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).
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.