Northeast Conference Tournament Betting Preview: Do Bryant Or Wagner Hold Value as Favorites?
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Northeastern Conference logo on the floor at Knott Arena in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
The Northeast Conference Tournament begins on the morning of Saturday, March 6 and features the top four teams in the conference.
The NEC trimmed the number of teams eligible to participate in the tournament from eight to four before the season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The four teams who made the tournament this season — Bryant, Wagner, Mount St. Mary's and Sacred Heart — are the only NEC teams with an overall record better than .500.
The team with the highest seed will host each game, with Wagner having home court advantage throughout the tournament as the No. 1 seed. Bryant is a close No. 2 seed due to having its final two games of the year cancelled.
Only one team will get a ticket to The Big Dance from the Northeast Conference, and oddsmakers are banking on it being Wagner or Bryant unless Mount St. Mary’s or Sacred Heart can conjure some early March magic.
Note: All images in this article are via Getty Images.
The Two Favorites:
Bryant Bulldogs | Record: 14-5 (10-4, 2nd in NEC)
Bryant has enjoyed its best season since joining the NEC, sitting at 14-5 on the year and 10-4 in conference play. The Bulldogs had an opportunity to clinch the regular season title before their final two games against Mount St. Mary’s were cancelled due to a positive COVID-19 test.
That positive test placed Bryant's postseason in jeopardy, but the state’s Department of Health cleared the Bulldogs to continue play. The team's clearance to play notwithstanding, it still isn't certain precisely which — if any — players will be held out of Saturday's game due to standing contact tracing guidelines.
Coach Jared Grosso professed publicly that regardless of who is on the floor, the Bulldogs are “going to play very fast”. That has been the season-long identity of this Bryant team, which plays at the seventh-fastest tempo in the country.
The Bulldogs have converted 38.3% of their 3-point attempts and have held teams to just 27.9% shooting from deep; each of those metrics ranks first in the NEC during conference play.
All five starters are from New York, and all five average double-digit scoring per game. Bryant lost to Syracuse by 1, took down UMass and beat Wagner in both meetings this season.
There is no doubt that the Bulldogs are the most talented team in this conference, and it is their tournament to lose. But, given the uncertainty shrouding Bryant's available roster, it is tough to back the 'Dogs as an even-money favorite until we get a glimpse of who is available on Saturday.
Wagner Seahawks | Record: 13-6 (13-5, 1st in NEC)
Wagner opened the season 1-5 before winning 12 of its final 13 games to secure the No. 1 seed. It's led by a pair of senior guards in Alex Morales and Elijah Ford with nearly identical stats on the year.
Morales averages 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds, while Ford puts up 17.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. Thanks to that dynamic duo, the Seahawks own the most efficient offense in the NEC. They grab offensive rebounds on an astounding 35.1% of their misses and play at one of the slowest tempi in the conference.
Head coach Bashir Mason has been with the Seahawks for nine seasons. He has made it to the conference finals three times but has yet to get over the hump. He’s a hard-nosed coach who prides his coaching style on defense.
The Seahawks will be matching up with Mount St. Mary’s in the first round. In the first two games this season, Wagner held it to 39 and 55 points and completely shut it down offensively.
With the uncertainty of Bryant’s roster, now may be the time to jump in on Wagner at nearly +200.
It’s possible that the Bulldogs are playing in the NEC Tournament without some key players, and this is an opportunity to gather some value until we get a real look at who is on the floor.
The Two Longshots
I don’t see much value in either Mount St. Mary’s or Sacred Heart.
Sacred Heart was lucky to sneak into the tournament due to some tiebreaker rules and lacks the scoring needed to make any noise in the conference tournament. It won’t be able to keep up with Bryant’s fast pace and offensive firepower.
Mount St. Mary’s averaged 47 points in its two previous matchups against Wagner and doesn’t have the athleticism to take down the No. 1 seed.