Saturday, March 6, 2010

America East Conference Tournament Preview

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The America East did not have a clear-cut favorite heading into the season, and the regular season campaign reflected that. Stony Brook, a potential sleeper in the preseason, won the conference by one game despite getting blown out in the final game of the season. Vermont lost to Stony Brook in the next-to-last game of the season, which ultimately cost the Catamounts the title. Boston University and Maine tied for third at 11-5. Fifth-place Binghamton voluntarily dropped out of the conference tournament just a few days ago.

Favorite: Even though it got destroyed by 22 points by New Hampshire in the season finale, Stony Brook enters the tournament as the favorite. The Seawolves won 10 in a row prior to the loss, and were rolling. Offensively, they are accurate from behind the arc and control the glass on defense. Stony Brook is led by the perimeter trio of Muhammad El-Amin, Bryan Dougher – two big-time three-point shooters – and Chris Martin. Versatile swingman Tommy Brenton averages nearly 10 rebounds per game and also leads the team in assists.

Contenders: This league is by no means a lock to go to Stony Brook. Vermont has a great shot at winning the automatic bid, behind the inside-outside combo of forward Marquis Blakely, one of the nation’s best all-around talents, and guard Maurice Joseph, a former Michigan State transfer. The Catamounts have won eight of their last nine. They play lock down defense, forcing difficult shots at that end of the floor, and love crashing the glass and getting to the foul line offensively. Boston University was one of the preseason favorites, and is a threat to win the league despite being the No. 4 seed. The Terriers went 4-4 in late January and early February, which cost them a shot at the regular season title. They push tempo and are carried by their defense. However, they have plenty of offensive weapons, led by five double-figure scorers, each of whom takes at least three three-pointers per game. John Holland and Corey Lowe are the primary cogs.

Sleeper: New Hampshire is coming off of a 22-point win over league champ Stony Brook, and the Wildcats have momentum, having won four of eight since starting 3-7. They play solid defense and rebound the ball very well. New Hampshire has an excellent backcourt in Alvin Abreu and Tyrone Conley, who can shoot threes and get to the rim. Dane Dilliegro is a double-double threat down low.

Prediction: This could be a wide-open tournament, especially from the semifinals onwards. Sure, Stony Brook won the league, but the Seawolves are certainly vulnerable. Meanwhile, Vermont and Boston University both have plenty of talent at both ends of the floor. Furthermore, Maine is a threat and Hartford as the homecourt advantage. However, in the end, I think that Vermont is going to get the automatic bid. The top half of the bracket is going to be very difficult for whoever comes out, and the Catamounts have a player in Marquis Blakely who can carry them to the Big Dance.

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