recently, too, scoring 20 points in three of his last four. That’s well above his season average of 12 points per game.
Wagner makes its living scoring inside the paint. The group finds 62% of its points inside the paint, which is the third most in the country.
Much of that is due to the Seahawks’ lack of outside shooting threats, though. They don’t take many, but the group has converted on just 27% of its 3-point attempts this season (355th in the nation).
Since Ford’s absence, the Seahawks have been lucky to survive, as they lost to both Merrimack and Fairleigh Dickinson in overtime.
I’ve been on Wagner’s bandwagon all season long, but the loss of Ford has proven to be pivotal. The rest of the teams smell blood in the water, as Wagner has looked vulnerable lately.
Due to that, I am looking to avoid backing Wagner to make a deep run in the conference tournament.
The Bryant Bulldogs had a brutal non-conference schedule that led to a 6-8 start. Since then, the group has caught fire, winning 13 of its last 14 conference matchups.
Bryant plays at a blistering pace that ranks fifth in the nation in tempo. According to Hoop-Math, 32% of the team’s field goal attempts come on transition opportunities, which ranks fifth highest in the nation. They look to get out and run at every opportunity they get.
When they don’t get an easy bucket in transition, 44% of the team’s field goal attempts come from beyond the arc. But the Bulldogs haven’t been efficient on those shot attempts, hitting just 31% from deep.
They have two of the most prolific scorers in the conference in Peter Kiss and Charles Pride.
Kiss is the leading scorer in the NEC, putting up 25 points per game while snatching six rebounds per contest. He’s a high-volume shooter that has eclipsed the 30-point mark in nine games this season, including six straight.
Pride is averaging 18 points and eight rebounds per game. He proved he can be the top scoring option when called upon, as he dropped 76 points against St. Francis (PA) and Mount St. Mary’s when Kiss was out of the lineup.
Bryant took home its first NEC regular-season title on Sunday. With its hyper tempo and bombs-away mentality, the Bulldogs are the leading favorite to win the conference tournament.
The Dark Horses
Long Island has been arguably the hottest team in the league since February. The Sharks have ripped off five wins in a row against the top teams in the conference.
LIU plays with an extremely similar style to Bryant, as it looks to push the pace at any chance it gets (eighth in the nation in tempo).
The group plays with tremendous continuity and ranks 14th in assist rate in the country. Over the last eight games, the Sharks have assisted on 65% of their made field goal attempts.
That’s extremely important in the NEC, as they will be matching up against a group of hard-nosed defenses.
The Sharks have two players on the all-conference team, according to KenPom, in Ty Flowers and Eral Penn. The duo averages a combined 36 points and 15 rebounds per contest.
Each has proven dangerous from deep, and with two dominant scorers, the program will be an extremely tough out in the tournament.
Mount St. Mary’s was the final team in the NEC Tournament last season after sneaking in as the fourth seed. The Mountaineers hope to replicate a similar run, as they defeated both Wagner and Bryant en route to an NCAA Tournament bid.
But the roster has dealt with some turnover since that run, including the loss of point guard Damian Chong Qui. However, they brought back three seniors in the frontcourt in Mezie Offurum, Nana Opoku and Malik Jefferson.
That size has helped lead the Mount to a top-100 interior defense, holding opponents to 47% on 2-point attempts.
Mount St. Mary’s plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, and will want to grind out each game. The group owns the second defensive efficiency ranking in the conference, but has drawn a tough first-round assignment in St. Francis (BKN). The Mountaineers just lost at home to the Terriers last week.
If the Mount wins that matchup, it will then have to face off against Bryant, which has been red hot, winning 13 of its last 14.
The Mountaineers have won just two of their last seven matchups, so the odds of repeating as conference tournament champions are against them.
St. Francis (BKN) has proven to be a dangerous team in the conference, and has drawn the fifth seed heading into the tournament.
The Terriers struggled in non-conference play, losing their first eight games of the season. But during NEC play, the group owned a 7-11 record while losing some close games to the top teams in the conference.
Five of the program’s seven NEC victories have come on the road.
The Terriers have a well-balanced scoring attack, with five players averaging between nine and 14 points per game. They have three snipers from downtown in Rob Higgins, Larry Moreno and Tedrick Wilcox Jr.
When they get hot from 3-point territory, that opens the paint for Michael Cubbage and Patrick Emilien to go to work.
The defense is elite at defending the perimeter and not allowing many attempts from deep.
If the Terriers can sneak by Mount St. Mary’s in the first round, they are capable of upsetting Bryant to make a run at the conference championship.
The Long Shots
It’s tough to foresee one of the remaining four teams from the conference making a deep run in the tournament.
Sacred Heart has won two in a row, but dropped nine of its last 10 matchups before that. The offense has been decent this season, but the defense has been putrid, ranking 351st in the country in defensive efficiency.
Central Connecticut and Fairleigh Dickinson have gone a combined 11-44 this season and pose little threat to the top half of the conference.
St. Francis (PA) hasn’t been much better, owning a 9-20 record on the year. In conference play, the group has only beaten up on the other NEC bottom feeders.