Friday, March 6, 2009

America East Conference Tournament Preview

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As usual, the America East was the scene of an exciting race that ended in a first-place tie between the two hottest teams in the league, Vermont and Binghamton. Binghamton received the top seed in the tournament, though, as the Bearcats swept the Catamounts. The conference was tight throughout the season, as even Vermont started the league season 0-2. Boston University finished two games back of the leaders, while three teams tied at 8-8. It should be a very competitive tournament.

Favorites: Despite getting swept by Binghamton and receiving the No. 2 seed, it’s tough to go against Vermont as the favorite heading into the conference tournament. The Catamounts have won 14 of their last 15 games, including a win over Buffalo in the Bracket Busters. They push the tempo and are very good at both ends. Mike Trimboli is a very good point guard who can score the ball as well as distribute, and Marquis Blakely is one of the best all-around forwards in the country at both ends of the floor. Colin McIntosh is an excellent third scorer who can shoot. Binghamton was a surprise team, beating Rutgers and Tulane on the road in non-conference play. The Bearcats have won 10 of their last 11 games. They feature four players averaging in double-figures (a fifth, Dwayne Jackson, was suspended indefinitely earlier this season). D.J. Rivera is an explosive guard who can really fill it up; he also is an excellent rebounder. Former Syracuse transfer Emmanuel Mayben can shoot the three and distribute the ball, while Malik Alvin is a playmaker. Reggie Fuller is the team’s inside presence.

Contender: Boston University is the only other team in the league to finish above .500 in conference play, going 11-5 after a three-game losing streak in February. The Terriers might have the most explosive trio in the conference, starting with the perimeter combo of Corey Lowe and John Holland. Lowe is an excellent all-around player, while Holland can fill it up and also rebound. Forward Jake O’Brien is an inside-outside threat up front.

Sleeper: Look out for the fifth seed, Stony Brook. Four of their eight league losses were in overtime, including every loss since January. They have a very good backcourt duo in Muhammad El-Amin, a scorer who can get points in a variety of ways, and Bryan Dougher, a streaky shooter. Tommy Brenton is a tough match-up on the wing. If the Seawolves get some breaks in the tournament, they could pull an upset.

Prediction: This should be a very exciting conference tournament, as several teams can make a run. I think it will eventually come down to Binghamton and Vermont, the top two seeds who tied for the regular season championship and will need to decide the title in the conference tourney. The championship is on the higher seed’s homecourt, so Binghamton will have the advantage there. However, Vermont is an experienced team with the best inside-outside combo in the league in Trimboli and Blakely. Plus, the Catamounts are 9-3 on the road this year; they will win on the Bearcats’ homecourt and get the automatic bid.

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