Friday, March 6, 2009

GAMEDAY: America East Championship, Play-In and Quarterfinals Preview

The weekend that defines the America East Conference is finally here. The tournament kicks off Friday night at 7:05 p.m. between the No. 8 University of Maine and the No. 9 University of Hartford. Then Saturday features eight teams in the most exciting day of the conference's season. One NCAA bid is on the line so without wasting too much of your time, let's get right to the previews.

Friday, March 6:
No. 8 Maine (9-20, 4-12) vs. No. 9 Hartford (6-25, 2-14), 7:05 p.m.

The Hawks are coming off an emotional loss to Boston University in which they came extremely close to ending their dismal 14-game losing streak. While Hartford deserved to win the game, they couldn't make enough plays and/or 3-pointers at the end to pull it out. Maine, on the other hand, lost to Vermont sans Mike Trimboli and is probably playing the worst basketball in the conference. Troy Barnies and Gerald McLemore have been a diamonds in the rough for the Black Bears, but when Mark Socoby's not scoring, it makes things difficult. McLemore could be a difference-maker as the most athletic player on the court in the play-in game, but Hartford's newfound energy could be enough to propel them forward. The winner doesn't get much of a reward, however, as they have to take on top-seeded Binghamton on Saturday. Hartford and Maine split the season series.

Projected starting lineups

Saturday, March 7
No. 2 Vermont (23-7, 13-3) vs. No. 7 Albany (14-15, 6-10), 12:07 p.m.

Almost all the talk surrounding this game has been centered on Mike Trimboli's mysterious "illness/serious viral infection" and whether or not the first-team senior guard will play on Saturday. According to the Burlington Free Press, he's already returned to practice and made the trip to Albany. It would be a complete shock to see him held out of the lineup, especially in his senior year. How effective he'll be, however, remains to be see. Even if Trimboli doesn't play, UVM still has AE Player of the Year Marqus Blakely and a great supporting cast. The Great Danes are in rough shape as their rookie point guard Anthony Raffa and Louis Barraza will likely miss the game with injuries and not even a home-court advantage can help cure that. With a severe lack of depth and being losers of seven of their last eight -- as well as history (a No. 7 seed has never topped a No. 2 seed in the America East Tournament) -- things aren't looking good for the Danes. One glimmer of hope could be that Albany has beaten UVM this season, 82-77 at Patrick Gymnasium.

Projected Starting Lineups

No. 3
Boston U. (17-12, 11-5) vs. No. 6 UMBC (13-16, 7-9), 2:30 p.m.
*See Gameday post above for detailed information.

No. 1 Binghamton (20-8, 13-3) vs. Winner of No. 8/No. 9 play-in game, 6:07 p.m.

Obviously we won't know who Binghamton's playing until the play-in game is over, but it's a safe bet that the Bearcats will match up well against their opponent. Binghamton is the most athletic team in the conference and is on an eight-game winning streak (though some have been by the thinnest of margins) entering the tournament. We'll have more info on this matchup once it's determined.

(Edit: Hartford, by virtue of winning the play-in game, has advanced to the quarterfinals and will be Binghamton's opponent. The Hawks will have to improve on their regular season results against the Bearcats (two losses by seven and 18 points, respectively) while dealing with the effects of playing on short rest with a relatively short bench. Hartford's victory puts the Hawks on their first winning streak since mid-January and nine of the Bearcats' 13 conference wins were by single digits, so don't be surprised if this one stays close.)

Projected Starting Lineup

No. 4
New Hampshire (13-15, 8-8) vs. No. 5 Stony Brook (16-13, 8-8), 8:30 p.m.

These two teams faced each other in a thriller at the end of the season with UNH capturing the higher seed on the strength of a 58-57 overtime victory. The Wildcats have beaten the Seawolves twice this season and have won four of their last five games, with the one loss coming to Binghamton by one point in overtime. The Seawolves have been one of the most surprising teams in the conference given their youth and inexperience, but with Tommy Brenton (second in the conference in rebounding) and Muhammad El-Amin does the bulk of the scoring. SBU presents a nice balanced scoring attack and is the best defensive team in the conference. If, however, the Wildcats begin to light it up from beyond the arc -- combined with the in-game coaching of Bill Herrion -- the Wildcats could move on. Given the matchup and the fact they just played one another, this game could turn into a first-round gem.

Projected Starting Lineups

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