Thursday, October 23, 2008

America East Conference Preview


The America East Conference looked like it might feature a tight league race down the stretch last season, but the second half destroyed any of those thoughts. From mid-January on, it was Maryland-Baltimore County’s league. The Retrievers won nine of their last 10 games to finish in first-place by three games over Hartford and Albany. Three teams finished 9-7, with just three teams finishing below .500 in conference play. On the other hand, just one team finished more than one game above .500 overall. The conference tournament was more of the same, as UMBC won the automatic bid by knocking off Hartford in the finals. The Retrievers’ hot streak wouldn’t continue in the NCAA Tournament, as they fell to Georgetown in the first-round. This season features two perennial favorites as the frontrunners.

Favorites: Boston University
returns five starters from last season’s fourth-place finish, and the Terriers have the pieces to get back to the NCAA Tournament after a longer-than-usual hiatus. Corey Lowe is one of the best players in the league, while John Holland and Carlos Strong are also double-figure scorers. Tyler Morris is another solid guard. Up front, Scott Brittain can score and rebound, and Matt Wolff is a versatile performer. Vermont returns perhaps the best inside-outside duo in the league in guard Mike Trimboli and forward Marquis Blakely. Blakely is one of the most productive players in the country at both ends, while Trimboli is a very good point guard. Michigan State transfer Maurice Joseph will likely step in immediately at guard, and Evan Fjeld leads a solid group of role players.

Contenders: UMBC will look to return to the NCAA Tournament after improving by 12 wins last season. The Retrievers bring back four players who saw starting opportunities, including all-conference performers Jay Greene, a terrific point guard, and Daryl Proctor, one of the best players in the America East. Matt Spadafora and Justin Fry also return to the lineup. Hartford tied for second last season, and the Hawks will be a contender once again. Joe Zeglinski is one of the better guards in the league, while Jared Von Rosenburg is a nice complement to him in the backcourt. Michael Turner is a very versatile forward who pairs with Morgan Sabia in a solid frontcourt.

Sleepers: Binghamton will be one of the most intriguing teams in the America East this season. The Bearcats bring in former Syracuse and Massachusetts transfer Tiki Mayben and Gonzaga transfer Theo Davis, who are both very talented but have had off-court problems in the past. Guard Malik Alvin is another transfer who will be counted on immediately. Leading the returnees are Reggie Fuller and Dwayne Jackson. Albany might fall back to the pack this year after several seasons at or near the top of the standings. Brian Connelly, Jerel Hastings and Tim Ambrose are solid returnees, with Connelly looking to become a go-to-guy. Virginia transfer Will Harris and two newcomers in the backcourt will likely make immediate impacts. New Hampshire returns four starters from last season, but the Wildcats went just 9-20 last season. However, they have a talented and deep backcourt, with all-conference candidates Tyrece Gibbs and Alvin Abreu, as well as Eric Gilchrese and Tyrone Conley. They do need help in the frontcourt, though, which is where Dane DiLiegro will have to step up.

Rounding out the Pack: Stony Brook has finished with single-digit wins the past three seasons, but may improve on those numbers this year. Returning to the backcourt are Michael Tyree and Chris Martin, but Bryan Dougher could make an impact as a freshman. Dayton transfer Desmond Adedeji and senior Demetrius Young lead the frontcourt. Maine returns a lot of experience in the way of four starters, but the Black Bears have a lot of room to improve. The strength will be on the perimeter, with all-conference wing Mark Socoby and double-figure scorers Junior Bernal and Kaimondre Owes. Phillipe Tchekane Bofia and Sean McNally are solid up front.

Prediction: The America East has a lot of contenders for the top spot this season, with Boston University, Vermont and Hartford returning plenty of talent and UMBC the defending champion. BU might have the best overall balance; Vermont will have three of the league’s best in Marquis Blakely, Mike Trimboli and Maurice Joseph; UMBC has Jay Greene and Daryl Proctor; and Hartford has several all-conference candidates. In the end, I think UMBC lost too much and Hartford doesn’t have the inside depth to contend, meaning that it will come down to Vermont and BU. If Joseph has the type of impact that is expected, the Catamounts will have a nearly unstoppable trio – which will be too much for BU. Give Vermont the nod for the automatic bid.

Player of the Year: Marquis Blakely, F, Vermont

All-Conference Team:
G- Corey Lowe, Boston University
G- Jay Greene, UMBC
G- Joe Zeglinski, Hartford
F- Marquis Blakely, Vermont

F- Darryl Proctor, UMBC

Second Team:
G- Mike Trimboli, Vermont

G- Mark Socoby, Maine
G- Tyrece Gibbs, New Hampshire
F- John Holland, Boston University
F- Michael Turner, Hartford

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