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America East Notebook

February 21, 2008 Conference Notes No Comments



America East Notebook

by Sam Perkins

Heading down the last leg of what has been one heck of a conference season (with the conference standings seeming to shuffle significantly on a weekly basis), I thought now would be a good time to give my take on the All-Conference awards. One thing that should be noted is that my picks are whom I feel are the most deserving for each award – seniority, or transfer status does not factor in, nor does awards won in previous seasons. I bring this up because there are certain trends in the America East that will likely result in some differences between my awards here and the awards handed out by the league at the end of the year banquet.

For starters, the coaches (whose votes decide the awards) always greatly favor players who have played their entire careers in the America East over transfers, who are viewed as “hired guns.” A prime case was when Jamar Wilson won the 2006 Player of the Year Award of Kenny Adeleke. Wilson had a terrific season, and some make the argument that he did it for the best team in the conference, but Adeleke’s numbers were staggering, and on paper there was no comparison between the two. Furthermore, if you took Wilson off of Albany, you would still have a top 4 team in the conference; if you took Adeleke off of Hartford (whom finished 4th in the standings), you would likely be left with the worst team in the league. Chances are, this view towards transfers will likely result in one of UMBC’s transfer trio (Darryl Proctor, Cavell Johnson, Ray Barbosa) being snubbed from an all-conference team.

The league also likes to reward seniority, which could well result in some players who have contributed a great deal to their team and the league during their four years here, but whom don’t merit an award this season, finding their way onto an all-conference team (perhaps Brent Wilson and Kyle Cieplicki, to name a couple). Also, the league likes to try to have a representative from every team on one of the three all-conference teams, even if one team has no one truly deserving of the award. Another little tidbit, Dennis Wolff always seems to get more than one player on an all-conference team, perhaps a sign of respect from his fellow coaches, even if he only has one deserving player (as is the case this year).

So, without further ado, here’s how I think the All-Conference awards should go based on who is the most deserving.

Player of the Year

Marqus Blakely, F, Vermont: Albany Coach Will Brown has been politicking like crazy for his own guy, Brian Lillis, whom he says does everything, both offensively and defensively. Brown has made a terrific case for Lillis; the only problem is the same things can be said about Blakely and then some, as Blakely is anything but a one-dimensional player. Despite standing only 6’5″, Blakely is the best shot-blocker in the conference (2.43 per game), and ranks sixth in steals (only .02 behind Lillis). Blakely has dominated the glass, leading the conference in rebounding with an amazing 10.3 a game. Offensively, Blakely has led the conference in scoring (19.3 per game) despite being double-teamed every game. He has continued to put up points in bunches despite facing extreme physicality in the post, as opponents continue to play rougher and rougher against him, all while shooting a staggering 55 percent from the floor.

First Team All-Conference

Marqus Blakely, F, Vermont: see above

Brian Lillis, G, Albany: Lillis has had an incredible senior season, as he has been the driving force and backbone for the Great Danes all season long. You can’t argue against a senior team leader who’s averaging 15.9 points per game (18.3 in conference), 6.3 rebounds, and 1.76 steals, and ranks in the top ten in points, assists, steals, and blocked shots. Lillis may well be the league’s best defender, and his scoring numbers are even more impressive when you consider that he scored less than seven points per game last season and is always assigned to guard opponent’s top perimeter scorers.

Corey Lowe, G, Boston University: For most of the season, Corey Lowe has carried the Terriers on his back, and without him they have seemed lost. Lowe has been as valuable to his team as anyone in the conference, and while his scoring may have gone down a hair since his teammates have finally begun to play up to his level, his value to the team has not, as he has become a master distributor over the past few weeks. He averages 18 points per game and at times shows unconscious three-point shooting while being the center of opposing defensive schemes. Lowe has proven to truly be a “game-changer,” and is the most talented guard in the league.

Darryl Proctor, F, UMBC: Brian Hodges, a four-year senior, has been the team’s leading scorer, and in his absence Ray Barbosa has taken over, but Proctor has been more valuable than either. Proctor is the best fundamental rebounder in the conference, as despite standing much closer to 6’2″ than his listed 6’4″, only Blakely has pulled down more boards in the conference than Proctor’s 8.5 a game. The ultimate warrior and team guy, he never leaves the court without a half a dozen bruises. Offensively, he’s been shooting close to fifty percent and is tenth in the league in scoring (14.2 ppg), and his fade-away jumper is unstoppable from anywhere inside the three-point line. The Retrievers have also fed off of his energy all year long, and Proctor has established himself as the leader of the best team in the conference.

Jay Greene, G, UMBC: The conference’s smallest player has the biggest heart, as Greene has been the Retrievers’ most valuable player. While he is only averaging 9.1 points a game, Greene has proven that he can score at will when needed. Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in his 26-point (6-6 from downtown) performance in a win at Vermont. Greene’s importance goes miles beyond his shooting, as on a team full of scorers, he runs the offense on the floor and makes everyone around him better. The league’s best distributor, Greene is averaging 6.2 assists per game and has a 3.33-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, both tops by a long ways in the conference. Furthermore, Greene is the only player in the country to rank in the top ten in the nation in both assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.

2nd Team All-Conference

Mike Trimboli, G, Vermont: Trimboli’s fiery play has carried his team at times. He is averaging 17.8 points per game, good for 3rd in the conference while handling Vermont’s point guard duties. It may be hard to imagine Trimboli, who was chosen by most publications as the team’s pre-season POY, on the second team, but he has struggled of late and still has not proven that he can be “the guy,” nor that he can deal with defenses that focus on stopping him first.

Joe Zeglinski, G, Hartford: Zeglinski has been one of the most clutch shooters in the conference and is the go-to guy on a Hawks team that has climbed the ladder and finds itself in second place right behind UMBC. Zeglinski is averaging 16.1 points per game (good for fifth in the conference) and crashes the boards amazingly hard for a guard. No one in the conference plays harder, and Zeglinski seems to epitomize the Hawks “never say die” attitude. Zeglinski has also had to carry a share of the load at point guard this year, and has done so without skipping a beat.

Brian Hodges, G, UMBC: Hodges has been hurt and has missed the last four games, however he is expected to return. Prior to his injury, he was the go-to shooter on the Retrievers and his team’s leading scorer, averaging 16.5 points per game (fourth in the conference). While still a big-time outside shooter, Hodges’ game has expanded considerably his senior year, as he crashes the boards and has been posting up opposing guards at a high frequency. Hodges has also stepped it up on the defensive end.

Ray Barbosa, G, UMBC: Barbosa will, in all likelihood, fall casualty to the league’s view on transfers, particularly 1-year transfers as this is his only year of eligibility, and will likely fall to the 3rd team in the awards. However, he has been huge down the stretch, stepping in seamlessly for Hodges. He has hit big shot after big shot in wins over Vermont and Boston University. He is averaging 16 points per game (6th in the league), has hit a team high 59 three’s, and is shooting 45 percent from the floor.

Mike Gordon, G, Binghamton: Teammate Lazar Trifunovic’s numbers may be better, but Gordon is the heart and soul of the Bearcats and has left everything he has on the court night in and night out despite playing through a severe back injury that would have ended the season of most players. Gordon remains a defensive stopper, leading the league in steals with 2.35 per game, and his 11.8 points per game ranks him at 16th in the conference. Gordon’s scoring numbers are more impressive when you consider that he is the team’s point guard, and is third in the league in assists (3.9 per game), and 3rd in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.94 to 1).

3rd Team All-Conference

Lazar Trifunovic, F, Binghamton: Lazar’s numbers (14.3 ppg and 7.3 rebounds per game, third in the conference in the latter category) will likely garner a spot on the 2nd team when it comes to the conference awards. He is a terrific scorer around the post, has a soft touch, and is much more athletic than some would think, leading to some high-flying dunks. However, the word “defense” doesn’t seem to exist in his vocabulary, and it’s impossible for me to overlook his actions versus Boston University, when after being subbed out following a defensive lapse, he refused to take part in the team huddle and didn’t return to the game. In his defense, he has been playing hurt, but those aren’t the actions of a 1st or 2nd team player. His production has also slowed as of late, coinciding with Binghamton’s slip in the standings.

Cavell Johnson, F, UMBC: It is very unlikely that the league elects five players from UMBC to the all-conference teams, but all five deserve it. Johnson has provided some highlight-reel dunks and rejections (2.22 blocks per game ranks 2nd in the conference). He can score from anywhere on the court, scores 13 points per game and is the sixth-best rebounder in the conference, pulling down 6.8 a game. Johnson exploded on to the scene, but his numbers took a dip after getting a very bad case of the flu early in the year. He has been one of the best low post players in the league, and is the only player above 6’5″ (he’s 6’8″) to truly do it on both ends of the floor in the conference.

Mark Socoby, G/F, Maine: Socoby has been an incredible shooter, and has carried a flat-out bad Maine team down the stretch. He almost beat Hartford on his own, and then in essence single-handedly beat UNH later in the week. Socoby is scoring 14.5 points per game (good for 8th in the league), and crashes the boards to the tune of 5.7 per gameto lead his team.

Tyrece Gibbs, G, UNH: There have been times where Gibbs, who’s averaging 14.1 points per game, has just taken over. There are certain games when Gibbs hits fade-away and step-back threes at will. He has truly stepped his game up and become one of the elite guards in the conference, and more amazingly on a team in which he is one of only two (that’s right, count them two) returning scholarship players. There is no telling how good Gibbs numbers would be if he was on a team full of veterans, instead of frosh who are learning the college game as they go.

Michael Turner, G-F, Hartford: Turner has established himself as the league’s best perimeter defender, which is quite an accomplishment considering his competition for the title. Beyond his defensive abilities, Turner has become Hartford’s “glue guy” as Coach Dan Leibovitz puts it, as he has played sort of a point-forward position. When opponents press, he is usually the player whom Leibovitz wants with the ball in his hands. Turner’s 8.4 points per game don’t jump off the charts, or rank in the top 20, but like UMBC’s Jay Greene, Turner’s contributions are far larger than the sheer numbers on a stat sheet. He rebounds (5.7 per game, and Liebovitz calls him the team’s best on the boards), distributes (100 assists), defends, hits from downtown and in traffic, and more than anything has become the team’s quiet leader.

Rookie of the Year

This one is still too close to call, and is a three-horse race.

John Holland for Boston University has been phenomenal over the past month, providing the team with a second go-to scorer. More importantly, Holland has really crashed the glass. However, Holland waited until the last possible minute to turn it on, so he hasn’t done enough yet to have made himself stand above the other two rookies.

Alvin Abreu for UNH has been the opposite of Holland so to speak, as he was tremendous during the non-conference season, and was UNH’s go-to shooter. However, he seems to have hit the freshman wall a bit, and his scoring has dropped off. What has to be considered, however, is that Abreu’s decrease in scoring has coincided with two things. The first is that Abreu has taken over much of New Hampshire’s point guard duties. The second is that the Wildcats have changed from a zone defense to a man-to man defense, with Abreu being locked on to the other team’s best guard.

Hartford’s Morgan Sabia has been the most consistent rookie in the league, and is hitting roughly 45 percent of his three-pointers (best in the league). He has been huge down the stretch as the Hawks have climbed into second place. Sabia has proven to be more than just a shooter, and has become more and more aggressive and assertive in the post as the season has drawn on.

All-Rookie Team

Alvin Abreu, G, UNH
Morgan Sabia, F, Hartford
John Holland, G/F, Boston University
Dane DiLiegro, C, UNH:
DiLiegro has struggled to stay out of foul trouble, and his offensive game needs refining, but he has a world of promise and has already established himself as one of the league’s best rebounders and shot-blockers. His dunks have also energized the Ludholm crowds and can be described as “authoritative” to say the least.
Tim Ambrose, G, Albany: Ambrose has taken a long time to adjust to the college game, and is still raw and will have lapses when he just doesn’t seem to “get it”. However, he has had some moments, including 24 points versus Duke and 19 points in a huge win at Vermont. His athleticism is unreal.

Defensive Player of the Year

Michael Turner, Hartford: There is no way that Turner wins this award with graduating seniors Brian Lillis and Mike Gordon, both of whom have won the DPOY award before. However, Turner deserves it. In a league of lock-down perimeter defenders, he has been the best, and his job on Corey Lowe earlier in the year (Lowe shot 1-11 from behind the arc with Turner all over him) was his coming out party of sorts. Turner has done it all year long, and has been a hair better than both Lillis and Gordon.

All-Defensive Team

Michael Turner, Hartford: Lock-down perimeter defender, second in the conference in steals, guards opponent’s best perimeter player.

Brian Lillis, Albany: League’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, lock-down perimeter defender, guards opponent’s best perimeter player.

Mike Gordon, Binghamton: Leads the conference in steals.

Matt Spadafora, UMBC: Lock-down wing defender, has been brought in off the bench to shut down opponent’s best perimeter scorers. He has frustrated the likes of Mike Trimboli, John Holland, and Mike Gordon to name a few.

Marqus Blakely, Vermont: League’s best shot-blocker had eight blocks in one game this year and has also come up with some huge steals in clutch situations.

Coach of the Year

Randy Monroe, UMBC: The job that Monroe has done, taking UMBC from a perennial basement-dweller and turning them into hands-down the best team in the conference has been incredible. Monroe brought in three talented transfers and has been able to blend them in with established veterans, and has been able to get his team to play as a whole and buy into his system. It would be easy for a team like UMBC, with veterans and newcomers having to adjust to each other, to collapse in on itself, but the Retrievers have done the exact opposite, and are one of the tightest-knit teams in the conference.

Honorable Mention: Dan Leibovitz has done an incredible job at Hartford, and has turned them into a contender only a year removed from inheriting a bare-bones team that finished second-to-last.

Also Honorable Mention: Kevin Broadus, Binghamton. The Bearcats have fallen off a bit, but Broadus has done a terrific job in his first year, and already has the team playing a Princeton-style defense (quite an accomplishment).

     

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