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Can FDU Return to the Dance? Previewing ‘20-’21 NEC Basketball

The Equinox Sports’ Pre-Season NEC Men’s Rankings 

  1. Fairleigh Dickinson 

  2. Mount St. Mary’s

  3. LIU 

  4. Bryant

  5. St. Francis Brooklyn

  6. Saint Francis University   

  7. Merrimack

  8. Wagner

  9. Sacred Heart 

10. Central Connecticut 

First team ALL-NEC 

FDU senior guard Jahlil Jenkins

FDU senior forward Elyjah Williams, 

Mount Saint Mary’s junior guard Damian Chong Qui

Bryant sophomore guard Michael Green II 

LIU redshirt senior forward Ty Flowers 

By Anthony Covino and Jennifer Malti

Sports Editor and Assistant Sports Editor

The FDU men go into this afternoon’s 4 p.m. season opener at Quinnipiac as the consensus No. 1 pick in the NEC, including the inaugural Equinox rankings.

Keep up to date with both opening games today with our live blog here on our website and on Twitter

As the NCAA season tips off this week, the NEC will have its first non-conference games of the season for men and women after overcoming COVID-19 obstacles. This will be the first sport the NEC will be able to fully resume as fall sports are postponed for the foreseeable future. 

This season, the NEC will be introducing a new round-robin conference play format where each team will be playing each other consecutively for two days and then travel or host the next opponent with the same format. The big change will occur in the NEC Tournament where only four teams will advance to the tournament, instead of the original eight teams. The tourney will be held at the highest seeds.

The FDU Women, the 3rd ranked team in the Equinox rankings, start off the season tonight at Manhattan with a 6 p.m. tipoff. Head coach Angelika Szumilo is entering her second year at the helm.  

The Equinox previews the men’s and women’s teams in the NEC this year, what to expect from them, returning players, predictions, and much more. 

Men’s Basketball 

No. 1 — Fairleigh Dickinson University  — The Knights are the favorites this season after being ranked first in the preseason coaches’ poll. Last season, the Knights had a record of 11-19. Preseason All NEC guard Jahlil Jenkins (6-0) returns after averaging 16 points per game returns for his final season alongside Preseason All NEC forward Elyjah Williams (6-7) returns after averaging 11.8 points per game with the goal of leading the team back to the NEC Championship it won in 2019. Head coach Greg Herenda ia in his seventh year.

“The most important thing this year is obviously the health and safety of our players and how we navigate that. To be playing college basketball will be a blessing for sure, and I know our players and staff are appreciating that opportunity. Our goal, as always, is to win another NEC title and 

advance to the NCAA tournament. But this year, our ability to stay focused on our health and safety is our highest priority,” Herenda told The Equinox.

“I am really excited because we have really good people and they can play. With COVID, it’s been a process. But, how that translates into winning games and championships, there’s a lot of things that need to happen and we’re excited to play.  (Jenkins) is so big and he is the heart and soul of our team but, he needs to get better,” Herenda added.  – JM  

No. 2 — Mount Saint Mary’s — The Mountaineers are coming off a disappointing 2020 season, finishing 11-21 overall and sixth in the conference. Rising star guard Damian Chong-Qui returns for his third year after averaging 12.2 points last season. Senior guard Jalen Gibbs (11.2 PPG) also returns with redshirt junior forward Nana Opoku (9.3 PPG) and junior forward Malik Jefferson (9.7 PPG). 

“Well it starts with the guys returning and we have a really strong court now,” head coach Dan Englestad said. 

“We have guys that love to be in the gym and love to see the film and we’re having fun building this player-driven program but, we’re excited about our crew this year,” Englestad added.  -AC

No. 3 — Long Island University — The Sharks are coming off of a 15-18 season where they lost to Robert Morris in the semifinal of the NEC Tournament. Preseason all NEC redshirt senior Ty Flowers (14.3 PPG) returns for his final season in a Sharks uniform alongside rising star junior guard Jermaine Jackson Jr. (11.6 PPG). The Sharks will be without Raiquan Clark and Julian Batts, who finished their careers last year. 

“We’ve got a really good group of guys coming back,” head coach Derek Kellogg said.  – JM 

No. 4 — Bryant — The Bulldogs finished seventh last season with a record of 15-17 and have lost their best player, Adam Grant, who was second-team All NEC. Guard Michael Green III returns for his sophomore season after averaging 9.3 PPG. Charles Pride also is entering his second season at Bryant and will provide valuable minutes for the Bulldogs. Melo Eggleston is a key transfer from Arkansas State after averaging 8.4 PPG last year. 

“We’re still trying to find ourselves. It has been fun so far, I like our guys and we got a group of veterans but it’s still early,” head coach Jared Grasso said.  -AC

No. 5 — Saint Francis Brooklyn — The Terriers came off of an eighth-place finish last year with a 13-18 record overall. Chauncey Hawkins returns for his final year after averaging 15.1 PPG last season. Graduate student guard Unique McLean returns after averaging 11.4 PPG and sophomore guard Rob Higgins also returns after averaging 11.1 PPG.  These three will hope to lead this Terriers team back into contention this year. 

We have a lot of guys back on the perimeter but, we also have had to replace a lot of guys,” head coach Glenn Braica said. 

-AC

No. 6 — Saint Francis University The Redflash finished last season 22-10 but lost to No. 1-seeded Robert Morris in the championship of the NEC Tournament. The Redflash lost two of their best players in recent years as guard Keith Braxton and guard Isaiah Blackmon completed their careers last year. However, senior forward Mark Flagg (6.7 PPG)  will look to lead the team back to the NEC title.  

“I think the first thing is just playing a game.  With so much uncertainty around the start of the season, the thing our guys look forward to each day is practice. It is certainly something that you can’t take for granted but the first thing is to be able to play that game. In years past, you knew when your first game was, on a certain date, against a certain opponent, and you could prepare for that opponent well in advance. With so many changes and things, you’re moving parts with the schedule and just be anxious to play that first game, whenever that is and whenever they tell us we can,” head coach Rob Krimmel said.  – JM 

No. 7 — Merrimack — The Warriors are coming off a first-place regular-season finish last year after going 20-11 with a 14-4 record in the NEC in their first season in the conference. Unfortunately, they have to sit out playoffs  until 2023-2024 after reclassifying to Division 1 from Division 2. Merrimack lost star player Juvaris Hayes, but junior Mikey Watkins averaged 7.5 PPG and sophomore Devin Jensen averaged 7.5 PPG both return for the Warriors.

“Things are great, times are different but we’re transitioning into different phases on how much we can do each week,” head coach Joe Gallo said.  -AC

No. 8 — Wagner —The Seahawks are coming off a season to forget after finishing ninth in the conference and going 9-21 last year. Redshirt senior Alex Morales returns after averaging 13.6 PPG last season and senior Nigel Jackson returns after averaging 9.5, but was limited last season due to injury. Morales and Jackson will lead this team, hoping to get back into the NEC tournament. 

“It’s getting back to the top of the league and playing to win,” said head coach Bashir Mason.  -AC

No. 9 Sacred Heart — Sacred Heart finished last season 20-13. The Pioneers are also coming off of one of the worst offseasons in recent years. Star forward E. J. Anosike transferred to the University of Tennessee and guard Koreem Ozier graduated. The Pioneers are ranked last in the preseason poll this year but guard Aaron Clarke is a bright light, returning for his junior season after averaging 11.3 points. 

“We have just stressed the importance of staying as focused, ready and flexible as possible.  We know that this season will be like no other that we have even been part of so we need to embrace the uncertainty and find a way to thrive anyway. I think this team is similar to the team we had a couple years ago. We have a couple good players here, that excites us,” head coach Anthony Latina said. – JM 

No. 10 — Central Connecticut State University — The Blue Devils are coming off of a last-place finish in the conference, going 4-27 last year. Sophomore guard Myles Bakerhad an impressive freshman season where he averaged 8.6 points per game. Junior guard Ian Krishnan returns for his junior season after averaging 12.5 points per game last season and is looking to lead his team back to the NEC Tournament. – JM 

Women’s Basketball 

Equinox NEC Women’s Rankings

 1. Mount St. Mary’s 

 2. Sacred Heart

 3. Fairleigh Dickinson

 4. Saint Francis University

 5. LIU

 6. Wagner

 7. St. Francis Brooklyn

 8. Merrimack

 9. Bryant 

10. Central Connecticut  

First Team All-NEC: 

Sacred Heart senior guard Adrianne Hagood

LIU senior forward Brandy Thomas

FDU junior guard Rachael Niles

FDU junior guard Lindsey Mack

Mount Saint Mary’s junior guard Michaela Harrison 

No. 1– Mount Saint Mary’s — The Mountaineers finished 20-11 and were ranked first in the NEC preseason coaches poll for this year. Preseason All-NEC guard Michaela Harrison returns after averaging 12.6 points per game. 

“We have so many players on this team that can put the ball in the hole and from three as well,” head coach Maria Marchesano said. “We have to stay ready this season. All 13 of us need to stay ready for this season with COVID,” she added.  -JM

No. 2 — Sacred Heart University — The Pioneers are coming off of a fourth-place finish last year, going 13-17. Senior Adrianne Hagood returns after averaging 15.6 points per game last season. Fifth-year player Nikki Johnson returns after averaging 11.2 points and senior Jayla Davis return as well after averaging 10.5 points , respectively, last season.

“These ladies want a ring. That hungry piece is going to be a driving force this year,” head coach Jessica Mannetti said. “Our goal is to be top 4 in the conference every year. Our goal is to be the best in the conference and get a ring. We have to position ourselves to be in the best place to win the ring,” she added.  -AC

No. 3– Fairleigh Dickinson University — The Knights are coming off their best season in recent years, going 13-17 with a third-place finish in the league. Forward Madison Stanley returns for her last year after averaging 10.7 points per game with Most Improved Player Rachel Niles returning for her third season as well after averaging 8.7 points per game and junior guard Lindsey Mack returns after averaging 6.5 points per game. 

“Everything was new last year. We have five new freshmen with our returning players to implement everything. It takes a long time to build a culture of success,” second-year head coach Angelika Szumilo said. 

“Be aggressive, defense will tell you what to do. The importance of the three-point shot is that everyone can shoot the three on our team. Continue to put emphasis on being aggressive,” Szumilo added. -AC

No. 4 — Saint Francis University — The Red Flash are coming off an 11-19 finish with a fifth-place showing in the conference last year. Senior Karson Swogger returns after averaging 11.5 points per game last year and senior Haley Thomas looks to improve on her 10.5 points per game average.

“In order for us to really be successful, we needed the team and staff chemistry to be better this year,” head coach Keila Whittington said. “I feel they are ready to do big things this year,” she added. 

-AC

No. 5 — Long Island University — The Sharks are coming off a seventh-place finish last season, going 8-22. Brandy Thomas is back for her senior season after averaging 14.6 points per game. Junior Kiara Bell, averaging 10.1 points per game, and junior Ryan Weise, averaging 8.5 points per game, are other top returners.

“Brandy Thomas brings that fire on and off the court. We have leaders on and off the court. We have leaders on the court who lead defensively. We have leaders all over the court,” head coach Rene Haynes said.  -AC

No. 6 — Wagner — The Seahawks are coming off a down season where they finished 10-20 overall. Preseason All-NEC junior forward Emilija Krista Grava who averaged 15.7 points per game  will look to lead this team back to the top of the NEC this year. 

“There are times where we reflect back in the past and we continue to say where we need to be better and communicate it amongst the team,” head coach Heather Jacobs said. -JM

No. 7 — Saint Francis Brooklyn — The Terriers finished with a record of 8-21 last season. Preseason All-NEC sophomore guard Nevena Dimitrijevic after averaging 14.2 points per game will hope to lead the team back to the NEC tournament after having a down season last year. 

“I’m just glad we are having a season. I am looking forward to the young ladies just getting back on the court and playing basketball. I think this season will be unlike any other, like no expectations. The only thing as coaches we want is for our players to stay healthy and safe. So obviously, the players are working hard and they’re competing, but most importantly, this is such an unordinary year. So, I think it’s going to be that our kids have to be strategic, really take care of their bodies, and have a little bit of luck on their side. We hope to play better defensively this year. We have some speed and quickness in our backcourt this year and mixing in more zone defense this year. We’re working on the small details on defense,”  head coach Linda Cimino said.  -JM

No. 8 — Merrimack — The Warriors finished last season with a record of 20-9 in the NEC. Junior guard Kate Mager averaged 11.4 points per game. Returning senior forward Alyssa Casey averaged 9.9 and sophomore guard Jayme Decesare averaged 9.2. 

“I think, like everyone, I am looking forward to safely competing.  All of the players have worked extremely hard to follow protocol in order to have a season.  They’ve been waiting a long time to get back to doing what they love, and I’ll be excited to be on the sideline watching teams battle it out. We have done some fun team activities and their health and well-being is important to us and counting our blessings that we have a season,” head coach Kelly Marrone said. -JM

No. 9 — Bryant — The Bulldogs finished last season with a record of 10-20 overall. Senior center Brooke Bjelko returns for her final season in a Bulldogs uniform after averaging 9.8 points per game, hoping to turn this team around this year. 

“I’ve been really happy with our incoming class, they have been prepared with their mentality. I’m excited with their energy and what they bring,” head coach Mary Burke said.  

-JM

No. 10 — Central Connecticut State University — The Blue Devils are coming off a season to forget, finishing last in the standings after going 4-25. Senior Ashley Berube averaged 12.1 points per game and senior Emma McCamus averaged 10.8 points per game  and will look to lead this team back into contention in the NEC.

“We picked up the tempo in practice. We do a lot of things at a high pace and prepare for this high tempo. We need to score more,” Interim head coach Kerri Reaves said.  -AC

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Is March Madness a possibility for FDU again? Art from ACU Sports.

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