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.
Bob Sheldon, who has coached the Tufts University men’s basketball team for three decades, announced his retirement Thursday. (PHOTO COURTESY: TuftsNow)
By Matt Noonan
Prior to yesterday’s announcement from the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) regarding an update on the upcoming winter sports season, which has been canceled, Bob Sheldon, who has guided the Tufts University men’s basketball team for the past 33 years, announced he will be stepping down effectively on Thursday, December 31, 2020.
Matt Malone, who has been an assistant under Sheldon for the past 15 years, will take over as the interim coach, according to Wednesday’s (Oct. 7) release from the Tufts University athletic department.
“I was getting near the end of my career as it was, and then when Covid came up and the craziness with that, I just felt that it was time for me to go,” said Sheldon, via the Tufts athletic department story, which can be seen (and read) on the school’s athletic website.
Sheldon noted he “went back and forth” with his decision to retire, but seems content with his choice to leave a program that he believes is in “a good spot going forward.”
Prior to their season concluding earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Tufts won a pair of NCAA D-III Tournament games in Medford, including a come-from-behind win over Western Connecticut in the opening round.
Sheldon, who is the program’s all-time winningest coach, would have entered his team’s 2020-21 season as one of the Top 25 NCAA D-III winningest coaches after being named the NESCAC and National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Northeast Region Coach of the Year in March.
While health and safety were stressed in yesterday’s release regarding the decision by the conference’s presidents, the NESCAC did note that some of their schools have made “significant modifications” to their current academic calendar, which would limit the number of games each program would be able to compete in.
The NESCAC has made no announcement regarding spring sports – an update will most likely come in a few months – but the conference did say the league’s 11 schools could schedule non-conference games if they choose to. However, D3Sports.com has reported that some schools within the conference have already made decisions for its various winter sports programs, including Middlebury College, which announced yesterday that they “will not hold any athletic competitions during the winter season.”
The Blazers currently compete in the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) and would join a former member of the eight-team league – that would be Dean College – which joined the GNAC as a full-time member at the start of the current academic year (2020-21)
Both Elms College basketball teams competed last winter in the NECC Tournament with the women’s squad advancing to the conference championship game against Mitchell College.
The GNAC has welcomed a few new schools to its conference over the past few years, including Regis College in Weston, Massachusetts in 2017, and Colby-Sawyer in 2018.
And welcome to a three-day weekend, too – anyone taking a four-day weekend?
Anywho, we have a lot to get to this morning, beginning with former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who appeared to lose track of downs last night during his new team’s (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) setback to the Chicago Bears.
Brady attempted to lead the Bucs on a game-winning drive, but his team’s final series of the contest concluded with an incomplete pass on fourth down. The Bears took over and claimed a 20-19 victory, but for some reason, Brady thought his team had an extra down – fifth down?
Tom Brady and the Buccaneers have won three of five contests this year and will look to bounce back next Sunday, October 18 against the Green Bay Packers.
Denver Broncos at New England Patriots on Monday, October 12 at 5 p.m. (the game was originally scheduled for Sunday, October 11 at 4:25 p.m.)
Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans on Tuesday, October 13 at 7 p.m. (the game was originally scheduled for Sunday, October 11 at 1 p.m., but had to be moved due to the Titans having more members of the organization, including players, testing positive.)
As of this morning, neither the Patriots nor Titans have recorded any new positive tests, which means we should be good for these new dates, but if anything changes then things will get a bit messy. This is the beauty of playing football during a pandemic, right?
Sheldon, who is one of the top 25 winningest coaches in NCAA D-III men’s basketball, guided the Powder Blue and White to its first-ever New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) championship in March when Tufts outlasted Colby College in double-overtime.
Following the team’s exciting win over the Mules, the Jumbos advanced to the NCAA D-III Tournament one week later and scored a pair of wins over RPI and Western Connecticut to secure a date in the “NCAA Sweet 16” against Brockport.
Tufts’ third postseason contest against Brockport was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Staying in NCAA D-III, the NESCAC Presidents “unanimously” decided to cancel the upcoming winter sports season, which includes conference championships. Schools within the conference could schedule non-conference games “at their discretion,” as noted in yesterday’s release.
We’ll be back for more later, but in the meantime make sure to stay connected with Noontime Sports on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube – have a great day, everyone!
Frank Stola and the Williams College football team will be one of the favorites in the NESCAC this fall. (PHOTO COURTESY: Kris Dufour/Williams College Athletics)
Our WAY too early New England D-III football preseason coverage rolls on with some predictions on who we think will win their respective conference this season.
Yes, we know these are VERY early predictions and they will certainly change once we get closer to kick-off, but for now, enjoy some way too early thoughts (from your friends at Noontime Sports) on who we think will celebrate a conference championship in November.
Commonwealth Coast Football (CCC)
Predicted Winner(s): Endicott College or Western New England
Teams to Watch: Husson University, Nichols College, and Salve Regina University
Quick Synopsis: Yes, we know the Gulls and Golden Bears will be the teams to watch this fall, but don’t overlook Husson, Nichols, and Salve Regina as these three teams that will certainly challenge Endicott and Western New England for the CCC crown. Western New England has won the conference the last three years while Endicott has come close the past two seasons to snatching the title from its rival.
Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC)
Predicted Winner: Dean College
Teams to Watch: Maritime (N.Y.)
Quick Synopsis: With a 4-1 conference mark, the Bulldogs were able to win their first-ever ECFC title last fall, so expect that momentum to continue one year later. Maritime (N.Y.) will also be a team to watch this season, while the other ECFC teams should provide challenges to both the Bulldogs and Privateers.
Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC)
Predicted Winner(s): Framingham State or UMass Dartmouth
Teams to Watch: Bridgewater State and Western Connecticut
Quick Synopsis: The Rams of Framingham State have enjoyed a great deal of success the past few years, but could this be the year of the Corsairs? With quarterback Stephen Gacioch leading the UMass Dartmouth offense this fall, expect the Corsairs to challenge the Rams for the top spot in the MASCAC.
New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)
Predicted Winner(s): Wesleyan University or Williams College
Teams to Watch: Middlebury College, Trinity College, and Tufts University
Quick Synopsis: As of now it seems as if this conference could be a two-team or five-team race for the NESCAC crown. Williams will welcome back an impressive senior class that should help them overcome the challenges to secure their first outright title since 2008. Keep your eyes on Trinity and Tufts – these two teams could play spoiler – and, of course, don’t overlook the Cardinals of Wesleyan, who will return some impressive talent on both sides of the ball.
New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC)
Predicted Winner: MIT
Teams to Watch: Coast Guard Academy, Merchant Marine Academy, and Springfield College
Quick Synopsis: Coach Brian Bubna and the Engineers have won back-to-back NEWMAC championships so it is hard to pick against MIT, which will once again be one of a few teams to watch in this conference. The Bears of Coast Guard Academy could also be a team that takes that next step, but don’t overlook Merchant Marine and Springfield College. Also, let’s not count out WPI, which did graduate a big senior class, but will carry over some momentum from its 10 win season.