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

No comments: