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America East Conference Preview

November 6, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

America East Conference Preview

by Adam Reich

The excitement level of America East basketball is on the rise. The conference placed two teams in the postseason a year ago and this season welcomes Maryland-Baltimore County to the mix. Two former conference Players of the Year are back, three teams are returning all five starters and the nation’s second leading shot-blocker will again roam the paint.

The America East conference looks as if it might be a three-team race in 2003-04. The Vermont Catamounts, last year’s conference champions, return the last two reigning America East Players of the Year. Guard T.J. Sorrentine and forward Taylor Coppenrath, who have each led the conference in scoring, form the best tandem in Vermont not named Ben and Jerry. But there is a group of Huskies, which includes three double-figure scorers from a year ago and the conference’s top newcomer Marcus Barnes, who can score points in a hurry. Northeastern is deep and talented, and scare you to death by playing at a frenzied pace for forty minutes. Down the road at BU, a potentially explosive team seeks redemption. The Terriers, led by Rashad Bell and a pair of potentially explosive guards, are also extremely dangerous. One notch below this triad sits Stony Brook, Maine and Hartford. These three teams boast terrific guard play but lack the interior size necessary to challenge for the conference crown. The rest of the league, Binghamton, UMBC, New Hampshire and Albany, although skilled, does not possess the depth of the top teams. Here’s how it will all go down.

Preseason Awards

All-Conference Team
G Jerrell Parker, Hartford
G T.J. Sorrentine, Vermont
F Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont
F Rashad Bell, Boston University
C Nick Billings, Binghamton

Player of the Year
Taylor Coppenrath

Rookie of the Year
Alex Zimnickas, Hartford

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Vermont Catamounts (21-12, 11-5/2nd)

Projected Starters:
David Hehn, Jr., guard – 7.0 ppg, 2.8 apg
T.J. Sorrentine, Jr., guard – 18.8 ppg, 4.0 apg (2001-02)
Germain Njila, Jr., forward – 6.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Taylor Coppenrath, Jr., forward – 20.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Scotty Jones, Sr., center – 7.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg

Key Losses:
Grant Anderson, forward – 7.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.4 apg
Matt Sheftic, forward – 10.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg

Vermont Head Coach Tom Brennan must have a huge grin on his face these days. After leading the school to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance last year, Brennan will inherit the most talented squad to ever dawn the green and gold. The Catamounts return juniors Taylor Coppenrath, the 2003 America East Player of the Year, and T.J. Sorrentine, the America East Player of the Year in 2002. In addition to Coppenrath and Sorrentine, starting point guard David Hehn will be back to run the show. Forward Germain Njila and center Scotty Jones, UVM’s two most athletic players, provide all the intangibles needed for a winning team. Njila is a defensive menace who fills the lane on the break, while Jones is a terror on the boards and was fourth in the league in blocked shots last season. Off the bench, snipers Corey Sullivan and Mike Goia provide instant offense. Both were among the league leaders in three-pointers made a year ago. Although the Cats are loaded with talent, the loss of starting center Matt Sheftic, who tore an ACL in his right knee during an off-season scrimmage, will be a tough one. The biggest question will be whether redshirt freshman Martin Klimes and freshman Matt Hanson can step in and provide the necessary depth needed in the frontcourt.

2. Northeastern Huskies (16-15, 8-8/6th)

Projected Starters:
Jose Juan Barea, So., guard – 17.0 ppg, 3.9 apg
Marcus Barnes, Jr., guard – (transfer from Miami)
Javorie Wilson, Sr., forward – 14.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg
Sylbrin Robinson, Sr., forward – 11.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg
Cornelius Wright, Sr., center – 6.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg

Key Losses:
Jamaar Walker, guard – 5.9 ppg, 3.7 apg

Northeastern returns a very talented and experienced squad that didn’t quite live up to its full potential last season. Injuries to several key players, most notably Sylbrin Robinson and Aaron Davis, hindered the team’s success. However, this season the Huskies are healthy and hungry. Point guard Jose Juan Barea, who last season became only the second freshman to ever lead the Huskies in scoring, is back to run NU’s potentially lethal offense. Combined with athletic swingman Javorie Wilson and University of Miami transfer Marcus Barnes, the Huskies have the ability to run any team straight out of the gym. Robinson, who was second in the league in rebounding and third in blocked shots last season, is an intimidating figure on the defensive end. After battling shoulder problems all last season, Davis will once again be ready to provide scoring off the bench. Guards Adrian Martinez and Adam Drain, as well as forward Jesse Dunn and center Gene Oliynyk, give the Huskies good depth. The lone weakness for Northeastern is their defense. And although they may give up a lot of points, their offensive firepower will often be enough to outscore their opponents.

3. Boston University Terriers (20-11, 13-3/1st)

Projected Starters:
Kevin Fitzgerald, Sr., guard – 2.7 apg, 43.5 FG%
Chaz Carr, Jr., guard – 7.2 ppg, 2.7 apg
Matt Turner, Sr., guard – 8.7 ppg, 81.8 FT%
Rashad Bell, Jr., forward – 12.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Ryan Butt, Sr., forward – 8.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg

Key Losses:
Billy Collins, forward – 9.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg
Paul Seymour, guard – 7.8 ppg, 38.8 3PT%

BU welcomes back six players who averaged at least twenty minutes per game on last year’s America East regular-season title team. Although the loss of program veterans Billy Collins and Paul Seymour will be felt, there is plenty of ammunition returning to make another run at the conference crown. Forward Rashad Bell, an all-conference selection a year ago, is the centerpiece of Coach Dennis Wolff’s squad. Lightning-quick guards Chaz Carr and Matt Turner can turn any game into a track meet. The entire team can shoot, including big men Bell and Ryan Butt. Jason Grochowalski is a long-range threat who provides valuable senior leadership off the bench. The backcourt of Turner and Carr will undoubtedly be the key to this team. If they play under control, BU could find itself atop the conference.

4. Stony Brook Seawolves (14-16, 8-8/7th)

Projected Starters:
Bobby Santiago, So., guard – 9.4 ppg, 3.6 apg
D.J. Munir, Sr., guard – 17.4 ppg, 88.9 FT%
Mike Konopka, Sr., forward – 7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Jairus McCollum, Sr., forward – 9.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg
Cory Spencer, Jr., center – 12.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg

Things are looking up in Stony Brook. The Seawolves, who have shown vast improvement over the past two seasons, return all five starters from a year ago. Guard D.J. Munir, who averaged more than seventeen points a game and was second on the team in assists, leads the squad. Bobby Santiago is an excellent ball-handler who runs the offense with precision. Although he must improve as a shooter, Santiago’s value to the team is his passing. Corey Spencer and Jairus McCollum are good finishers and give Stony Brook a strong presence in the paint. The Seawolves can bring size off the bench in junior center JonPaul Kobryn and forward J.B. Bennett. The biggest concern for the Seawolves is finding scoring from sources other than Munir. The rest of the team has problems creating shots, so the penetrating ability of Santiago and strong offensive rebounding will be keys to Stony Brooks’ success.

5. Maine Black Bears (14-16, 8-8/5th)

Projected Starters:
Kevin Reed, So., guard – 12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Eric Dobson, Sr., guard – 9.9 ppg, 4.9 apg
Chris Markwood, Jr., guard – (transfer from Notre Dame)
Joe Campbell, Jr., forward – 6.6 ppg, 52.5 FG%
David Dubois, Sr., forward – 48.3 FG%, 2.3 rpg

Key Losses:
Rickey White, forward – 13.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg
Clayton Brown, forward – 12.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg
Justin Rowe, center – 10.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 4.2 bpg

The Black Bears will be considerably smaller this season, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Guards Kevin Reed and Eric Dobson will lead a full-court attack for Coach Giannini. Reed was second on the team in scoring last season as a freshman and is a difficult match-up for any defender one-on-one. Dobson, who will run the point this season, led the America East in assists coming off the bench last year. Chris Markwood enters the Maine system from Notre Dame and should help take some of the scoring load off the shoulders of Reed and Dobson. Bulgarian import Ludmil Hadjisotirov is a long-range marksman off the bench. Freddy Petkus, another European from Lithuania, can provide instant offense as well. Maine will no doubt be quick and should be able to score, but their lack of height could very well be a problem over the course of the season. There will be tremendous pressure on big men David Dubois and Joe Campbell to clean up on the boards.

6. Hartford Hawks (15-12, 10-6/3rd)

Projected Starters:
Jerrell Parker, guard – 13.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg
Aaron Cook, guard – 9.9 ppg, 81.2 FT%
Ryan Stys, guard – 8.7 ppg, 3.0 apg
Trevor Goode, Jr., forward – 60.0 FG%, 1.8 rpg
Alex Zimnickas, Fr., forward – (no stats)

Key Losses:
Pierre Johnson, forward – 11.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg
Wayne McClinton, guard – 5.6 ppg, 40.0 3PT%
Junior Amos, forward – 6.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg

Guard Jerrell Parker, an all-conference selection last season, will lead a youthful and exuberant Hawks squad into action. Parker did everything for Hartford last year and he will be asked to do even more this season. Help should come from guards Aaron Cook and Ryan Stys, both of whom are deadly perimeter shooters. Cook, who can also create opportunities for his teammates, played his best basketball down the stretch last year and should be primed for a breakout season. In the frontcourt is where things get a bit dicey. Forward Trevor Goode, who saw limited action last season, and true freshman Alex Zimnickas, will be asked to defend and rebound against bigger opponents all season long. How well they hold up will determine the success of this Hawks team. Expect coach Larry Harrison to press on defense and have his stellar guards pushing the ball up the court at all times. If the Hawks can maintain a fast-paced game they will have a good shot at out-running their opponents.

7. Binghamton Bearcats (14-13, 9-7/4th)

Projected Starters:
Billy Williams, Jr., guard – 3.1 ppg, 33.3 3PT%
Brandon Carter, Jr., guard – 9.9 ppg, 81.2 FT%
Sebastian Hermenier, Jr., guard – 4.7 ppg, 3.0 rpg
Robert Todd, Jr., forward – (transfer from Air Force)
Nick Billings, So., center – 9.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.3 bpg

Key Losses:
Anthony Green, forward – 16.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.2 apg
Jeffrey St. Fort, forward – 9.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Charles Baker, guard – 5.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg

The Bearcats inaugural season in the America East conference was a very successful one. Perhaps thought to be a potential doormat of the league, Binghamton will be a serious contender. The biggest reason they will contend this season, both literally and figuratively, is center Nick Billings. The conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, Billings was second in the nation in blocks last season and has developed a good amount of skill in the post. The Bearcats will need scoring from some one else now that Anthony Green has graduated. The most likely source is guard Brandon Carter. Carter is a pure shooter whose game has steadily improved with more playing time. Air Force transfer Robert Todd should give Billings some help down low. Billy Williams, who will take over the point, will need to cut down on the turnovers in order for Binghamton to be effective. With the big guy in the middle the Bearcats have defense, but the points need to come from somewhere.

8. Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers (7-20/1st season in America East)

Projected Starters:
Rob Gogerty, Jr., guard – 5.7 ppg, 2.9 apg
Kareem Washington, Sr., guard – 15.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.9 apg
Eugene Young, Sr., forward – 3.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
John Zito, So., forward – 9.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Andrew Feeley, Jr., center – 10.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg

The Retrievers return all five starters from last season’s squad. Although UMBC struggled in the Northeast conference, do not expect Head Coach Tom Sullivan’s team to roll over and play dead. Senior guard Kareem Washington took over a quarter of the team’s shots last season in leading the Retrievers in scoring. This season, however, Washington needs some help. Forward John Zito and center Andrew Feeley have the capability to drop twenty on any give night, but have lacked consistency. Rob Gogerty provides steady play at the point and is a tremendous defensive player. He will be vital in running what could potentially be a very potent offense. This year’s UMBC squad is the biggest in school history with eight players 6’5″ or taller. This should help them match-up on the boards with some of the more physical teams in the league. Yet, what the Retrievers really want to do is run and score in transition. If the game is up-tempo, UMBC can play with anyone.

9. New Hampshire Wildcats (5-23, 3-13/9th)

Projected Starters:
Shejdie Childs, So., guard – 9.4 ppg, 49.5 FG%
Marcus Bullock, Sr., guard – 9.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Ionannis Karalis, So., guard – 7.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg
Griffin Walker, Sr., forward – 7.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg
Ben Sturgill, Jr., forward – 8.0 ppg, 55.9 FG%

UNH Head Coach Phil Rowe welcomes back the same starting lineup from a year ago. This team of Wildcats offers a well-balanced attack, but they desperately need a go-to-guy during crunch time. Rowe will hope that guard Shejdie Childs is the man for the job. He led the team in scoring and assists as a freshman and certainly elevated his game toward the end of the season. Forward Ben Sturgill, who suffered a shoulder injury during last season’s conference tournament, is fully healed. Although undersized, especially when forced to play the center spot, Sturgill is effective in taking opposing big men away from the basket. Senior guard Marcus Bullock, a dangerous shooter from behind the arc, should help spread the floor for Childs’ penetration. Bullock was fifth in the league last season in three-pointers made. Ionannis Karalis, a member of the Greek Junior National Team, can also knock down the three and should see a lot of floor time this year. UNH will struggle because of their lack of size, but in a half-court game they can be effective on the offensive end.

10. Albany Great Danes (7-21, 3-13/8th)

Projected Starters:
Jon Iati, Fr., guard – (no stats)
Jamar Wilson, So., guard – 18.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Levi Levine, So., forward – 13.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg
Jamal Hughes, Jr., forward – (JuCo transfer)
Chris Wyatt, Jr., forward – 3.3 rpg, 35.0 3PT%

Key Losses:
Antione Johnson, guard – 13.6 ppg, 37.1 3PT%
Rhasheed Peterson, forward – 11.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Earv Opong, guard – 5.4 ppg, 3.9 apg

Last season was a difficult one for the Great Danes. However, there is one good reason to be optimistic about this year’s team: Jamar Wilson can flat out play. The America East Rookie of the Year in 2002-03, Wilson tore up opposing defenses with an array of drives and jumpers. Knowing that Wilson will face double and perhaps triple-teams, Head Coach Will Brown will ask for support from a young cast of role players. Levi Levine should burden some of the scoring load. The sophomore forward, who was third on the team in scoring last season, can hit from beyond the arc and cleans up the offensive glass. Where the rest of the offense will come from is unknown. Junior forward Chris Wyatt hasn’t seen much playing time, while junior college transfer Jamal Hughes is expected to help more on the boards than in the scoring department. In fact, the best bet might be heralded freshman Jon Iati. For the Great Danes, Wilson will be the man again, and if he gets help this team might surprise some folks.


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