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America East Finals Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

America East Finals Preview

Preview by Adam Reich

(2) Vermont Catamounts vs. (4) Maine Black Bears
T.J. Sorrentine must be thinking about redemption.

Two years ago, the No. 1-seed Vermont Catamounts were upset, 61-59 in overtime, by No. 4-seed Maine in the semifinals of the America East Tournament at Matthews Arena in Boston. In that game, Sorrentine shot a woeful 4-of-21, including 1-of-8 from beyond the arc.

And when Vermont and Maine clashed in the regular season finale in Burlington, the Black Bears shot 61% in the second half, outscoring the Catamounts 44-35, en route to a 72-67 victory. In that contest, Sorrentine again struggled, making 4-of-19 shots and only 1-of-10 three-point attempts.

As the days lead up to the rematch, Sorrentine can’t help but think about redeeming himself and leading his team into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in as many years. But while Sorrentine has plenty of reasons to be motivated for Saturday’s final, the Black Bears must be feeling confident knowing they can beat the Catamounts in their own back yard.

And with Taylor Coppenrath sitting out with a broken wrist, all Sorrentine has done so far in the America East Tournament is average 18.5 points and 4.5 assists per game, while making 7-of-15 from three-point range. And just as Coppenrath did with Sorrentine injured last season, the junior point guard is expected to carry the Catamounts to the big dance.

But in order to do so, he will have to lead the Catamounts past a Maine team that, as of right now, is running on all cylinders. The Black Bears have won nine of their last eleven games, and are coming off a dominating 78-54 win over Stony Brook in the semifinals.

Maine boasts an explosive offense that thrives in the up-tempo game. Point guard Eric Dobson, who in a pair of America East Tournament games is averaging 16.5 points, 8 rebounds and 8.5 assists per contest, is the catalyst of the Black Bears’ run and gun show. Maine’s potent offense is averaging 80 points over its last four games.

Kevin Reed, who is averaging 16.5 points per game in the America East Tournament, is Maine’s best scorer. He is an excellent slasher, who like Dobson, can finish on the fast break. The penetration of Reed and Dobson is an excellent complement to the outside shooting of forward Joe Campbell and reserve snipers Ludmil Hadjisotirov and Freddy Petkus. In the half-court offense, the Black Bears will often use designed sets to get their shooters free. It will be very important for the Catamounts, who primarily play man-to-man defense, to find Maine’s spot-up shooters, especially in transition.

On the inside, Mark Flavin is Maine’s only legitimate post presence. When matched up with Vermont center Scotty Jones, Flavin has a significant size advantage. He utilized his size to score seventeen points on 6-of-10 shooting in the last meeting up in Burlington. Expect to see Matt Sheftic get some minutes on Flavin simply because of his size and physical strength. But although Jones is undersized at the center spot, he is one of the best rebounders in the conference, especially on the offensive end. In Coppenrath ’s absence, Jones has been a monster on the boards, averaging 9.4 rebounds per game over Vermont’s last five contests.

Maine leads the conference in rebounding margin (+2.9). So while Jones has been phenomenal on the glass, he will need help from freshman forward Martin Klimes and swingman Germain Njila, as well as, from the Catamount guards.

And guard play will be the key for the Catamounts. Aside from Sorrentine, the Catamounts will need to get points from someone. In the semifinals versus Hartford, Njila stepped up and contributed fourteen points, providing the kind of effort Vermont needed. But since Coppenrath went down, the Catamounts haven’t found a consistent second scorer. Jones has put up a few big games inside the paint, but on the perimeter the Catamounts have been rather quiet.

The most likely sources of offensive help on the perimeter are reserves Alex Jensen and Coery Sullivan. If one or both can get hot from the outside, then the Catamounts will be very difficult to beat. And with Sorrentine likely blanketed by Maine’s best one-on-one defender, Notre Dame transfer Chris Markwood, the other Vermont guards should get plenty of opportunities.

There are a lot of variables to consider in this game: tempo, rebounding, defense, oh, and the possibility of a Coppenrath return. That’s right. The America East player of the year has received clearance to practice this week and will make a game-time decision whether or not to play. Not only would his return to the Vermont lineup be a huge lift for the Catamounts, but also just the possibility makes the Black Bears’ preparation for Saturday’s game much more difficult.

3228 people will pack into Patrick Gymnasium on Saturday morning for a breakfast buffet of college hoops. And with a trip to the big dance on the menu, only the hungrier team will leave the court satisfied.

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