You Gotta See This: NEC

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
9:15
AM ET
Andrew Toole Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesAndrew Toole has built a winner at Robert Morris but is still looking for a tournament run.

It's college basketball preview season, and you know what that means: tons of preseason info to get you primed for 2013-14. But what do you really need to know? Each day for the next month, we'll highlight the most important, interesting or just plain amusing thing each conference has to offer this season -- from great teams to thrilling players to wild fans and anything in between. Up next: Robert Morris's least-favorite weekend.

The bad vibes began in 2010-11. The funny part is Robert Morris was still gestating. Mostly freshmen and sophomores, the Colonials went 18-14 that season thanks to a tough schedule and a rough start, but by the time the NEC tournament came around -- by the time the first weekend in March hit the calendar -- they were ready. Robert Morris' loss to LIU Brooklyn in that 2010-11 NEC tournament was a heartbreaker; the Blackbirds, who went 16-2 in league play that season, edged the Colonials 86-83 in overtime. Bummer, sure, but the future was bright. All those young players would be around for years.

Two seasons later, the Colonials are still waiting for their turn.

Robert Morris improved by leaps and bounds the next season, 2011-12, finishing 26-11 overall and 13-5 in league play. But LIU Brooklyn won the league again (with 16 wins, again) and again held off the Colonials in the NEC final (this time 90-73). Last season, Andrew Toole's team broke through and won the regular-season conference crown, but it was held out of the tournament by a Saturday NEC tourney loss to Mount St. Mary's. Instead, LIU Brooklyn, all of 12-6 in the NEC regular season, attended for the third consecutive season.

Now, finally, Robert Morris' long-deserved payoff looks imminent. Russell Johnson was the lone contributor the Colonials graduated this spring; everyone else, including five rising seniors, are back for one last crack. Even better, LIU Brooklyn lost a host of four-year players, the core of its recent run of success.

The problem? For an NEC team to make the NCAA tournament, it has to win the automatic bid. There is no other way. And so Robert Morris can be just as good in 2013-14 as it was in 2012-13, and can carry a No. 1 seed into that competition, and if it doesn’t win three games in a row, none of it matters.

There's a long season ahead. But as the Colonials know better than anyone, one weekend means more than the rest combined.


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