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1. Mount St. Mary's (9)
2008-09 Men's Basketball
Preseason Coaches Poll
2. Sacred Heart
3. Robert Morris (1)
Fairleigh Dickinson (1)
6. Long Island
10. St. Francis (NY)
11. Saint Francis (PA)
First place votes in parentheses
Somerset, NJ -- Following a magical March run that resulted in its third NEC championship, Mount St. Mary's has been tabbed as the 2008-09 NEC men's basketball preseason favorite, according to a vote of the league's head coaches. The preseason rankings, along with the league's preseason all-conference team, were announced during a media teleconference with coaches this afternoon as a prelude to the NEC's 28th season.
Mount St. Mary's received nine first place votes from NEC head coaches, who were not permitted to vote for their own team. Sacred Heart, the NEC runner-up in each of the past two years, was chosen second. Defending regular season champion Robert Morris was picked third with one first place vote. Fairleigh Dickinson, which also claimed one first place nod, tied with Central Connecticut State for fourth in the poll. Long Island landed in seventh place, followed by Quinnipiac in seventh, Wagner in eighth, Monmouth in ninth, St. Francis (NY) in tenth and Saint Francis (PA) in eleventh.
This year marks the third time that Mount St. Mary's has been selected the NEC's preseason favorite by head coaches. The Mount was picked first in 1998-99 and went on to capture its second league crown with a 72-56 win over Central Connecticut State. The Mountaineers were tapped as the NEC favorite the following year, but bowed to Robert Morris in the 2000 tournament semifinals. Since that time, Mount St. Mary's had not been picked higher than fourth in the poll (2007-08).
With only one key player lost to graduation - long distance shooting threat Chris Vann - the Mount will attempt to become the first team since Rider in 1993 and 1994 to repeat as NEC champions.
Following the program's first NEC championship since 1999, the best may be yet to come for Mount St. Mary's. After a 6-6 start against conference opposition, the installation of an up-tempo attack to go along with a suffocating defense proved to be the catalyst for the Mount, which won five of its last six league outings to enter the postseason with momentum, then completed a Cinderella run as the #4 seed with double digit wins over Quinnipiac, regular season champion Robert Morris and Sacred Heart, the latter two coming on the road. With fifth year head coach Milan Brown pushing all the right buttons, Mount St. Mary's capped its year with the first NCAA win in school history, a 69-60 triumph over Coppin State, before entering the national spotlight with a matchup at top-ranked North Carolina. Brown brings back enough proven firepower to make a repeat trip to the big dance a realistic goal in 2008-09.
The Mountaineers are led by junior point guard Jeremy Goode (Charlotte, NC/Providence Day), a preseason Honorable Mention Mid-Major All-American. One of the quickest NEC players in recent years, Goode contributed 14.5 ppg, 5.5 apg and 2.0 spg last season. Despite the departure of Vann - his backcourt partner and three-point ace - Goode will still be able to spread the wealth with the return of 6'4" junior wing player and long distance marksman Will Holland (Holland, TX/Lamar), 6'3" sophomore guard Jean Cajou (Fairfax, VA/Paul VI) and 6'5" junior forward Kelly Beidler (Virginia Beach, VA/Tallwood), the latter two providing a key spark off the bench during the team's tourney run. Cajou was named NEC Tournament Most Valuable Player after averaging 16.0 ppg and 3.7 rpg in the three games, while Beidler scored 15 points in each NEC Tournament game. With nine players measuring 6'5" or taller, the Mount may sport the biggest and deepest frontcourt in the conference, led by 6'7" seniors Sam Atupem (Newport News, VA/Woodside) and Marcus Mitchell (Virginia Beach, VA/Salem). The third member of the Mount's elite bench core last season was 6'7" Shawn Atupem (Newport News, VA/Woodside), a wiry version of older brother Sam, who displayed a great deal of potential as a freshman last season.
Conducted annually, NEC coaches have failed to correctly forecast the eventual league champion since selecting Mount St. Mary's to win it all in 1998-99, and have proven inaccurate in 19 of the last 21 years. After its 1999 tourney win, Mount St. Mary's was the choice to repeat the following season, but Central Connecticut State, tabbed third, captured the championship. CCSU was then installed as the favorite in 2000-01, but the title went to Monmouth, picked sixth in the preseason. Monmouth received the nod in 2001-02, but it was CCSU, predicted fourth, which went on to win its second title in three years. In 2002-03, NEC coaches continued their trend of selecting the previous year's champion as preseason favorite when they went with CCSU, only to have Wagner earn its first-ever NEC Tournament crown. Three years ago, it was Quinnipiac that was placed on the preseason perch, but the Bobcats struggled all season and finished in 10th place. Monmouth garnered its third league crown that year after being selected third in the preseason. In 2004-05, the Hawks were the logical choice to repeat, and even won the conference regular season title, but were eliminated in the NEC semifinals as Fairleigh Dickinson went on to claim the championship. Fairleigh Dickinson was then installed as the 2005-06 favorite, but dropped a one-point decision to Monmouth in the title contest. Monmouth was picked first in 2006-07, but became the first defending NEC champion to fail to qualify for the tournament the following year. It was Sacred Heart's turn in 2007-08, and the Pioneers made it all the way to the title game for the second straight season, but came up short in the setback to Mount St. Mary's.
The preseason all-NEC team is comprised of four guards and one forward: Fairleigh Dickinson junior guard Sean Baptiste (North Brunswick, NJ/St. Joseph's of Metuchen), Robert Morris senior guard Jeremy Chappell (Cincinnati, OH/Northwest), Mount St. Mary's junior guard Jeremy Goode (Charlotte, NC/Providence Day), Long Island junior guard Jaytornah Wisseh (Brooklyn, NY/Banneker Academy) and Sacred Heart forward Joey Henley (Kent, WA/Kentride), who is a graduate student. Chappell and Wisseh were second team all-NEC picks a year ago, while Henley was a second team all-star back in 2004-05.
Baptiste was one of the NEC's biggest surprises last season. After quietly averaging 4.6 ppg as a freshman in 2006-07, he became FDU's most reliable player as a sophomore. The North Brunswick, NJ product finished third in the NEC with 18.5 ppg and at 6'3", ranked eighth in rebounding with 6.3 per outing. A punishing, physical player who is at his best taking the ball to the hoop, Baptiste also has the skills to pull up from mid-range and hit regularly from downtown (31 three-pointers). The gritty performer missed just three games after suffering a fractured jaw in late January, and ended the year with a 14.2 ppg scoring improvement, the biggest bump of any player in the conference and second in the nation.
A former NEC Rookie of the Year and second team all-NEC selection last season, Chappell is one of the most physically gifted players in the conference. He led NEC regular season champion Robert Morris and ranked eighth in the NEC in scoring in 2007-08 at 14.9 ppg. With 1,290 points and 460 boards, he is the league's leading active scorer and rebounder, as well as one of the top long range threats, having hit 159 three-pointers over the course of his career, including 62 last season. If Chappell, who hails from Cincinnati, OH, exceeds his point total (478) from 2007-08, he will reach the top-10 on the NEC career scoring chart. He can also get after it defensively, as his 80 swipes were the second-best mark in the conference a year ago.
A 5'9" blur with the ball, Goode was handed the keys to an up-and-coming team as a freshman, then matured into his role last season as the team's undisputed floor leader. With an improving jump shot and a proven ability to control the tempo of the game on both ends of the floor, the Charlotte, NC product put up some dazzling numbers, averaging a team-high 14.5 ppg, to go along with 5.5 apg (third in the NEC), 2.0 spg (fourth) and a league-leading 178 made free throws. With 337 assists after two seasons, Goode leads all active NEC players in the category and has already cracked the league's top-50 in career helpers. If he maintains the pace he has set over his first two years, Goode could end his career as the second-leading distributor in conference history.
A high-octane talent, Wisseh's quickness and athleticism allow him to slice to the basket for easy buckets, but it was the 6'1" point guard's ability to find his LIU teammates both in the open floor and in half-court sets that sets him apart. An improved perimeter shot helped boost his scoring average from 8.7 ppg as a freshman to a team-high 15.8 ppg last season, and he ranked sixth in the conference in both point production and assists (5.1 per game). He also ranked second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.58:1), seventh in free throw percentage (.798) and eighth in steals (1.6). Wisseh, who attended high school less than one mile from LIU Brooklyn campus, seemed to get stronger as the season wore on, averaging 19.9 points over the last 14 games.
Sacred Heart returns an essential weapon in Henley, a graduate student who will suit up for the first time since 2006-07. Henley's odyssey at Sacred Heart began back in back in 2003-04 as a multi-sport athlete, but after missing two years of basketball over the course of his career due to sustaining football injuries and successfully petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year, the cagey veteran is back healthy for his final season. A second team all-NEC pick in 2004-05 and a vital cog in the Pioneers' run to the NEC championship game in 2006-07, the Kent, WA native brings leadership, athleticism and tenaciousness on both ends of the floor to the Pioneer lineup. Two years ago, Henley averaged 11.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg and hit 56.8 percent of his shots from the field, including a 22-point effort against CCSU in the title tilt. His return will help mitigate the loss of Brice Brooks, who evolved into a true low post threat last season and led the Pioneers in scoring with 12.8 ppg. Henley has accumulated 911 points and 438 rebounds in his three seasons of play.
Now in its 28th season, the Northeast Conference is an NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association consisting of 11 institutions of higher learning located throughout five states. Media coverage of the NEC extends to four of the largest markets in the United States - New York (#1), Pittsburgh (#22), Baltimore (#24), and Hartford/New Haven (#28). Founded in 1981 as the basketball-only ECAC Metro Conference, the NEC has grown to sponsor 22 championship sports for men and women and now enjoys automatic or play-in access to 13 different NCAA Championships. NEC member institutions include Central Connecticut State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Long Island, Monmouth, Mount St. Mary's, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, St. Francis (NY), Saint Francis (PA) and Wagner. Bryant will become the NEC's 12th member upon completion of the NCAA Division I reclassification process in 2012. For more information on the NEC, visit www.northeastconference.org.
2008-09 Northeast Conference Preseason All-Conference Team
Name School Pos. Ht. Wt. Cl. Hometown/High School
Sean Baptiste FDU G 6-3 185 Jr North Brunswick, NJ/St. Joseph's of Metuchen
Jeremy Chappell Robert Morris G 6-3 210 Sr Cincinnati, OH/Northwest
Jeremy Goode Mount St. Mary's G 5-9 170 Jr Charlotte, NC/Providence Day
Joey Henley Sacred Heart F 6-5 210 Gr Kent, WA/Kentride
Jaytornah Wisseh Long Island G 6-1 180 Jr Brooklyn, NY/Banneker Academy
NEC Preseason Coaches Poll History (last 21 years)
Year Preseason Favorite NEC Tournament Champion
(actual regular season finish) (preseason selection)
2007-08 Sacred Heart (3rd) Mount St. Mary's (4th)
2006-07 Monmouth (tie 8th) Central Connecticut State (tie 4th)
2005-06 Fairleigh Dickinson (1st) Monmouth (2nd)
2004-05 Monmouth (1st) Fairleigh Dickinson (2nd)
2003-04 Quinnipiac (10th) Monmouth (3rd)
2002-03 CCSU (3rd) Wagner (2nd)
2001-02 Monmouth (4th) CCSU (4th)
2000-01 CCSU(tie 5th) CCSU (3rd)
1999-00 Mount St. Mary's (tie 7th) Central Connecticut State (3rd)
1998-99 Mount St. Mary's (tie 5th) Mount St. Mary's (1st)
1997-98 Long Island (1st) Fairleigh Dickinson (2nd)
1996-97 Monmouth (3rd) Long Island (4th)
1995-96 Monmouth/Rider (tie 2nd/4th) Monmouth (tie 1st)
1994-95 Rider (1st) Mount St. Mary's (3rd)
1993-94 Fairleigh Dickinson (tie 5th) Rider (3rd)
1992-93 Wagner (2nd) Rider (3rd)
1991-92 Monmouth (tie 2nd) Robert Morris (2nd)
1990-91 Monmouth (4th) St. Francis (PA) (3rd)
1989-90 Fairleigh Dickinson (6th) Robert Morris (3rd)
1988-89 Monmouth (3rd) Robert Morris (5th)
1987-88 *Marist (tie 1st) Fairleigh Dickinson (2nd)
* Marist was ineligible for the NEC Tournament in 1987-88