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America East Post Season Awards

by - Published March 3, 2010 in Conference Notes

The America East regular season wrapped up on Sunday; the seedings are set, the teams are ready, and Binghamton managed to once again cause another “international incident” (the Bearcats withdrew from the America East tournament). Certain circumstances have kept me from contributing as regularly as I had desired this season, but make no mistake; I’m still as involved in ever – still have my finger on the America East pulse so to speak – and the upcoming America East tournament will once again bring me past the 80-games-attended mark for the season.

Without further ado, here are my America East Awards; they are based on who I feel merits each award, and not predictions of how the coaches will actually vote.

Coach of the Year:
·    Candidates: Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook; Ted Woodward, Maine.

There was much talk earlier this year about Binghamton interim coach Mark Macon for COY – absolutely not! Once the going got tough for Binghamton, Macon sat on the bench like a statue, and appeared as if he could have cared less about coaching – and leading – a team. Woodward deserves considerable consideration (did I just type that as a sentence?). Woodward has made Maine – a school that has been a perennial play-in game team, and never once seriously competed for a conference title – a contender. Woodward has gotten the Black Bears to win on the defensive end – something they haven’t done before – and perhaps even more impressive has gotten the Black Bears to the top of the conference with only one “All-Conference” player. Pikiell was shafted out of the COY award last year, and has continued to shine on Long Island: Pikiell completed the Seawolves transformation from worst to first, and has the Seawolves playing as a team, hard, for 40 minutes. He has fielded and coached the closest thing the league has to a complete team, and has gotten the job done recruiting, game-planning, and in the community.

·    Winner: Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook.

In a very close call, Pikiell should get the nod – no slight or disrespect to Woodward, but the job that Pikiell has done at Stony Brook is second to none; down the stretch the Seawolves never buckled, and showed up every time their backs were against the wall.

Player of the Year:
·   Candidates: Marqus Blakely, Forward, Vermont; John Holland, Guard/Forward, Boston Univeristy.

There are only two possible candidates in Blakely and Holland. Binghamton’s Greer Wright looked at one point like he might deserve some consideration, but he floundered down the stretch, and quite simply looked like he didn’t give a… when the going got tough – which removed him from any consideration. Muhammad El-Amin for Stony Brook put points up in bunches for the Seawolves; helping to propel Stony Brook to a regular season title – including a game winning shot against Albany. But El-Amin simply does not get the job done on the defensive end, does not play with the basketball IQ or the sense of urgency needed from a POY, and is surrounded by more overall talent that anyone else in the league. And it’s hard to make a case for El-Amin when many people on the Stony Brook’s staff don’t view him as the team’s best player. Holland was the league’s best offensive player – there is simply no argument. In years past, Holland has struggled mightily with consistency – and often disappeared when the Terriers needed him most – but this season he was a monster, leading the league in scoring (19.9 ppg overall, 19.5 ppg in conference games) while pouring it on down the stretch (including 43 points in the Terriers “Bracket Buster” game). Holland even made am impact on the defensive end – he still makes mistakes, but he gambled much less down the stretch and has become a solid defender. Blakely is simply the league’s best all-around player: he makes an impact every single night in one way or another – offense, defense, rebounding: He not only led the Catamounts in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, steals, and assists; he ranked among the America East leaders in those categories as well.

·    Winner: Marqus Blakely, Vermont.

It’s really not close – and that isn’t in any way disrespectful to Holland, who will most likely win a POY before graduating. Blakely simply impacts the game more than any other player in the league. Some fans still don’t give Blakely the respect he deserves – he’s never turned into the Taylor Coppenrath/Kenny Adeleke/T.J. Sorrentine/JJ Barea offensive juggernaut – and he can be stopped (or at least greatly slowed down) on the offensive end because, frankly, he can’t score from more than 4-feet away from the hoop. But he is a monster on the defensive end – he led the conference in steals and blocks (2.6 spg, 1.9 bpg) and disrupts the game both at the top of the 1-3-1 zone or defending in the paint. And on offense, Blakely is the catalyst for the league’s highest scoring team: far beyond his 17.4 points per game (16.5 ppg in conference games – good for 4th), Blakely draws constant double and triple-teams leaving his teammates WIDE OPEN. No one in the league gets to the line more, draws more fouls from opponents, or is more of a focus of opponent’s game-plans. Blakely will never be Coppenrath – but neither will anyone else in the league. Blakely is, quite simply, the best – overall, all-around – player in the league.

Defensive Player of the Year:
·   Candidates: Marqus Blakely, Forward, Vermont; Tommy Brenton, Forward, Stony Brook; Russell Graham, Guard, New Hampshire.

The two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Blakely is a one-man tornado: He disrupts the game at both the top and the bottom of the 1-3-1 zone. He can take over a game defensively on the perimeter, or on the low-post. He was the overall leader in both steals and blocks. There isn’t much more that needs to be said – perhaps the only knock on Blakely is that he gambles a lot, and occasionally hurts his team because of it, and isn’t the best man-to-man defender in the league. The fact that Brenton and Graham even merit consideration speaks volumes about their quality as defenders: Brenton is almost a lesser version of Blakely – he blocks shots, picks pockets, and defends both in the post and on the perimeter – and is actually a better man-to-man defender. He murdered the defensive glass (leading the league in defensive rebounding both overall and in conference games). Graham, a fire-hydrant bull-dog guard, is the best man-to-man perimeter defender in the league.

·    Winner: Marqus Blakely, Forward, Vermont.

Blakely is the league’s best overall defender; not much argument necessary.

Rookie of the Year:
·    Candidates: Dylan Talley, Guard, Binghamton; Mike Black, Guard, Albany; Ferg Myrick, Forward, New Hampshire.
* This was by far the weakest overall freshman class that I have seen in the 9 years I have followed the America East.

Talley, a 6’5” strong-guard type, lead all league rookies in scoring, both in conference games and overall (13.5 ppg in AE games, 11.8 overall), despite playing out of position at the point guard spot.  Talley also did a decent job on the glass. The knock on Talley is that he wasn’t much of a defender, and was not a team player (his offensive strategy at the point guard position was to put his head down and basically try to go 1 on 5 every time down the court). Black looks like Albany’s point guard of the future (although, we’ve said that about two different freshmen during the previous 2 years). After a slow start to the season, he blossomed; playing the most demanding position on the floor, averaging 10.4 points per game and 3.4 assists (7th in the league in conference games), while shooting .467 from behind the arc in league games (third best in the league). Myrick is, hands down, the league’s most talented rookie – as far as physical gifts it’s not even close – he averaged 10 points per game in conference game despite playing limited minutes.

·    Winner: Mike Black, Guard, Albany.

Talley’s numbers are certainly impressive – but it’s not that hard to put up numbers if you have some talent and are simply “trying to get yours” every night. Myrick’s talent trumps anyone’s, but he didn’t get the consistent playing time needed to put up numbers equivalent of his talent. Black had a very nice season, and did it all; ran a team, scored, shot from behind the arc, and even defended well on the ball.

1st Team All-Conference:
·    Candidates: Marqus Blakely, Forward, Vermont; John Holland, Guard/Forward, Boston University; Greer Wright, Forward, Binghamton; Muhammad El-Amin, Guard, Stony Brook; Joe Zeglinski, Guard, Hartford; Gerald McLemore, Guard, Maine; Tommy Brenton, Forward, Stony Brook.

Blakely and Holland need no explanation: Best player in the league, and best offensive player in the league, respectively. A 6’7” wing who can put the ball on the floor and take opponents of the dribble, Wright sputtered a bit down the stretch, but he finished the season fifth in overall scoring (15 ppg) and fourth in scoring in conference games (16.8ppg)., In conference games, Wright also finished fourth in assists (3.9 apg), fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio, and tenth in steals. El-Amin, McLemore, and Zeglinski are all pure-scorers. El-Amin – a 6’5” guard who is perhaps more adept at taking opponents off of the dribble than any other AE wing in recent history –  hit big shot after big shot for the 1st place Seawolves down the stretch, and was second in scoring in conference games (19.1 ppg), and third in overall scoring (16.8 ppg). McLemore ranked sixth in overall scoring, eight in conference scoring – and was the Black Bears offense. McLemore was a monster shooter from behind the three-point line, finished out the season on an unbelievable shooting streak from behind the arc, and his numbers become more impressive when considering that he was the focus of every opponent’s defensive scheme. Zeglinski bounced back from an ankle injury that derailed his previous season to rank fourth in overall scoring (16.7 ppg), and third in scoring in conference games (17.3). Zeglinski hit several big shots this season – including a buzzer beating game-winner at UNH – and made an impact on the glass as well. Brenton has been completely overlooked by most fans, because he has not become a scorer – yet. Brenton only averaged 7.7 points per game (7.9 in conference games), but he was the most important player for the Seawolves, and according to coach Pikiell, was the Seawolves best overall player. Brenton led the league in rebounding (both overall at 9.6 rpg, and in AE games at 9.8 rpg), and led Stony Brook in steals, assists, and field goal percentage. A 6’5” ball of super-athletic energy, Brenton was the heart and soul of Stony Brook, and the league’s toughest player. It was no coincidence that the Seawolves took off and ran the AE gauntlet precicesly when Pikiell turned Brenton into a “point-forward” and had him run the Seawolves offense as soon as Stony Brook crossed half court. Brenton is arguably the best defender in the league not named “Marqus Blakely” and was often put in man-to-man coverage with the opponent’s best offensive player – regardless of whether they were on the perimeter or in the paint.

·    Winners:
§    Marqus Blakely, Senior, Forward, Vermont: 17.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.6 spg, 1.9 bpg.

§    John Holland, Junior, Guard/Forward, Boston University: 19.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.6 spg.

§    Greer Wright, Junior, Forward, Binghamton: 15.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.2 spg.

§    Muhammad El-Amin, Senior, Guard, Stony Brook: 16.8 ppg, 19.1 ppg in conference games.

§    Tommy Brenton, Sophomore, Forward, Stony Brook: 7.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.8 spg.

Blakely and Holland need no explanation – they were the two best players in the league. Despite sputtering down the stretch, Wright was phenomenal in his first season. El-Amin, McLemore, and Zeglinski were all scorers who really didn’t defend at all, and El-Amin gets the edge in the “pure scoring department” as he averaged more points, hit more big shots, and played for the best team. Brenton is probably a shock and head scratcher to most fans, but he was a better overall player than any of the trio of scorers up for consideration – by the Marqus Blakely and Jay Greene factor of overall impact, Brenton made a bigger difference on the floor when considering the impact he had defending, rebounding, and distributing the ball.

2nd Team All-Conference:
§    Joe Zeglinski, R-Junior, Guard, Hartford: 16.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg.

§    Gerald McLemore, Sophomore, Guard, Maine: 14.9 ppg, .402 3pt-fg

§    Alvin Abreu, Junior, Guard, New Hampshire: 14.6 ppg.

§    Jake O’Brien, Sophomore, Forward, Boston University: 13.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg.

§    Maurice Joseph, Senior, Forward, Vermont: 14.3 ppg.

Zeglinski and McLemore were the last two kept off of the first team; both were big-time scorers and carried their respective clubs on offense. Zeglinski, a pint-sized fire-hydrant of a guard managed to dominate some games on the offensive glass, and was the heart and soul of the Hawks. McLemore still isn’t a “stopper,” but he made huge strides on the defensive end and was the Black Bears offense. Abreu was streaky, but was instrumental in the Wildcats 20 point win over 2nd place Vermont and 22 point win over 1st place Stony Brook. When on, Abreu is as good a scoring guard as there is, and also made a big impact on the defensive end. O’Brien was the 2nd best player on the Terriers, and took an absolute beating during the season as the Terriers only option in the low-post. He stretched the floor from behind the arc, gave the Terriers a scorer near the hoop, defended, and blocked some shots. Joseph is a one-dimensional player, but good-god can he shoot it when he gets into a groove, and down the stretch he was huge for the Catamounts.

3rd Team All-Conference:
§    Evan Fjeld, Sophomore, Forward, Vermont: 10.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg.

§    Corey Lowe, Senior, Guard, Boston University: 14.1 ppg, 4.3apg.

§    Carlos Strong, Senior, Guard, Boston University: 10.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.6 spg.

§    Chris De La Rosa, R-Sophomore, Guard, UMBC: 11.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.1 spg.

§    Brian Dougher, Sophomore, Guard, Stony Brook: 13.6 ppg, .423 3pt-fg.

Fjeld’s conference numbers were far greater than his overall numbers, as he became a real weapon during the conference slate. He also developed as a rebounder, and even shot blocker. What keeps Fjeld from the second team is that a great many of his buckets were completely uncontested, as he certainly benefitted from the double and triple-teams opponents employed on Blakely. Lowe’s numbers are considered a disappointment by many fans, but it wasn’t for lack of effort: Lowe completely bought into first-year head coach Pat Chambers’ scheme, and wore his heart on his sleeve during the season. For perhaps the first time in his career, Lowe truly sacrificed himself on both ends of the floor, played every game like it was his last, and put his team far above himself. Unfortunately, injuries took a heavy toll on Lowe down the stretch and prevented him from a 1st or 2nd team selection. Strong played the best basketball of his career down the stretch, and was instrumental in the Terriers late season surge. It is truly remarkable that De La Rosa lead the league in assists and assist to turnover ratio considering the team he was surrounded by. With any kind of supporting cast he might have been a 1st-teamer. Dougher was the best scorer and shooter on the league’s best team for a stretch, but cooled down the stretch. He was, however, still a terrific scorer.

All-Rookie Team:
·    Candidates: Dylan Talley, Guard, Binghamton; Mike Black, Guard, Albany, Ferg Myrick, Forward, New Hampshire; Murphy Burnatowski, Forward, Maine; Marcus Rouse, Guard, Stony Brook; Charles White, Guard, Hartford; Shawn Grant, Forward, UMBC; Adrian Satchell, Forward, UMBC; Logan Aronhalt, Guard, Albany.

·    Winners:
§   Dylan Talley, Guard, Binghamton
§    Mike Black, Guard, Albany
§   Ferg Myrick, Forward, New Hampshire
§    Murphy Burnatowski, Forward, Maine
§    Charles White, Guard, Hartford

Talley, Black, and Myrick are no-brainers. The other two spots were very much up in the air, but I give the edge to Burnatowski and White. Burnatowski was the best defender on a Black Bears squad that relied on defense. An incredibly tough, physical forward with athleticism and a mean-streak – the kind of good, Jason Grochowalski-Tommy Brenton mean-streak – Burnatowski made a huge impact on the defensive end, and showed some offensive flashes down the stretch while playing a crucial role in the Black Bears third-place finish. Charles White is a phenomenal perimeter defender – the best rookie defender in the league – and has done a remarkable job on some of the league’s best scorers (the job he did at home on Muhammad El-Amin was one of the more impressive performances by a freshman this season).

All-Defensive Team:
·    Candidates: Marqus Blakely, Forward, Vermont; Tommy Brenton, Forward, Stony Brook; Russell Graham, Guard, New Hampshire; Chretien Lukusa, Guard, Binghamton; Mahamoud Jabbi, Forward, Binghamton; Dane DiLiegro, Center, New Hampshire; Murphy Burnatowski, Forward, Maine; Garvey Young, Guard, Vermont; Dallis Joyner, Center, Stony Brook. Charles White, Guard, Hartford.

Blakely – who will, and should, win his third straight defensive player of the year – is a no brainer. Brenton is a defensive tornado who can lock down on both low-post and perimeter players and shut them down, and controls the defensive glass (he led the league in defensive rebounding – overall, and in conference games – by a considerable margin). Graham is the best perimeter defender in the league, with Lukusa and White battling for second. Jabbi – an incredibly bouncy forward – led the league in blocked shots in conference games. DiLiegro draws more charges than anyone in the conference, gets phenomenal low-post positioning, and is a monster on the defensive glass. Burnatowski is a physical forward who defends both the low-post and the perimeter, and was the best defender on a Black Bears squad that won games on the defensive end. Young is another very strong and physical perimeter defender.  Joyner came on late as a terrific low-post defender (the job he did on Blakely in the Seawolves regular-season championship clinching win over Vermont may well have been the best single defensive performance the league has seen this year).

·    Winners:
§    Marqus Blakely, Senior, Forward, Vermont
§    Tommy Brenton, Sophomore, Forward, Stony Brook
§    Russell Graham, Sophomore, Guard, New Hampshire
§    Mahamoud Jabbi, R-Junior, Forward, Binghamton
§    Charles White, Freshman, Guard, Hartford.

Blakely, Brenton, and Graham were locks. Jabbi’s shot blocking coupled with his rebounding, and White’s perimeter defense give them the slight edge over the rest of the competition.

All-Floor Burn/Blue Collar (The League’s five toughest guys):
§    Tommy Brenton, Sophomore, Forward, Stony Brook
§    Dane DiLiegro, Junior, Center, New Hampshire
§    Radar Ongeutou, Senior, Forward, New Hampshire
§    Joe Zeglinski, R-Junior, Guard, Hartford
§    Tyrone Conley, Junior, Guard, New Hampshire

All-Rim-Wreckers and Backboard-Shakers (Top in-game dunkers)
§    Marqus Blakely, Senior, Forward, Vermont
§    Tyrone Conley, Junior, Guard, New Hampshire
§    Tommy Brenton, Sophomore, Forward, Stony Brook
§    Dane DiLiegro, Junior, Center, New Hampshire
§    Dallis Joyner, Sophomore, Center, Stony Brook

Blakely may be the best all-around in-game dunker the conference has seen. Conley has the highest vertical leap in the conference and is an insane high-flying acrobat – much closer to 6’1” than his listed 6’3” – he has been finishing off alley-oops and dunking on people in a way the conference hasn’t seen (from a small-guard) since Matt Turner. Brenton is another top-end athlete, but unlike Blakely and Conley, his dunks aren’t about acrobatics: he just tries to dunk on people as hard as he physically can. Brenton has become the America East’s version of Charles Barkley when it comes to finishing off fast breaks like a runaway freight train. DiLiegro and Joyner are all about raw-power: they both try to rip the rim off every time.  Notables not making the list: John Holland, Chauncey Gilliam, and Carlos Strong – who are all terrific dunkers but just didn’t quite bring it enough this year.

All-Bust (The Biggest Disappointments)
§    Will Harris, Forward, Albany: Harris’s entire career as a Great Dane can be summed up in a line from Jay-Z: “You know the type, loud as a motorbike, but wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight.” No one in the league talks more trash, makes more noise, or pounds their chest more prior to tip-off than Harris. And no one is quieter in big-game situations and big moments in their career. Harris is easily one of the three most physically talented players in the league, yet he couldn’t even rank in the top 20 in either scoring or rebounding during the conference slate. Harris simply doesn’t care, or doesn’t get it, or both. At the end of the day, he will have began his career starting at Virginia, and finished it sitting on the bench at Albany.

§   Tim Ambrose, Guard, Albany: Like Harris, Ambrose has incredible physical gifts, but has never come close to getting much out of the gifts he was blessed with on the court. He still doesn’t defend ANYONE, and doesn’t seem to have much energy or passion for the game.

§    Joel Barkers, Forward, Hartford: Barkers came out of the gate on fire in his first season at Hartford, and looked like the physical presence they desperately needed on the low-blocks. Alas, it wouldn’t last, as Barkers has looked uninspired and disinterested during most of the season.

§    Robbie Jackson, Center, UMBC: A transfer from Marshall, Jackson was billed as a 7-footer who would change the game in the America East. Jackson took the floor out of shape, overweight, and without much passion or fire. At 7 feet (more like 6’10”) he plays the game like he’s 6’1”.

§    Athletic Director Joel Thirer/Head Coach Kevin Broadus/Tiki Mayben/D.J. Rivera/Malik Alvin et all: What more needs to be said about this collective group of clowns that has imploded the Binghamton basketball program? They single handedly turned Vestal, NY, into the setting of a Road Warrior movie. Cocaine and Marijuana Dealing, condom stealing, credit card fraud, paying players, pressuring admissions to let in unqualified students, pressuring teachers to change grades, and in general allowing student athletes at a low-major school to live completely above the law; that sort of thing isn’t acceptable at UConn, let alone Binghamton. To quote Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison, “I award them no points, and may god have mercy on their souls.”

Catching Up on America East – January 26, 2010

by - Published January 26, 2010 in Conference Notes

(Author’s note: I would like to take a second to apologize to my readers, as well as the loyal fans of the America East conference, for my prolonged absence. I had several things that I was juggling on my plate that prevented me from writing more during the past few months, however I have still been able to keep my finger on the pulse of the America East conference – by my current count I have still managed to attend far too many America East games thus far. I hope that my readership will return to Hoopville, as I dive back into the action of covering the America East for the stretch run).

There’s no way to sugar coat it: The America East just isn’t good this year. After spending last season ranked in the mid-teens, the America East looks destined to end the season ranked in the mid-twenties. And to be blunt, in the nine years that I have followed the conference, this is the weakest it has ever been.

The silver lining, however, is that the “down year” could produce a tremendous conference tournament. Last season parity reigned supreme in the America East, and while there was no real “power” like Vermont and Boston University during the first part of the decade, Albany of a few years ago, or even UMBC from two years ago, what resulted was the most competitive conference tournament in recent memory, as every single game seemed to go down to the buzzer. With even more parity this season, the 2010 “AE” Tournament could prove to the most hard-fought, dramatic, and compelling in conference history. The common phrase thrown around every season is “on any night, any team can beat any other,” but nowhere has this phrase ever been more true than the upcoming tournament, as on a neutral court in Hartford, literally any of the nine America East squads has a real chance of beating any of the other eight.

For the conference as a whole, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as the league will be better next season (it couldn’t get any worse, right?)  The vast majority of the America East’s talent lies within it’s junior (John Holland, Joe Zeglinski, Dane DiLiegro, Greer Wright, Sean McNally, Tyrone Conley, Alvin Abreu, Tim Ambrose), and sophomore (Tommy Brenton, Gerald McLemore, Jake O’Brien, Brian Dougher, Dallis Joyner) classes.

Having seen all nine teams play live at least three times, here are some quick thoughts on the year:

  • While parity reigns supreme, the foursome of Stony Brook, Vermont, Boston University, and Maine have separated themselves from the rest of the league (yes, that’s right, Maine!)  Amazingly, Binghamton (yes, the same Binghamton that lost its top 3 talents, head coach, Athletic Director and 3 other players, and struggled against division II schools early on) has already knocked off two of the top four teams in the standings, and looks to be straddling the middle ground between the top-four and bottom-four in the league.
  • As always, winning on the road is going to play a large roll in determining the final standings, which is why I like Stony Brook as my top-team right now. Granted the Seawolves have had close calls at home against lesser conference foes (six-point wins over New Hampshire and Albany), and have lost to both Binghamton and Maine (perhaps the least “talented” of the top 5 teams in the conference). But Stony Brook has played the toughest conference schedule to start the league slate, playing all of the top teams in the league (Vermont, BU, Maine, Binghamton) on the road. The Seawolves went into Boston and punched BU in the mouth, thoroughly beating the Terriers in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score (84-75), and trekked up to Vermont and out-toughed the Catamounts for a five-point win in a gritty, physical game. The Seawolves have depth (they use a ten-man rotation), play super-physical (toughest team in the league), and crash the boards and defend the heck out of the ball as a team, no matter who is on the floor. They also have the league’s most diverse offense, with Brian Dougher (and to a lesser degree Marcus Rouse) providing big-time shooting from downtown, Muhammad El-Amin, Chris Martin, and Tommy Brenton attacking the basket on drives, and Brenton and Dallis Joyner giving the Seawolves a threat in the low post. With that said, Stony Brook is still very short on experience, and has a tendency to rely on three-point shooting too much while ignoring their low-post scorers, and while I see the Seawolves as the favorites as of now, it is by the slimmest of margins.
  • The two surprises of the conference have been Maine and Binghamton, and both deserve a tremendous amount of credit.
  • Coming off of a season in which they won eight games, played completely uninspired ball, and “phoned it in” during their play-in game loss in the conference tournament, no one (myself included) expected much out of Maine, a team that seemingly hasn’t found a way to string two wins together since head coach Ted Woodward took over five years ago. The Black Bears shocked Boston College on the road for the America East’s “biggest” non-conference win (the Black Bears should expect that BC head coach Al Skinner will be removing them from his schedule from here on out), and currently sit atop the league standings at 5-1.  That includes a home win over Stony Brook and a win on the road at Binghamton.  Sophomore Gerald McLemore continues to impress, ranking 7th in the conference in scoring (14.8 ppg), and junior center Sean McNally continues to play the role of school yard bully in the paint (11 ppg, 7.6 rpg). But the difference for the Black Bears has been their play on the defensive end, and the emergence of several very solid role players. Maine has controlled the tempo of the game – playing physical, clogging passing lanes, contesting shots, and generally slowing it down to a snail’s pace – and is holding America East opponents to a league-best 58.5 points per game.  For all his scoring, McLemore, who is a prolific three-point shooter who also gets tough buckets on drives to the basket, has made an equally big impact on the defensive end.Newcomers Murphy Burnatowski and Mike Allison, as well as the return of junior Malachi Peay and emergence of Troy Barnies, has given Maine a legitimate cast of complementary players to McNally and McLemore. Burnatowski, a freshman from Canada, is the Black Bears’ best athlete, and while still rough and without a position offensively, the 6’7″, 230-pound (more like 6’5″, 245) has a mean streak and toughness on the court that Maine has been missing for years, and makes things tough on the defensive end. Fellow Canadian Allison has given the Black Bears a nice touch and an offensive boost off of the bench, and at 6’9″ he should only get better when he puts some weight on his skinny frame. Peay returned after missing the first half to concentrate on academics, and is a defensive tornado who seems to always have his hands in the passing lane, and also gives the Black Bears a new dimension on the offensive end as he has a knack for getting to the hoop. Barnies may never develop into the player that Black Bears fans had hoped, but since being moved to the bench halfway through the non-conference season, he seems to finally be understanding that he’s 6’7″ and a decent athlete playing in a conference of 6’5″ post players, and is finally beginning to defend and rebound.
  • As surprising as Maine has been, the biggest jaw-dropper of the season has been the play of the Binghamton Bearcats, who witnessed the implosion of last season’s conference championship squad, yet have found a way to not only be competitive, but frankly, be a very solid team. To be fair, the Bearcats do benefit from playing in front of the conference’s largest fan base, and the Events Center in Binghamton is the one true home court advantage in the America East.  The Bearcats are also a much more pedestrian team on the road than they are at home. But still, this is a team suiting up seven scholarship players.  This is a team which didn’t return one of its top four scorers from last season, and one which has ridden through more controversy and bad press than any team in the history of the America East. What is going on at Binghamton is a credit to the collective hearts of their remaining players. Binghamton has also benefitted greatly from the play of Greer Wright, a JuCo transfer who has played himself onto the 1st team All-Conference. A springly 6’7″, Wright can score from all over and is proving to be a huge match-up problem in the America East. In Binghamton’s home victory over Vermont, Wright outplayed two-time Player of the Year Marcus Blakely, and poured in 30 points on 10-15 shooting. The Bearcats have also benefitted from the play of freshman Dylan Talley, who looks like the conference Rookie of the Year, and is also a tough match-up as a very strong 6’5″ guard. Binghamton doesn’t have enough bullets to win any shoot-outs, but they defend the hell out of the ball, play with tremendous heart for 40 minutes, and at home in front of their vocal fan base are going to be a very tough out for anyone.
  • For all the talk of parity, the America East champion is going to be one of three teams: Boston University, Vermont, or Stony Brook. Binghamton just doesn’t have it to win on the road, and as excited as I am to see Maine competing, I still don’t have a ton of faith in Woodward, and they just don’t have the athletes or experience. Vermont is a “one trick pony” with Marqus Blakely carrying their team on both ends, but the America East might just be bad enough for that one trick to win. Boston University has absolutely no depth, but when John Holland, Corey Lowe, and Jake O’Brien are all playing to their potential  and they finally have been clicking at the same time as of late – they are going to be very tough to beat. Stony Brook is the most balanced team, as they are tough and athletic, they defend, and have a mean streak.

But what do I know? After all, here’s how I ranked the team in the pre-season:

  1. BU
  2. Stony Brook
  3. Vermont
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Albany
  6. Hartford
  7. UMBC
  8. Maine
  9. Binghamton

And with half of the season in the books, here’s how the league standings look as of now:

  1. Maine 5-1: (13-6 overall)
  2. Stony Brook 6-2: (14-7)
  3. Boston University: 6-2 (11-9)
  4. Vermont: 5-2 (14-7)
  5. Binghamton: 3-3 (8-13)
  6. Hartford: 3-4 (5-15)
  7. New Hampshire: 2-4 (7-10)
  8. Albany: 1-6 (6-16)
  9. UMBC: 0-7 (1-19)

I’ve got two right, that’s gotta’ count for something… right?

Make sure to check back in to Hoopville for upcoming bi-weekly conference notebooks, game stories, and player features, as well as a multi-part trip down memory lane.

It’s good to be back.

America East Notebook – December 11, 2009

by - Published December 11, 2009 in Conference Notes

Here’s another round of sites, sounds, and observations from around the America East Conference:

  • Whoa there Boston University fans: calm down, take it easy (Not you Hot Dog – there should be more fans with your passion on Comm. Ave). After the Terriers 63-53 victory over Bucknell on Sunday at the Agganis Arena, Terrier Nation was once again proclaiming BU the conference favorite.I’m sorry, did I miss something? Am I supposed to be impressed by the Terriers barely squeaking out a win over an exhausted Bucknell squad that was playing its third game in five days, and two nights before had lost to Binghamton – the same Binghamton squad that gutted its roster and coaching staff before the season’s tip-off after a host of legal troubles?

    Terrier fans are quick to point out that the Terriers field the most talented trio in the league in Corey Lowe, John Holland, and Jake O’Brien – but talent alone has never won the America East. Perhaps even more concerning has been the Terriers’ lack of direction and effort on defense and on the glass, none of which was rectified against the Bison as the Terriers allowed Bucknell open looks all night. The Terriers’ 32-16 halftime lead vanished minutes into the second half, and had the Bison been playing with any legs under them, they very well could have walked away with the game. Further concerning was the absence of Lowe for the entire game (1-5 from behind the arc, five turnovers), and Holland’s disappearance in the second half. Equally concerning is the Terriers’ lack of depth in the post, and lack of sheer effort on the glass, as BU managed a mere seven offensive rebounds.

  • While we’re on the subject of rebounding, it drives me absolutely insane when I watch teams give little effort on the glass. It takes absolutely no talent to make an attempt at a rebound – all it takes is effort to fight for positioning. Yet all too often this season I have watched one America East team after another stand around on the court and simply watch as a shot goes up on the defensive end, and subsequently watch as their opponent grabs an offensive rebound and gets an uncontested put-back. And I can’t count the number of times on offense when America East squads have headed back down court after a shot is released only to watch it rim out, giving the other team an easy defensive board. I’ve almost ripped my hair out watching undersized, rebounding-challenged squads like Hartford, Boston University, and Vermont stand around on the perimeter and literally concede rebounds to their opponent. Crashing the glass as a team is even more important for America East teams because most are undersized and guard-oriented, and can not rely on their front-court alone to rebound.Which is one of the reasons why I like Stony Brook so much: no matter what lineup is on the floor, all five Seawolves crash the glass on every single shot, and fight like hell for every rebound.
  • Back to Boston University for a minute. I don’t want Terriers fans to think I have an ax to grind – quite the contrary, I was a BU fan long before I was a writer, and I would love for the Terriers to make it to the big dance. The problem is that they simply haven’t shown much on the court, and fans are blind to the product in front of them because of the “Talent” of the Terriers’ trio of Holland, Lowe, and O’Brien. In the America East conference, talent alone does not guarantee a win, in fact sometimes it can be quite the opposite: Hartford from 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 had a heck of a lot of talent, and Northeastern with Jose Juan Barea, Javorie Wilson, Marcus Barnes, et al., from 2003-2005 had even more, yet neither came close to the NCAA tournament because they never played up to their potential (or as anything more than five chuckers). And, frankly, neither Lowe nor Holland has done much to make their teammates around them better when they are not scoring, and both have a history of disappearing when the Terriers need them the most in the conference tournament. Furthermore, BU needs to start attacking the basket, and that starts with Holland and Lowe, each of whom could score 25 points a game if they had the mindset to get to the bucket instead of jacking up 26-footers. Right now Boston University relies way too much on outside shooting, and I have yet to see a team win the America East tournament on the strength of three-point shooting alone. The strategy of bombing away from downtown inevitably fails, because in the do-or-die AE tourney, teams inevitably have an off shooting night. O’Brien has looked very solid in the early going as the Terriers only low-post scorer and defender, but he can’t do it alone, and he isn’t getting much help.This is a team with as much as, if not more, talent than anyone else in the conference, but they need to start matching that talent with direction and effort on the court.
  • What I have liked from BU so far has been the demeanor and attitude of freshman B.J. Bailey, who made the play of the game against Bucknell with a critical follow, rebound, and put-back bucket on a missed three. Bailey has played with tremendous poise, crashes the glass hard, and is the one Terrier guard who takes the ball right at the hoop.
  • When UMBC forward Darryl Proctor graduated last season, I found myself looking for a new favorite player in the conference. I’ve quickly found one in Stony Brook forward Tommy Brenton, who has a knack for sticking his nose – and chin – in front of opponent’s elbows, and has taken the reins from Proctor as the leagues toughest player (he’s also easily the craziest: no lie, the kid might be certifiable).
    Stony Brook vs. Columbia
    There may not be a more fun to watch player in the conference than Brenton: no one plays (or dunks) harder, or with more energy and fire. And no one is better from a fundamental standpoint, as he is the epiphany of a player who can win a game without scoring a point: Brenton is a warrior on the glass, and after setting school records as a true freshman last season, has surpassed Marqus Blakely as the league’s best rebounder because of his sheer tenacity fighting for positioning around the hoop (it also does hurt that he can flat out jump out of the gym). Brenton  currently ranks first in offensive rebounds, first in total rebounds, and trails Blakely by 0.1 on the defensive glass. Brenton has also established himself as the best defender in the league not named Blakely. On defense, Brenton is usually charged with covering the opponent’s best scorer – no matter whether he’s a guard or forward, perimeter player or low-post scorer. On offense, once Stony Brook get’s into its half-court set, more often than not Brenton will run the team as a “point-forward,” and ranks first in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.Brenton has been a human highlight reel in the early going. His two-handed tomahawk slam over URI leapers Delroy James and Lamonte Ulmer silenced the Ryan Center crowd, and could only be described as downright disrespectful. And his steal and one-handed tomahawk slam to complete a furious come from behind win against Columbia was huge.

    But for all of his monster slams and floor-burn plays, Brenton may be most fun for his mental approach. Next time you attend a Stony Brook game, pay attention to the way Brenton sets up opponents minutes ahead to commit offensive fouls, and watch the way he recovers from a late rotation by getting a hand directly in the face of a shooter, instead of flying for an impossible block and committing a late foul.But to make the NCAA tournament, Stony Brook is going to need Brenton to add a new dimension to his game and start scoring more. Brenton has all the tools to do it: he’s as athletic as anyone, is strong as an ox around the hoop, and shot well over 40 percent from behind the arc last year – but he needs to develop a scorer’s mentality and start looking for his shot more.

  • Stony Brook needs more scoring from Brenton because of the loss of 6’10”, 298-pound senior center Desmond Adedeji, who tore his ACL against St. John’s and is out for the season. Adedeji’s injury is particularly heart-breaking, as it will likely mean an early end to his career (he used up his redshirt season when he transferred from Dayton per NCAA rules), and it takes on an even more cruel twist when considering that Adedeji worked himself back into shape over the summer, losing almost 50 pounds he had gained after knee surgery last year, and was looking like he would make a major impact in his final year of college.”Were all just heart-broken for Des’. He worked so hard to get back into shape, and he was really looking like he was going to be an All-Conference type player,” said Seawolves head coach Steve Pikiell.
  • Speaking of All-Conference players, it’s far to early to make predictions on who will walk away with All-Conference honors, but through almost a third of the season, my All-Conference First Team as of right now would be:
    • Marqus Blakely, F – Vermont: 17.0 ppg (2nd), 9.0 rpg (2nd), 3.0 spg (1st), 2.4 bpg (1st).
    • Tommy Brenton, F – Stony Brook: 9.4 rpg (1st), 2.9:1 assist to turnover ratio (1st), 2.3 spg (2nd), .643 fg pct (2nd), 3.2 apg (8th).
    • John Holland, G/F – Boston University: 19 ppg (1st), 2.0 spg (3rd), 6.3 rpg (5th).
    • Tim Ambrose, G – Albany: 15.8 ppg (4th), .3.6 apg (7th), 1:1 assist to turnover ratio 441 fg pct (10th).
    • Will Harris, F – Albany: 16.4 ppg (3rd), .500 3pt-fg pct (1st), .533 fg pct (5th).
  • You have to tip your cap to the effort of the Binghamton Bearcats, who earned their first win over a Division I team against Bucknell on Friday. The Bearcats’ troubles during the offseason were highly publicized, as stars D.J. Rivera, Tiki Mayben, Malik Alvin, and three other players were removed from the team, and head coach Kevin Broadus was “reassigned” shortly thereafter (assistant coach Julius Allen has also subsequently be “reassigned”). It’s well-known that Mayben was arrested and charged with selling cocaine, and word of many other improprieties by the departed players and coaching staff abound. The Bearcats began the season with only seven eligible scholarship players and no true point guard (or player who averaged above 4.4 points per game last season). Yet the Bearcats have fought as hard as any team in the league, and hung in most games. Their scrap and grit are admirable, and they would be a great story – if only Mark Macon were not on the sidelines. Binghamton has already given Macon, the interim head coach, a raise, and fans have been quick to blind themselves to his connection with the previous coaching staff, but come on: Macon was a key player in the train wreck that was the Bearcats basketball during the off-season (anyone who thinks that Broadus’ right-hand man wasn’t involved has their head in the sand). As much as I want Binghamton to completely move on and distance themselves from what happened during the previous regime, that won’t happen as long as anyone from the previous coaching staff is at the helm.
  • The Play That Wasn’t: Against Harvard, UNH guard Tyrone “Skyrone” Conley had a dunk waived off that would have put to shame Marqus Blakely and John Holland’s Sports Center Top Play dunks of years past. Conley (generously listed at 6’3″) caught a pass on the right baseline, took one dribble and elevated, almost completely clearing 6’6″ Dee Giger as he threw down a monster one-handed tomahawk jam. Giger slid underneath Conley well after he had taken flight, and was standing directly underneath the basket when Conely made contact, both of which should have resulted in a non-call or blocking foul and not a charge. But, as is often par for the America East course, a charging call was made, costing Conley not only the dunk of the year, but one of the best dunks I’ve ever seen. Calls like this would be easily avoided if the NCAA instituted a circle in the zone where charges can not be drawn beneath the hoop like the NBA employs, but that would be too easy wouldn’t it?
  • Thought of the week: Escape From Alcatraz – Binghamton Bearcats Basketball.

Raining on the Terriers’ Parade

by - Published December 4, 2009 in Columns

I know: This was a game Boston University wasn’t supposed to win.

And I know that BU is dealing with a plethora of injuries to key players, including senior star Corey Lowe (ankle) and projected starting center Scott Brittain (concussion).  I know that even at full strength, the Terriers just don’t stack up with 13th-ranked UConn. I know all about the trio of Lowe, John Holland, and Jake O’Brien being the most talented three-headed monster in the conference. I know that first-year head coach Patrick Chambers is a much-needed breath of fresh-air to an emotionally burnt out team. And I know that the Terriers are dealing with a sharp learning curve that comes with trying to learn a completely new offensive, defensive, and cultural scheme and mindset. And I know that this is a down year for the America East. And I know, Holland scored a game-high 23 points against Northeastern and O’Brien had a double-double with 18 and 10 boards.

But – I’m sorry – the Terriers as the America East conference favorite? No. Not the way this team is currently constituted. Not right now. Not the way they’ve played for the past two weeks. And the UConn game was the icing on the cake.

It’s not that BU lost to UConn – the undermanned Terriers weren’t expected to compete against national power UConn – it’s that the very players who are supposed to carry BU to a conference title didn’t bother to show up (and I’m not talking about injured seniors Corey Lowe, Scott Brittain, and Valdas Siruitus, none of whom made the short trip down I-84 to Hartford).

Long before the Huskies’ offense finally sputtered into gear, long before UConn began asserting themselves and playing up to their potential, and long before Stanley Robinson started defying the laws of gravity, BU had beaten themselves.

BU had the opportunity to come in and put up a fight against a team looking past them, as to be blunt, UConn didn’t look like they were taking the game seriously from their opening layup lines.

But the Terriers looked lost and scared on offense. And, frankly, it’s a bad sign when freshman B.J. Bailey and walk-on Tunde Agboola (who up until a game ago had never played a meaningful minute in his career) play with more poise, fire and heart – and do a better job of “getting up” for a big game – than John Holland, Carlos Strong, and Jake O’Brien.

Thus far, Holland has been a player defined by tremendous ability and inconsistent play on the floor – the fact that he could score 15 points against Northeastern, 18 against Harvard, and 23 against UConn, yet still look invisible for large stretches, speaks to both.

And for all the talk about Holland’s 23 points, he was in single digits until the game was a blowout, and scored most of his buckets against UConn’s bench (I don’t put much stock in dunks over Alex Hornat or Kyle Bailey). And on the defensive end, he was completely lost, spending more of his time sprawled on the floor after going for ill-advised steal attempts than he did covering his man on defense.

Chambers has been quick to speak up for Holland, saying, “John is a guy who just needs to stop thinking out there, we just need to calm him down and he’ll be fine.” And in Holland’s defense, he’s a terrific kid with unmatched talent in the America East. But he just doesn’t look like a guy right now who can consistently play at a high-level.

Perhaps more concerning, is the apparent lack of spring in Holland’s step, so to speak, in the early going, as he has appeared tentative on the break, and isn’t elevating as high, or throwing down dunks with as much authority, as he did last year.

Chambers assured reporters after the game that Holland was perfectly healthy, but that only raises concerns as to his mind-set and energy level on the court.

In defense of the team, in his first year Chambers has introduced an up-and-down run-and-gun style of basketball that is something completely foreign to the Terriers’ nucleus that had played under Dennis Wolff’s grind-the-shot clock-down style. And certainly, the Terriers are still learning the system.  Privately, behind closed doors the coaching staff was prepared to start the season 0-8 as the Terriers adjusted.

“We’re still not where we need to be, but were going to get there,” said Chambers. “The guys are fighting through it.  There’s still a learning curve, but I think come the first week of January we’ll be where we need to be.”

But learning curve or not, it’s hard to explain away the play of BU’s veterans when they’ve played in bigger games than this. And perhaps the most lasting images from the UConn game were Holland sliding around on the floor and out of position on defense, chucking and ducking on offense, and Strong – when he was one of only two guards on the floor – sprinting down court with his back to his teammates on an inbounds play during a UConn press.

And it’s hard to not be a bit concerned when I saw “less talented” squads in Stony Brook and Hartford go into the XL center last season and put up much more fight against a much more talented UConn squad.

Even with a healthy Lowe, and if BU can grasp Chambers’ system by the end of the year, this is a seriously flawed team with a seriously short bench and very shaky low post game. Lowe, Holland, and Strong are all streaky players who have the ability to both light up the scoreboard and vanish in a big game.

In the low post, the Terriers have been without the services of 6’9″ starting center Scott Brittain all season long, and shouldn’t count on getting him back, period: Brittain suffered the sixth concussion of his life during the pre-season, and even if he does return, it’s going to be hard to expect much from him.

Additionally, even if Brittain can come back, Chambers is still only working with a three-man bench, and fouls and the grind of the season could be a problem.

Beyond the bench, BU is going to have a hard time in the low post with only O’Brien – who fights with all his heart but is still much more of a skilled and finesse player than a physical presence on the low blocks – and Siruitis and sophomore Jeff Pelage, both of whom are really suited as role players.

How does BU match up against a team that can throw the ball into the post and punch the Terriers in the mouth? The Terriers will have their hands full with the frontcourts of New Hampshire with Dane DiLiegro, and Maine with Sean McNally, so how the heck do they counter Vermont when they throw the ball into the post to Marqus Blakely? How do they match up to a deep and super physical Stony Brook squad that never gives up, employs a ten man rotation, crashes the boards with authority, and plays all-out physical basketball for forty-minutes?

The answer is, right now – the way this team is currently constituted – they don’t.

Not when skinny step-out four-man Jake O’Brien is the only interior defender and low-post option on offense. Not when Corey Lowe and John Holland drift around the perimeter aimlessly whenever they don’t have the ball in their hands, or jack up ill-advised 26 footers the second they get a touch.

Don’t get me wrong, this BU team is talented, and their “A game” is as good as anyone’s in the America East.  When Holland is out in transition, throwing down highlight-reel dunks and slashing to the hoop, when Carlos Strong is bulling his way over and through opposing guards to the hoop, and when Strong, Lowe, and Morris are nailing their threes, and O’Brien is mixing it up inside and out, their going to be tough to beat.

But the problem is, far too often the Terriers show up and play their “C” game, and that starts with the effort and mentality of their go-to-guys. At some point, you can’t blame the lack of focus, effort, and basketball awareness on youth, inexperience, or a previous couching regime: Lowe and Strong are seniors, and Holland and O’Brien have started almost every single game of their respective careers. All of them have played in big games against big-time opponents. They have a coach who supports his players with an unmatched enthusiasm and zeal – one who isn’t going to bench a player for a bad shot, or tear him down verbally for an on the court mistake.

Right now, this is a Terriers team with talent, but one that’s still struggling to find its way in the basketball world. And if the Terriers’ nucleus hasn’t put it together at this point in their careers, do we really believe that they are suddenly going to have an on-court epiphany before the season is over?

And even if they do, BU is going to need their trio of Lowe, Holland, and O’Brien to play at the top of their game every game down the stretch.  That’s a lot to ask of three players who are going to have played a heck of a lot of minutes by season’s end.

But I guess it could be worse, 2-6 is a heck of a lot better than 0-8.

Right?

Something Old. Something New

by - Published November 20, 2009 in Conference Notes

Something Old, Something New

Zeglinski shines with assist from Torres, Newcomers, in Hawks’ route of Marist.

(West Hartford, CT) – It was only a year, but to Joe Zeglinski, it felt like a lifetime.

“It was really hard, sitting out that long and just watching,” said the red-shirt junior in what may have been the understatement of the year, referring to the season he lost to torn ligaments in his left ankle.

Two years ago, the University of Hartford Hawks came within one game of the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, with Zeglinski playing a starring role, averaging over 16 points per game and knocking down a school record 103 three-pointers en route to becoming only the second sophomore in school history to be named 1st Team All-Conference (the first being former NBA All-Star Vin Baker).

A year later, a dejected Zeglinski would watch helplessly from the sidelines as the Hawks plummeted to last place, struggling through a 7-26 campaign, including 2-14 in conference games.

As painful as it was to watch an outmanned and out-gunned Hawks team struggle through the season, it was even harder to watch Zeglinsk – one of the fiercest competitors in the country – confined to a medical boot, squirming anxiously on sidelines with a dejected and downtrodden look on his face.

“It hurt me to watch it,” he reflected, “We want to forget about last year, put it behind us, not talk about it any more.”

For Zeglinski and the Hawks, Wednesday was an opportunity to turn the page and put their past behind them, as Hartford annihilated the Marist Red Foxes 75-38 in their home opener.

From the opening tip, the Hawks dominated, hitting the Red Foxes with a haymaker in the opening minutes by drilling three-straight 3’s, and never looked back, at one point pushing their lead past 40 points. And it was Zeglinski who was at the center of it, as he poured in a game high 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 6-8 from behind the arc.

“Having Joe back is huge, he’s a great player, he changes the game,” said point guard Andres Torres.

After struggling in the Haws season opening loss to Quinnipiac, Zeglinski awoke in the Hawks second game, drilling seven three’s and scoring 23 points in the Hawks near upset against Baylor.

And against Marist, he was unconscious: Zeglinski finished the night with 22 points, but he could have scored 40, as no one on the court could stop him. Zeglinski hit three’s from NBA range over a swarm of defenders, and looked to be playing with more confidence than ever. Even more encouraging than his outside shooting, was the step-back jumper off of his left ankle, and a drive to the basket in which he plowed through what looked like the entire Red Foxes roster before muscling his way to the hoop for an acrobatic bucket.

But to head coach Dan Leibovitz, the most encouraging sign from Zeglinski was his effort on the defensive end.

“Joe is playing the best defense of his life, he’s improved his game on the defensive end,” raved Leibovitz.

And what should be scary for the rest of the America East is that Zeglinski still isn’t anywhere close to one-hundred percent: He’s still wearing a cumbersome brace on his left ankle, and still a half step slower, and flying a little bit lower, than he was before the injury.

Which begs the question; if Zeglinski can do this while still hobbled and trying to shake off the cob-webs accumulated from a year of watching from the sidelines, what can he do once he’s regained his running back’s speed and 37 inch vertical leap, and had an entire non-conference schedule to adjusted back into the flow of the game?

But what’s most encouraging for the Hawks is that Zeglinski isn’t doing it alone anymore; junior Andres Torres has emerged as a game changing playmaker, and first year junior college transfers Milton Burton and Joel Barkers have given the Hawks firepower in two area’s that crippled them last season: an athletic wing, and physicality in the post.

Torres keyed the Hawks offense Wednesday, blowing by Marist defenders and leaving them in his dust as he dished out seven assists without a turnover.

After being benched for the first half of the season opener, Torres has played out of his mind dishing out 23 assists on the season while only committing two turnovers. After struggling to find a true point guard during his tenure at Hartford, Leibovitz appears to have a game changer in Torres.

“It’s happening because when he turns one over in practice, we go crazy,” Leibovitz said. “We act like the world is coming to an end.”

The fastest player on the Hawks (and quite possibly fastest in the league), Torres has emerged as a game changing playmaker at the point guard position, as he seems to have finally harnessed his sprinter’s speed, and is excelling at attacking the paint and drawing the defense before kicking off to the open man.

Equally encouraging for the Hawks has been the play of Burton and Barkers. Junior college transfers generally take a while to adjust to the division I game, but the Hawks’ duo has hit the ground running: Last season Hartford was murdered in the paint, as the Hawks were the worst rebounding team in the conference and struggled to score from the low post. Barkers appears to be exactly what the Hawks have lacked; through three games the junior is averaging 17.3 points per game and shooting almost sixty-percent. More importantly, he’s clearing room on the low blocks. Against Marist, Barkers plowed over defenders and barreled his way to 15 points on 7-10 shooting.

Burton has given the Hawk the “X-Factor” that they were lacking last season. A high-flier with top-level athleticism, Burton scored 12 points, dished out four assists, and in general was a tornado of energy on the offensive and defensive ends.

But maybe the most encouraging sign from Wednesday night was the effort and results on the defensive end; after watching his zone defense get picked apart nightly last season, Leibovitz has switched to a man-to-man scheme, and it has provided immediate results, as the Hawks held Marist to under 25 percent from the floor and forced 16 turnovers.

“That’s what University of Hartford basketball is going to be. We’re going to defend, we’re going to take care of the ball. Those are the percentages I’ve been taught all my life, that put you in a position to be successful. … They’ve bought in, and this game validates everything we’ve been teaching.”

And with Zeglinski returning to his 1st Team All-Conference form, and the development of Torres in the point, Barkers in the post, and Burton on the wing, the Hawks – an afterthought at the start of the season – may make some serious noise in the America East Conference.

America East Notebook

by - Published November 20, 2009 in Conference Notes

Hello loyal America East fans, I apologize for my prolonged absence, but I’m back, and more enthusiastic than ever! Here’s a quick look around the conference:

· Not to look past the regular season, but I’m really excited for this year’s America East tournament: The University of Hartford will host the first ever combined men’s and women’s tourney, and if league Media Day was any precursor, it’s going to be great. Hartford secured a heck of a sponsor in Newman’s Own (the first time the men have had a sponsor in several years), and pulled out all the stops in a top-notch tip-off: Great food, great atmosphere. The league couldn’t have chosen a better school or administration to host, and the centralized location should help attendance.

· For much of their home opening 69-59 loss to George Washington, BU looked like they were still playing for former coach Dennis Wolff, as they looked completely lost on offense. But don’t despair yet Terriers fans; it’s going to take the Terriers a WHILE to grasp coach Pat Chambers’ system, which is a 180 from Wolff’s. What fans should be encouraged about: Chambers’ enthusiasm, as after the George Washington defeat he gushed about his team, the opportunity to continue to build on an already tight-knit group during their trip to Puerto Rico, and he even kidded John Holland about his responses to reporters questions. It was a drastic change from previous seasons when Terriers players seemed nervous in press conferences; hopefully it translates onto the court.  Chambers wants the Terriers to play with confidence and not fear, and to play “free.” In previous years BU seemed to collapse down the stretch, and to play either too scared or without any heart, a change in attitude would be nice.

· BU fans should be worried about the absence of Scott Brittain.  The senior center is out indefinitely with post concussion syndrome, and he may not be back for a very long time, as word is this is the sixth concussion Brittain has suffered in his life. Without Brittain, BU could struggle mightily against teams with strength in the post, and Stony Brook, Vermont, UNH, and even Maine could provide problems in conference play.

· Binghamton, of course, was the lone school with not represented at Media Day (no coaches, administration, etc), and while it’s understandable that the league, and Binghamton itself, did not want the event to turn into a Binghamton centered sideshow, the general feeling amongst America East coaches was that by not being there, Binghamton only made themselves more of a story.

· For anyone who thinks that Mark Macon (or anyone “in house”) is the answer to right the Bearcats ship: I’ve got a bridge to sell ‘ya.

Malik Alvin’s adventures in Walmart shopping/condom stealing, and Tiki Mayben’s arrest for cocaine were well-published, but trust me, there is a hell of a lot more that has yet to go public.  In fact, there are some pretty substantiated rumors of, among other things, credit card fraud, Marijuana dealing, and improprieties an the part of several members of the basketball staff and athletic administration. Broadus allowed a culture at Binghamton in which men’s b-ballers were not held accountable for any of their actions, and were allowed to live above the law, and all the members of his staff were on board with it (without getting into specifics, some of them crossed the line themselves). And what did Macon do shortly after taking over as the Interim head coach? He publicly lead the Bearcats in a sign of solidarity at “Midnight Madness” with the aforementioned Mayben, symbolically reaching out and extending T-shirts to him.  Yeah, that’s the kind of leadership that an already reeling program needs. To quote one America East coach, “Yeah, that was classy.”

You stay classy Mark Macon… you stay classy…

· Due to fear of injury, coaches would never sign off on it, but how cool would it be if the America East held a slam-dunk contest to tip-off the conference tournament? I think it would be a huge hit either the night before, or day of, the play-in game, and a great way to further pump up fan interest. I’d choose a field of Marqus Blakely (UVM), Chauncey Gilliam (UMBC), John Holland (BU), Tim Ambrose (Albany), Brian Benson (UNH), Tyrone Conley (UNH), Andrew McAllister (Stony Brook), and Prey Preyboye (Stony Brook). Blakely would likely be favored by the fans, but as of now Gilliam has impressed me the most during various Mid-night madness contests… But I wouldn’t sleep on Preboye pulling off an upset.

· Blakely did a terrific job of shutting me up in Vermont’s season opener: The Catamounts fell to Loyola in their season opener 79-66, but not because of Blakely, who did everything he could to carry the otherwise sluggish Catamounts. Blakely scored 26 points, rejected 5 shots, pulled down 7 rebounds, came away with 3 steals and dished out a pair of assists. More importantly, he nailed 2 jumpers and a 3-ball, and went 11-13 from the charity stripe. Blakely followed that up with 17 points, 12 boards, 7 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals in a gutsy win over Buffalo. I’m still not convinced that Blakely can consistently create his own shot or take over a game on offense when defenses center their game plans around staying between him and the basket – Loyola focused on trailing him all game, which allowed him to beat his man to the hoop on a number of back-door cuts – but a few more games like that and I will likely change my tune.

· Boston University fans continue to label John Holland as a forward, but as of now the 6’5″ super-athlete and super-talent is a big guard: Holland has length, athleticism, shooting ability, and ball-handling to be one of the greatest players in AE history, and is the only real NBA-prospect in the conference. But what Holland doesn’t do, at least not right now, is utilize his size and get to the hoop. Holland brings the house down when he gets out and running on the fast break, but in the half-court offense he is far too content to sit behind the three-point arc and jack up three-pointers. He is a good shooter, but not good enough to simply chuck up shots, and with his length and athleticism, he should be attacking the rim at will. And in the post Holland has been the tin man when it comes to the heart needed to be a rebounder.  Until he is willing to mix it up on the glass, and get to the hoop in traffic, he’s not a forward in my book, and the Terriers need him to start being one. With Chambers’ new style, the Terriers are going to be running and gunning in a lot of four-guard sets, and they need Holland (the biggest of the four) to start making an impact on the glass.

· Fans have short memories, and had already forgotten just how good Hartford’s Joe Zeglinski was.  Some have gone so far as to claim that JuCo transfer Milton Burton is the “best talent head coach Dan Leibovitz has ever brought in,” among many other such lunacies. But the fact is, prior to last year’s ankle injury, which cost the redshirt junior his season, Zeglinski was a first-team all-conference player, and well on his way to not only being one of the greatest players in school history, but AE history. Zeglinski is a bulldog of a guard with a fearless mindset and top-notch athleticism (he was a D-I caliber recruit as a running back in high school). After struggling during his rehabilitation and in pre-season, and after a sluggish first game back, Zeglinski showed up in a big way in Hartford’s 71-69 heart breaker at Baylor: Zeglinski scored 23 points, nailing 7 three-pointers, and for long stretches was the best player on the floor, and he followed it up with 22 points on 8-11 shooting in Hartford’s romp over Marist, and he could have scored more – a lot more.

· It’s a tradition of mine whenever I head down to West Hartford, to stop by Rein’s Deli (exit 65 off I-84 – shameless plug) to pick up sandwiches for myself and coach Dan Leibovitz. A funny thought crossed my mind the last time we knoshed on Ham sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise: somewhere, there must have been an ancestor of one of us rolling in their grave. By the way coach, what’s a guy gotta do to get mentioned in your blog???

· Say what you want about Albany head coach Will Brown – and many fans (and some coaches) do, as many think he is arrogant, pompous, and a sore loser – but I want to go on record as being a “Will Brown guy”. I agree, he could perhaps use a tad bit of humility in defeat, but Brown is the most entertaining quote in the conference, and he has the marbles to go on record and speak his mind, as opposed to the same cliché sayings we usually hear regurgitated by most coaches. And as an aside, big ups to coach Brown for the shout out on his twitter page.

· I am neither a Kevin Broadus, nor Al Walker guy… Binghamton deserves better.

· Boston University first-year head coach Patrick Chambers may be certifiably insane – and I couldn’t be more psyched: At the “Terrier Tip-off” Chambers jumped on tables, tore off his suit jacket, and led the students in chants of “Corey Lowe,” all while pumping up the packed house and imploring fans to sellout the Agganis Arena for the Terriers’ season opener against George Washington.

· Few coaches in recent history have been as polarizing as former BU head coach Dennis Wolff, whom was fired after 14 years at the helm of the Terriers’ ship. Fan’s and alums either loved or hated him, but it’s not that black and white. Wolff was a terrific recruiter: during a three-year stretch from the 2001-2002 season through 2003-2004, Wolff fielded easily the most talented (top-to-bottom) roster the conference has seen in a very long time.  BU didn’t just have an “A-10 roster” they had a GOOD A-10 roster as far as talent goes. In fact, their 2002-2003 squad boasted nine (yes you read that right, nine) players whom would be named to an All-Conference team at one point in their careers. Wolff was also a phenomenal defensive coach who guided the Terriers to two NCAA tournament births and 3 NIT’s. But the end of his career was defined by player departures and America East postseason failures.

Aside from the rumors of running players out of the program, perhaps his real downfall was that he simply could not get the most out of the talent he recruited. When I take a step back and really think about it, I can name 3 players whom Wolff maximized their potential: Kevin Gardner, Kevin Fitzgerald, and Stijn Dhondt. On the reverse side, does anyone think he really got the most out of guys like Matt Turner, Jason Grochowalski, Billy Collins, Chaz Carr, Shaun Wynn, Rashad Bell, Ryan Butt, Etienne Brower, and Tony Gaffney to name a few? (The latter two were shown the door from the program, only to relocate to Umass and put up big numbers in the Atlantic-10.) And the Terriers developed a terrible habit of simply failing to play up to their potential come tournament time. With that said, a part of me is sad to see Wolff go: He patrolled the sidelines when I was still in high school sitting courtside with my dad, and there was something comforting about that continuity every time I walked through the doors at Case Gymnasium.

· Glad that BU kept Associate head coach Orlando Vandross: Good guy, good coach.

· Five guys I’d go to war with: Tommy Brenton (Stony Brook), David Bookman (Hartford), Joe Zeglinski (Hartford), Marqus Blakely (Vermont), and Dane DiLiegro (UNH).

· Poised for breakout years: Tyrone Conley (UNH), Chris Martin (Stony Brook), Gerald McLemore (Maine), Carlos Strong (BU), Dallis Joyner (Stony Brook), Dane DiLiegro (UNH),

· If he ever gets healthy, Stony Brook forward Danny Carter is going to be a stud in the America East: A 6’9″ shooter, he has serious athleticism and can finish with authority around the hoop. Carter showed his talent last year with a 20 point outburst against UConn, hitting floaters in the lane above lottery pick Hasheen Thabeet.

· New Hampshire freshman point guard Chandler Rhoades has no business playing in the America East: He could play at a much higher level. A legit 6’4″, he’s a helluva athlete with sprinter speed, and is the biggest, most athletic point the AE has seen in quite some time.

· Former UMBC Retriever Andrew Feeley (05’) has quietly carved out a lucrative career for himself overseas. Feeley spent three season’s dominating the BJ and JBL leagues in Japan, and has gotten his foot in the European door this year, playing terrifically in Slovenia. And while his conference peers have disappeared into 9-5 life (only two other players from his graduating class, Taylor Coppenrath and Rashad Bell, are currently under professional contracts), Feeley, who never even made an All-Conference team, has been climbing the professional ranks every season.

· Teams I’m excited to see: The super-athletic Seawolves who could win the whole conference, New Hampshire, Hartford, Vermont, and Binghamton – that’s right, Binghamton, in the same way you get excited when you see a Nascar crash or a terrible movie in that you just don’t know how ludicrous or bad it’s going to get.

· Quote of the week, from my good friend Matt Bernstein after hearing that Binghamton did not attend the America East Media day: “Do you think they’re seceding from the Union?”

· Until next time America East fans.

The Best Tournament

by - Published March 14, 2009 in Columns, Conference Notes

In the past week, the America East conference has seen Dennis Wolff, the league’s “elder statesman” and longest tenured coach (15 years) fired from Boston University, and had to endure league commissioner Patrick Nero stick his foot squarely in his mouth when he went public with his conspiracy theories about why Binghamton’s D.J. Rivera was omitted from 1st team All-Conference honors. Conference message boards have degraded into a war of words between Binghamton fans and Binghamton bashers.

What’s important for conference fans is to not forget just how good this year was for the America East as a whole. The conference will finish the season either 16th or 17th in RPI, up from 27th last year. The league was competitive from top to bottom, and on any given night anyone in the conference could beat anyone else.

The America East’s terrific season was capped by one of the most remarkable conference tournaments in league history. From the opening tip-off of Friday night’s “play-in game” between 9th seeded Hartford and 8th seeded Maine, to Sunday’s semi-final between top ranked Binghamton and upstart UNH, the tournament was a war. All eight teams who advanced to Saturday genuinely believed they could win the whole thing, and all eight played like it.

The America East has never seen more collective blood, sweat, and tears left on the floor during one of it’s tournaments, and fans shouldn’t lose sight of this.

So here’s a look at the highlights of what may be the most competitive, and best played America East tournament ever.

Best single game performance: Darryl Proctor, UMBC versus Boston University. There were plenty of terrific games during the tournament: Jay Greene’s 29 point, 6 assist performance in the Retriever’s semi-final win over Albany was certainly impressive. D.J. Rivera was huge with 26 points, 8 rebounds, and a game ending steal and dunk against UNH. Corey Lowe tied a tournament high with 33 points in BU’s loss to UMBC. Malik Alvin was also big with 29 points in Binghamton’s win over Hartford. Tyrece Gibbs was just clutch, scoring 18 in back-to-back games. But it was Proctor who stood head and shoulders above the rest with his 33 point, 11 rebound, one-man demolition of Boston University. Boston University swarmed Proctor every time he touched the ball, but they still couldn’t stop him. Proctor fought off double and triple teams and scored from everywhere on the floor. And on the defensive end he held John Holland to three first half points, before switching over and frustrating Corey Lowe for the second half and overtime period. With 2.5 seconds left Proctor gathered in a loose ball and nailed a 10 foot fade-away jumper over two defenders to send the game into overtime, and proceeded to lead the Retrievers to victory in the extra session.

All-Tournament Team: The America East likes to wait until after the championship game to hand out All-Tournament awards, but here are the five guys who played the best during the best conference tournament in recent memory:

Darryl Proctor, UMBC: 2 games, 24 ppg, 42 mpg, 9.5 rpg, 5 assists, 2 steals, 1 block.

Tyrece Gibbs, UNH: 2 games, 18 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 8 assists, 2 blocks.

Emanuel “Tiki” Mayben, Binghamton: 2 games, 20 ppg, 5rpg, 7 assists, 4 steals.

D.J. Rivera, Binghamton: 2 games, 19 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2 assists, 4 steals, 1 block.

Corey Lowe, BU: 1 game, 33 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists.

Tournament MVP: Darryl Proctor, UMBC. Proctor didn’t have a particularly good shooting night in his second game, scoring 15 points while going 6-18 from the floor (perhaps his worst shooting performance of the year considering the number of good looks he missed). But no other player put together two great tournament games, no one had as big a game as Proctor’s quarterfinal game against Boston University, and despite his shooting, Proctor helped UMBC beat Albany: He finished off two huge fast breaks, ripped down big rebounds, and helped to shut down Albany’s will Harris in the second half.

Gutsiest performance: Mike Trimboli, Vermont vs Albany. No one in the league has been as polarizing as Trimboli during his four years at Vermont, and I’ve made no bones about some of my qualms with Mike in the past. But let’s get this out on the table, Trimboli was as sick as anyone I’ve ever seen play in a game, far sicker than what was reported in the press. Trimboli left everything on the court, he just didn’t have enough on Saturday, and no one (certainly not Trimboli) deserves to have their career end the way his did. And Trimboli was a MAN after the game, as with tears in his eyes he answered every single question thrown at him honestly and openly (I for one want to know who the clown was in the press conference who first spelled out every single shortcoming of Vermont during Trimboli’s four years of playing, and then asked him just “how devastated” he was. Who the !#$%!*! does that?).

Best Stat-line: Clint Kuban, Hartford vs Binghamton. Kuban’s stat line will be hard to duplicate: 6 points, 2-2 from 3, 1 steal, 0+ minutes, and it was well earned. A four year walk-on is a terrific student and fine young man whom has maintained a GPA close to 4.0 while juggling the rigors of Division I ball while majoring in Psychology. Kuban has seldom left the bench during his career, but Saturday he single handedly made Binghamton coach Kevin Broadus pull out his own reserves, as Kuban’s corner three, steal, and ensuing three in a six second span cut Binghamton’s lead from 12 to 6 with twelve seconds left.

Biggest tear-jerker: Watching Eric Gilchrese leave the floor for the last time. Gilchrese had to overcome the death of his mother, a woman he calls his hero, in the middle of the season, and missed 12 games dealing with the grief.

Best Dunk: There weren’t many dunks in the tournament, but that wasn’t a reflection of the overall athleticism or dunking ability of the conference as a whole: This was most athletic, and best dunking year the America East has had in a very, very long time. Every team (sans Maine) had at least one BIG TIME dunker on their roster (and teams like Binghamton, UNH, and Stony Brook had several). The lack of dunks in the tournament was a reflection of just how hard every single team defended the ball for forty minutes, especially around the basket. With that said, Hartford’s Anthony Minor had a very nice two-handed caulk-back dunk in traffic against Maine, and New Hampshire’s Dane DiLiegro almost ripped the rim off with a two-handed power slam over half of Binghamton’s roster in Sunday’s semi-final night cap. However, easily the dunk of the tournament was New Hampshire’s Tyrone Conley absolutely posterizing Binghamton’s Reggie Fuller with a two-handed fast break slam. Conley snuck into the passing lane and snatched a Binghamton dish past half-court and took off at full speed towards the hoop with Fuller, one of the best shot blockers in the conference, and an All-Defensive team selection, in hot pursuit. Fuller caught up with him about 30 feet away from the hoop and chased him every step of the way. Most players would have pulled up, or tried to go up and under the hoop for a lay-up, but not Conely, who more than lived up to his nickname “Skyrone” as he launched himself like a missile at the rim. Fuller, who has a good 4 inches in height and much more in length over Conely (who’s 6’2” in shoes) jumped with him. Conely threw down a monster two-handed slam while taking a viscious hit from Fuller, which sent Conley head first on the floor. Fuller came away with a “hard-foul” call, and Conely a concussion, a leg injury, and one fantastic dunk.

Best individual pre-game dunk-show: Chauncey Gilliam. Before UMBC’s Sunday semi-final against Albany, Gilliam put on what was the best pre-game dunk performance that I have seen from an America East player since Matt Turner. Gilliam threw down almost every dunk imaginable: reverses, double-pump reverses, windmills, 360’s, the 360 the off the glass alley-oop, the off the glass reverse, the off the glass through the legs, the off the glass 360… It could only be described as REDONKULOUS.

Best team pre-game dunk show: Stony Brook. Tommy Brenton, Demetrius Young, Muhammad El-Amin, Jermol Paul, Danny Carter, Dallis Joyner, and even walk-on Michal Zylinski put on quite the show of “top-this.”

Best dunker you’ve never seen… and would never expect: David Fine. Binghamton’s junior walk-on can flat out dunk the ball. He might not look like it, but man can the kid get airborne, and he can do some really creative stuff above the rim with the ball.

Best display of sportsmanship: It’s hard to come up with only one, because the class and camaraderie that all of these kids carried themselves with on the court went above and beyond even America East standards. Sure, there was some trash-talking, but there wasn’t any disrespect on the court from one player to another (just fans to players and vice versa). But in the finale of the weekend UNH’s Dane DiLiegro helped both Tiki Mayben and Reggie Fuller of Binghamton up off the floor on separate occasions after bowling them over in the paint, giving each a hug and pat on the back, and both Mayben and Fuller later returned the favor to DiLiegro.

Best display of what being a teammate, and what America East basketball, is all about: Michael Turner. After fouling out of the last game of his college career, it would have been understandable if Turner, who played in last season’s title game and began the year with championship dreams in his head, had covered his eyes with a towel, cried, sulked, or bemoaned the basketball gods. After all, he could see that the game was in hand for Binghamton and his career, and life for the past three years, was over. So what did Turner do? He spent the rest of the game politicking and then pleading with the Hartford coaching staff to put in Kuban, a fellow senior and the only player to have spent four years in a Hawks jersey. And it was Turner who lead the cheers following both of Kuban’s three’s. And when the final buzzer sounded, Turner put aside the devastation he felt and instead wrapped up Kuban in a big bear-hug: No one moment better summed up what America East basketball is all about.

Best performance by a freshman: Many of the conference’s top freshmen during the regular season played like, well, freshman during the conference tournament. And who could blame them: They’ve never played in a pressurized situation like that before. But some other freshman stepped up and performed beautifully. Stony Brook’s Brian Dougher was nails against New Hampshire, hitting several huge three’s and driving the paint with no fear. And Seawolves big man Dallis Joyner showed of a beautiful mid-range jumper rarely seen at the America East level in a 6’8” 250 pound big man. Joyner scored 11 points on 5-7 shooting. Hartford’s Genesis Maciel jump started the Hawks Friday night win over Maine with four huge buckets in a 3 minute span, and was huge on the defensive end down the stretch. UMBC’s Chauncey Gilliam scored 16 points in the Retrievers’ overtime win against Boston University, and figuratively (and literally) quieted the Albany crowd in UMBC’s semi-final win over the host school. And no freshman was asked to do more than New Hampshire freshman Russell Graham, who had to carry most of the point guard load against Binghamton and the league’s best backcourt.

Best way to announce yourself to the league: Colby Santos, UNH. All last season the word was that the Wildcats had themselves a difference maker in Santos, who sat out as a transfer from James Madison. Santos struggled to crack New Hampshire’s lineup for most of the season, but he burst onto the scene in the Wildcats’ last game, going 5-7 from behind the arc and pouring in 17 points to go with 7 rebounds. Santos couldn’t miss, hitting tough, heavily contested three’s from all over, and shot the Wildcats back into their semifinal game against Binghamton. His play should give New Hampshire fans something to look forward to next year.

Best way to say “Goodbye” on the court: Tyrece Gibbs, UNH. Gibbs, a four-year Wildcat guard saved the best basketball of his career for last, taking his game to a new level down the stretch, scoring in double digits in all of the final nine games of his career. Gibbs was huge for the Wildcats, driving the lane fearlessly and hitting big shot after big shot to carry New Hampshire over Stony Brook in a thrilling 3-point quarterfinal win. And against top-seeded Binghamton, Gibbs took on the Bearcats trio of star-guards, taking the ball to the rack and finishing with several circus shots as well as hounding Malik Alvin all night on the defensive end. No player wants their career to end, and certainly no mid-major baller wants their career to end short of making the NCAA tournament, but if such a fate is unavoidable, Gibbs went out in the best possible way: Playing the best ball of his career with his guns a-blazing.

Best way to say “Goodbye” off the court: There we’re so many good moments after the game, from Covington and fellow senior Brian Connelly reflecting on their time at Albany to Hartford’s seniors Jaret von Rosenberg and Michael Turner sharing several laughs before somberly reflecting on how they want to be remembered. But perhaps the press conference that hit closest to the heart was hearing New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion reflect, while choking back a tear or two, on senior Tyrece Gibbs. Herrion talked about a young man who matured and grew more as a player, and a person, than anyone else he had ever coached. It was even more touching to hear Gibbs, whose road to UNH was marked by pot-holes that few men could imagine (He grew up in rough and tumble Brockton and had three brothers shot), talk about how proud he was to be a Wildcat, and how much it meant to him to know that he was leaving the program in a better place than it was when he first walked into Ludholm gymnasium as a freshman. What a phenomenal press conference. What a phenomenal young man.

Best display of fan sportsmanship: I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t describe a lot of what came out of the student sections of either Albany or Binghamton as particularly classy (“Fat and ugly” chants towards cheerleaders, and booing and taunting seniors who have just lost their final college game are just some of the “class” that was displayed at times). But Albany’s fans couldn’t help but give UMBC baton-twirler Staci a standing ovation after a fantastic, and world class, routine. I thought it was a nice gesture.

Best Mascot: Wolfie the Stony Brook Seawolf. Wolfie already earned a place as the leagues best Mascot (and a place in mascot lore) four years ago during the America East tournament when he clothslined and power-slammed “Official NCAA Mascot” JJ Jumper. This year, Wolfie once again delighted the crowd, leading the Stony Brook dance team through a choreographed dance routine set to Michael Jackson music. He danced to freaking thriller man… thriller! THRILLER!

Best fans: Binghamton certainly travelled the best, as you have to tip your cap to the “BU Zoo” for coming out in such numbers, the league needs that from more teams. And Albany’s fans definitely made a lot of noise in support of their team. But my favorites were the fans of UMBC, Hartford, and UNH. What a bunch of classy, and knowledgeable basketball fans. New Hampshire’s small but loyal bunch earned a special place in my heart, as they trekked down from the great white north to support a team that most people didn’t have winning a game, and cheered their hearts out in the face of top seeded Binghamton, and the most hostile fan base in the conference. It was also very, very encouraging to see Stony Brook’s fans travel in numbers.

Best dance performance by a team: UMBC players Chauncey Gilliam, Jake Wasco, Bakari Smith, Rich Flemming, and Brett Burrier were beyond entertaining during the second game Sunday (UNH vs Binghamton). UMBC’s “fab-five” (as far as rhythm is concerned) put on quite the performance after their semi-final win, dancing up a storm in the bleachers behind the far basket whenever music was played over the arena stereo. Gilliam gets top marks, but believe it or not, Wasco wasn’t that far behind.

Best dance performance by an individual player: Michael Turner’s celebratory shuffle after departing the team bus at the Marriot following Hartford’s Friday night win over Maine. I’m just kidding, that was quite possibly the worst display of rhythm I have ever seen in my entire life… ever. Mike, that was twelve-seconds of my life that I will never get back.

I kid because I love.

Highlight of the Tournament: Getting to spend three days of the most exhilarating basketball I’ve ever seen with my brother.

UMBC’s Remarkable Seniors Saddle up for One Last Title Run

by - Published March 13, 2009 in Conference Notes

“Indeed, sir. The last charge of Wyatt Earp and his immortals.” – Doc Holliday, Tombstone

When UMBC takes the floor tomorrow for their eleven AM tip-off against top-seeded Binghamton University, more than simply an NCAA birth is at stake for the Retrievers. The careers of seniors Darryl Proctor, and Jay Greene, the two best players in school history, hang in the balance. No two players have meant more to UMBC, or any school in the America East over a two-year span, than the Retrievers senior captains.

The Retrievers are heavy underdogs in the eyes of many, but Proctor and Greene won’t be scared, and if anyone can carry a team to an improbable victory it will be the pair of seniors: They’ve been overcoming the odds their whole lives.

“You talk about the heart and soul of the champion you’re looking at two guys right here. When things were getting a little shaky in that game they just refused to lose, refused to let us down, and they just kept battling,” reflected UMBC head coach Randy Monroe after the Retrievers 64-58 conference semi-final win over the University of Albany.

Greene and Proctor first put the Retrievers on their backs last season. It’s been one hell of a ride ever since.

Prior to last season, the Retrievers had never been to an NCAA tournament, never finished higher than fifth in the America East or reached the conference’s championship game. Everything came together last year, as the Retriever’s, behind Greene and Proctor (both 1st team America East All-Conference selections, both firsts for the school) as well as a trio of talented seniors ran the tables from beginning to end, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles, and going dancing for the first time.

After the graduation of three All-Conference players, the Retrievers we’re in a tough spot this season, and for much of the year seemed to be playing two on five. UMBC finished 7-9 in conference play, and tied for 6th place in the conference.

With the Retrievers widely written off by conference pundits, Proctor and Greene carried the Retrievers to two straight wins, and an improbable appearance in the title game against top-seeded Binghamton.

In quarterfinal action, with Greene going 0-8 from the floor and scoring only two points, Proctor put the Retrievers squarely on his massive shoulders, scoring a career high 33 points and ripping down 11 rebounds. Proctor hit a highly contested 10-foot fade-away with 2.5 seconds left to push the game into overtime, and then bulled the Retrievers past Boston University in the extra session for a 79-75 win.

“He can put a team on his back when needed and he did that tonight for this team,” Greene reflected after the game.

In the semi-finals, against tournament host Albany, it was Greene’s turn, as he took on the Great Danes and their large and vocal crowd. Greene dropped 29 points, hitting three’s from different area codes, none bigger than a step back 22 footer that broke Albany’s back, and drove the lane hitting floaters at will over bigger, stronger defenders.

“It was Jay’s turn tonight,” laughed Proctor after the game.

“These two have taken me on one wild ride, and we’re not ready to get off yet,” said Monroe.

Two years ago no one would have expected this from the pint-sized Greene, who has played his whole career at UMBC, or “bull-in-a-china shop” Proctor, who has spent his final two years at UMBC after transferring from Coppin State.

Despite its small size, the America East Conference has seen its fare share of great college players: Proctor and Greene weren’t the first, and they won’t be the last, but they may be the most unique: few players of their limited stature have ever played as large on the court. And few players, anywhere, have ever played with as big hearts, as much passion, or the sheer will to win as the UMBC’s seniors.

If you were to rank the players in the America East strictly on their physical gifts and talent, it’s likely that neither Proctor nor Greene would crack the top ten: As 6’3” power forward, Proctor is dwarfed in the low post every night he takes the floor. Greene is lucky if he’s 5’6” and 160 pounds, and is one of the smallest players at any level of college basketball, let alone Division I.

Both players are drastically undersized, and neither is what one would describe as an “explosive athlete.” But when they step on the court, they play like their seven feet tall, thanks to the desire, heart, and sheer refusal to loose, that each lays in the line every time they take the floor.

“Darryl Proctor is a kid who plays so hard that he gets me exited just to watch him,” said Monroe. “Jay Greene has a motor that is just always running. He’s the smallest player in the league but his heart’s the size of a basketball.”

Physically, Greene doesn’t look like he belongs on a middle-school team, let alone one at the Division I level. But once he gets the ball in his hands and gets into the paint, no guard in the league inspires more sheer terror in his opponents. Greene fearlessly attacks the lane, blowing by bigger, stronger, and more “athletic” guards with ease. And when defenses collapse, he hits open teammates with the sickest dimes the conference has ever seen, or hits running floaters with ease. And behind the arc, Greene is a threat to pull up, and swish, three-pointers anywhere, and anytime, once he crosses half-court.

Quite frankly, Jay Greene will go down as one of the greatest point guards in conference history: Not since NBA-er Speedy Claxton has the league had a point guard who could impact the game like Greene has with his passing.

“Jay Greene is the best pure point guard, the best pass first point guard in the league” remarked Albany head coach Will Brown. “He’s the best pure point guard I’ve ever seen in this league.”

Greene’s 679 assists rank fourth all-time in the America East conference (1st at UMBC), and with three on Saturday he will pass Shawn Teague into third place. Last season Greene was the only player in Division I to rank in the top ten nationally in assists per game (7.2, 4th) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.47, 2nd). This season Greene once again lead the conference in assists with 6.1 a night.

“Jay Greene is an inspiration for every kid who’s ever been told he’s too small, too slow, too anything to play basketball,” added Brown.

“Jay Greene is my favorite player in the league that’s not one of my guys,” said Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan. “I wish I had a Jay Greene. Every coach in this league wishes they had Jay Greene.”

Proctor has scored 1,126 points in his two years at UMBC. When you combine his numbers from both his Division I stops, Proctor has put up 1,927 points and 982 rebounds, astounding numbers for a power forward shorter than many opposing guards. Proctor was the only America East player to score in double figures in every single game this year, and has scored in double-digits in 62 of his 64 career games at UMBC.

“Darryl Proctor is a beast,” said Brown.

His game may be ugly, but it is a thing of beauty to watch Proctor take the ball right into the chests of opposing big-men, and chop down the tall-tree’s of the America East. It doesn’t matter how many defenders swarm him, Proctor swats them away like mosquitoes.

“When he gets positioning in the low post, good luck to you, because your not moving him off the blocks,” said New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion. “Good god is he strong,” he added.

“He’s a man among boys,” said former Boston University head coach Dennis Wolff.

Proctor goes through, over, and by defenders at will, scoring on a barrage of leaners, floaters, power moves, and an unstoppable fade-away jumper born out of necessity.

“I had to develop it on the play ground when I was younger” Proctor laughed, “I was tired of getting my shot blocked.”

When you take a step back, it’s hard to argue that anyone in the America East had a better season than Proctor.

“To me, Darryl Proctor was the best player in the league,” said Dan Leibovitz, head coach for America East rival Hartford.

Proctor (after the conference tournament) ranks first overall in scoring (20.2 ppg), third in rebounding (8.7 rpg), first in scoring in conference games (20.9 ppg), and third in rebounding in conference games (8.3 rpg). Proctor’s performance is even more impressive when you consider the lack of depth and other scoring options on UMBC’s Roster: Opponents wrote up their entire defensive schemes around stopping him, and he was double and triple teamed every time down the floor. And for much of the season, Proctor was alone in the low post, as center Justin Fry and Forward Rich Flemming each missed significant playing time because of injuries.

While there continues to be debate on who the best player in the conference is, there is no arguing who the toughest player in the America East is, as no one plays harder, longer, or takes more of a beating every night than Proctor.

“I’ll tell you, after every game Darryl is beat up. He’s icing his knees, his ribs, his head. He’s got cuts, bruises, black eyes, the kid only knows one way to play and that’s all out, one-hundred and fifty percent, and physical,” said Monroe.

Built like a bulldog, and seemingly as broad as he is tall, Proctor certainly isn’t built for marathons, which makes the sheer amount of time he has stayed on the court all the more impressive. Proctor has not missed one of the Retrievers 64 games since transferring from Coppin State. This season Proctor has averaged an insane 39.7 minutes per game, and over forty in America East contests. To put it in better perspective, despite his bulk, and despite the physical beating he takes every night, Proctor has only been on the bench for 28 total minutes this season.

And he doesn’t get to catch a breather on the defensive end either, as Proctor is matched up in man-to-man coverage with the opponents best scorer, no matter whether he’s a bruising center or a blazing guard.

It’s taken a toll on him. After a double overtime loss at Boston University earlier this year, a game in which he scored 27 points while playing all fifty minutes, Proctor collapsed in the locker room and had to be rushed to a nearby hospital to be rehydrated.

Three days later he played 39 minutes versus Albany.

“You’ll have to kill him to get him off the court, if he’s breathing, if he’s got a pulse, he’ll be on the court,” said Monroe

Whether Proctor and Greene are able to put the Retriever’s on their backs one last time against Binghamton or not, their careers will be coming to an end sooner rather than later, and far sooner than either would like.

“Playing here has been the best time of my life,” reflected Greene.

“I’m not ready for it to be over, nowhere near ready,” added Proctor.

Both would like to play basketball overseas, but to get their they will be fighting an uphill battle, as they will once again face the same doubts and questions about their size and athleticism that they have had to overcome every step of their careers.

But if anyone can do it, it’s going to be Monroe’s two seniors.

“I think that there is a place out there where (Greene and Proctor) can find a spot on a roster, these kids can flat out play. They have been proving everyone wrong since the day they stepped on the court, and they flat out win, and they can help someone win out there.” said Monroe.

But when their careers do come to an end, Greene and Proctor will be ready for life after basketball. Both are good students, and both will be graduating in the spring (Proctor with a degree in Political Science, and Greene sociology).

“(Greene and Proctor)are two of the finest…” trailed off Monroe, gathering his emotions before continuing, “the two finest young men, not just basketball players but people, men, that I have ever coached. And I know that they are going to be very, very successful in whatever they choose to do after college.”

I for one would like to take this opportunity to thank Proctor and Greene: No two players have left more of themselves on the court during their careers. No one in the conference has played harder, cared more, or been a better representative for what it is that makes small-conference basketball, and the America East in specific, just so special than UMBC’s duo.

So thank you Jay, for never listening to your doubters, and for proving that no player should ever listen when they are told they’re too small or too slow. And thank you Darryl, for playing with a passion and determination unmatched, for getting it done “ugly,” and for never backing down no matter how much of a beating you take every night. Thank you both for being warriors in the truest sense, and for proving that it isn’t the size of a player that matters most, but the size of his heart.

And win or loose I hope that all fans in Vestal on Saturday, those rooting for and those rooting against the Retrievers, take a moment to show Proctor and Greene a small token of respect, because it will be a very, very long time before the America East ever sees another player like either one of them again.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to coach two more guys like these guys but it’s going to be very hard,” reflected Monroe.

Von Rosenberg, Turner lead Hawks to Tournament Opening Victory

by - Published March 7, 2009 in Conference Notes

ALBANY, NY – Jaret von Rosenberg hit every shot down the stretch, and Michael Turner stepped in the way of a game tying three, as Hartford’s seniors refused to go quietly into that good night. Turner played gritty, stifling defense, and von Rosenberg scored 21 points, as the seniors put the Hawks on their backs and carried them to a 65-56 victory of Maine in Friday nights “play in” game of the America East tournament.

“Obviously it’s in your mind that if you lose you go home, so you don’t want to lose,” reflected Turner.

The grounds crew at Albany’s SEFCU Arena will need to work into the wee hours of the morning to clean all of von Rosenberg’s sweat and blood from the hardwood. Turner drowned out the entire crowd as he bellowed out defensive assignments on every Maine possession. It didn’t matter that Hartford finished the regular season dead last, or that they entered the game riding a fourteen game losing streak coming into the game; there was no way that Hartford’s senior duo was going to go softly into that good night.

“I was very happy for Mike and Jaret, more than anybody else” said Leibovitz, “I’ve said all year that they deserve a very good ending… and for them to have possibly lost out on that (14 game losing) streak would have been a hard thing to live with.”

Hartford entered Friday’s action with a 6-25 record and what seems a lifetime removed from last season’s magical run to the conference title game. Most teams in Hartford’s shoes would have packed it in long ago, but the word “quit” doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of von Rosenberg, Turner, or the rest of the Hawks,

“I’m very proud, we win a game with all that we’ve been through… these eight-nine games that everyone calls play in games, it’s a lot about desire and a lot about character” said Hartford head coach Dan Leibovitz. “We really tried to show from the first play of the game, as best as we could, that we wanted to be around, we wanted to stay, we wanted to survive, we wanted to advance, and that says a lot about a group that has lost fourteen or fifteen in a row.”

The job that Turner and von Rosenberg have done “lacing them up” up every single game this season goes beyond words, as the seniors have not only continued to show up every game, but they have managed to pump up their teammates throughout the season: No matter how many losses piled up, or how dire the straights, Hartford only pulled together tighter and fought harder.

“Our whole team goes out to play hard” said Turner.

But for much of the season, the Hawks simply didn’t have the horses, as it has seemed like they we’re often playing two against five.

Not Friday not, as Leibovitz got contributions across the board from his gutsy band of brothers: There was the Puerto-Rican missile Andres Torres blowing by defenders, getting into the lane and kicking out to open teammates, as well as hitting his biggest (and perhaps luckiest) shot of the year. And there was freshman Drake U’u muscling his way to the hoop for a big bucket, reserve forward David Bookman scored on a nifty move in the paint and added a big block in the fist half. Anthony Minor energized the Hawks, and the crowd, with a monster two-handed slam in traffic just as the Hawks offense seemed to stall halfway through the second half. Morgan Sabia showed flashes of last years All Rookie form, scoring 13 points and pulling down five rebounds, and no one was bigger than freshman Genesis Maciel, who went 4-4 from the floor and scored eight huge first half points.

“You try to push different buttons and motivate different guys, and I felt like in the end, tonight, for the most part everybody that went in was ready to go,” said Leibovitz.

When Maciel checked into the game for the fist time, Hartford trailed 20-15, but the rookie from Compton (CA) scored three quick buckets in a hurry on a jumper and two nice low post moves, and added another minutes later, and Hartford closed out the half on an 18-8 run.

“Coach told us to be aggressive coming in, so when I was coming in my mind was thinking ‘be aggressive, go in and score,’” said Maciel.

Maciel also changed the game on the defensive end, nullifying Maine big-man Sean McNally, who scored seven points in the games opening minutes but managed only two over the rest of the game.

“He’s(Maciel) is a very intelligent young man and a very intelligent basketball player,” said Leibovitz.

But it was once again Hartford’s seniors who came up huge down the stretch, as after Hartford pushed their lead to double digits, the Black Bears went on a 15-6 run to make it a 54-53 game with 2:33 left. That’s when von Rosenberg dug down deep, as he scored on a beautiful reverse layup, and hit six huge free-throws down the stretch.

And with a three point lead and 1:30 left in the game, Turner dug in and made the stop of the season: With Hartford clinging to a 56-53 lead, Maine got the ball into leading scorer Mark Socoby’s hands on the right wing. Socoby had already beaten Turner in an identical situation earlier in the game, but wit the shot clock running down Turner held his ground, refused to bite on a ball fake, and crowded Socoby into and off-balance shot that fell well short of the hoop, and into the hands of Sabia.

“He had used the same move on me, and actually got me the first time, and I take that personally, I don’t like to give up any points,” said Turner. “He got me with the same move on the first time, and just in my head I figured the pump fake and the crossover is coming for the three, and I just kinda stood there with my hands up,” said Turner.

After Turner’s stand on defense, Torres banked in a deep three-pointer with the shot clock winding down, effectively putting the game out of reach.

The Hawks are now faced with the tall task of facing top-seeded Binghamton in the first game of Saturday’s second session, slated for a 6pm tip-off.

America East Award Time

by - Published March 4, 2009 in Conference Notes

After and extensive and exhausting season, here are my humble conference awards. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and this is just one man’s (educated) opinion, but I have seen every team close to a half dozen times live this year, and been to over 70 America East games, so here it goes:

Player of the Year Candidates:

  • D.J. Rivera, G/F Binghamton: 20.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1 apg, 1.8 stl (19.7ppg, 6.1rpg in conference games)
  • John Holland, G/F BU: 18 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.8 stl (20.5ppg, 6.2rpg in conference games)
  • Darryl Proctor, F UMBC: 20 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.4 stl (20.9ppg, 8.3rpg in conference games)
  • Marqus Blakely, F Vermont: 15.7 ppg, 9 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 2.6 apg, 1.9 stl (15.6ppg, 9.1rpg in conference games)

To me, the Player of the Year award is exactly what the name indicates: The best player in the conference. There is no “Best player for the best team” debate like there is in Major League Baseball. No favoritism should be given to upper classmen, nor should transfers be punished. The award should go to the player who has the best season, end of story. All four of the candidates had superb seasons, and a compelling case can be made for all four.

However, I believe Holland’s season was notch below the seasons of Rivera, Proctor, and Blakely for two reasons, the first being that while the other three are all stellar defenders, Holland is still only mediocre. This might seem like a crazy statement to many fans of the America East, but if you talk to BU head coach Dennis Wolff, and coaches around the league, Holland still has some glaring weaknesses in his defensive game, as for all of his steals (and subsequent spectacular fast-break dunks), and all the havoc he can wreak at the top of the 1-3-1 zone, he still gets burned often by his man, or simply winds up lost on the defensive end. Holland has had far too many stretches this season when he has actually hurt the Terriers on the defensive end. Furthermore, Holland’s three game stretch against Vermont, Binghamton, and Stony Brook (three games that came directly after BU grabbed hold of and then lost 1st place in the division), can not be overlooked. During the three biggest games of the year for BU, Holland simply did not show up. He might have put up decent numbers (14, 11, and 19 points), but he shot very poorly, was lost on defense, and didn’t play with any direction or urgency.

That leaves Blakely, Rivera, and Proctor, all three of whom had phenomenal seasons in different ways. Blakely was the best defensively out of the three – and flat out best defender in the conference – controlling the defensive glass, and coming up with monster rejections and steals, and also faced double and triple teams every single night on the offensive end. Blakely also played very unselfishly, taking only ten shots a night, while turning into an excellent passer. However, some cracks became apparent in Blakely’s game, namely his inability to score anywhere outside of 5-7 feet from the basket. As dominant as he was, teams we’re able to stop Blakely this season by keeping him away from the basket. Often it took the rest of the Catamounts hitting their shots and occupying the defense to get Blakely going again. Furthermore, Blakely has Mike Trimboli and Colin McIntosh playing alongside of him. And maybe I’m a bit biased, but I feel like the player of the year is the one guy who you want the ball in their hands taking the big shot with the game on the line, and I’m not convinced that Marqus Blakely is that guy. Make no mistake, Blakely puts his team first and plays hard, but it’s also hard to overlook the murmurs that were coming from within the UVM program that Blakely was at times coasting during games this year, and “buying into his own hype” a bit.

Rivera has been tremendous in his first season for Binghamton, the best player for the leagues 1st place team, he has been an unstoppable offensive weapon, and a terrific perimeter defender and bundle of energy. But Rivera is a slasher and likes to hang on the perimeter for periods on offense, and defenses can’t double and triple him, or focus on stopping him as much as they can with Perimeter players like they do with Proctor and Blakely, and Rivera has had hot-shooting Tiki Mayben occupying some of the defenses attention. And it’s impossible to ignore Rivera’s behavior in Binghamton’s big home loss to Boston University, in which he left the bench and the floor, and tried to leave the arena; not the behavior of a player of the year.

Player of the Year: Darryl Proctor

Proctor had the best season an America East player has had since Taylor Coppenrath in 2004-2005. he might have taken 17 shots a night, but no one in the league faced more defensive pressure and focus than Proctor. No one played with more intensity, determination, and pure guts every night, and none of the other three candidates went in to battle with a weaker supporting cast than Proctor, whom at times seemed like he was taking on his opponents on his own. Proctor has faced the same double (and triple) teams as Blakely, and unlike Blakely he doesn’t have a Trimboli, McIntosh, or Maurice Joseph to take some of the pressure off of him, or kick the ball out to when he gets swarmed. Proctor has scored in double figures in every single game that he has played this season, the only player in the conference to accomplish such a feat. And no one in the league leaves as much of themselves on the court as Proctor, whom takes an absolute beating nightly while leading the league in minutes per game (he averaged 40.2 in league contests). Proctor has been rushed to the hospital more than once after games this season. Proctor is also a terrific defender, and arguably second only to Blakely when it comes to low post defense in the conference. Proctor doesn’t put up flashy numbers on the defensive end, but his basketball IQ, strength, and positioning are the best in the America East. Proctor may not block many shots, or come up with a ton of steals, but he cuts off lanes to the hoop, and flusters and bulls his man out of the post and into positions where he can’t score (see his game against Blakely in last years America East Tournament). When you boil it down, there isn’t a single weakness to Proctor’s game, offensively, defensively, effort, leadership, and pure guts; he gets top marks across the board, and that’s why he should be the Player of the Year.

Rookie of the Year: Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook

As “sexy” as Jake O’Brien’s scoring and shooting numbers have been, and as mouth watering as Chauncey Gilliam’s raw athleticism and potential are, Tommy Brenton is the hands-down Rookie of the Year. Brenton has a heart the size of a basketball, fights like Darryl Proctor and jumps like John Holland. Several Rookies have averaged more points than Brenton this season, but no rookie in the conference has played a larger roll for the squad, and no rookie has flat out won more games for his team than Brenton, and Brenton is the only rookie to have dominated games this year. O’Brien is a terrific shooter, but he has been allowed to range around the perimeter because he is playing next to John Holland and Corey Lowe. O’Brien is a distant third priority on opponent’s defensive game-plans. And as flashy as Gilliam is, and granted his mid and long-range game has come on at the end of the year, he has done a lot of his damage mopping up around the hoop while Proctor occupies half of the other team: He’s been able to roam free while defenses focus on Proctor and Jay Greene. Brenton has flat out DOMINATED the glass and the defensive end, and he is the one Rookie whom has shown up for every single game of the year. Brenton has taken hellacious elbows from the likes of Hasheen Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, as well as Brian Connelly and Matt Wolff, and he just keeps on fighting. He is far and away the best rookie defender in the league. And unlike O’Brien and Gilliam, whom can hide behind and “draft off” their star teammates so to speak, Brenton takes the leading role for Stony Brook on the glass and on defense. Brenton doesn’t grab rebounds because his teammates occupy opponents and clear the lane for him; he occupies half the opposing roster AND THEN still comes down with the tough rebounds in traffic, and it’s Brenton who’s assigned one-on-one coverage against the biggest, toughest, most athletic, and most physical player on the other team, being assigned the likes of Darryl Proctor, D.J. Rivera, Marqus Blakely, and Will Harris nightly. And that is why Brenton is the Rookie of the Year: He doesn’t score like O’Brien or Gilliam (yet), but he has a far larger impact night in and night out on the game, as no rookie has put his team on his back and won more games than Brenton.

Defensive Player of the Year: Marqus Blakely, Vermont

No explanation here is necessary. Blakely is leading the conference in Blocks and Steals, and is second (to Brenton) in defensive rebounding. End of story.

Coach of the Year: Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook

Make no mistake, Dennis Wolff deserves a lot of credit for guiding Boston University to a third place finish after the Terriers suffered season ending injuries to key players, and battled “internal-issues” at times during the season, but Wolff has the duo of Corey Lowe and John Holland, as potent a 1-2 punch as there is in the conference. Binghamton’s Kevin Broadus also warrants consideration, as the Bearcats claimed a share of the regular season title, and the top seed in the conference tournament, for the first time in school history. But Broadus had the luxury of being allowed to bring in a compilation of extremely talented transfers with plenty of division I experience. No other administration or athletic department in the league would have allowed the quartet of D.J. Rivera, Malik Alvin, Tiki Mayben, and Theo Davis to transfer in during the same calendar year (that’s a fact whether Binghamton fans like it or not). New Hampshire’s Bill Herrion also deserves some consideration considering how bad the Wildcat’s have been for what seems like and eternity. But Pikiell is the runaway winner.

It is absolutely jaw dropping to consider that before this season the Seawolves not only had never had a winning season at the Division I level, but they never had one at the DII level, nor in their last ten years at Division III. In his first three seasons on Long Island, Pikiell had led Stony Brook to a winning percentage below 30 percent, as he was handicapped by NCAA sanctions stripping Stony Brook of scholarships (sanctions attributed to the previous coaching regime). Pikiell started four first year players this season (3 true freshmen and a 1st year JuCo transfer) alongside a walk-on, and lead Stony Brook to a tie for 4th place, and the greatest season in Stony Brook history. No team exceeded expectations as much as the Seawolves (picked in almost every single preseason prediction and coaches poll to finish either last or 2nd to last). And it wasn’t because the chips fell just right, or he was dealt a great hand: Pikiell had to overcome the loss of center Desmond Adedeji, whom was not only written in as the Seawolves starting center, but also as the focal point and “go to” player on offense. He also had to overcome the loss of Jonathan Moore, penciled in as the starting 2-guard, as well as the personal tragedy of guard Chris Martin. Pikiell pulled together a team with eight new faces and no tradition of winning and turned them into contenders, as the Seawolves took the top three teams in the league into overtime, and look like they could make serious noise in the America East tournament.

First Team All-Conference:

  • D.J. Rivera, G/F Binghamton
  • John Holland, G/F BU
  • Darryl Proctor, F UMBC
  • Marqus Blakely, F Vermont
  • Mike Trimboli, G Vermont

Second Team All-Conference

  • Tiki Maybe, G Binghamton
  • Corey Lowe, G BU
  • Tyrece Gibbs, G UNH
  • Jay Greene, G UMBC
  • Muhammad El-Amin, Stony Brook

Third Team All-Conference

  • Tim Ambrose, G Albany
  • Will Harris, F Albany
  • Michael Turner, G/F Hartford
  • Tommy Brenton, F Stony Brook
  • Colin McIntosh, F Vermont

All-Rookie Team:

  • Jake O’Brien, F BU
  • Gerald McLemore, G Maine
  • Chauncey Gilliam, F UMBC
  • Tommy Brenton, F Stony Brook
  • Brian Dougher, G Stony Brook

All-Defensive Team:

  • Matt Wolff, BU
  • Darryl Proctor, UMBC
  • Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook
  • Marques Cox, Stony Brook
  • Marqus Blakely, Vermont

All-Floorburn Team:

No one in the league plays harder, or sacrifices more of their body, or their safety, than these five do on a nightly basis.

  • Matt Wolff, BU
  • Michael Turner, Hartford
  • Dane DiLiegro, UNH
  • Darryl Proctor, UMBC
  • Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook
  • Marqus Cox, Stony Brook

All-High-Risers/Rim-Rattlers:

The Best in-game dunkers in the conference

  • D.J. Rivera, Binghamton
  • John Holland, BU
  • Chauncey Gilliam, UMBC
  • Dane DiLiegro UNH
  • Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook
  • Marqus Blakely, Vermont

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College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Coaching Changes and NBA Draft Early Entrants

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Also, keep track of players who have declared early for the NBA Draft.

Hoopville Podcasts

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Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – May 17, 2017

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April 27, 2017 by

In our latest podcast, the business of college sports, as well as that of sports media, takes center stage. We talk about the layoffs at ESPN, college basketball’s opening night, and Wichita State’s departure from the Missouri Valley Conference. We close with thoughts on a departed friend of the media business as well.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – April 11, 2017

April 11, 2017 by

In our first off-season edition, we look back on the season that just ended, including redemption for one team and a big development for a conference that has had more questions than success on the hardwood. We also look at players coming and going, as well as big coaching news on a day where there was a lot of it.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.