Fresh off their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 1998, the Knights will look to a pair of seniors to help guide them to a repeat performance. Gordon Klaiber, a 6-foot-9 forward, is the preseason pick for NEC Player of the Year after ranking among the league’s top 10 in scoring (16.0), rebounding (7.9) and blocks (1.3). Fellow senior Chad Timberlake, a 6-4 guard, averaged 13.1 points, and 7-footer Andrea Crosariol showed vast improvement as a sophomore. Their production will be key, particularly with the loss of starting guards Tamien Trent and Mensah Peterson.
2. Monmouth, (16–13, 14–4)
Loads of experience in the backcourt should help the Hawks vie for their third straight regular-season conference title. Starting point guard Tyler Azzarelli and shooting guard Chris Kenny both return for their senior seasons, which should make the loss of NEC Player of the Year Blake Hamilton (16.2 ppg) easier to overcome. A question mark is at center, where 7-2, 320-pound John Bunch becomes eligible after transferring from Division III Lincoln ( Pa.) University, where he set an NCAA record with 18 blocks in a game on two separate occasions.
3. Wagner (13–17, 10–8)
A year ago, the injury-plagued Seahawks lost 15 of their first 17, then caught fire in the second half and won 11 of 12 and advanced to the NEC Tournament finals. Most of the team returns, including guards DeEarnest McLemore and Mark Porter and forwards Durell Vinson, Matt Vitale and James Urich. McLemore, now the team’s lone senior, earned NEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, spearheading a defense that allowed just 65 point per game. The Seahawks will have a difficult time replacing the inside production of center Sean Munson (12.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg).
4. Long Island (14–15, 10–8)
Picked to finish last in the conference a year ago, LIU surprised many by winding up in a three-way tie for fourth place. Now, the Blackbirds return all five starters, including junior guard James Williams, a second-team all-conference pick last season. Among three newcomers is Naim Benjamin, a 6-2 guard, who last year averaged 17.2 points for Des Moines ( Iowa) Area Community College.
5. Central Connecticut State (12–16, 8–10)
Following consecutive seasons at or below .500, the Blue Devils are hoping their blossoming young talent can take them back to the league’s upper echelon. Last year, 11 of their 15 players were freshmen or sophomores. Now, the Devils welcome back the vast majority of their offense, including top scorers DeMario Anderson (14.1 ppg) and Obie Nwadike (11.2), both juniors. The key will be their play in the middle.
6. Robert Morris (14–15, 11–7)
The Colonials return just four letterwinners from a season ago but welcome back starting guards Tony Lee and Derek Coleman. RMU must find a way to replace its top three scorers, who accounted for nearly 60 percent of the team’s offense. Junior A.J. Jackson, a 6-6, 230-pound transfer from East Tennessee State, should step into the starting lineup at power forward after sitting out last season.
7. St. Francis ( Pa.) (15–13, 10–8)
The Red Flash must make do without leading scorer Darshan Luckey, who declared for the NBA Draft (but was not selected) after averaging 21.5 points as a junior. With eight newcomers on the roster, senior point guard Garrett Farha, who led the league in assists, assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point field goal percentage, will play an even larger role.
8. St. Francis (N.Y.) (13–15, 9–9)
Former Seton Hall assistant Brian Nash takes the helm from longtime coach Ron Ganulin and will have the luxury of four returning starters. Among them is Allan Sheppard, a swingman who last season averaged 11.4 points as a sophomore to earn Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year honors.
9. Mount St. Mary’s (7–20, 5–13)
The Mount returns plenty of experience but will have to improve on the defensive end, where it allowed opponents to shoot 48.2 percent from the field. In a bid to improve the team’s inconsistent offense, senior Landy Thompson moves to shooting guard following two seasons at the point.
10. Quinnipiac (10–17, 6–12)
The Bobcats will look to a quartet of transfers -- three from the junior college ranks and one from a four-year school -- to help fill the void created with the graduation of point guard Rob Monroe, the leading scorer in the NEC. Victor Akinyanju, Adam Gonzalez and Chris Wehye led Cecil ( Md.) Community College to a 31–3 mark last season. The team also returns three starters, along with NEC All-Rookie forward Karl Anderson. In addition, John Winchester, who started 13 games for Tennessee two seasons ago, becomes eligible after sitting out last season, and should make an impact from either guard spot.
11. Sacred Heart (4–23, 3–15)
The Pioneers return 10 letterwinners from a year ago and gain the services of Boston College transfer Tavio Hobson, who will lend a hand at the point. Sacred Heart is physical upfront, led by 6-10 senior Kibwe Trim and 6-4 junior Joey Henley, but the backcourt is a question mark.