Friday, February 27, 2009

The Day After: (BU 76, Maine 65)

Regardless of the fact that the victory came against the University of Maine (one of the two clear-cut sub-par teams in the conference), the Terriers pieced together one of their most complete team efforts of the season. The win was significant in marking the 1,000th win in program history in the 100th season of basketball at Boston University.

In addition, John Holland became the second player under BU coach Dennis Wolff to score 500+ points in a season and he's clearly developing into one of the best offensive players to ever set foot in Case Gymnasium/Agganis Arena. His Dr. J-esque dunk last night against two Maine defenders was just as good as not better than his rim-rocker that earned the number one spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 a few weeks ago.

Jake O'Brien and Jeff Pelage also threw it down last night in the 76-65 victory, as Pelage's flush capped a 10-point, 12-rebound performance that emphasized a stretch of his best play of the season. For the Terriers, Pelage's improved play and consistency couldn't come at a better time as they've got one game remaining (against the University of Hartford) before the start of the conference tournament (BU is locked into the third seed and will play the 2:30 game against the No. 6 seed on Saturday).

While the win ensured the Terriers' first winning season since 2004-05, it also marked the return of a team fans became familiar with during BU's eight-game winning streak. Holland and Pelage both recorded double-doubles (though Holland's could have easily gone to O'Brien as the two came down with a rebound, and Holland ripped the ball from O'Brien to get credit for his 10th board) and Lowe had one of his best facilitator games of the season (seven assists, one turnover) and found his shooting stroke in the second half.

The most important thing is that the Terriers are feeling more confident in their abilities than they were a week ago and even though O'Brien and Lowe are playing on tender ankles, the training staff feels they are healthy enough to play and the week off before the start of the tournament should be very beneficial.

In the press conference, Gatorade was set out for the players (an uncommon occurrence), to which Holland exclaimed when he walked in, "We have Gatorade tonight!" Wolff promptly responded, with a straight faced, dry-humor tone, "Let me have John's Gatorade since he didn't pass the ball to Matt." There's no better scenario for a team than to be loose and playing well entering the tournament and if the Terriers win on Sunday (senior day) against Hartford, they'll be just that.

A note: Be sure to log onto the blog at 12:00 p.m. on Sunday for a special live blog of the women's basketball team's game against the University of Maine, run by Scott McLaughlin, Jake Seiner and Dan Ventresca. They will blog the final two games in BU's quest for a 16-0 conference season as well as the America East Tournament in Hartford.

-- Jeff Pelage's aggressiveness/double-double: The imposing rookie has strung together a week of increasingly impressive performances between games and practice and it shows. If he can continue playing at such a high level entering the tournament, the Terriers have as good a "secret weapon" as any team in the bracket.
-- Corey Lowe's second-half shooting: Lowe found his stroke after a rough first half from beyond the arc. Coming out of the locker room, he his his first shot in warmups and gave a look like, "why couldn't I do that the whole first half?" He certainly did in the second, and if he can continue to stay locked in (both passing- and shooting-wise) it will greatly benefit the Terriers.
-- Jake O'Brien's tolerance: O'Brien suffered a sprained ankle Tuesday and it was significantly swollen, yet toughed it out and delivered an 18-point, 9-rebound performance on Thursday.

-- Maine's first-half offense: Maine was finding too many open cuts to the basket and scoring with ease. Other teams will learn to exploit BU's zone in a similar manner if things don't tighten up.

Terriers simply grand
M. BBall tops Maine in postseason tuneup

Post-game Audio: (BU 76, Maine 65)

Audio from BU's 76-65 victory over the University of Maine.

BU coach Dennis Wolff's opening statement

Maine coach Ted Woodward's opening statement

Jake O'Brien talks about playing through his sprained ankle

John Holland on BU's second-half intensity

Jeff Pelage explains the difference between now and a few weeks ago

Wolff discusses Corey Lowe's emergence from his shooting slump

Wolff reflects on what it means to coach BU's 1,000th victory

Woodward talk about the progress of his underclassmen

Thursday, February 26, 2009

America East Championship scenarios

Below are the possible scenarios for the seeding of the America East Tournament (March 6-8 in Albany) as forwarded from the league office.

2009 America East Men’s Basketball Championship
*Listed in parenthesis are the remaining games for each team

Binghamton (13-3, None)

Locked up 1 seed (Won season series over UVM 2-0)

Vermont (12-3, at Maine)
Locked up 2 seed (Can be only team with 12 wins)

Boston U. (10-5, vs Hartford)
Locked up 3 seed (Can be only team with 10 wins)

Stony Brook (8-7, at UNH)
a. Will finish 4 with WIN at UNH (Can be only team with 9 wins)
b. Will be 5 seed with LOSS vs UNH (Both teams finish 8-8, lost season series to UNH 2-0)

New Hampshire (7-8, vs SBU)
a. Will be 4 seed with WIN vs SBU (Both teams finish 8-8, won season series over SBU 2-0)
b. Will be 5 seed with LOSS vs SBU AND Albany WIN vs UMBC (Both teams finish 7-9, won season series over Albany 2-0)
c. Will be 6 seed with LOSS vs SBU AND UMBC WIN vs Albany (Both teams finish 7-9, split season series, UMBC wins tiebreak due to win over Binghamton)

Albany (6-9, at UMBC)
a. Will be 6 seed with WIN at UMBC (See UNH scenario b)
b. Will be 7 seed with LOSS at UMBC (Only team with 6 wins)

UMBC (6-9, vs Albany)
a. Will be 5 seed with WIN and SBU WIN at UNH (UMBC and UNH both finish 7-9, split season series, UMBC wins tiebreak due to win over Binghamton)
b. Will be 6 seed with WIN and UNH WIN vs SBU(Only team with 7 wins)
c. Will be 7 seed with LOSS (Only team with 6 wins)

Maine (4-11, vs Vermont)
Locked up 8 seed (Cannot catch Albany or UMBC)

Hartford (2-13, Boston U.)
Locked up 9 seed (Cannot catch Maine)

Here's how Saturday's bracket is shaping up thus far:

Saturday, March 7

12 p.m. – University of Vermont vs No. 7
2:30 p.m. – Boston University vs. No. 6
6 p.m. – Binghamton University vs University of Maine/University of Hartford
8:30 p.m. – No. 4 vs No. 5

Live Blog: University of Maine vs. Boston University

Today's game between the University of Maine (9-18, 4-10) and Boston University (15-12, 9-5) is set to tip off at 7:00 p.m. from Case Gymnasium. The contest is the second-to-last of the year for both teams.

Here are the starting lineups for tonight's game:

University of Maine Blackbears
3 F Troy Barnies
12 G Junior Bernal
21 C Sean McNally
22 G Mark Socoby
32 G Gerald McLemore

Boston University Terriers
02 F Matt Wolff
13 G Corey Lowe
21 F Jake O'Brien
23 F John Holland
31 F Scott Brittain

Final Score: Boston University Terriers 76, University of Maine Black Bears 65

Leading Scorers:
UM -- Gerald McLemore, 16
BU -- John Holland, 20

Leading Rebounders:
UM -- Troy Barnies, 10
BU -- Jeff Pelage, 12

Leading Assists:
UM -- Junior Bernal, 4
BU -- Corey Lowe, 7

GAMEDAY: University of Maine vs. Boston University

With two games remaining on the regular season schedule (both against the bottom two teams in America East), the Terriers are presented with the unique opportunity of being able to focus solely on playing better basketball knowing that they've got the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament locked up.

While the Terriers got down by 18 in the first half when they made the trip to Alfond Arena earlier in the season, they managed to win by 11 in what was a defining contest of their eight-game winning streak.

In that game, Corey Lowe notched 15 points in that game to go along with a season-high nine assists. Lowe is expected to play tonight (according to BU coach Dennis Wolff) after spraining his ankle against Iona on Saturday and if he still hasn't regained the consistency on his shot that's escaped him since BU's second loss to Vermont, he could once again focus on becoming a facilitator.

Lowe's play serves as somewhat of a microcosm of the play of the team, as the junior guard has been in a funk of late, and (with the exception of their most recent win over Iona) so have the Terriers. Still, if Lowe is able to return to full health (both physically and mentally) the Terriers will have to be seriously considered to make a run at a conference championship, especially given the way Jeff Pelage has played of late. The challenge, as always, with Pelage is to remain consistent in his performance.

The opportunity presented to the Terriers -- two games at home against the bottom feeders of the league -- is pretty ideal given the concerns surrounding the team's fatigue as well as their attempt to turn things around prior to the start of the tournament. There's no better way to do it that these two contests.

With a win on Thursday, the Terriers would notch their 1,000th victory in program history in this, their 100th season of basketball. ... Sophomore forward John Holland has 490 points on the season. With 10 more, he would become just the second player under Wolff to record 500 in one season. The other is Tunji Awojobi, who did so twice. ... The status of freshman forward Jake O’Brien, who turned his ankle on practice Thursday, is currently unknown.

Corey Lowe will play on Thursday
M. BBall prepares for postseason v. Maine

Projected starting lineups

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Corey Lowe to play against Maine

According to BU coach Dennis Wolff, Corey Lowe will play in BU's next game against the University of Maine on Thursday (7:00 p.m. at Case Gymnasium) and has recovered quickly from what appeared bad right ankle sprain in Saturday's win over Iona.

Before practice on Tuesday, Wolff said that Lowe was "fine," the swelling had been eliminated and the sprain was a mild one. The junior guard shot around, but didn't fully participate in the practice session. Lowe is expected to run full-speed tomorrow, though he appeared to be favoring the ankle a tiny bit during shooting drills.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise given the average recovery time for a sprained ankle as well as the (now incorrectly) presumed severity of the injury, but if he truly is healthy, getting Lowe back into form prior to the start of the America East Tournament could be hugely beneficial for the Terriers.

In addition, freshman forward Jake O'Brien turned his left ankle when he landed on another players' foot after grabbing a rebound toward the end of practice. O'Brien was helped off the floor and had the ankle taped. His status for Thursday's game is unknown.

Monday, February 23, 2009

State of America East

With precious few games remaining in the regular season, races once defined by mystery are beginning to show signs of resolution. Eleven days before the conference tournament's start, some teams already know their final station in the America East standings. Even ignoring the tournament, however, there are plenty of teams whose fates are not yet decided. Four teams are racing to avoid a quarterfinal matchup with the conference's top three contenders; only two can succeed. At the top of the table, Binghamton and Vermont are staring each other down -- if the Bearcats blink, the Catamounts can sneak away with an NIT autobid.

Let's get down to business.

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

1. Binghamton Bearcats
18-8 (12-3 AE), RPI 99, SOS 223
Last week: W 62-44 at Hartford, W 70-69 vs. New Hampshire (OT)
This week: 2/26 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County

There's just one game left on Binghamton's schedule. That gives the Bearcats just one opportunity to slip up and lose the inside track to the regular-season title. Binghamton doesn't blow opponents away -- just three double-digit wins in conference play compared to Vermont's nine and Boston University's seven -- so Thursday's battle with the Retrievers should be interesting even before factoring in the title implications. Close games don't seem to faze the Bearcats, though: look no further than Bingamton's results against the Catamounts. Binghamton is battle-tested and ready for March.

2. Vermont Catamounts
22-7 (12-3 AE), RPI 86, SOS 206
Last week: W 77-65 at Maryland-Baltimore County, W 78-70 vs. Buffalo
This week: 3/1 vs. Maine

The Bearcats may appear headed for a regular-season title, but the Catamounts are in position to pounce should Binghamton falter. Vermont didn't need to further qualify itself as a title contender; still, Saturday's televised BracketBuster matchup provided an excellent opportunity. The Catamounts did not disappoint, dispatching Buffalo for a national audience. A Maine team with very little to play for isn't the best tuneup for post-season play, so Mike Lonergan will have to hope the BracketBuster experience pays off in Albany.

3. Boston University Terriers
15-12 (9-5 AE), RPI 150, SOS 179
Last week: L 66-54 at Stony Brook, W 63-57 vs. Iona
This week: 2/26 vs. Maine, 3/1 vs. Hartford

BU stopped its slide at three with a win over Iona but suffered a major blow, as Corey Lowe was sidelined toward game's end by a sprained ankle. Even if Lowe manages to return in time for the conference tournament, the probability of effective performance from the junior guard is unknown. Ignoring the wide array of possible outcomes related to Lowe's injury (some of which are positive -- it's not unreasonable to link Lowe's poor play the past two games with the possibility of fatigue, and being sidelined will allow him to rest), the Terriers have two should-win games left on the schedule. Maine and Hartford shouldn't be more than speed bumps for a contender, but without Lowe BU will need more offense from its complementary players. Jeff Pelage's nine points on Saturday were a positive sign.

4. Stony Brook Seawolves
14-12 (7-7 AE), RPI 179, SOS 205
Last week: W 66-54 vs. Boston University
This week: 2/26 at Hartford, 3/1 at New Hampshire

Strange things happen on Senior Night. Strange and wonderful if you're Michael Tyree, who scored 25 points in the Seawolves' victory over Boston University. The win punctuates the Seawolves' improvement from the first half of conference play to the second. After losing its first two games against the top three teams in America East by reasonable but substantial margins, Stony Brook forced overtime in the next three games before beating BU for the home finale. Of the teams lying outside the conference's upper echelon, the Seawolves most closely fit the definition of "tough out."

5. Albany Great Danes
14-13 (6-8 AE), RPI 155, SOS 173
Last week: W 80-69 vs. Maine
This week: 2/26 at New Hampshire, 3/1 at Maryland-Baltimore County

Yesterday's Stat of the Week highlighted Albany's newfound efficient offense, using strong offensive rebounding and plenty of free throws to overcome poor shooting from the field. New Hampshire sends opponents to the line on a regular basis, but how will the Great Danes fare against an opponent with excellent defensive rebounding? Albany's offense sputtered against the Wildcats the first time out, but that performance was defined by even worse shooting than usual from the Danes. Albany plays both New Hampshire and UMBC, giving the Danes a chance to secure fifth place without any outside help; a win on Thursday would go a long way toward guaranteeing a positive outcome.

6. New Hampshire Wildcats
10-15 (6-8 AE), RPI 236, SOS 236
Last week: W 63-54 vs. Maine, L 70-69 at Binghamton (OT)
This week: 2/26 vs. Albany, 3/1 vs. Stony Brook

After slipping midway through conference play, the Wildcat defense has smothered opposing offenses in recent weeks, holding Albany, Maine, and Binghamton below one point per possession. Mediocre offense continues to hold the Wildcats back, but solid play while protecting the basket will keep New Hampshire competitive after the regular season comes to a close. Still, it should be noted that everyone's favorite sleeper pick hasn't caught the rest of the conference napping. This year's Wildcat team has displayed modest improvement at best.

7. Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers
11-15 (6-8 AE), RPI 201, SOS 166
Last week: L 77-65 vs. Vermont, L 71-65 at Rider
This week: 2/26 at Binghamton, 3/1 at Albany

UMBC plays hard but doesn't quite have the horses to run with the big guns. Saturday's loss at Rider underscores this point. Jay Greene, Darryl Proctor, and Chauncey Gilliam are all capable scorers. Beyond those three, the Retrievers don't have much. When the rest of the roster combines for just 11 points, UMBC isn't going to win many games. Two road games await: the first against a team seeking the regular-season title, the second against a team battling the Retrievers for seeding. There are no easy games left. Time for the rest of the roster to step up.

8. Maine Black Bears
8-18 (4-10 AE), RPI 277, SOS 217
Last week: L 63-54 at New Hampshire, L 80-69 at Albany
This week: 2/26 at Boston University, 3/1 vs. Vermont

The Black Bears were promising at times. Unfortunately for Maine-iacs, this team seems to be running out of steam, losing seven of eight heading into the season's final week. After competent play early in the season, Ted Woodward's team has played itself right into the play-in game. If the Black Bears can pull a double upset to reach six wins in conference play, two New Hampshire losses can get Maine to seventh. A Friday night tilt with Hartford at SEFCU Arena is far more likely.

9. Hartford Hawks
6-23 (2-12 AE), RPI 298, SOS 171
Last week: L 62-44 vs. Binghamton, L 57-35 at Marist
This week: 2/26 vs. Stony Brook, 3/1 at Boston University

This year's cellar-dwellers have lost what little offense they had. Saturday's result may be the most embarrasing one yet: just 35 points in a 68-possession game against Marist. Even New Hampshire's toothless performances against Vermont and Boston University featured offensive efficiencies north of 60; the Hawks were toying with 50. Someone has to finish last, so Hartford's position isn't the sad part. No, it's sad that the Hawks are playing every bit as poorly as their record suggests.

Conference performance
OOC record: 54-59 (Saturday: 2-2)
Conference RPI: 16 out of 31
Conference SOS: 16 out of 31

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Stat of the Week


Offensive efficiency usually isn't considered a base statistic, but considering its overall usefulness, maybe it should be. Albany's 80-69 defeat of Maine today at SEFCU Arena is notable not because of the result, but because of how the Great Danes obtained it. In 65 possessions, Albany managed 80 points; for efficiency purposes, that's a rate of 123 points per 100 possessions.

Normally highly efficient offense requires at least reasonably proficient shooting; the Great Danes' relatively poor performance from the field over the course suggests an offensive outburst would be unlikely. Indeed, today Albany's effective field goal percentage was below 50 percent -- the Danes managed a still-reasonable 49.1 percent. Where Albany made up for its low eFG% was, well, everywhere else.

Although the Great Danes missed 31 of their 57 shots, the Danes grabbed 13 of those misses. Albany's aggressive play on offense also yielded dividends in the free throw department, producing 31 attempts from the charity stripe. The Danes converted on 24 of those attempts. If the Danes' shot totals seem rather high for a 65-possession game, look at the rest of the box score: just six turnovers for the home team.

Albany's current roster isn't loaded with shot-makers, but today provided a blueprint for the Danes come tournament time -- if Will Brown can get his team to repeat this performance a couple of weeks from now, Albany will be a tough out.

The Day After: (BU 63, Iona 57)

The win marked two straight years BU's won the ESPNU Bracketbusters game, but much more importantly, it put an end to BU's three-game losing streak in which the Terriers appeared to be reverting to their "old ways" that plagued them mid-season. Instead, however, the win may serve to get the Terriers back on track and with games against the bottom two teams in the conference left before the tournament, it could serve as a springboard for playing better basketball come the first weekend in March.

-- Jake O'Brien's shooting: Granted he was getting some open looks, but it's still good to see him knocking them down. There's been some inconsistency in his shot over the course of the season, but if he can get into a rhythm from the outside, the Terriers could be dangerous.
-- Jeff Pelage's play: Same said of O'Brien can be said for Pelage. He's a physical post presence that the team's been lacking, but has been playing much better of late. Increased productive minutes from the rookie would help all facets of BU's game in the tournament.

-- Lowe's turned ankle: It's unknown how long Lowe will be out for, but the injury certainly didn't look good, and seeing any player hobble off the court on crutches is never a welcome sight, especially when he's one of the best to play at BU. The Terriers will need him for the tournament, and all eyes will be on his recovery.
-- Turnovers: Twenty one turnovers against any team is never good, but BU has begun to set a trend of accumulating turnovers against man-to-man defense more often than not. It's what bothered them most (among other things) against Vermont and may serve as an unfortunate blueprint for opponents if the trend continues.

Gael-force win for Terriers
Freshmen O'Brien and Pelage step up for BU

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Post-game Photos & Audio: (BU 63, Iona 57)

Audio from Saturday afternoon's 63-57 win against Iona College.

BU coach Dennis Wolff's opening statement

Wolff comments on the team's first winning regular season in three years

Wolff talks about Iona's comeback and the sloppy play

Wolff explains why Scott Brittain was on such a short leash

Wolff talks about Lowe's game/effort

Jeff Pelage talks about his comfort level against Iona

Pelage talks about playing in the middle of the press-break

Jake O'Brien discusses how his offense fuels his defense

John Holland tells what he felt when Corey Lowe went down

Holland feels the win was important to regain momentum

Live Blog: Iona College vs. Boston University

Note: Boston University junior guard Corey Lowe sprained his right ankle (the same one he turned two games prior) in the second half and left the gym on crutches. The average recovery time for a sprained ankle is 2-3 weeks, meaning it's a toss-up as to whether Lowe will be ready for the tournament and doubtful he'll be 100 percent healthy if he does play as he first game is exactly 14 days from now.

This afternoon's game (part of ESPNU's Bracketbusters weekend) between the Iona College Gaels (12-15, 7-9) and Boston University Terriers (14-12, 9-5) is set to tip-off at 1:00 p.m.

Here are the starting lineups:

Iona College Gaels:
03 G Scott Machado
04 F Gary Springer
05 G Rashan Dwight
11 G Milan Prodanovic
30 F Jonathan Huffman

Boston University Terriers:
02 F Matt Wolff
13 G Corey Lowe
21 F Jake O'Brien
23 F John Holland
31 F Scott Brittain

Final Score: Boston University 63, Iona College 57

Leading scorers:
IC -- Two tied at 12
BU -- John Holland, 24

Leading rebounders:
IC -- Scott Machado, 4
BU -- Jeff Pelage, 8

Leading assists:
IC -- Rashon Dwight, 8
BU -- Corey Lowe, 8

GAMEDAY: Iona College vs. Boston University

The number three is abound prior to this afternoon's ESPNU Bracketbusters game against the Iona College Gaels, who the Terriers will be meeting for the fifth time in school history (series is tied 2-2). Three games remain in the regular-season schedule and the Terriers have locked up the number three seed in the America East Tournament -- which begins in less than two weeks -- and they're currently on a three-game losing streak, including two losses to the league's top two teams that knocked them out of contention for the regular-season title.

Following the non-league matchup against a middle-of-the-pack team in the MAAC, the Terriers will round out their conference slate with two home games (one at Case Gymnasium, the other at Agganis Arena). With one win in any of their final three games, the Terriers will ensure a winning season for the first time in three years, and the first winning season any current player has experienced, with the exception of Matt Wolff (who was at BU in 2004-05). While that certainly isn't the goal, it's a significant mark nonetheless, as it shows progress (albeit, not to the level of which many thought the program could reach) with a core group of players.

While the previously mentioned threes are important, The number three is also part of the most recent controversy surrounding the Terriers, as in, 13 -- Corey Lowe's number. Lowe, who was benched in the second half of BU's most recent loss (Wednesday to Stony Brook) has had a history of slight controversies while at BU, and this appears to be another. It could be a quick one, however, as BU coach Dennis Wolff said Friday before practice that Lowe will start against Iona and play his normal minutes the remainder of the way barring any other unforeseen incidents.

As far as playing time goes for the team as a whole, not just Lowe, Wolff said he doesn't plan on changing his approach to the final three games at all. He said he will continue playing the starters and isn't going to change their roles (in terms of minutes played to potentially avoid fatigue prior to the tournament). Given the six-day rest between the final game against Hartford and BU's first tournament game, Wolff feels that amount of time coupled with the reduced practice schedule/intensity will be enough to have his squad rested and ready for the most important weekend of the year.

As far as this afternoon's game goes, it simply serves as a chance to begin playing better basketball following three losses -- all three presenting a few flaws in what seemed like a pristine Terrier team during its eight-game winning streak. With no questions lingering about what seed BU will be in the tournament, perhaps that lack of pressure will enable the Terriers to focus purely on playing better basketball, which is what they need to start doing quickly. Lowe had served as somewhat of a microcosm of the team over its last 11 games, playing brilliantly in BU's eight wins and not as well in the losses. The Terriers won their Bracketbusters game last season against St. Peter's, and while the result of the game won't impact the standings, it's an important contest for the Terriers, if only to lock up their first winning season in three years and put a stop to the three-game losing streak. Too bad tip-off isn't at 3:00.

Projected starting lineups

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Day After: (Stony Brook 66, BU 54)

From the second he stepped on the court as a freshman, Corey Lowe has started 74-of-76 games (with the two exceptions coming last season) and boasts a career average of 34.1 minutes per game. He's been the unquestioned face of the program over the past three seasons and one of the most exciting players in BU history, as he's already taken over the top spot for most 3-pointers made in a career and is 11th on the all-time list in points scored.

Wednesday night against Stony Brook University, he played a season-low 11 minutes. It appeared as though Lowe (17.5 points per game) was being held on the bench by BU coach Dennis Wolff to avoid picking up his fourth personal foul, but it soon became apparent Wolff wasn't going to send his starting point guard back out, saying "we went with the guys who I thought would give us the best chance to win."

While the Terriers did manage to cut into the Seawolves' 15-point lead and pull within one without Lowe on the floor, there's no doubt he would have helped BU's winning effort. It's the second time this season Wolff has made the decision to bench a healthy Lowe, while the other was disciplinary because he picked up two technical fouls in the same game against Holy Cross.

Granted Lowe's had his bouts of mild controversy before (missing two games freshman year, the technicals this season, etc.), but one would be hard-pressed to believe the Newton native could have done something so drastic in the first half of the loss to Stony Brook to warrant his benching for the entire second half. Even if he did something wrong, the benching comes as a surprise because when he and John Holland combined for 17 points in the loss to Binghamton Wolff said postgame that "when Lowe and Holland combine for 17 points, we're not going to win many games." Unless Wolff really needed to send another disciplinary message to Lowe, the decision is significant if that quote supports his logic, given that the mission of any team this time of year is to be playing as a cohesive unit and on top of their game come tourney time.

On the heels of being benched against Albany, Lowe turned around and soon helped propel the Terriers to an eight-game winning streak, playing the best basketball of his career. In order to gain enough confidence as a team in the three games remaining before the tournament, Lowe (presuming he will be awarded his regular amount of playing time as Wolff said he would following the SBU loss) will need to return to his high-level of play that carried BU through its best stretch of basketball since 2005.

-- Second-half comeback: As unusual as the benching of Lowe was, the fact that the Terriers were able to come back without him on the floor bodes well for the future when he may actually have to sit out for foul trouble.
-- Matt Wolff's performance: Wolff grabbed a game-high eight rebounds and dished out seven assists to make up for his poor showing (and benching the game before) as well as Lowe's absence (assist-wise).

-- Post-presence in the first half: The Terriers didn't make much of an effort to get the ball inside in the first half and it was a large reason why they were down big at the half. To the coaching staff and players' credit, the forwards did a much better job inside in the second half.
-- Slow start: It seems as though an all-too common theme this season has been a slow start to the game. Always having to come back is no way to play basketball, especially on what have to be tired legs with all four starters averaging over 30 minutes per game. Whether it's in the way the players practice, the way the coaching staff prepares the team or a combination of both, one slow start in the tournament could be all it takes to dash BU's title hopes.

Terriers lose to SBU; Lowe benched
Time to panic?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

GAMEDAY: Boston University vs. Stony Brook University

Last night win by the University of Vermont has officially locked the Terriers out of first place and made a second-place finish significantly harder for BU to obtain. All but locked into third place, BU can focus on reversing its two-game slide.

While the Stony Brook Seawolves aren't capable of catching the Terriers in the standings, they are more than capable of beating BU. Anyone doubting the accuracy of that statement should refer to the teams' first meeting this year, a four-overtime duel which Stony Brook nearly won.

Corey Lowe and John Holland totaled just 17 points in Saturday's 60-59 loss to Binghamton. Last time out against Stony Brook, the Terrier stars combined for 62. Tonight's figure should lie somewhere between those two values -- not exactly going out on a limb here -- but perhaps more important is how those points are attained. BU can survive another six-point outing from Lowe, but not if those six points require 15 shot attempts plus missed free throws. Given the Terriers' dependence on Lowe for scoring output, 15 or more shot attempts is likely if not guaranteed, so if the shot distribution is anywhere near typical, the Terriers will be looking for double digits from their star guard.

The Seawolves have built a solid defense based on advantages in rebounding and turnover rates. Stony Brook ranks just outside the top ten percent nationally in defensive turnover rate (23.5%) and is also in the top 20 percent nationally in defensive rebounding percentage (69.8%). The Seawolves' primary defensive weakness is contesting shots from inside the arc: opponents have made nearly 51 percent of their two-point attempts this season. Scott Brittain has been productive as of late and should be able to contribute tonight.

M. hoops travels to Stony Brook tonight

Projected starting lineups:

Monday, February 16, 2009

State of America East

With the cream of America East’s crop separated from the pack, it was a matter of time before the top teams decided upon an order. Two games of massive importance yielded two wildly different results. Meanwhile, a former contender fell by the wayside while a team once left for dead continued its climb back to respectability. Let’s cut to the chase:

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

1. Binghamton Bearcats
16-8 (10-3 AE), RPI 99, SOS 212
Last week: W 60-59 at Boston University
This week: 2/18 at Hartford, 2/22 vs. New Hampshire

The Catamounts have a half-game lead in the standings to go with the league's best offense and defense, yet it's Binghamton with the inside track to the regular-season title courtesy of a win against the Terriers last Saturday. For whatever reason, the Bearcats have had Vermont's number this season, finding ways to win in crunch time. Athleticism may have something to do with it -- D.J. Rivera's ability to get to the rim suggests he's a Big East star, not an America East talent. If the Bearcats win out (and we're not making any assumptions), the top seed grants Binghamton a road back to Vestal excluding both Vermont and BU. Talk about a happy Valentines' Day.

2. Vermont Catamounts
20-7 (11-3 AE), RPI 108, SOS 243
Last week: W 75-47 vs. Boston University, W 69-64 vs. Stony Brook (OT)
This week: 2/19 at Maryland-Baltimore County, 2/21 vs. Buffalo

John Holland's thunderous dunk was heard all the way in Bristol, CT, as the Terrier star was number one on SportsCenter's top plays. The dunk also woke a sleeping giant. The Catamounts went on to win by 28. Stony Brook surpisingly proved to be more of a challenge and survived a full 40 minutes before succumbing in overtime. Vermont has been frustrating almost beyond belief this year, sometimes unstoppable, other times eminently beatable. A loss in either of the remaining conference games will all but guarantee Binghamton the top seed; if the mortal version of the Catamounts show up, a 13-3 conference record is far from guaranteed.

3. Boston University Terriers
14-11 (9-4 AE), RPI 147, SOS 190
Last week: L 75-47 at Vermont, L 60-59 at Binghamton
This week: 2/18 at Stony Brook, 2/21 vs. Iona

Corey Lowe and John Holland are all-conference material, but they, too, have their down moments. Averaging more than 38 points between them in conference play, Lowe and Holland combined for just 17 in BU's loss on Saturday. It's unlikely the duo will manage 17 or less in any of BU's remaining games or in the tournament, which bodes well for BU's chances should Binghamton appear on the schedule for a third time. The challenge for the Terriers will be getting there. Since the Terriers are all but locked into the three seed, a Bearcat regular season title would leave the Catamounts as BU's most likely semifinal opponent. The odds of solving that particular puzzle are somewhat less comforting.

4. Stony Brook Seawolves
13-12 (6-7 AE), RPI 191, SOS 232
Last week: W 58-47 vs. Albany, L 69-64 at Vermont (OT)
This week: 2/18 vs. Boston University

Could the Seawolves be a .500 team this year? It appears the answer is: yes, most certainly. Even more surprising, Stony Brook is in position to secure itself a very winnable matchup in Albany -- and it won't be the play-in game, either. The Seawolves defend and rebound, and unlike the Great Danes, they play under control. Rebounding and turnover advantages are important. Speaking of rebounding, Tommy Brenton is still the only player in America East averaging more than ten rebounds during conference play.

5. Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers
11-13 (6-7 AE), RPI 199, SOS 207
Last week: W 81-76 vs. New Hampshire, W 80-63 at Hartford
This week: 2/19 vs. Vermont, 2/21 at Rider

Don't look now, but the Retrievers have won three straight, including two on the road. Is this a resurgence from the current title-holders, or just a product of scheduling? It's probably a little of both. Still, at the very least UMBC has escaped last place. The Vermont game is a probable loss, as is the Retrievers' trip to Vestal, so Randy Monroe's team will need to outperform expectations if a quarterfinals date with the top three is to be avoided. Manage that, and the odds of making some noise in the tournament will be much improved.

6. Albany Great Danes
13-13 (5-8 AE), RPI 156, SOS 178
Last week: L 58-47 at Stony Brook, L 78-59 vs. New Hampshire
This week: 2/22 vs. Maine

Albany hasn't won a game since January. The first three losses were understandable, perhaps even expected. Losing by 11 to Stony Brook was troubling but not unprecedented. A 19-point defeat at the hands of New Hampshire? That's a red flag. The Danes have Maine at home, which ought to help Will Brown right the ship, but Albany needs to get its house in order. The schedule does give Albany a chance to grab some more wins as March approaches: the Danes get Maine and UNH (again) before the season finale in Baltimore, while the Retrievers see Vermont and Binghamton. One or two more slip-ups, though, and the Danes' first home game in the conference tournament might be scheduled for Friday.

7. Maine Black Bears
8-16 (4-8 AE), RPI 266, SOS 223
Last week: W 68-63 vs. Hartford
This week: 2/19 at New Hampshire, 2/22 at Albany

A five-point win against Hartford at home isn't particularly impressive, but Maine doesn't need impressive right now. No, Maine needs wins, the most important opportunity for which is fast approaching. A victory in Durham on Thursday will move Maine into a tie for seventh and secure the head-to-head tiebreaker should Maine and New Hampshire finish the regular season level. A loss, and the Black Bears will be two games back with the tiebreaker situation rendered all but moot. Maine's efficiency margin advantage suggests the Black Bears are the superior team; we'll find out on Thursday.

8. New Hampshire Wildcats
9-14 (5-7 AE), RPI 238, SOS 249
Last week: L 81-76 at Maryland-Baltimore County, W 78-59 at Albany
This week: 2/19 vs. Maine, 2/22 at Binghamton

UNH doesn't need to beat Maine in order to avoid the play-in game, but it would help. As a seven-loss team, finishing anywhere from fourth to eighth is a plausible result for the Wildcats. Two of the teams nearby in the standings, Albany and Stony Brook, visit Durham at season's end, so the real make-or-break moments for New Hampshire are still a ways away. Winning Thursday and Sunday will help build momentum, but for now the high-stress moments can wait.

9. Hartford Hawks
6-21 (2-11 AE), RPI 298, SOS 180
Last week: L 68-63 at Maine, L 80-63 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County
This week: 2/18 vs. Binghamton, 2/21 at Marist

There's no question which team is the worst in America East this year, so here's a different question: what happened to Morgan Sabia? Sabia's minutes have risen this year, but in the process his shooting percentage has fallen dramatically, from 47 percent last season to 40 percent now. There isn't any noticeable improvement in other categories. While Sabia wasn't the offense's cornerstone last year, he was an efficient and capable scorer. Without Zeglinski, Sabia's lack of improvement puts the primary scoring duties in the hands of guards whose greatest strengths lie in other areas. In a guard-oriented conference, that spells trouble.

Team efficiency


Conference play

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Day After: (Binghamton 60, BU 59)

-- The crowd: For the first time all season, the crowd at The Roof was into it. It was loud, and didn't count the Terriers out when they were down big in the first half. When Corey Lowe hit his first 3-pointer of the game in front of BU's bench to give the Terriers their first lead since early in the first half, the energy was fabulous. Too bad that isn't a regular occurrence at BU.
-- Scott Brittain's performance: Brittain tied a career-high with 20 points (though a few more free-throws made at the end of the game might have changed the outcome, as well as a few more field goal conversions in the first half) and has played with increasing confidence as the season's drawn on.
-- Second-half comeback: After getting run out of the gym in the first half, the Terriers slowly chipped away at the Bearcats' lead and showed the right amount of grit in an extremely important regular-season game.

-- Defending the fast break: Binghamton took it to the Terriers and before they could turn around, they were down 10. The Bearcats are arguably the most athletic teams in the league and it showed in the first half (before they resorted to running a half-court offense) as they hit a number of NBA-type shots.

Clawed by the Bearcats
Bearcats' aggressiveness and pace reveal on of BU's weaknesses
Boston University rally rims out
Wolffs want to pack in more
Bearcats escape Boston with rare win

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Post-game Photos & Audio: (Binghamton 60, BU 59)

Here's sound clips from BU coach Dennis Wolff's post-game press conference following his teams' 60-59 loss to Binghamton University.

BU coach Dennis Wolff's opening statement

Wolff talks about the conference and his offense's shot selection

Wolff discusses the final play to junior guard Corey Lowe

Wolff feels certain players need to work harder in practice

Live Blog: Binghamton University vs. Boston University

Here are the starting lineups for this afternoon's game between the Binghamton University Bearcats (16-8, 9-3) and the Boston University Terriers (14-10, 9-3). Tip-off it set for 1:00 p.m. at Case Gymnasium.

Binghamton University Bearcats
02 G D.J. Rivera
04 G Brandon Herbert
32 G Emanuel Mayben
34 G Chretien Lukusa
25 F Reggie Fuller

Boston University Terriers
02 F Matt Wolff
13 G Corey Lowe
21 F Jake O'Brien
23 F John Holland
31 F Scott Brittain

Final Score: Binghamton University 60, Boston University 59

Leading scorers:
Bing -- D.J. Rivera, 20
BU -- Scott Brittain, 20

Leading rebounders:
Bing -- D.J. Rivera, 12
BU -- Scott Brittain, 9

Leading assists:
Bing -- Emanuel Mayben, 6
BU -- Corey Lowe, 6

GAMEDAY: Binghamton University vs. Boston University

It seems to happen this time of year that every game that appears next on the schedule consequently becomes, "the biggest game of the year." Media hypes the game up and the crowds pour in (at least the did in BU's Wednesday night's game against Vermont) to get a taste of playoff/tournament-like basketball. And while the crowd at Case Gymnasium Saturday afternoon will most likely be sparse (as even on the heels of an eight-game winning streak, the majority of the student population has failed to notice the Terriers' successes), the magnitude of the game won't. Not only will Binghamton look to avenge a blowout loss (one of two home losses the Bearcats suffered at the Events Center this season), but the game will go a long way toward determining the conference champion as well as the second and third seeds.

Entering the matchup, the Terriers and Bearcats are tied for second place in the conference standings (9-3) a half game behind the University of Vermont. While UVM has downed the Terriers twice, the Bearcats have beaten the Catamounts two times, meaning that a win by Binghamton(which has won four in a row and six of its last seven) would put them in the drivers' seat, as far as attaining the top seed goes. A win by the Terriers would make things very interesting as BU would find themselves tied with Vermont (10-3), but in second because of the tiebreaker procedures. It would also make it very difficult for Binghamton to attain the top seed/NIT bid/homecourt advantage should they reach the America East Championship without some help from the two teams that would be in front.

While seeding is a concern, it's a periphery one, as the Terriers should be much more focused on executing at a higher level following a lackluster performance against Vermont. The game marked the first time since BU's first loss to UVM that the team didn't function like a cohesive unit, turning the ball over 21 times and assisting five baskets while running bad offense. Credit Vermont's defense for applying even more ball pressure and throwing harder presses at BU than they did in the teams' first meeting, but by no means was that game representative of the Terriers' best effort.

What's equally worrisome is the element of fatigue, as BU has now played 12 games with a seven-man rotation and five of those seven players logging roughly 36-40+ minutes a game. The problem is, because BU's playing to attain the highest seed possible, the Terriers will be unable to rest before the start of the conference tournament. That said, not having fresh legs for the biggest weekend of the season is also an issue.

As far as Saturday's contest goes, the Bearcats -- while one of the most athletic teams in the league -- don't match up well against the Terriers and BU coach Dennis Wolff and his players were able to exploit those differences well in the teams' first meeting, so much so that Binghamton's leading scorer, D.J. Rivera (20.7 points per game), reportedly left the bench area in the second half and started toward the locker room out of frustration. Binghamto's makeup is similar to BU's prior to the injuries to Tyler Morris and Carlos Strong -- with four very athletic and capable guards who can score at will (and are all averaging in double figures) -- but since, the Terriers have morphed into a forward-heavy lineup, while Binghamton still relies on their athleticism and outside shooting (their 3-point field goal percentage is first in the conference after the Bearcats struggled mightily from beyond the arc in non-conference play). Malik Alvin is, however, nursing a sore ankle and knee, so his role could be limited. Also, Theo Davis officially left the Bearcats Thursday because "he simply doesn’t want to play basketball anymore," according to coach Kevin Broadus.

Playing in a familiar gym (where Binghamton has won only two times in its history) should help the Terriers relax and not appear as disjointed as the did on Wednesday, but it will be interesting to see how the veteran team responds to coming up short in the first of two extremely important conference battles this week.

Bearcats shorthanded vs. Boston
In battle of BU's, Bearcats aim for top spot
Vermont beats Boston, now it's our chance

Projected starting lineups:

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Century of Tradition: Gunning for Number One

The Terriers' 28-point loss to Vermont Wednesday night had a dramatic effect on the America East standings. With just a few games remaining in conference play, all three contenders for the top seed have three losses. UVM stands a half-game clear at 10-3, with both BU and Binghamton close behind at 9-3. All three teams seek the same things: 1st place in the conference, a NIT autobid and guaranteed home-court advantage for the America East championship game.

This week A Century of Tradition isn't concerned with the benefits of finishing first -- the details of that are discussed here. Instead, let's take a look at what it takes to get to the top.

Most of the final standings from previous years bear little resemblance to the current situation, but one may offer some background on how to win a tight race at the end. In particular, I'm referencing the 1998-99 season.

The 1998-99 season was an 18-game campaign featuring three teams fighting for the top seed and a fourth team playing the role of spoiler. On the morning of February 10th, Drexel lead the pack with a 12-2 record, but 11-3 Hofstra and 10-3 Delaware were close behind. Maine, with a 10-4 record, was unlikely to contend but was a capable spoiler with a 2-3 record against the top three teams. Delaware was slated to host Hofstra on the 10th.

Delaware won that game, 83-60, putting Hofstra two games behind in the loss column, virtually eliminating the then-Flying Dutchmen from title contention. Now there were two spoilers. The original spoiler failed to deliver, as the Fightin' Blue Hens avenged a loss on their home floor by traveling up to Maine and returning the favor. Delaware would win out down the stretch to finish 15-3.

Meanwhile, two-loss Drexel could secure the title for itself by taking care of business -- which Drexel did, all the way up until its last game of the regular season. Hofstra, now locked out from the top two spots after Delaware's victory the previous day, came ready to play and destroyed the Dragons, 78-58. The loss left Delaware and Drexel tied for first with identical 15-3 records, but Drexel's other two losses had come courtesy of the Hens, so Mike Brey and Delaware came away with the top seed. The two teams would meet again in the conference tournament finals, with the top seed prevailing for a third time, 86-67.

Compare the actual outcome from 1998-99 -- as well as the various outcomes which did not occur -- with the possibilities this season, and it becomes clear what each team has to do. Not only that, but it also highlights the importance of tomorrow's game at Agganis. Similar to the Delaware-Hofstra game from ten years ago, the winner tomorrow will be in solid position to contend for the regular season title (in Binghamton's case, a win would give the Bearcats control of first place due to a tiebreaker advantage), while the loser's role in the title chase will be substantially diminished. There's a lot to gain and a lot to lose on Saturday.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Day After: (Vermont 75, BU 47)

As the post title suggests, The Day After is devoted to letting the previous night's game sink in and seeing where things stand once 24 hours have passed. Well, it's 24 hours later and the loss still highlights what an impressive performance Vermont put on in their home gym to gain control of first place in America East and leave both BU's a half-game behind. In the 75-47 victory, it was once again UVM's ball pressure and active defense that led to far too many mistakes by the Terriers. Once the Catamounts stole the momentum (after a block on Marques Johnson by Marqus Blakely which led to a 3-pointer by Mike Trimboli in transition), the Terriers seemed too fatigued or too disoriented to mount a comeback.

It was the first time since BU's first loss against UVM (70-56) -- in which BU coach Dennis Wolff criticized the team for a lack of toughness -- that the team did, in fact, look weaker than the opponent and also the first time during the now-defunct eight-game winning streak the Terriers executed an extremely inefficient offense. Corey Lowe looked uncomfortable bringing the ball up court against Nick Vier, who was playing Lowe tightly all night, and that led to six turnovers and only one assist from the junior point guard (who ended up playing a good amount of the 2 when Johnson was in the game for Wolff, who picked up his fourth foul five minutes into the second half). Even when Lowe was off-ball, the 3-pointers he took in the second half were off-balance. Granted two of them went in and he led all scorers, but the ability of Vermont to seemingly throw him off for the first time in a long time is what's troubling.

In addition, the Catamounts were able to silence John Holland (who, I'm sure you know by now, grabbed the top spot on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays for his one-handed jam over Evan Fjeld). He scored only two points in the second half and finished with 14 -- roughly eight under his scoring average against conference opponents and four under his average for the season. Holland's emotions appeared to be roller coaster-like, which led to him being sat down by Wolff for the final 3:37. While Holland has played with extreme poise and discipline since the start of conference play, the Terriers can't afford to have him lose focus or continue to hit extended dry spells in the second half if they hope to rebound from the loss.

Speaking of, BU's next game now becomes almost as important Wednesday's. Binghamton also has 9-3 conference record and has won their last four contests. The last time the two teams met, the Terriers won in blowout fashion as all of their pieces clicked, but if BU plays as sporadically as it did against Vermont or they don't receive a complete effort (as Wolff, Brittain and O'Brien were all less of a factor than they've been in conference play), the Terriers could be in trouble. Sidenote: O'Brien had a string of 10-consecutive double-digit scoring games snapped against UVM.

Listed below pros/cons are the remaining schedules for the top three teams in America East. If Binghamton wins Saturday, they'd be in good shape to win the conference as they hold the tiebreaker over UVM. If the Terriers win, it'll put Vermont in good shape to claim the first seed, but also put the Terriers in a much better position to win (with some help from UVM) than if they lost on Saturday.

-- Defense: While there were too many backdoor cuts and good looks from Trimboli, UVM was also on the extreme top of its game. BU's trap was working well, especially at half court.
-- Holland's dunk: If you haven't seen it, it's linked below. Do yourself a favor and scroll down.

-- Turnovers: The Terriers turned the ball over 21 times and assisted only five baskets. Doesn't matter if you're facing the extremely aggressive defense of UVM or not, that's never going to get the job done.
-- Energy level: Perhaps it's fatigue finally starting to get to this group (which has basically played five players since mid-January) but after a strong burst of energy and dominance in the first 10 minutes of the first half, Vermont completely took over and the Terriers looked lost.
-- Untimely fouls: Wolff's fourth foul was extremely ill-advised and it's the first time since BU became short-staffed that a player picked up a fourth foul that early in the second half. There were a few other unnecessary fouls that BU will need to avoid making down the stretch.

Catamounts demolish M. BBall
Cats claim top spot
John Holland's Sports Center No. 1 Dunk

University of Vermont (19-7, 10-3):
2.15: vs. Stony Brook (14-11, 6-6)
2.17: @ Maryland-Baltimore County (11-13, 5-7)
2.21: vs. Buffalo (17-5, 8-1)*
3.1: @ Maine (9-16, 4-8)
*ESPNU Bracketbusters matchup

Boston University (14-10, 9-3):
2.14: vs. Binghamton University (16-8, 9-3)
2.18: @ Stony Brook (14-11, 6-6)
2.21: vs. Iona (11-14, 6-8)*
2.26: vs. Maine (9-16, 4-8)
3.1: vs. Hartford (6-20, 2-10) (Agganis Arena)
*ESPNU Bracketbusters matchup

Binghamton University (16-8, 9-3):
2.14: @ Boston University (14-10, 9-3)
2.18: @ Hartford (6-20, 2-10)
2.22: vs. New Hampshire (9-14, 4-7)
2.26: vs. Maryland-Baltimore County (11-13, 5-7)

SportsCenter Top 10 (2.11.09)

Boston University sophomore forward John Holland's dunk over the University of Vermont's Evan Fjeld earned the top slot on Sports Center's Top 10 plays for February 11th. Here's the clip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

GAMEDAY: Boston University vs. University of Vermont

For the first time in their respective careers, the players on the Boston University Terriers men's basketball team will take part in the most meaningful regular-season game to date.

When BU visits the University of Vermont tonight (7:30 p.m./NESN) first place in the America East will be on the line. Not only that, but the Terriers have Bingahmton University looming in the distance on Saturday.

While BU hasn't had success recently against UVM (dropping five of its last six), the Terriers were able to squeeze out a one-point victory at Patrick Gymnasium last season. In the teams' first meeting this year, however, UVM used a 25-10 game-ended run to eliminate an early lead by the Terriers at Agganis Arena.

In the game, it was UVM so-termed "Full White Press" -- a version of their full court press -- that game BU the most trouble, forcing the Terriers to turn the ball over 14 times, leading to a number of fastbreak opportunities for the Catamounts. The Terriers had trouble, despite working on beating the press in practice, and they should be better prepared when UVM (most likely) attempts the same thing tonight.

Perhaps the biggest factor contributing to this game is the matchup issues Marqus Blakely and Colin McIntosh present for the Terriers. While Scott Brittain and Jake O'Brien have been excellent over the course of BU's eight-game winning streak, Brittain's not as physical as Blakely and O'Brien isn't as experienced as McIntosh. BU does, however, have two perimeter scorers who can dominate a game, while Vermont really only boasts one (in Mike Trimboli), but Blakely makes such a big difference in the interior (with not only his scoring, but defense and passing as well) that the game will be a tough one for the Terriers, even if they continue to play as well as they've been over the course of the streak.

A win tonight would go a long way to attaining a first-place finish in America East for BU, but the Terriers are going to need to slow down the highest-scoring offense in the conference on their own floor. A bad start might spell doom for BU, as -- despite what an prolific road team they've been against America East opponents -- a massive comeback will be much harder against a team that learned its lesson against Binghamton a week prior, when they relinquished a 53-30 halftime lead.

Also, UVM freshman Jordan Clarke will sit tonight's game out as part of a three-game suspension for violating the Catamounts' student athlete code of conduct.

MBBall heads to Vermont with top AE spot on the line

Vermont goes for top spot
Adversity makes Boston University stronger
BU, Vermont take center stage

Projected starting lineups:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

State of America East

A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, there was a league on the verge of parity. Every team lost at least two of its first five conference games. There was talk that the bottom-feeders had finally caught up with the front-runners, that ten wins might be enough to win the conference. No prediction was safe.

Oh, wait. Never mind. The distant league in question only appears to be distant. While the winds of change were blowing through America East, reality was quick to sink in. Three weeks ago the conference leaders had two losses and wore New Hampshire jerseys. Today the leaders wear scarlet and white and have... two losses. So much for parity.

It's a three-horse race; is there a Secretariat in this leading group, or are we in for a photo finish? Only time will tell, but here's a snapshot -- we can revisit it later should the ending prove memorable.

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

1. Vermont Catamounts
18-7 (9-3 AE), RPI 116, SOS 248
Last week: L 85-83 vs. Binghamton, W 79-70 at Albany, W 71-63 vs. Hartford
This week: 2/11 vs. Boston University, 2/15 vs. Stony Brook

The Terriers have first place in the standings courtesy of an eight-game winning streak, but Vermont hosts the America East leaders tomorrow night in what is almost certainly the biggest conference game of the year -- next Saturday's Battle of the BU's is a close second. The Catamounts monumental collapse at home against Binghamton temporarily overshadows what we like to call the big picture. That picture still labels Vermont as a deeper team than the Terriers with a slightly better efficiency margin in conference play. That, plus a somewhat easier schedule from here on out, keeps Vermont at the top of this list -- but for how long?

2. Boston University Terriers
14-9 (9-2 AE), RPI 145, SOS 230
Last week: W 77-67 vs. Albany, W 67-49 at New Hampshire
This week: 2/11 at Vermont, 2/14 vs. Binghamton

The Terriers have rebounded from a 1-2 start in impressive fashion, grinding out overtime wins before building an impressive resumé by winning on the road despite limited depth. Fatigue isn't likely to be the problem this week, but the strength of opponent is another story entirely. Vermont and Binghamton are hot on the Terriers' heels, sitting just a half-game back. BU's previous loss to Vermont hurts: if BU splits its next two games either way and all of the top three teams win out the rest of the way, the Terriers will lose the tiebreaker for first place (if tied with Vermont, the Catamounts would own a series sweep; if tied with Binghamton, the Bearcats' sweep of Vermont would give them the tiebreaker). Two wins will all but lock up the regular-season crown and an NIT autobid. The goal for Wolff & Co.? Just win, baby!

3. Binghamton Bearcats
14-8 (9-3 AE), RPI 110, SOS 226
Last week: W 85-83 at Vermont, W 63-61 at Stony Brook (OT), W 88-75 vs. Albany
This week: 2/14 at Boston University

A loss to Vermont last week would make tomorrow's BU-Vermont clash even more important, but who prefers a two-horse race over three serious contenders? Binghamton has won most of its conference games by overwhelming its opponents with big runs in short periods of time, and the comeback win at Patrick was no exception. The Bearcats scored 24 points in their last 10 possessions to shock the Burlington crowd. The Binghamton-Albany game, however, followed a somewhat different storyline. While the Bearcats' early dominance helped to build an unassailable lead, Kevin Broadus' players displayed confidence and competence for a full 40 minutes. It will take that kind of effort to grab a win in Boston and make a run at 1st place.

4. Albany Great Danes
13-11 (5-6 AE), RPI 120, SOS 169
Last week: L 77-67 at Boston University, L 79-70 vs. Vermont, L 88-75 at Binghamton
This week: 2/12 at Stony Brook, 2/15 vs. New Hampshire

What a difference a week makes. At 5-3 in America East play, the Great Danes were contenders. After a second run-in with the class of the conference? The current situation is rather less promising. All of a sudden Albany needs to find a way to win at Stony Brook to reassert its grip on the 4-seed. Not that there's much of a difference between 4th and 5th when it comes to the tournament. It's more important for the Danes to stop the bleeding and get back to .500 in conference play. Tim Ambrose and Anthony Raffa are talented but keep shooting themselves in the foot with poor decision-making. In the case of Raffa, the foot may need a rest -- literally: turf toe has limited his effectiveness during the losing streak.

5. Stony Brook Seawolves
12-11 (5-6 AE), RPI 213, SOS 277
Last week: W 70-59 at Maine, L 63-61 vs. Binghamton (OT)
This week: 2/12 vs. Albany, 2/15 at Vermont

It's been a solid three months since preseason predictions put Stony Brook in the cellar, but it still feels strange seeing more wins than losses in the overall record. With both BU and Vermont left on the schedule, plus Albany at home and two more road games, it will be difficult (but not nearly impossible) for the Seawolves to finish .500 in conference play. 7-9 is more realistic. Even 7-9, though, is a huge positive step for Stony Brook's program, particularly considering the Seawolves' youth. Tommy Brenton isn't a sexy pick for Rookie of the Year -- it's tough to get consideration for that award while scoring just over seven points per game -- but statistically he's the best rebounder in conference play with more than ten boards per game. How impressive is Brenton's rebounding? His defensive rebounding percentage of 30.4% is fourth in the nation, slotted right between Oklahoma's Blake Griffin in third and Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair in fifth. Not too shabby.

6. Maine Black Bears
7-16 (3-8 AE), RPI 264, SOS 210
Last week: L 70-59 vs. Stony Brook, L 73-68 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County (OT)
This week: 2/11 vs. Hartford

Maine might be behind UNH and UMBC in the conference standings, but that 3-8 record hasn't come without a fight. The Black Bears' efficiency margin in conference play is a very respectable -3.3, slightly better than the Great Danes' margin and leagues ahead of both the Wildcats and the Retrievers. Maine has yet to lose by more than 11 points against an America East opponent, something only two other teams can claim (Vermont and Stony Brook). While Maine hasn't done much to deserve praise, a point differential of -22 through eleven games is deserving of a better record. Pythagoras apologizes profusely for the disservice and says a win should arrive promptly, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

7. New Hampshire Wildcats
8-13 (4-6 AE), RPI 250, SOS 260
Last week: W 62-55 at Hartford, L 67-49 vs. Boston University
This week: 2/10 at Maryland-Baltimore County, 2/15 at Albany

While Maine has yet to lose by 12 or more, New Hampshire's only loss by 12 points or less came against Maine in double-overtime. The Wildcats are Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If enough shots fall to make UNH's offense appear respectable, Dr. Jekyll's excellent defensive rebounding helps New Hampshire escape with a win. When the threes aren't falling, Mr. Hyde responds by shooting even more threes, resulting in more misses, extended droughts, and blowout losses. Last time the Wildcats saw UMBC it was not a three-happy affair, as UNH played under control and cruised to an 18-point win. If the Wildcats hope to build some momentum heading into season's end, a repeat performance would be a good way to start.

8. Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers
9-13 (4-7 AE), RPI 211, SOS 187
Last week: W 73-68 at Maine (OT)
This week: 2/10 vs. New Hampshire, 2/14 at Hartford

The Retrievers' ability to limit turnovers has kept the offense afloat, but at this point in the season the defense is unlikely to improve. That's a problem, because UMBC has been downright awful when the other team has the ball. It's tough to win when the other team puts up points at will. Note that the Retrievers have yet to win when their opponent posts an offensive efficiency of above 115 for the game. That stat isn't unusual. The problem is, that's happened ten times this season, including five league games. The Retrievers can't force turnovers, negating their biggest advantage. Opponents taking -- and making -- a lot of shots is a harbinger of doom. UNH misses a lot of those shots, though, so there's a chance for a win tonight.

9. Hartford Hawks
6-19 (2-9 AE), RPI 280, SOS 168
Last week: L 62-55 vs. New Hampshire, L 71-63 at Vermont
This week: 2/11 at Maine, 2/14 vs. Maryland-Baltimore County

There's not much to say about Hartford. The Hawks play hard for 40 minutes, but the lack of an interior presence makes the Hartford offense one-dimensional. If that dimension included a healthy Joe Zeglinski the Hawks would be more competitive, but that's strictly a hypothetical. Maybe next year.

Conference performance
OOC record: 52-57
Conference RPI: 16 out of 31
Conference SOS: 18 out of 31

BracketBusters have been announced, with Vermont as the big winner. The Catamounts get Buffalo in a game slated for ESPN2 -- beyond the RPI and SOS implications for the conference, a win would help the Catamounts case should they receive an autobid for one of the postseason tournaments. The remaining BracketBuster games are not televised and feature MAAC opponents. Boston University draws Iona, currently tied for 6th; Hartford gets 9th-place Marist; UMBC's opponent is 3rd-place Rider.

Overall Efficiency

Conference Efficiency

The standings say there's three teams in contention, but the conference efficiency numbers aren't so high on Binghamton's chances. Of course, what ultimately matters is the wins and losses columns, and it would be foolish to count Binghamton out. What the conference table indicates is how these teams have been winning their games. Vermont and BU have gone the scorched earth route, winning big and doing so habitually. Binghamton tends to make things somewhat more interesting. Binghamton's experience in close games may be an edge against Vermont, as the Catamounts haven't been able to pull out a win against the Bearcats. The Terriers have been less fazed by tight contests -- experience from winning overtime games earlier in the season certainly helps there -- but made sure to step on Binghamton's throat in the teams' first meeting, something Vermont couldn't do.