Friday, March 3, 2006

America East Conference Tournament Preview

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The America East was not as good this year as it was a season ago, when Vermont dominated the league and Northeastern provided some competition for the Catamounts. This season, Albany took the title by one game over Binghamton. The Bearcats made it interesting by winning six of their last seven, but the Great Danes won their last game and hung on for the championship. Five other teams finished within two games of each other.

Favorite: Albany has won 8 of their last 9 conference games and are looking like the main candidate to win the conference championship. They have the best offense in the America East, and lead the conference in scoring offense, field-goal percentage, and three-point shooting percentage. Jamar Wilson, the conference Player of the Year, is an excellent all-around guard who can carry the Great Danes. Up front, Brent Wilson (no relation) and 7-1 Kirsten Zoellner hold down the fort.

Contenders: Binghamton is the clear-cut #2 in this conference. Even though they were swept by Albany, they have the ability win the tournament. The Bearcats don't look overly impressive on paper, but they have the best defense in the league. On the offensive end, Andre Heard leads the way. He is an excellent scorer and gets into the lane against nearly any defender. Troy Hailey and Mike Gordon also contribute in the backcourt. Sebastian Hermenier is the main in the frontcourt. He is a solid scorer and a good rebounder. Boston University has won 4 of their last 5, including road wins over Hartford and Vermont. The Terriers play excellent defense and take care of the ball on the other end. Forward Kevin Gardney is one of the best players in the conference, while Omari Peterkin is a solid but inconsistent big man. The backcourt of Corey Hassan, a good scorer, and Shaun Wynn, a very good all-around producer, is one of the better ones in the AE.

Sleepers: New Hampshire swept Albany, so they obviously have the ability to knock off the Great Danes. However, they have lost 3 of 5 and are not playing their best basketball of the season. Forward Blagoj Janev is one of the more underrated players in the conference, while fellow frontcourt player Mike Christensen provides a good complement. Jermaine Anderson is a very solid all-around. He leads a deep and balanced perimeter group. Hartford has one of the two best players in the league in Kenny Adeleke. He can single-handedly carry the Hawks as he leads the AE in both scoring and rebounding. Aaron Cook is an excellent perimeter scorer as well, giving Hartford possibly the best best inside-outside combo in the conference.

Prediction: There is no true favorite in this league. Albany won the conference, but it is not as if they are going to easily get the automatic bid. However, I came into the season with the Great Danes as my pick and I am going to keep it that way. Even though they are, at times, one-dimensional with Jamar Wilson basically running the show, they have enough options to take some of the pressure off of him. The winner of the New Hampshire-Hartford (I think Hartford) is going to give Albany a nice run, though. Albany over Binghamton in the final for the tournament championship.

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