Robert Morris is 14-2 in the Northeast Conference and has the league's best defense. (Fred Vuich/SI)
March 6, 9, 12 Campus sites | Bracket
The Northeast Conference tournament is annually one of the more entertaining small-conference events as there usually is a very solid team or two along with several others who are good enough to threaten to crash the dance. That's the case again this season, where Robert Morris found its form and surged to the league's regular-season crown, but Wagner, LIU-Brooklyn and Bryant are all very capable. If that's the semifinal round quartet, we're going to have two days of excellent small-conference hoops. Ken Pomeroy projects that no team even has greater than an 80 percent chance of making the semifinals, so this could be wild from the outset.
Key Matchup: No. 4 Bryant at No. 1 Robert Morris (possible semifinal)
The teams split their regular-season series and Bryant, one of the biggest surprises in Division I this season, led the league for a good part of the season. This is a good team by general 4-seed standards. Since the higher seed hosts the final, this could be a huge break for the Wagner-LIU side of the bracket if there is a semifinal upset (or one in the quarters involving Robert Morris).
Team to Watch: Wagner
Somewhere around the end of January, the Seahawks decided to change from a brutal offensive team that locked down opponents and won rockfights to a high-tempo, free-scoring team that wins shootouts. It's one of the stranger in-season transitions you'll see, but Wagner is a handful of possessions away from being on a 12-game winning streak and their offense has dropped a lot of big numbers on teams down the stretch. They lost at Robert Morris by four in the only meeting.
Hottest Storyline: Bryant's miraculous turnaround
When Tim O'Shea left Ohio University to come home and take a long-term deal to shepherd Bryant through its transition to Division I, it screamed of "personal choice." Now, in their first season of postseason eligibility, it is 17 (yes, 17) wins better than last year's two-win team and have a legitimate chance to go to the dance. It's a cool story that will get a lot of national run should the Bulldogs make the ESPN-televised league final.
The Pick: Robert Morris
are 14-2 since an 0-2 league start and feature the league's best defense during conference play. Add in homecourt advantage and head coach Andy Toole being a former Penn Quaker, and that's good enough for me. None of the top four winning the bid would be a huge surprise, though.