Wednesday, October 19, 2005

America East Conference Preview


The America East Conference was led from start to finish a season ago by Vermont, with now-departed finishing only one game back, with Boston University one game behind them. In the conference tournament, Vermont defeated Boston University in the title game, and went on to pull up one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Tournament when they beat #4 seeded Syracuse in the first round. They then lost to Michigan State in the second round. The league as a whole is down this year, with Vermont and Boston University rebuilding. There are several teams that can take advantage of that.

Favorite: Albany returns four of five starters from a season ago, including the league's best backcourt in Player of the Year candidate Jamar Wilson and All-Conference pick Lucious Jordan. They may be the two best players in the conference. 5-9 Jon Iati returns after a year missed due to injury. He was the America East Rookie of the Year two years ago after averaging 11 points per game. Up front, forwards Levi Levine and Brent Wilson should form one of the best frontcourt duos in the league. 7-1 Kirsten Zoellner returns at center for the Great Danes.

Contenders: Boston University loses three starters, but returns two players that could be ready for a breakout season. Guard Shaun Wynn is an excellent defender, and will increase his production. Forward Kevin Gardner posted solid numbers last season, but will need to develop into a go-to-guy this year. Matt Wolff and several other players are going to have to step up quickly if the Terriers are going to make another run. Maine returns an excellent backcourt in Kevin Reed and Ernest Turner. Both should be all-conference choices by the end of the season. However, there isn't much going on in the frontcourt. Freddy Petkus is going to have to become a viable option up front in order for the Black Bears to relieve some of the pressure that is on the star backcourt. Stony Brook finished in 7th place last season, but should be the most improved team in the league this year. Bobby Santiago and Antwan Hardy return in the backcourt, which will be bolstered by the comeback of Mitchell Beauford, who missed all but six games last year due to injury. That trio each averaged double figures a season ago, led by Beauford going for nearly 17 per game. Up front, Mike Popoko provides balance for the Seawolves. He is a very good option in the post. JonPaul Kobryn also returns in the frontcourt. He sat out last season due to injury, but should be one of the best low-post options in the conference.

Sleepers: Hartford returns a team that can make some noise if all the pieces fall into place. Aaron Cook will be an all-conference selection in the backcourt, given his scoring prowess. Charles Ford and David Ruffin also return as starters on the perimeter. Rich Baker will provide depth. Bo Taylor should have a big season up front now that he will be the go-to-guy up front. Hofstra transfer Kenny Adeleke will also be eligible to play. He was an excellent player for the Pride; if he can stay focused on basketball, he will have a big impact. Binghamton has an all-conference candidate in guard Andre Heard, who has the ability to carry the Bearcats. Troy Hailey and Schafer Jackson are two more solid players in the backcourt. Sebastian Hermenier is a decent player in the paint, and could improve his numbers with more opportunities.

Rounding Out the Pack: Vermont loses one of the best inside-outside combos in conference history in TJ Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath, who both had historic careers with the Catamounts. This season, lots of rebuilding will have to be done. Even without Coppenrath, the frontcourt returns several players that should be able to keep Vermont competitive. Martin Klimes returns as a starter, while Josh Duell could develop into a star. 6-11 Chris Hold will add size, while 6-7 swingman Ryan Schneider will likely shift to the backcourt to make room for all the frontcourt players. A guard needs to step up if the Catamounts are going to remain in the upper tier, however. New Hampshire wasn't very good last season, and things shouldn't be entirely different this year. Contrasting to nearly every other team in the America East, the Wildcats are lead by a very solid forward combination. Blagoj Janev and Mike Christiansen are a pair of 6-8 bookends that combined for about 20 points and 9 boards a season ago. Chris Vetrano provides the production from the perimeter. Maryland-Baltimore County returns a decent trio from a year ago in guards Brian Hodges and Rashad Bilal, as well as forward John Zito. Hodges and Bilal seem poised for breakout seasons as a result of the fact that they were reserve players a season ago. The Retrievers are, for the most part, a young team. This season should develop the players for down the road in a year or two.

Prediction: Albany is the clear-cut choice for the automatic bid from the America East. They return potentially the two best players in the league in Jamar Wilson and Lucious Jordan, as well as a very good frontcourt consisting of forwards Brent Wilson and Levi Levine. The Great Danes also have more quality depth than most teams in the conference. Stony Brook might be the closest thing to a contender that the conference has for Albany. Boston University should come around by the end of the season, while Hartford has a very talented squad. Albany could run away with the regular season title, but the conference tournament should be competitive.

Player of the Year: Jamar Wilson, SG, Albany

All-Conference Team:
G- Jamar Wilson, Albany
G- Kevin Reed, Maine
G- Andre Heard, Binghamton
G- Lucious Jordan, Albany
G- Aaron Cook, Hartford

Second Team:
G- Shaun Wynn, Boston University
G- Mitchell Beauford, Stony Brook
G- Ernest Tucker, Maine
F- Levi Levine, Albany
F- Kevin Gardner, Boston University

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