Sometimes teams come out of the gate in November ready to go, and blaze a trail of destruction straight through the first two months of the schedule. Those teams are scary. More often, though, it takes a while for a conference's major threats to emerge. Some adjustments can't be made until after a team has tested itself against the first few opponents on its non-conference slate. Only then, when the coaching staff has a better idea of what is working and what is not, will the real evolution of a team commence.
What we have at the moment is nine works in progress. Some of these teams are presently improving with each successive day, while others are stagnant, even deteriorating while their rivals pass them by. That's the reason for checking in each week. Think of this as the red "You Are Here" dot on the map in a mall. Each team has one, but wherever that dot is, the team in question is headed somewhere else.
Without further ado (or analogies), here's your weekly State of America East.
1. Boston University Terriers
4-6, RPI 146, SOS 70
Last week: W 88-72 at Marist
This week: Idle
The Terriers found their shooting stroke against Marist, punishing the Red Foxes whenever an open shot was available. There are still some kinks to work out, as the fast pace led to a few more turnovers than BU would like, but even after adjusting for the level of competition, Sunday showcased the best Terrier offense so far this year. As to whether the improvement will be more than temporary, well, that will have to wait until BU's next game, on the 22nd.
2. Vermont Catamounts
7-4, RPI 95, SOS 213
Last week: W 72-60 at Yale, W 80-77 vs. Quinnipiac
This week: 12/20 vs. Delaware
The Catamounts are starting to gather some steam. A six-game win streak is no laughing matter, and its preservation against Quinnipiac was due in large part to the efforts of -- guess who? -- Marqus Blakely. While his teammates struggled at times, Blakely went to work, dropping 32 on the Bobcats. It will take more than just Blakely to win the conference -- as good as the senior forward is, he can't carry the team on his back every single game -- but number 23 has come ready to play while the rest of the Catamounts continue to round into form.
3. Stony Brook Seawolves
7-3, RPI 126, SOS 271
Last week: L 93-77 at Fordham, W 66-55 at Colgate
This week: 12/20 at Sacred Heart
A Seawolves team with Desmond Adedeji patrolling the paint might not have avoided the loss to Fordham, but the margin of defeat would almost certainly have been less than 16 points. Without the senior center's ability to eliminate opponents' post scoring for significant portions of the game, the Seawolves are not the same team on the defensive end. When the defense falters, Stony Brook's offense isn't yet able to pick up the slack. Tommy Brenton, this is your cue to start scoring -- your team needs it.
4. New Hampshire Wildcats
3-4, RPI 216, SOS 148
Last week: W 67-55 vs. Central Connecticut State, L 75-58 at Hofstra
This week: 12/20 vs. Dartmouth
The Wildcats ran into a Hofstra team that refused to miss from deep, but the game before that proved to be more instructive. Central Connecticut State, while weakened without the presence of Ken Horton, is a decent team, and a double-digit win is a positive step for this Wildcat team. Putting teams away at some point earlier than the last few minutes of the game prevents winnable games from turning into losses. Given the several weak teams at the bottom of America East this season, UNH should be in good shape if it can make a habit of closing games out before crunch time.
5. Albany Great Danes
4-7, RPI 281, SOS 313
Last week: W 78-60 at Pennsylvania, L 70-68 at Central Connecticut State
This week: 12/17 at Iona
The Great Danes were a missed dunk away from beating the Blue Devils (no, not those Blue Devils) on the road. That missed dunk, though, constitutes a failure to execute in a close game. Just one month into the season, Albany has already lost three games by four points or less. The Danes' extremely high turnover rate -- 26.3%, among the worst in Division-I -- can't be helping matters. It's hard to secure wins late in regulation while giving the ball away on a regular basis.
6. Maine Black Bears
5-4, RPI 267, SOS 341
Last week: W 133-58 vs. Maine-Presque Isle, W 57-51 vs. Kennesaw State
This week: 12/20 at Princeton
Maybe the Black Bears should look into scheduling someone other than UMPI. A 133-58 beatdown does nothing to help Maine improve, and it humiliates the opponent. Maine had a comfortable lead against Kennesaw State but almost let it slip away near the end, which is starting to become a habit. More opportunities against opponents of similar talent levels would give the more experience in tense late-game situations. Playing Division-III teams from satellite campuses, on the other hand, is a waste of time for everyone involved.
7. Binghamton University Bearcats
1-8, RPI 231, SOS 43
Last week: L 69-55 vs. Marshall, L 77-76 at Drake, L 89-77 vs. South Dakota
This week: 12/20 at Marist
It's hard enough for the Bearcats currently on the roster as it is -- they don't need to play 5-on-8. Take from this what you will: with 4.4 seconds left in the Bearcats' loss to Drake, when John Young barreled into Umur Peten at the free throw line, a blocking foul was called on Peten. Peten's feet were, by all accounts, clearly set prior to the contact. Young made both free throws, giving Drake a one-point lead on its home court. Credit the Bearcats for nearly pulling it out on the road.
8. Hartford Hawks
2-9, RPI 325, SOS 288
Last week: L 63-60 at St. Francis (NY), L 76-65 vs. Sacred Heart
This week: Idle
The Hawks are never going to be a great rebounding team, but games like last week's loss to Sacred Heart are simply unacceptable. Hartford was outrebounded 40-18, completely wasting an effort that was in most other respects good enough to win. There are other items the Hawks need to fix as well, including defending shooters and getting to the free throw line, but none of those items will matter if Hartford can't do at least a halfway-decent job of recovering missed shots at either end of the floor. If this sounds familiar, it's because the Hawks had similar rebounding woes last season -- and finished 2-14 in conference play.
9. UMBC Retrievers
0-9, RPI 343, SOS 307
Last week: L 58-42 at Penn State, L 79-67 vs. Rider
This week: Idle
This isn't a case of unavailable personnel making the Retrievers look worse than they really are. This is just a case of bad basketball. UMBC can't do anything right, ranking among the bottom 10 percent of Division-I in both adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency. The schedule has been weak, yet the Retrievers have managed to lose each and every game. At least, given the Retrievers' empty schedule between now and December 29, UMBC's next loss won't be coming for some time.