Tuesday, January 20, 2009

State of America East

It's been a long week in America East play -- for the purposes of this feature, it was an eight-day week! -- and the extra time hasn't helped alleviate anyone's confusion. Up is down and down is up, with bottom-feeders pulling surprise upsets, conference leaders falling faster than new ones can be anointed, and more than one contest requiring extra time. Yes, it's a long week filled with longer games, which means it's time for our longest regular feature. To the power rankings!

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

1. Vermont Catamounts
11-6 (3-2 America East), RPI 131, SOS 241
Last week: W 70-56 at Boston University, W 83-72 at Stony Brook, W 76-42 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County
This week: 1/22 at Hartford

Mike Lonergan's team must be listening to some Bachman-Turner Overdrive in the locker room, because after a slow start to conference play the Catamounts are taking care of business. Okay, it sounds cheesy, but you get the point. Close losses to the upstate SUNY schools were tough for the Vermont faithful to swallow, but two double-digit road wins and yesterday's demolition of UMBC have helped to right the ship in a hurry. In this year's jumbled conference, a 3-2 record isn't a hole to climb out of. The Catamounts are within easy striking distance of first place and have three relatively soft opponents on the horizon. Of course, it's tough to say which opponents are soft and which aren't this year, but it shouldn't surprise anyone if Vermont is 6-2 and streaking two weeks from now.

2. Albany Great Danes
11-7 (3-2 AE), RPI 105, SOS 233
Last week: W 72-66 vs. Binghamton, L 72-61 at Maine
This week: 1/23 vs. Stony Brook, 1/25 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County

With wins over Vermont, Boston, and Binghamton, Albany finds itself in excellent shape. The double-digit loss to Maine is troubling, though: it's the Danes' second loss of ten or more points to teams Albany was expected to beat. The Danes are perfect at home, which will serve them well as conference play continues, and three upcoming home games suggest the Danes will win more in the near future.

3. Boston University Terriers
8-9 (3-2 AE), RPI 204, SOS 220
Last week: L 70-56 vs. Vermont, W 81-64 at Binghamton, W 99-97 vs. Stony Brook (4 OT)
This week: 1/22 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County, 1/25 at Maine

Losing to Vermont in Agganis certainly wasn't what Dennis Wolff wanted from his team, but the Catamounts' two subsequent results suggest BU may have caught Vermont at the wrong time. In any case, the Terriers earned a huge win in Binghamton to even their conference record before outlasting Stony Brook in yesterday's epic four-overtime game. Despite the loss of two significant contributors, BU's current roster appears more than capable of getting the job done. With UMBC reeling after its loss in Burlington, the Terriers have a golden opportunity to build a winning streak and force their way into the regular season title picture.

4. Binghamton Bearcats
10-7 (4-2 AE), RPI 168, SOS 262
Last week: L 72-66 at Albany, L 81-64 vs. Boston University, W 66-59 vs. Hartford
This week: 1/22 at New Hampshire

The Bearcats are never short of surprises. Just when the team appeared to be ready to assert itself as conference favorites, momentum swung the other way -- and it did so in a hurry. Beating Hartford at home helps, but it doesn't stop the bleeding, just slow it down. But wait, there's more: Per the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Dwayne Jackson has been suspended indefinitely. Is concern unjustified here? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Some teams don't handle success well, particularly newfound success. Most of Binghamton's core contributors weren't even on the team last year.

5. Maine Black Bears
7-11 (3-3 AE), RPI 238, SOS 235
Last week: L 76-71 at Hartford, W 72-61 vs. Albany, W 78-75 vs. New Hampshire (2 OT)
This week: 1/25 vs. Boston University

Maine in fifth? What? Calm down. Spots five through nine in this week's power rankings are about as close as can be. A few things put Maine just a hair above the next four contenders. Maine has three conference wins in a conference where wins aren't easy to come by. Maine also has a positive point differential in conference play. While Maine has two losses against teams below it in these rankings, both of those losses were road losses, and both were decided by less than five points. On a neutral court, either of those games could have ended differently. None of those things make Maine clearly better than teams six through nine, but in combination they're reason enough to give the Black Bears the fifth spot.

6. New Hampshire Wildcats
6-9 (2-2 AE), RPI 266, SOS 317
Last week: W 65-47 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County, W 68-59 at Dartmouth, L 78-75 at Maine (2 OT)
This week: 1/22 vs. Binghamton

Yes, New Hampshire was last in the power rankings one short week ago, but things are changing quickly in this conference. Consider how close New Hampshire came to being 3-1 and atop the America East standings. For all the Wildcats' troubles away from Durham, UNH has won both its home games against conference opponents and has a chance to make a real statement against Binghamton on Thursday.

7. Stony Brook Seawolves
8-9 (1-4 AE), RPI 231, SOS 287
Last week: W 60-52 at Dartmouth, L 83-72 at Vermont, L 99-97 at Boston University (4 OT)
This week: 1/23 at Albany, 1/25 vs. Hartford

There are no ties in basketball, but you can't get much closer to one than Stony Brook did against the Terriers yesterday afternoon. Stony Brook is last in the conference and needs to find a way to grab some W's, but the Seawolves aren't guilty of poor play. It's been close but no cigar for Stony Brook this month. The Seawolves are a young team, but they need to remember what provided the difference in close wins from earlier this season and apply that knowledge. Unlike previous years, this team knows how to win -- they just aren't right now.

8. Hartford Hawks
6-12 (2-3 AE), RPI 239, SOS 172
Last week: W 76-71 vs. Maine, L 69-60 at Maryland-Baltimore County, L 66-59 at Binghamton
This week: 1/22 vs. Vermont, 1/25 at Stony Brook

The Hawks are another team finding ways to take care of business at home in the AE, winning both their games in Hartford. The problem here isn't just Hartford, it's the schedule: if Hartford can't beat Vermont at home, two road games follow. The Hawks could easily be 2-6 halfway through conference play. After scoring 26 points in a win over Maine, Jaret von Rosenberg's output has dropped the past two games; Hartford needs Rosenberg to replace Joe Zeglinski's point production in order to win consistently.

9. Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers
7-9 (2-3 AE), RPI 208, SOS 208
Last week: L 65-47 at New Hampshire, W 69-60 vs. Hartford, L 76-42 at Vermont
This week: 1/22 at Boston University, 1/25 at Albany

It's not that UMBC is markedly worse than the rest of the teams in America East. It's just that the margin for error in Baltimore is so much thinner. Subtract a player, even two players, from Boston or Hartford, and those teams are still competitive. Compare that to the Retrievers' performance in Vermont yesterday. Without Jay Greene or Rich Flemming on the floor, Maryland-Baltimore County was painfully thin. Bakari Smith, Brett Burrier, and Jake Wasco are not productive players at this level, at least not yet. Even with Greene and Flemming, UMBC was blown out by New Hampshire and has struggled elsewhere, even at home. The Maine win was painfully close at the end, and Stony Brook proved to be more than the Retrievers could handle -- and those games were at home. UMBC's road performance has been abysmal, and with two road games upcoming, that doesn't bode well for the Retrievers.

Conference performance
OOC record: 52-57 (Last 7 days: 2-0)
Conference RPI: 16 out of 31 (last week: 16)
Conference SOS: 24 out of 31 (last week: 24)

Two wins over Dartmouth pushed the OOC record slightly closer to .500. Other than that, there's nothing going on with the conference metrics.

Efficiency margins

As you might have noticed by now, the full-season efficiency table isn't the most useful tool to evaluate conference play. Stony Brook might finish second in the conference when it's all said and done, but the Seawolves' play against conference opponents suggests otherwise. Don't worry, there's an easy solution: starting with next week's feature, we'll be adding a second table showing efficiency margins for conference games only. Not only will the addition help weight more recent performance by throwing out all the results from November and December, but restricting the sample to America East games also partially controls for strength of opponent, making the raw efficiency numbers more useful.

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