Because the NCAA is stupid and full of archaic and unnecessary rules, the Merrimack Warriors are ineliglble for the postseason as they transition from Division II to Division I. That policy created a battle for the #1 seed in the Northeast Conference between Robert Morris and St. Francis (PA) on the last Saturday of the regular season. Bobby Mo won and the Colonials are the #1 seed for the Northeast Conference Tournament that begins on Wednesday March 4.
Even though Merrimack was the best story of the NEC regular season, the Warriors weren’t thought to be the best team in the league per the analytics websites for college basketball like KenPom and Bart Torvik. That distinction goes to the #2 seed Red Flash. That means that we have a pretty wide-open conference tournament here.
Home games will be on campus sites, so the Robert Morris/St. Francis (PA) outcome could end up being a really big deal. It is amazing how much Merrimack altered this conference tournament, both by being ineligible and by losing one of its two games against Robert Morris.
Here are the teams, standings, seeds, and odds from Circa Sports for the Northeast Conference Tournament:
- Robert Morris 17-14 (13-5) (H2H v. Merrimack) +190
- St. Francis (PA) 20-9 (13-5) +165
- Sacred Heart 19-12 (12-6) +375
- LIU 14-17 (9-9) (H2H v. FDU) +3400
- Fairleigh Dickinson 11-18 (9-9) +2500
- Mount St. Mary’s 11-20 (7-11) (H2H v. Bryant, St. Francis BKN) +5000
- Bryant 15-16 (7-11) (H2H v. MSM, SF BKN) +1500
- St. Francis (BKN) 13-17 (7-11) (H2H vs. MSM, Bryant) +20000
Wagner and Central Connecticut State fell short of qualifying for the tournament, so we get eight of the 10 teams in this league in the conference tournament. Robert Morris will have the benefit of staying in Pittsburgh for the duration of the tournament, but this looks to be a three-team race. RMU is also lucky to avoid SFPA and Sacred Heart until the championship game. Those two teams could take a lot out of each other in a semifinal matchup.
By virtue of drawing that top seed, home court advantage, and an easier path to the title game on Tuesday March 10, Robert Morris is the favorite, but it would be far from shocking to see some upsets along the way in this conference.
Here is the schedule for the NEC Tournament:
(all games at higher seed)
Wednesday March 4
7 p.m. ET: 8 St. Francis (BKN) at 1 Robert Morris
7 p.m. ET: 5 Fairleigh Dickinson at 4 LIU
7 p.m. ET: 6 Mount St. Mary’s at 3 Sacred Heart
7 p.m. ET: 7 Bryant at 2 St. Francis (PA)
Saturday March 7
12 p.m. ET: 8/1 winner vs. 5/4 winner
2 p.m. ET: 6/3 winner vs. 7/2 winner
Tuesday March 10
7 p.m. ET: Lowest remaining seed vs. Highest remaining seed
Robert Morris lost one of its three games during the regular season to St. Francis BKN by 21 points, so we don’t really want to take anything for granted as far as this league goes. In fact, Robert Morris is a fairly weak #1 seed, despite the nice record. The Colonials ranked third in the NEC in adjusted offensive efficiency during the conference play portion of the regular season and second in adjusted defensive efficiency. Merrimack’s hard-to-crack zone was #1.
St. Francis (PA) had the best offense in the league, with Fairleigh Dickinson second. The Knights made a high percentage of their shots from both 2 and 3 and could be a really dangerous semifinal matchup for Robert Morris if they can beat LIU. LIU won both head-to-head meetings during the regular season, but looks like a weak #4 seed. FDU did lose both games to Robert Morris, but only by one and by five.
LIU is something of a high-variance team here because the Sharks shoot a ton of threes. In a conference tournament format, that can be a blessing and a curse because a great shooting night allows you to beat anybody and a bad shooting night allows anybody to beat you.
While there is a favorite, a second favorite, and a third favorite, and so on in this conference, it actually looks fairly wide open. Sacred Heart is the best rebounding team in the conference and ranked tops in 2P% defense during the conference portion of the season. If the Pioneers had Cameron Parker, they would be really dangerous here, but he had season-ending foot surgery. They’ve been dangerous enough with EJ Anosike leading the show. They did lose all four games to St. Francis (PA) and Robert Morris and also both games to Merrimack to produce their six conference losses.
Like Bobby Mo, SFPA lost one of its two meetings to its first-round opponent with a four-point loss at Bryant. This just isn’t a conference tournament with a clear path to victory.
Taking all of that into consideration, a money line rollover on a team like Fairleigh Dickinson makes some sense as a gamble. They lost twice to LIU and are on the road, so they’ll be an underdog in that game of around +5, which is about +190 or so. Start with $100 to win $190. Roll $290 to win X into the semifinal game against Robert Morris, which will likely be in the +9 or so range and +350 or +375. Then the Knights would be a dog, likely against SF PA in the +10 range, so +400 or higher. That gives us FDU around +4000 with a money line rollover. $100 to win $190, $290 to win roughly $1050, and then $1050 to win $4200. That is using some rough math to make it easy, but you should get a money line rollover price in that range. If you get FDU through and they play my pick for the winner, you’re freerolling the title game.
As you can see, something in the +4000 range is a lot better than the +2500 price being offered at Circa.
As far as a pick to win the conference, Robert Morris is at home, but St. Francis (PA) is the best team in this league and could end up drawing an easier semifinal game given that Sacred Heart has beaten up on the bottom of this league and lost to the top teams.
Pick: St. Francis (PA) +165 or ML rollover with Fairleigh Dickinson