LIU-Brooklyn received some crushing news over the weekend, as Nelson Castillo of Blackbirds Hoops Journal reported that star forward Julian Boyd will miss the remainder of the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL. Boyd was injured during the Blackbirds' matchup at Rice last week.
Without Boyd, who won the NEC Player of the Year award last season with 17.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, Long Island is still one of the top teams in its conference. The Boyd-less Blackbirds showed that on Sunday with a 27-point win over Manhattan, which was picked to finish No. 2 in the MAAC this season.
But with the Blackbirds now short-handed, they are no longer the hands-down favorite in the conference.
Robert Morris has been red hot, with wins in six of its last seven games. Most recently, the Colonials dominated Duquesne, 91-69.
As one of the more successful mid-major programs in the northeast over the past four seasons, with four appearances in the NEC championship game and two NCAA tournament berths, it would be no surprise to see the Colonials destroy Long Island's dreams of a three-peat.
Wagner, which finished second in the NEC last season, has been off to a slow start, but the Seahawks are easily the best defensive team in the conference. Ken Pomeroy ranks Wagner No. 29 in defensive efficiency, and the next-best team in the conference is Quinnipiac at No. 144.
Even when Long Island had Boyd, Robert Morris and Wagner were considered contenders for the NEC title, picked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. In fact, the Colonials even garnered three first-place votes.
But now a few other teams, such as Central Connecticut State, Mount St. Mary's and Quinnipiac, could also get their names in the mix.
With a pair of dynamic scorers in Kyle Vinales and Matt Hunter, Central Connecticut State can give any NEC team fits on any given night. The Blue Devils are 4-4 so far this season, with three losses coming by three or fewer points on the road. Their only other loss was to then-No. 1 Indiana.
Mount St. Mary's and Quinnipiac have both struggled early in the season, but the Mountaineers have an exciting, young coach in Jamion Christian, who has adapted many pieces of VCU coach Shaka Smart's system. And with Boyd no longer in Long Island's frontcourt, Quinnipiac's combination of Ike Azotam, Ousmane Drame and Jamee Jackson is the best front line in the league.
Part of what made Long Island so dangerous over the last two seasons was that it had both Boyd and fellow senior Jamal Olasewere in the frontcourt. Having arguably the two best players in the conference playing side-by-side made the Blackbirds extremely explosive.
Olasewere is still good enough to do plenty of damage on his own. So far this season he is averaging 18.1 points, and against Manhattan he posted 11 points and nine rebounds in only 20 minutes.
But he now must adjust to being the main target of every opponent's defensive scheme, in addition to being more mindful about foul trouble.
Although the Blackbirds have a few other competent forwards in Booker Hucks and freshman E.J. Reed, their front line will not be able to do much damage if Olasewere's playing time is limited by fouls.
The loss of Boyd will be the biggest obstacle in Long Island's path to a three-peat, but fortunately the Blackbirds do have three more non-conference games to adjust to a new rotation until they begin NEC competition.