Fairleigh Dickinson became the first team to qualify for the 2023 NCAA Tournament on Saturday — and the Knights didn’t do it without winning their conference tournament.
Merrimack, the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Conference Tournament, is still in the midst of a four-year reclassification process from Division II to Division I and is therefore ineligible for the NCAA Tournament. However, the NEC announced last summer that it would allow Merrimack to compete in the conference tournament this season. Merrimack winning the regular season title meant that the runner-up from the championship game would advance to the NCAA Tournament if the Warriors reached the title game.
This happened on Saturday. Although Merrimack defeated Sacred Heart in Saturday’s first semifinal, that means the winner of the second semifinal between Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis (Pa.) will earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Fairleigh Dickinson, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, beat No. 3 St. Francis 70-50. Demeter Roberts led the way with 18 points and five assists, while Ansley Almonor (15 points) and Grant Singleton (12 points) also had double figures.
Merrimack and Fairleigh Dickinson face each other in the NEC Tournament title game on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN2).
It’s a big accomplishment for first-year head coach Tobin Anderson, who takes over a Fairleigh Dickinson team that finished 4-22 last season. Anderson, who was the head coach at Division II St. Thomas Aquinas since 2013 before transferring to FSU, guided the Knights to a 15-game winning streak.
The NEC’s situation is similar to what happened in the ASUN tournament last season, with Bellarmine winning the conference tournament despite being ineligible for the NCAA tournament due to its reclassification status. Jacksonville State was the regular season champion, so the Gamecocks received an automatic bid even though they lost to Jacksonville in the semifinals of the conference tournament.