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2013-14 America East Post-Mortem

by - Published May 23, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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The America East Conference had a different look and a very familiar look in 2013-14. It started with one and ended with the other.

The season started without one of the signature programs in the conference, as Boston University was off to the Patriot League. While other programs have emerged, the Terriers had a long run of success and were consistent contenders and winners. Their departure hurts the conference, make no mistake about it.

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Hooley and Albany overcame a lot to win the America East championship

by - Published March 16, 2014 in Columns
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STONY BROOK, N.Y. – A poke in the eye? No problem for Peter Hooley and Albany. To be honest, they’ve had to overcome a little more than that. In fact, Hooley himself has had something worse happen recently.

So when the sophomore guard hit a tough runner with less than two minutes to go, then buried a big three-pointer a minute later to help Albany pull out a 69-60 win in the America East championship game, it was perhaps not a surprise. It also went with how he played in the tournament, although he wasn’t as big a factor on Saturday as he was last weekend.

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Albany is surely thankful to be home for a change

by - Published November 21, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Surely no one was happier to get home from the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament than Albany. And yet, the Great Danes couldn’t get comfortable there for long. So goes the November portion of their non-conference schedule, which has been more than a grind and included a tough 67-64 loss to Loyola (Md.) in the Springfield Bracket championship game on Sunday.

The Great Danes opened the season at home against Duquesne on November 9. Two days later, they lost at Ohio State, and went right from Columbus to Seattle, where two days later they beat Washington. They were barely home when they headed to Connecticut for two games this weekend, and had to fly to South Carolina on Monday for a Tuesday night matchup at South Carolina State, which they won in a romp 83-55.

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Quick Hitters – January 21, 2012

by - Published January 21, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Quick hitters as we head into a busy Saturday:

 

  • If there was any doubt as to the value of a point guard, look no further than Boston University and floor leader D.J. Irving. There are a few reasons the Terriers have now won five games in a row and is tied with Stony Brook (who they beat last Saturday) atop the America East Conference, but Irving’s return to health following a concussion last month is chief among them. That was readily apparent to one opposing coach, who thinks he’s the Terriers’ best player.

    “I think they’re at their best when the ball is in his hands and getting guys shots,” said Albany head coach Will Brown.

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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.

Quick Hitters – January 20, 2010

by - Published January 20, 2010 in Columns

Quick hitters as we reach the middle of the week:

  • As speculation on candidates for the Dartmouth head coaching job gets going, one thing to keep in mind is that Robert Ceplikas is an acting athletic director.  The school will probably need to have someone in that role before they can realistically hire a new head coach.  Director of Varsity Athletics Communications Rick Bender said he’s not sure if Ceplikas is a candidate for the job on a permanent basis.
  • In the prep ranks, last week showed the potential for the Rivers School in the future as Andrew Mirken tries to build the program.  They picked up a 63-62 win at Class B stalwart Brimmer & May and also knocked off the Middlesex School at the end of the week.  Along the way, one could see what some of the young talent on the team will be capable of: athletic guard Taariq Allen running the floor and scoring, young point guard Carlin Haymon running the show, and wing Kyle Reardon being the consummate glue guy, among other things.  (Included was Reardon sealing the Middlesex game with four free throws in the final minute.)  One could also see how this team will lose games right now, but the young talent is getting better right now.
  • Albany has talent, but the Great Danes didn’t seem to run any offense in their 79-58 loss at Boston University on Tuesday night.  The offense seemed to have no rhyme or reason, especially in the first half when they dug themselves a hole they could never get out of.  Shooting just over 39 percent from the field in the second half didn’t help.”We’re not a team that offensively can trade baskets with a team like Boston University when they’re clicking,” said head coach Will Brown, who characterized his team as “selfish offensively in the first half”.
  • Sacred Heart is thought to be a contender in the Northeast Conference, and they certainly have a veteran bunch that’s good enough to be in the mix.  But if the Pioneers are going to win, they’ll have to play a lot better on defense than they did last weekend.  They couldn’t shut down a Bryant team that has struggled to score and didn’t have their best player in Cecil Gresham, who is done for the season, and two days later they gave up 88 points in a blowout loss to a Central Connecticut State team that doesn’t have its best player, Ken Horton, due to injury.
  • Although his team is getting a lot of attention for it, Kansas State head coach Frank Martin is keeping a level head about the win.  The win is sure to mean only as much as their future performance allows, even though it will get them in the national spotlight for a short time and also had the benefit of helping to sell all remaining tickets to their home games.”To me, it means that we won a game on January 18,” Martin said.  “I do not mean to be silly about it, but we do not get parades this time of year.”

Bryant’s First Division I Opponent Has Been There

by - Published November 23, 2008 in Columns

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – It’s ironic that Bryant would open its Division I tenure against Albany, which it did in Wednesday night’s 76-67 loss to the Great Danes. After all, it wasn’t all that long ago that Albany was a program new to Division I and having to adjust the way Bryant has to now. And in the immediate, that experience certainly helped Albany head coach Will Brown, because he had an idea what to expect.

“We knew this was going to be a big night for Bryant,” said Brown, who was an assistant when the program first made the leap. “We knew they were going to play with great energy, we were going to get a great effort.”

There were some difficult times early for the Great Danes, who struggled to even put seven players on the floor at times. An already thin roster was further depleted by injuries, leaving them with perhaps the thinnest margin of error imaginable. It was basically a trial-by-fire for Brown, who spent the first year with the “interim” tag before having it removed. Though he may have been coveted for some jobs the last couple of years with the success the program has now had, it didn’t happen right away.

“I was one of those naïve 28-year-olds who thought he had it all figured out and thought we were going to win that year,” Brown reflected on his debut season. “Boy, did I have something coming to me.”

That wasn’t all, as his first call to a prospective recruit was a wake-up call to another key part of what the job would entail.

“The first kid I called, he said, ‘Hey coach, is Albany a state school in Georgia?’” Brown recalls. “And I’m like, no, it’s Albany in New York. That’s when I started recruiting nationally.”

The newcomers acquitted themselves well. While the game wasn’t quite as close as the nine-point margin suggests, the Bulldogs never quit and rallied late to make it a respectable game. With 16:05 left, Albany was fully in control with a 21-point lead helped by a strong start to the second half as they made four of their first five shots and Bryant made just one of eight. The Great Danes scored 12 of their first 15 second-half points in the paint, where the Bulldogs are quite undersized with no player taller than 6’7″.

But guards Chris Birrell and Barry Latham led a rally that got the Bulldogs within twelve a couple of times, and later into single digits before the Great Danes closed it out. Birrell was 4-6 from long range for his 12 points and added seven assists, while Latham posted his second career double-double with 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Both coaches had positive things to say about the effort of the newcomers.

“I was impressed with everything that went on tonight from Bryant’s standpoint,” said Brown, whose team already had two road games with virtually no break in between before this one. “I thought their kids played hard, I thought they were well-coached and they competed to the buzzer.”

“You want to win every game you play, but there are times you have to be realistic and appreciate the improvement when you see it,” said Bryant head coach Tim O’Shea. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement in these guys and I like the way they competed, I really did.”

O’Shea, who is taking a measured approach to evaluating his team, certainly saw the irony in playing the Great Danes. While Brown thinks Bryant has an added advantage in having a veteran coach to start off, his opposite number didn’t have to look far for an example.

“It’s interesting that we played Albany tonight because they’re a team that went through this process ten years ago,” O’Shea reflected. “You see what can happen ten years later, they’ve got a strong program.”

The Bulldogs got a nice crowd of students, as the student section was packed and lively all night long. The attendance was 2,167 for the opener, and players and coaches alike noticed it. The Bulldogs are certainly happy with the turnout and hope it continues.

O’Shea also noticed how appreciative his players are of little things that come with the move up. They like playing at the Division I level, which every kid wants coming out of high school, but even O’Shea was reminded of some of what comes with it earlier in the day.

“For them, this move to Division I is a whole new feel,” said O’Shea. “I’ve never been to a place that didn’t have a pre-game meal, but this is the first time they ever had a pre-game meal, and they thought that was the greatest thing going. It’s nice to be around a group of kids that are so appreciative of everything. At the Division II level, these kids used to pay a portion to get their sneakers, their practice gear and all that – they paid for that. Now that we’re Division I, they didn’t pay for that. It’s so nice to be around kids that say ‘thank you’ and appreciate that.”

There are a lot of new things that will happen for Bryant this season. In time, that will wear off, but they now have the first game under their belt, and they had a good example to look at on the other side in that game.

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