The Northeast Conference released the 2010-11 Preseason Coaches Poll via media teleconference on Wednesday with the Sacred Heart Pioneers tabbed to finish ninth in a vote take by the league's head coaches.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats where the unanimous top-pick in this year's poll garnering 11 first place votes. Two-time defending NEC Tournament champion Robert Morris was picked second followed by Long Island in third, who received the other first place vote. Central Connecticut State was slated fourth ahead of Mount St. Mary's in fifth and Fairleigh Dickinson in sixth. St. Francis (NY) and Saint Francis (PA) shared the seventh spot followed by the Pioneers in ninth. Rounding out this year's poll was Monmouth in 10th, Wagner 11th and Bryant 12th. Coaches are not permitted to vote for their own team.
"We want to concentrate on being a good defensive team and that has been our goal and our team has worked hard this preseason towards accomplishing that," stated head coach Dave Bike. "I think we are playing harder and with the defensive mentality that we need to make the other team earn it.
"We have a chance to have a very rewarding season," commented Bike. " We have figured out what we have to get better at and are working at it. This year will we will be more of a blue collar team. I am really excited about our potential this season."
Northeast Conference Outlook
The 2010-11 season could be one of transition for a Sacred Heart program that has enjoyed its greatest stretch of Division I success over the last half decade. With the departure of its high-scoring trio - Corey Hassan, Chauncy Hardy and Ryan Litke combined for over 3,500 career points - the Pioneers' freewheeling, gunslinging, perimeter-oriented attack has undergone a makeover with a younger cast of characters set to suit up this fall. Longtime head coach Dave Bike, who enters his 33rd season just five wins short of his 500th career victory, has assembled a roster loaded with six newcomers and eight underclassmen, many of whom will be asked to fill holes in the rotation, including that of 7'0" center Liam Potter, who will be missed after a breakout senior year in the post. Despite the turnover, expect the Pioneers to feature a guard-driven attack again this coming year with senior Jerrell Thompson serving as floor general and sophomore Shane Gibson providing a scoring boost after sitting out the 2009-10 campaign.
The Pioneers are left with a somewhat depleted frontcourt with the graduation of Hassan and Potter, who combined for 29 points and 16 rebounds last season. Senior Mehmet Sahan started 26 games in the post for the Pioneers last season, and at 6'9" and 245 lbs., provides a physical inside presence who excels on the offensive glass and possesses a light shooting touch from mid-range. He contributed 5.1 ppg and ranked third on the club with 4.3 rpg in 2009-10. Junior Stan Dulaire, an athletic 6'5" wing, has been a steady contributor off the bench in each of his first two seasons and is a lifetime 55 percent shooter from the floor. Bike will need immediate contributions from newcomers Femi Akinpetide and Paris Massey, both of whom sat out last season. Akinpetide, a rugged interior player, is a 6'6" sophomore transfer from UMKC, while Massey is a 6'6" redshirt freshman from Boston, MA who should excel in transition and give the Pioneers a shot blocking threat.
Bike will lean heavily on Thompson and the returning Gibson to settle a backcourt in transition. After two years coming off the bench, Thompson earned a starting spot at the point last season and did not disappoint. The 5'10" dynamo was able to push the tempo, create open looks for his stable of three-point shooters and create his own scoring opportunities. Thompson averaged 7.0 ppg on the year - including a career-high 30-point outburst against Quinnipiac in February - and ranked fourth in the NEC with 4.6 apg. An all-around talent who can score in traffic or pull up and shoot with range, the 6'2" Gibson displayed star potential as a freshman in 2008-09. He contributed 8.1 ppg and hit 37 shots from three-point territory at a 42.0 percent success rate. Backing up Thompson last season was junior Steve Zazuri, an old-school point guard who rarely looks for his own shot, but sported the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.62:1) on the team last season.
Bike has done well recruiting in-state in recent years, and his 2010-11 class is no exception with three backcourt signees from the Constitution State. Steve Glowiak, a 6'2" two guard, played for his father at New Britain High School sand should help the Pioneers restock their long distance shooting brigade. Chris Evans comes off a post-graduate year at the Taft School and played his high school ball at Stamford High School. A solid on-the-ball defender, he is an athletic 6'2" guard who can attack the rim. Possessing a scorer's mentality, 6'3" Evan Kelley was an All-State selection out of Norwalk High School who averaged 25.6 ppg as a senior. Though he must sit out the 2010-11 season, Bike reinforced his frontcourt with the addition of 6'9" Justin Swidowski. Swidowski, a transfer from Division II Holy Family, averaged 24.1 ppg and 9.9 rpg as a sophomore and was named an honorable mention All-American.
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 21 of the last 23 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 a setback to Mount St. Mary's. The Mount nearly broke the streak in 2008-09, but the preseason favorites dropped a two-point decision to Robert Morris. Similarly, the Mount was again picked to win the prize in 2009-10, but suffered another semifinal loss to eventual champion Robert Morris.
Now entering its 30th Anniversary season, the Northeast Conference is an NCAA Division I collegiate athletic association consisting of 12 institutions of higher learning located throughout six states. Media coverage of the NEC extends to four of the largest markets in the United States - New York (#1), Pittsburgh (#23), Baltimore (#27), and Hartford/New Haven (#30). Founded in 1981 as the basketball-only ECAC Metro Conference, the NEC has grown to sponsor 23 championship sports for men and women and now enjoys automatic or play-in access to 14 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 NortheastConference.org.