An automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament is the grand prize for the winner of the East Coast Conference Tournament, which begins Wednesday.
LIU Post's men's basketball team will be at home throughout if it can keep winning, and the Pioneers want to make sure they at least make it to Championship Sunday.
"The team is very excited about the tournament being at home,'' said senior forward Tyuan Williams, who leads the team in scoring with a 14.5 average. "We feel like it's a big advantage. We practice in the gym every day, we work in the gym, we feel more comfortable playing at home. We're the fourth seed, but we feel like the one seed because we're playing in our gym. We're more accustomed to our rims. We're more comfortable to shoot. It's easier to knock down shots in our gym.''
Post (16-12) meets Molloy (16-12) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in a quarterfinal matchup. The teams split during the regular season, with Molloy winning at Post, 61-59. "It's more of a revenge game,'' Williams said, "because Molloy came in and beat us in our own gym.''
Post coach Erik Smiles said, "We're a better team at home this year [11-5], no doubt about it. I know Molloy beat us here and we beat them at their place, but overall this year, consistently we've been a better team at home. We've had really good fan support this year. Football, lacrosse, baseball comes. The women's teams come out.''
Smiles is aware that sometimes the home team may feel more pressure to win, but he doesn't mind, saying, "Is home a double-edged sword? No, because I don't want to go and clean snow off a van Wednesday to go drive down the Meadowbrook Parkway. Because of that, I'll take the home game.''
Post has won four ECC titles, the last in 2012.
Top-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas (20-10) and second- seeded Bridgeport (22-6) lead what NYIT coach Sal Lagano called "probably the most balanced field in the last 10 years. Anybody can win.''
NYIT has guard Darian Hooker, who leads the division in scoring with 28.5 points. "He's the best player I think I've seen in this league ever,'' Lagano said.
With Hooker leading the way, NYIT (14-14) rebounded from a 1-5 start and earned the third seed against sixth-seeded Dowling (12-15). Dowling beat NYIT twice in the regular season under first-year coach John Mateyko, who guided St. Joseph's to two NCAA bids in D-II.
For the Pioneers, there is no scenario in which Post is not in the finale. "Of course, we motivate them with that all the time,'' Smiles said. "You don't want to be sitting in your own building watching other teams play this weekend.''
Said leading scorer Williams, "That would be a real big disappointment to be watching another team playing in the championship in our home gym. It's kind of disrespectful on our end if we don't make it, because it's our gym, so we should be definitely the team playing in our championship.''
The fifth-seeded Post women's team (17-11), which made the NCAA Tournament last season, will have to win at fourth-seeded NYIT (18-10) Wednesday to gain a home game in the semifinal Saturday against top seed and defending champion District of Columbia.
Men's ECC Tournament
No. 5 Molloy at No. 4 LIU Post, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Dowling at No. 3 NYIT, 7:30 p.m.
Molloy or Post vs. No. 1 St. Thomas Aquinas, 5 p.m. at Post
Dowling or NYIT vs. No. 2 Bridgeport at Post, 7:30 p.m. at Post
Championship at Post, 2:30 p.m.
Women's ECC Tournament
No. 5 LIU Post at No. 4 NYIT, 5 p.m.
LIU Post or NYIT vs. No. 1 District of Columbia, noon.
Championship at Post, noon.