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

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