College Basketball Betting Preview for NEC: Bryant, Wagner Highlight 2 Favorites for Title

College Basketball Betting Preview for NEC: Bryant, Wagner Highlight 2 Favorites for Title article feature image

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  • Bryant and Wagner are the top two teams in the conference heading into the season.
  • Five other contenders, including Merrimack, could compete with those two for the league title.
  • Kyle Remillard previews the league from top-to-bottom.

The Northeast Conference presents a wide variety of playing styles amongst its teams.

Mount St. Mary’s, Wagner and Merrimack lean on defense and play at some of the slowest tempos in the country, while Bryant and Long Island University are all gas and no breaks as they look to get out and run at every opportunity they get.

Teams in this conference — like many mid-majors — found themselves playing back-to-backs against the same opponent last year due to COVID. The schedule reverts to normal this season, and the NEC returns most of its production from last season.

The Northeast Conference looks to be wide open with a group of five contenders coming after the top two favorites.

The Favorites

Bryant Bulldogs

Overall Record 2020-2115-7
League Record 2020-2110-4

The Bryant Bulldogs played at a blistering pace last year that ranked sixth nationally in tempo, according to KenPom. The program nearly stunned Syracuse in the season opener, losing by one point, but was able to finish the upset against UMass on the road.

The Bulldogs return nearly everyone except for lightning quick point guard Michael Green III, who hit the transfer portal. They’ve brought in a slew of transfers to replace him and add depth to the roster.

Bryant’s domination of the 3-point line was a major factor in its success last season. The Bulldogs connected on 38% of their 346 attempts on offense, while holding opponents to just 28% on the defensive end. Those stats both ranked first in the NEC.

The starting lineup returns three fifth-year seniors, including Peter Kiss, who averaged 16.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game in 2020-21.

This offense has all the major pieces back and should continue to lead the way in the NEC through its chaotic playing style.

Wagner Seahawks

Overall Record 2020-2113-7
League Record 2020-2113-5

Wagner opened last season 1-5 before ripping off a dozen wins out of its final 13 regular-season games.

The Seahawks return four double-digit scorers, including three super-seniors in Will Martinez, Alex Morales and Elijah Ford. The trio combined for an average of 47 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists per game.

Wagner is a big, physical group that ranked first in offensive efficiency in conference play. The Seahawks used their size to dominate the offensive glass, where they maintained possession on 35% of their misses.

Wagner was the No. 1 seed in the NEC Tournament but saw its season end at the hands of the eventual champs, Mount St. Mary’s.

That was a heartbreaking loss, but the Seahawks return a core group that is more than capable of extending their season to the Big Dance this year.

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The Contenders

Merrimack Warriors

Overall Record 2020-219-9
League Record 2020-219-9

The deck was stacked against Merrimack College last season. The Warriors had their non-conference schedule canceled due to COVID and didn't play their first game until January 7th.

The Warriors remain ineligible for postseason play this season since they are still in the Division I "transition period."

Merrimack will lean on its dominant defense once again this year.

The Warriors ranked second in the conference in defensive efficiency and first in steal percentage in 2020-21. Merrimack’s chaotic zone defense forced opponents to turn the ball over on 22% of its possessions.

Offensively, the unit will need to improve on its 336th-nationally ranked offensive efficiency stat.

The Warriors play with a chip on their shoulder on the defensive end of the court, and that makes them a tough matchup for any NEC opponent.

Long Island University Sharks

Overall Record 2020-219-9
League Record 2020-219-9

The Long Island Sharks were at a disadvantage last year, as they didn't start their season until conference play in mid-December.

They bring back one of the more experienced groups, as they start three super seniors and two redshirt juniors.

The frontcourt is loaded with talent in Ty Flowers and Eral Penn, who combined for 33 points and 19 rebounds per game. They bring in another force in Isaac Kante, who transferred in from Hofstra. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds last season.

The Sharks played at a frantic pace last year that ranked ninth in the nation in tempo. They were abysmal from behind the arc, as they shot 28.7% despite over 40% of their shot attempts coming from 3-point land.

If the Sharks can get some improvement from their outside shooting, they’re a serious threat to win this conference.

Sacred Heart Pioneers

Overall Record 2020-219-9
League Record 2020-219-7

Sacred Heart was projected to finish 10th in the preseason poll last season, but it had all the right pieces fall into place to help it advance to the NEC Tournament.

Sacred Heart finished third in the conference despite being ranked 348th nationally in defensive efficiency. The Pioneers were only ranked ahead of Central Connecticut in the conference in that category, according to KenPom’s overall rankings.

They were fortunate to avoid both matchups with Bryant due to COVID issues, and snuck into the conference tournament with a 9-7 conference record.

They have a dynamic duo in Tyler Thomas (19.1 PPG) and Aaron Clarke (13.3 PPG). The two accounted for 39% of the team's made field goals and 50% of their made three-point attempts.

Sacred Heart will need Alex Watson — who averaged 7.3 points per game — to step up this season to provide another scoring threat.

The defense will need to improve too if they want to build upon last year’s sneaky season.

Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers

Overall Record 2020-219-9
League Record 2020-219-7

Mount St. Mary’s moves forward without point guard Damian Chong Qui, who won the hearts of college basketball fans throughout the nation last year.

The Mountaineers won the NEC Tournament by knocking off the top two seeds in Wagner and Bryant through their grind-it-out style.

The Mount ranked 356th in the nation in tempo and 344th in average length of possession. It played at a snail’s pace and leaned on its defense and size to find its way to victories.

The Mountaineers return three seniors in the front court in Mezie Offurum, Nana Opoku and Malik Jefferson, all of which stand at 6-foot-8 or taller. The trio dominated the boards last year, averaging a combined 21 per contest. They also create mismatches through their size in the smaller NEC.

The Mount has a major issue in replacing the offensive production of Chong Qui. With the size and length returning, it is still poised to finish in the top tier of the conference. However, repeating as tournament champions will be a tall task.

St. Francis (PA) Red Flash

Overall Record 2020-219-9
League Record 2020-219-7

Fifth-year senior Ramiir Dixon-Conover is the leader of this team on both ends of the floor. The point guard led the team with 15.5 points to go along with 5.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game last season.

St. Francis (PA) also brings back the backcourt duo of Myles Thompson and Mark Flagg, who combined for 18 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.

The Red Flash ranked 295th in the nation in 3-point percentage (31%). Maxwell Land was the top shooter on the roster last season as he connected on 41% of his attempts from downtown. He should see his role expand in his sophomore campaign and will need to be more aggressive from outside.

There is no doubt the potential is there for the Red Flash — they did upset both Pittsburgh and Bryant last year. Improving upon a 6-16 campaign is a near certainty, but this team will go as far as Dixon-Conover can take them.

The Dead Money

All three of the teams at the bottom (Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis BKN and Central Connecticut State) will need to improve their defenses before they can be considered a contender in the conference. The three ranked outside the top-330 nationally in defensive efficiency.

Fairleigh Dickinson owns one of the youngest starting rosters in the conference and is still in search of production from the frontcourt.

St. Francis (BKN) lost its star playmaker to the transfer portal in Chauncey Hawkins.

Central Connecticut State is in full-blown rebuild mode after a 4-14 season. Anything close to .500 would be considered a success in Patrick Sellers' first season.

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