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America East Notebook

February 3, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



America East Notebook

by Adam Reich

Breaking Down the America East

Halfway through the conference schedule a few things have become quite clear: Taylor Coppenrath is by far and away the conference’s best player, Chaz Carr has emerged as BU’s go-to-guy, and Marcus Barnes and Jose Juan Barea can light up the scoreboard.

But beyond the obvious, the America East has raised its level of play. Earlier in the season BU went into Ann Arbor and took down the Wolverines. Vermont gave UCLA all they could handle in Pauley Pavilion, while Northeastern won at West Virginia and played Florida tough in the swamp. Newcomer UMBC, who has shown glimpses of brilliance in its inaugural season, has added more depth to the conference.

Overall, the America East is deeper and more talented than it’s been in a number of years. Although Vermont and BU are the perennial frontrunners, Northeastern, Maine and Binghamton are all playing well enough to score an upset and dethrone the league’s elite teams come tournament time. Hartford has rebounded after a slow start, evening its conference mark despite playing without Jerell Parker. UMBC is potentially explosive, while Stony Brook, UNH and Albany have all shown they cannot be taken lightly in any game. Let’s break it all down, shall we.

Vermont (12-5, 8-0)

The undefeated Catamounts sit atop the America East and control their own destiny as the season unfolds. Win out and they clinch the top seed. Having already defeated BU on the road, coach Brennan’s squad clearly has the inside track. However, games at Northeastern, at Hartford and at Stony Brook all loom in the near future, not to mention the rematch with the Terriers in Burlington.

It’s hard to overlook the stellar play of Taylor Coppenrath this season, but the biggest key to Vermont’s success is chemistry. The Catamounts struggled during the non-conference schedule, as they were searching for the right rotation of players. Coach Brennan had to compensate for the loss of center Matt Sheftic as well as re-acclimate T.J. Sorrentine back into the offense after missing all of last season. Well, it seems as if it has all been worked out and right now the Catamounts are streaking. And when Sheftic returns, this team will only get better. For those of you who forgot, Sheftic averaged nearly eleven points and over six boards per game last season and was the most valuable player of the 2003 America East tournament.

Boston University (14-4, 8-1)

Despite the loss to Vermont, BU may arguably be the league’s most dominant team thus far. Having already dismissed Northeastern, Hartford and Stony Brook on the road, the Terriers are likely eying their showdown with the Catamounts. Yet, games at Maine and Binghamton, and a rematch with Northeastern cannot be overlooked.

The Terriers’ depth has been the deciding factor in most of their games this season. It seems as if each night someone different steps up and leads the team to victory. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Chazz Carr, Rashad Bell, Ryan Butt, Jason Grochowalski, Matt Turner or Shaun Wynn. All these guys have all had big games. And that is why devising a strategy against coach Dennis Wolff’s team is such a daunting task. Plus, aside from the many offensive weapons, the Terriers are a team built on defense. BU pressures the ball, forces turnovers, blocks shots and controls the boards. If the Terriers continue to defend this well, they will be hard to beat the rest of the way.

Northeastern (12-8, 6-3)

The Huskies are in prime pouncing position at this point in the season. The losses to Vermont and BU are justified, but in order to make a move, the Huskies will need to win one, if not both of their rematches against the league’s best teams. In addition, Northeastern also has big games on the road at Binghamton, Maine and Hartford; the three teams that are chasing them in the standings.

Northeastern scores points, lots of points. And when you have the kind of offensive firepower coach Ron Everhart’s team has, you can beat anybody. But aside from leading the America East in scoring, they also give up the most points in the conference. When the Huskies control the game’s tempo and keep an up and down pace they are virtually unbeatable. On the flip side, Marcus Barnes, Jose Juan Barea and Javorie Wilson aren’t nearly as effective in the half court offense. For the Huskies to make a run at Vermont and BU, Sylbrin Robinson will need to get more touches and establish an inside threat to compliment the potent weapons they have on the perimeter. As of right now, the Huskies’ big man is averaging only six shot attempts per game.

Maine (11-7, 5-4)

Beating the teams you’re supposed to beat is good, but not beating the teams that are ahead of you in the standings leaves you in the middle of the pack. And that is exactly where the Black Bears are at this point in the season. However, Maine will have plenty of opportunities to move up the ranks. Three of the Black Bears’ final four games are against BU, Northeastern and Vermont.

Although the Black Bears have been led by the play of guards Eric Dobson and Kevin Reed, their success will revolve around big man Mark Flavin. Dobson is the floor captain for coach Dr. John Giannini’s squad, while Reed remains the team’s most lethal scorer. But, the continued development of Flavin is what may ultimately turn Maine into a legitimate contender for the America East crown. With shooters Reed, Joe Campbell, Ludmil Hadjisotirov and Freddy Petkus surrounding the three-point arc, the Black Bears desperately need an inside presence as a compliment. Flavin, who is averaging twenty points per game over the last three contests, is quickly becoming that presence.

Binghamton (9-11, 5-4)

The Bearcats have been a tough team to figure out. They’ve beaten Northeastern on the road, easily handled Maine and nearly upset BU at Case Gymnasium. On the other hand, coach Al Walker’s squad lost to New Hampshire at home. In order to compete for one of the conference’s top spots, the Bearcats will need to take care of business at home versus BU and Northeastern and steal road games at Maine and Stony Brook.

When talking about Binghamton you got to start with the big guy, Nick Billings. He has been, and will continue to be the focus of this team on both the offensive and defensive ends. The conference’s leading shot-blocker, Billings also is his team’s go-to-guy down the stretch. Although the big guy’s scoring is down, the Bearcats are playing well. Guards Brandon Carter and Troy Hailey are providing excellent outside shooting that doesn’t allow opposing teams to focus on Billings exclusively. If Billings continues to get support from his teammates, mainly Carter and Hailey, Binghamton may begin to surprise people.

Hartford (9-8, 4-4)

After starting 0-4 in America East play, the Hawks have responded by winning four straight. Hartford is now in a position to challenge Binghamton, Maine and Northeastern for third place in the conference. The Hawks have rematches against each of these teams, with the Maine and Northeastern games coming at home. Coach Larry Harrison’s group does, however, still have two games remaining with undefeated Vermont.

Losing all-conference selection Jerell Parker was a big hit to the Hawks. Early on they played like a team searching for an identity. But recently, thanks to stellar defense and solid rebounding, Hartford has found its stride. The Hawks have relied on their quickness to out-hustle opponents and defend the entire court. Guards Aaron Cook and Ryan Stys have evolved into leaders, while freshman forward Bo Taylor is emerging as the best inside threat on the team. If Hartford continues to play scrappy, hard-nosed basketball they will be a pesky team come tournament time.

Maryland Baltimore-County (6-12, 3-6)

If a few calls had gone the other way or a couple last-minute shots gone down, UMBC would have a winning record in the conference. Instead, the Retrievers have suffered their share of tough defeats. Four of UMBC’s six losses have been by five points or less, including a one-point loss to Vermont. With road games at Vermont, BU, Northeastern, Binghamton and Hartford still remaining, coach Tom Sullivan’s squad looks to be in trouble down the stretch.

UMBC just can’t seem to put the ball in the basket. That’s the story. Although supremely quick and athletic, the Retrievers score less than sixty points per game and are shooting only 40% as a team for the season. Those kinds of numbers make it awfully difficult to win basketball games. On the other hand, if the Retrievers ever catch fire they could be a very scary team. Rob Gogerty has provided solid point guard play all season long. He is one of four UMBC players, along with John Zito, Kareem Washington and Cory McJimson, who are averaging double figures in scoring.

Stony Brook (6-12, 3-6)

The Seawolves have yet to beat an opponent above them in the conference standings. Wins against UMBC, Albany and New Hampshire will keep coach Nick Macarchuk’s team afloat, but only a couple of upsets will get Stony Brook back in the hunt. Potential upset opportunities include home dates with Northeastern, Vermont, Binghamton and Hartford.

After finishing strong a year ago, the Seawolves were optimistic heading into this season. A difficult non-conference schedule, which included Utah, St. John’s and Boston College, was supposed to prepare them for America East play. However, Stony Brook has struggled to capture any momentum. D.J. Munir continues to be the team’s catalyst and Cori Spencer has emerged as a terrific second option. But, it has been the Seawolves’ phantom defense that has been the biggest issue. Stony Brook opponents are shooting an astounding 47% for the season. Unless they decide to buckle down and play some defense, things are only going to get worse.

New Hampshire (5-14, 1-8)

Despite posting only one America East victory, the Wildcats have been a very competitive team. In fact, five of their eight losses have been by five points or less, including a near upset at BU. UNH’s lone victory came on the road against Binghamton, a tough team to beat on their own home court. Expect the Wildcats to score a couple more victories with road games at Albany and UMBC, as well as home dates versus Binghamton and Stony Brook still on the schedule.

The Wildcats have proven, on occasion, that they are capable of playing excellent basketball. However, they have yet to put forth that kind of energy for forty minutes. Combined, Craig Walls, Shejdie Childs, Marcus Bullock and Ioannis Karalis provide plenty of offense. And UNH, as a team, rebound fairly well considering they are undersized. The largest concern has been their inability to take care of the basketball. Averaging seventeen turnovers a game cannot make coach Phil Rowe too happy. The maturity process of Childs at the point guard position will likely determine UNH’s success in the second half of the conference slate.

Albany (3-15, 1-8)

The Great Danes have played better than their record indicates. Yet, their inability to put points on the board has kept them in the America East cellar. Albany plays four of their last five games at home, giving them a chance to gain momentum going into the conference tournament.

When Jamar Wilson went down with a season-ending knee injury, the Great Danes hopes may have gone with him. Wilson was clearly going to be the focus of the offense this season, and without him, coach Will Brown has had to revamp the offense. Although Levi Levine, Aquawasi St. Hillaire and freshman Jon Iati have provided decent scoring, Albany still needs Wilson as the number one option. To put a positive spin on things, the Wilson injury has allowed younger players such as Iati, Courtney Johnson and Jerrad Knotts to get quality minutes. As these guys gain experience, the Great Danes will certainly improve and may cause problems for a higher seed in the tournament.

     

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