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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It's ON

For the fourth straight year, the Mount and Robert Morris meet in the Northeast Conference Tournament. This time however, for the first time, its for the NEC championship.

Let's not try to hide from the facts. 12 games against the same team in a four year period makes you rivals, no matter how you feel about the situation. But let's not try to make it sound like this is some sort of friendly rivalry. I'm pretty sure they don't like us, any more than we like them.

It's become heated. There have been near fights. There have been techinals. There have been message board wars. There has been name calling and all the sorts that the you expect from a great rivalry.

Thankfully, it will be showcased on National TV tonight at 8:30 on ESPN2. Find me a seat on the sofa.

The events of the last few days have only added to the rivalry that it is. Four Robert Morris players were involved in an incident between their quarterfinal and semifinal win. Robert Morris has spun the situation to say only one player was involved, when the news reports (and I'm assuming they got their information from the police) said four. Only one player has been charged. I do believe that the situation was somewhat overblown, but I don't believe that only one player was truly involved. It sounds like Robert Morris is truly investigating the case and will make a decision on the player (or players eligibility in the future). It's a tough spot to be in for the coaching and the athletic staff. There are obviously two sides to the story. It sounds like about 1 1/2 of the sides have been told. The first half made the RMU players sound very guilty. Their rebuttal says they are innocent. It seems like maybe it was a very minor incident from my inquiries. And maybe the whole story has been told.

We know that there will be a game tonight. How the circumstances of the last few days will affect that is anyone's guess? It might have provided a distraction to the Colonials, it might have fired them up. It might have provided a sense of security for the Mount, it might have been a distraction. I don't know.

I just hope when the ball goes in the air tonight, we see good basketball and all of that is behind us.

The teams have played twice this year, Robert Morris won back in early January at the Knott Arena 77-70 if I recall, handing the Mount its third straight NEC loss at the time. The two teams met again on the final Saturday of the regular season, and Robert Morris rallied for a 66-63 win.

There isn't much that seperates these two teams. Both are hard nosed defensive teams. Robert Morris may have more presence from the outside, the Mount may have more depth inside.

The Colonials do boast player of the year Jeremy Chappell. The Mount counters with its leader Jeremy Goode. Both have the ability to put their teams on their back and singlehandedly carry them to victory.

But its likely to be the other players who make the difference. Rob Robinson has been RMU's best player in the two wins over the Mount. He has a bundle of moves inside. The Mount must keep him from getting the ball in a position to score. Mezie Nwigwe (Where have we heard that name before?) is one of those guys who you might miss on the floor, but he does a little bit of everything for the Colonials and keeps them together. Bateko Francisco is the NEC Defensive Player of the Year.

Jean Cajou had a huge night in the opening round of the tournament, after winning the MVP last year. Some long range jumpers from him tonight will be needed. Kelly Beidler is a 6-5 wing player, who has recorded several double-doubles on the season. He could be a huge factor tonight, if he keeps his emotions in check. Shawn Atupem is an athletic big man, who has played very well of late. The senior tandem of Sam Atupem and Markus Mitchell will start inside for the Mount and well defend and rebound the basketball, plus they can score around the basket. The contribution from a pair off the bench could be the deciding factor tonight. Pierre Brown doesn't always get a lot of minutes, but he is efficient when he does and provides a spark. Will Holland came up huge in the semifinal win over Sacred Heart. His ability to stretch the defense could be pivotal.

All in all, I expect a big game tonight. A fierce one, where intensity will reign. Truth is, I was not as confident about the Mount's chances this year as I was last year entering the tournament. When folks asked me would they win the tourney again in the last few weeks, I was pretty noncommital. But I always ended my thoughts with...if they get to the championship game and play Robert Morris they will win.

They are both there. And the thought hasn't changed. It says here...the official FANBLOG prediction is that the Mount wins to advance to the NCAA tournament for a second straight year, 68-63.

Enjoy the game. My thoughts afterwards.

The Baltimore Sun looks at the Mount turnaround; 3-8 by the way

An impartial look at Robert Morris' handling of the fight situation

Preview from the Pittsburgh Paper

NEC preview from Pedro Favre

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