The Little East Conference (LEC) basketball season is set to begin this weekend. And this is certainly good news for New England small college basketball fans.
As of this evening, three men’s basketball games are scheduled to tip-off this Saturday, January 23, along with one women’s contests between Keene State and Rhode Island College. More games will occur both later this month and next month, along with a four-team playoff in early March. And pending a national postseason does occur, the winner of their respective conference tournament would represent the league in the NCAA D-III playoffs.
Both Keene State squads have competed previously this school year in their Red vs. White contest while the men’s team squared-off last November against New Hampshire. The Rhode Island men’s basketball team competed last December against Bryant.
While the opening weekend will feature just six of the league’s nine members, Southern Maine is expected to play some games next month, according to a recent post from Al Bean, who is the school’s athletic director.
UMass Boston and Western Connecticut are the only two LEC members that won’t be competing this winter.
The Western Connecticut men’s basketball team captured the LEC crown last winter to secure a date with Tufts University in the opening round of the 2020 NCAA D-III Tournament.
The Eastern Connecticut women’s basketball team, which won its second-straight LEC title last February, announced earlier this month that they would not play an abbreviated season due to “health risks surrounding COVID-19.”
Here is this weekend’s LEC men’s and women’s basketball schedule:
Keene State at Rhode Island College (WBB) | 12 p.m.
Eastern Connecticut at Plymouth State (MBB) | 1 p.m.
Castleton at UMass Dartmouth (MBB) | 2 p.m.
Keene State at Rhode Island College (MBB) | 3 p.m.
Like many of our fans and friends, I miss New England D-III football. But as an optimist, I believe we’ll see our favorite teams and student-athletes back on the gridiron at this time next year vying for conference crowns, along with at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament.
And speaking of conference crowns – and yes, the national postseason, too – I thought it would be fun to produce a special Noontime’s ‘What If‘ post on which teams I believe would have won their respective conference this fall.
As expected, these predictions were not easy as there are a slew of teams and programs capable of winning their respective conference, but here are my predictions. And as usual, you can share your thoughts with me on social media, as well as send a note to MattNoonan@noontimesports.com.
Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC): Western New England
For the past few seasons, the Golden Bears have been the team to watch and beat in this conference. And once again, Western New England would be the squad to watch in the CCC this fall. They would most likely enter their final game of the regular season with two important wins against Endicott College and Salve Regina University. And like most teams highlighted in this post, the 2020 Golden Bears would look a bit different than previous years, especially on offense as they would have a new quarterback, but their defense would be be a unit to watch – it would be led by linebacker Erich Keutmann, who was named a D3Football.com Preseason All-America second-teamer in September.
Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC): Dean College
The Bulldogs captured their first-ever conference crown last season, thanks to quarterback Terrell Watts, who was named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year, along with wide receiver Errol Breaux and safety Tyzohn Poole. Of course, there would be other student-athletes to watch as the season progressed, but at this point of the 2020 season, the Bulldogs would have claimed some important wins against Castleton University and SUNY Maritime. They would have also beaten a new D-III football team: Keystone College.
Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC): Framingham State University
Like Western New England, it is hard to pick against the Rams, which would be starting a new chapter in its program history with first-year coach Aynsley Rosenbaum, who spent the past 12 seasons overseeing the Framingham State offense. But like prior years, this would be the team to watch in the MASCAC. Sure, they would look a bit different on offense without quarterback Adam Wojenski, who graduated last spring, but the Rams would welcome back some key pieces from that unit, including halfback Devaun Ford, who was named the 2019 MASCAC Rookie of the Year. Framingham State would be challenged for the top spot by Bridgewater State, UMass Dartmouth, and Western Connecticut.
New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC): Williams College
The Ephs of Williams College suffered just two setbacks last season, including an opening day loss to Middlebury College, which would be a game circled on their calendar this season. Williams would somehow find a way to beat the Panthers at home, along with Wesleyan University, which tripped up the Ephs prior to their season-ending win over Amherst College last November. But for the Ephs to win the NESCAC, they would not only need to beat Amherst, Middlebury, and Wesleyan, but also Trinity College and Tufts University. Additionally, let’s not overlook Colby College and Hamilton College, which would challenge the Purple and Yellow, but in the end, quarterback Bobby Maimaron, along with the rest of the Ephs would make just a few more plays in all nine contests to secure the NESCAC title.
New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC): Springfield College
Sure, MIT maybe the favorite after winning the NEWMAC crown the past two years, but it would be hard to overlook Springfield College, which would be led by halfback Hunter Belzo and linebacker AJ Smith. The Pride, which finished with six wins last year, would win at least seven, maybe eight games this season, but their most important victory would occur during the final weekend of the regular season against the Engineers in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Stephen Gacioch led the Corsairs to an exciting overtime victory one year ago on this exact date. (PHOTO COURTESY: UMass Dartmouth Athletics)
By Matt Noonan
Yes, I miss New England D-III football, but luckily we have some great memories to revisit this fall, including an exciting overtime clash that occurred on this exact date one year ago between Husson University and UMass Dartmouth.
The Corsairs outlasted the Eagles, 48-41, in overtime, thanks to an impressive showing by quarterback Stephen Gacioch, who concluded the contest 26 of 42 for 512 yards and five touchdowns. The Rhode Island native also led the UMass Dartmouth rushing attack with 27 yards on 17 carries.
Husson led UMass Dartmouth, 21-14, after one quarter of play and held a seven-point advantage at the break (27-20).
The Corsairs erased the seven-point deficit in the third quarter with a pair of touchdown passes from Gacioch to DJ Machado and Pedro DelToro while Husson kept pace with the hosts by recording a 36-yard touchdown pass late in the frame from David Morrison to Tyler Halls.
UMass Dartmouth would push ahead late in the fourth quarter when Olawale Junaid capped a four-play, 36-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown before Husson countered to even the score and send the game into overtime when Morrison connected with Aidan Hogan for a seven-yard touchdown pass.
Gacioch and the Corsairs would again respond in the extra session when the UMass Dartmouth signal-caller located Abbi Bamgbose for a 23-yard score before the hometown team’s defense denied the Eagles a chance to even the score on its ensuing possession.
The win – certainly an exciting one for the Blue and Gold – bumped UMass Dartmouth’s overall record to 2-0 while the setback was the first of the season for the Eagles.
As we learned yesterday from Pete Thamel of Yahoo! Sports, the NCAA issued a “blanket waiver” on Monday, July 27, which would allow various D-I programs to start their respective seasons earlier than usual. This decision would certainly allow teams some flexibility to play (hopefully) a full season, pending how things shake out with the ongoing coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
From a quick glance at the FBS schedule on ESPN.com, there are a few games scheduled for Saturday, August 29, including Missouri State visiting Oklahoma and Southern Illinois taking on Kansas. No times have been announced for these or any of the games listed, so stay tuned, college football friends.
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Amherst and Mount Holyoke join a growing list of local schools, as well as a few others around the country that plan to not field fall sports teams this upcoming school year. More announcements are expected over the next few days and weeks as schools
For more on yesterday’s announcement, CLICK HERE for the quick facts.
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