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This week in the NEC: Scramble at the top, but defending champs Saint Francis U and preseason favorite Robert Morris are struggling

Plus, SFU star Jessica Kovatch’s latest national honor, game information for the Northeast’s top teams and weekly awards.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-St. Francis (PA) vs Connecticut
Saint Francis U’s Jessica Kovatch was not only the NEC’s top scorer last season (doing so in record-setting fashion), but she was also the second-leading scorer in the nation.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

In a conference like the Northeast — mid-major through and through — it’s probably pretty easy to become discouraged this early in the season. After all, when the defending conference champion Saint Francis U begins the season in a three-game skid thanks to a three-game road trip that’s all but meant for the home teams (including No. 4 Baylor) to feast on you, who’s to say which team will emerge from those ashes and claim the top spot in the conference for as long as they can?

That team, for now, is St. Francis Brooklyn, whose 4-3 record is one of just two in the conference above .500 after about a month of play. The Terriers played and won their first two games at home, then took two of three in the Vinewood Farm Classic the weekend before Thanksgiving. But, as it stands, even the top team in the NEC (for the moment) is having trouble against more established programs. Their losses so far are to the Missouri Valley’s Valparaiso, the Big East’s Seton Hall and the Patriot League’s Army. Their next game, a third away contest in a row against Loyola Maryland, could see them go the way of the Saint Francis U Red Flash.

Mount St. Mary’s is the NEC’s other 4-3 team, having followed up a three-game losing streak of its own (to the Big Ten’s Michigan, the Atlantic 10’s Duquesne and the MAAC’s Rider) with a three-game winning streak against Towson, Loyola Maryland and Gardner-Webb. The Mountaineers have one more big test on the horizon before beginning NEC play — another power conference matchup at Virginia Tech, in just under two weeks.

As for the predicted conference champion, Robert Morris is not at all where they were last season, with their 1-6 record having almost as many losses as their entire last season. The Colonials went 25-8 en route to a Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearance after losing to Saint Francis U in the NEC Tournament championship game. They’ll try to turn things around against Kent State, though they were held to just 31 points in a loss to the Golden Flashes last season that snapped a five-game winning streak.

But come conference season, Saint Francis U has a solid chance to repeat as champions, and Jessica Kovatch is why. The second-leading scorer in the country a season ago (24.4 points per game) and the NCAA record-holder in three-pointers in a season (141) is on two national preseason watch lists and starting to find her stride once again, with three consecutive 20-point games to her name. Coming up, the Red Flash will try to grab two key wins, one at home and one on the road, before heading to the Husky Classic next weekend.


NEC games to watch this week

Saint Francis U Red Flash (2-4) vs. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (5-2)

When: Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: DeGol Arena, Loretto, PA

How to watch: NEC Front Row

Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (4-3) at UMBC Retrievers (6-3)

When: Thursday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: UMBC Event Center, Baltimore, MD

How to watch: ESPN+

St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers (4-3) at Loyola Maryland Greyhounds (0-7)

When: Friday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. ET

Where: Reitz Arena, Baltimore, MD

How to watch: Stadium


Elsewhere in the NEC:

  • In addition to her other honors, Saint Francis U’s Jessica Kovatch was recently named to the top 30 candidates for the 2018-19 Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes “notable achievements in four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition.” Kovatch is the only NEC representative on the list and shares the recognition with other top-level players, including UConn’s Napheesa Collier and Louisville’s Asia Durr.
  • Mount St. Mary’s guard Juliette Lawless was named NEC Player of the Week following a dominant performance against in-state rival Loyola Maryland. Lawless scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the Mountaineers’ 77-67 victory.
  • This week’s NEC Rookie of the Week honor went to LIU Brooklyn guard Brandy Thomas. Thomas, who also took home the first Rookie of the Week award of the season, has notched a double-double in all seven games of her collegiate career.

Northeast Conference schedule and results