Monday, January 12, 2009

State of America East

Vermont at the bottom of the America East standings? Who would have guessed? After two months to get an idea of each teams' strength, the beginning of conference play bumps up against preconceived notions of who should win each game. Unexpected results are a given. Is it time to rethink conclusions from November and December? Let's take a look:

America East Power Rankings (records versus D-I opponents only):

1. Binghamton Bearcats
9-5 (3-0 AE), RPI 108, SOS 221
Last week: W 67-60 vs. Maine, W 91-83 (OT) vs. Vermont, L 80-70 at Utah Valley
This week: 1/14 at Albany, 1/17 vs. Boston University

Ladies and gentlemen, I'd like you to welcome D.J. Rivera, America East Player of the Year candidate. With the reigning POY on the court, Rivera outshone Marqus Blakely and gave Binghamton a huge January win on its home court. His 29 points, 12 boards, and six steals were all game-highs. With Rivera, Malik Alvin, Tiki Mayben and Dwayne Jackson, the Bearcats are in possession of the conference's best backcourt. With Albany and BU on the horizon, the Bearcats have a chance to provide some real separation in the America East standings. Regular season crowns aren't won in January, but a 5-0 start would be difficult for the rest of America East to overcome.

2. Vermont Catamounts
9-6 (0-2 AE), RPI 155, SOS 227
Last week: L 91-83 at Binghamton, L 82-77 vs. Albany
This week: 1/14 at Boston University, 1/17 at Stony Brook

Vermont's early January schedule is a gauntlet, but that doesn't excuse being outplayed by two consecutive opponents. The next two games aren't a whole lot easier either. As good as the Catamounts are, repeating the Albany performance will very likely leave them in a massive 0-4 hole. Vermont did better in non-conference play than the rest of America East and can be expected to revert to form sooner or later. Catamount fans are hoping it's sooner.

3. Albany Great Danes
10-6 (2-1 AE), RPI 105, SOS 254
Last week: W 61-60 vs. Boston University, W 82-77 at Vermont
This week: 1/14 vs. Binghamton, 1/17 at Maine

The margin of victory wasn't great in either win, but be impressed by Albany's performance in the last two games. The Terriers showed up at SEFCU Arena and gave the Great Danes. Albany took it on the chin but stood up and made big plays down the stretch. Understanding the value of a road win against Vermont should require no explanation. Albany's season-opening loss to Hartford, however, makes Wednesday's clash with the rival Bearcats all the more important for the Great Danes' regular season title chances. A loss would put the Great Danes two games out of first. Cutting down on turnovers would help -- Albany coughed up the ball 21 times against Vermont.

4. Boston University Terriers
6-8 (1-1 AE), RPI 239, SOS 261
Last week: L 61-60 at Albany, W 68-37 vs. New Hampshire
This week: 1/14 vs. Vermont, 1/17 at Binghamton

Disaster may have struck the Terriers' roster, but BU has turned in two consecutive impressive performances after appearing to be on the ropes heading into Albany. While Dennis Wolff would obviously prefer to be 2-0 in conference play, the necessary decision to try and get more offense out of the post is already paying dividends. BU still has enough healthy, talented players to stay in contention. This week will decide a lot for the Terriers. Agganis has not resembled much of a home court for BU and Vermont will arrive in desperate need of a win after dropping its first two games. Winning at Binghamton may be asking too much, but BU has to find a way to avoid squandering momentum and falling to 1-3 in the conference.

5. Stony Brook Seawolves
7-7 (1-2 AE), RPI 209, SOS 274
Last week: L 67-60 at Binghamton, L 64-54 vs. Maine
This week: 1/13 at Dartmouth, 1/17 vs. Vermont

Stony Brook could easily be sixth in these rankings, but the road win against UMBC still holds plenty of weight. Losing at home to Maine is the Seawolves' first poor result in quite some time. Bryan Dougher had a miserable outing, quite unlike most of his play this season. With Dougher having an off night, the offense sputtered, missing fully two-thirds of its shots and committing seven more turnovers than the Black Bears. Stony Brook's roster isn't stocked with shooters, so there will be more nights where shots aren't falling, but the Seawolves are normally very good at taking care of the ball and forcing turnovers at the other end, suggesting the Maine performance is an anomaly.

6. Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers
6-7 (1-1 AE), RPI 190, SOS 174
Last week: W 61-59 vs. Maine
This week: 1/14 at New Hampshire, 1/17 vs. Hartford

Darryl Proctor is carrying the Retrievers right now. Even an average performance from Proctor on Saturday would have saddled UMBC with a second home loss against teams outside the upper tier of America East. Jay Greene has upped his scoring average from last year but isn't a consistent second option for the Retrievers, and despite only six players playing significant minutes (or any minutes at all, in many cases), there isn't a third player scoring in double figures. The Retrievers are in the precarious position of having neither depth nor balance on offense. Proctor is an excellent player, but he's not a one-man team. He may have to be, though.

7. Hartford Hawks
5-11 (1-1 AE), RPI 238, SOS 169
Last week: L 55-47 at New Hampshire, L 71-63 at Yale
This week: 1/14 vs. Maine, 1/17 at Maryland-Baltimore County

Road losses are expected from the bottom teams in the conference. Winning at home is what will help Hartford avoid the cellar, and despite losing both games this past week, the Hawks are 1-0 against conference opponents at Chase Arena. Hartford is 3-2 at home but just 1-8 in true road games, making opportunities to play on campus that much more important. The Hawks aren't catching Maine at the most opportune time, but even at 1-1 in conference play, Wednesday's game is one the Hawks need more than most.

8. Maine Black Bears
5-10 (1-2 AE), RPI 231, SOS 196
Last week: W 64-54 at Stony Brook, L 61-59 at Maryland-Baltimore County
This week: 1/14 at Hartford, 1/17 vs. Albany

The Black Bears are currently just one spot from bottom in the standings but have kept it close in both losses to conference foes and looked reasonably impressive against Stony Brook. Maine's home slate is tough in the early half ot the season, with New Hampshire being the only team in the bottom half of these power rankings to visit Alfond Arena in the first half of the conference schedule. That being said, if Maine can collect another win or two on the road, the Black Bears should be in decent shape come February. Despite Hartford's winning record at Chase Arena, Wednesday is one of Maine's better chances for a road win. The Black Bears displayed excellent discipline against Stony Brook -- just nine turnovers and nine fouls -- and should aim for a repeat performance in Connecticut.

9. New Hampshire Wildcats
4-8 (1-1 AE), RPI 278, SOS 281
Last week: W 55-47 vs. Hartford, L 68-37 at Boston University
This week: 1/14 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County, 1/17 at Dartmouth

The home win against Hartford was nice, but New Hampshire completely lost the plot, not to mention its shooting touch, in Sunday's game at The Roof. While Case has historically been a house of horrors for the Wildcats, losing by 31 points to an undermanned conference foe is inexcusable. Consider this: in each of the other nine games this past week involving at least one America East team, the final margin of victory never exceeded ten points. For that matter, no America East contest this year or last year was decided by more points (although two games equaled the 31-point spread). Worse yet, the 3-happy Wildcats missed all save two of their 33 attempts from deep. UNH has a lot in need of fixing and increasingly less time left to work with.

Conference performance
OOC record: 50-57 (Last 7 days: 0-2)
Conference RPI: 16 out of 31 (last week: 16)
Conference SOS: 24 out of 31 (last week: 23)

Not much to report here, as the conference's resumé remained relatively static last week and is likely to stay that way.

Tempo-free statistics

Other than Maine leapfrogging New Hampshire -- more a product of New Hampshire's disastrous trip to Boston than Maine's solid play -- the order of teams in this table remains unchanged from last week. Raw efficiency weights each possession the same, so Binghamton and Hartford rank lower here than their current form would suggest due to worse play early in the season. As more conference games are played, we will include a conference-only table to help isolate teams' performance from conference play.

The fact that New Hampshire's efficiency margin got worse despite winning a game this week reinforces how awful their play was on Sunday. Remember, for teams with very negative efficiency margins, even an average performance -- a close win or loss -- will produce a positive movement in the overall margin. New Hampshire won by a reasonable score against Hartford but played so poorly against BU that the efficiency margin's net movement for the week was nearly -2 despite starting the week below -9. Getting outscored by nearly a two-to-one ratio will do that.

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