Monday, December 7, 2009

State of America East: December 6, 2009

Four weeks have elapsed since the season's start, so it's about time to check in with BU's eight conference-mates. Which teams have done the best? Which teams are struggling to keep up with their non-conference opponents? And how is Binghamton not the worst team in America East right now?

1. Stony Brook Seawolves
(5-2, RPI 93, SOS 222)
Last week: W 71-52 at Lehigh, L 65-57 at St. John's, W 63-60 vs. Columbia
This week: at Fordham, at Colgate

BU might have the conference's two best wins (Indiana on a neutral court and Northeastern at home), but Stony Brook looked competent in its loss to St. John's and is the only team in the conference without a loss against an opponent of questionable strength. Bryan Dougher, Muhammad El-Amin, and Chris Martin have been a quality backcourt, while Tommy Brenton is one of the league's two or three best frontcourt players despite scoring only six or seven points per game. A difficult 40 minutes against a questionable Columbia team hints at the potential impact of losing Desmond Adedeji, whose injury is season-ending, but right now the Seawolves' resume is best.

2. Boston University Terriers
(3-6, RPI 151, SOS 32)
Last week: L 92-64 at Connecticut, W 63-53 vs. Bucknell
This week: at Marist

BU's wins are impressive, especially given its short bench. Its losses, though, have been concerning. Corey Lowe has exhibited both brilliance and inexplicably poor decision-making, often within minutes of each other. The offense is finally starting to come around; coupled with generally strong defense, scoring has improved enough to give BU a 3-3 record in its last six games against an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule. The most difficult portion of the schedule is over. While the Terriers are highly unlikely to win all three of their games between now and the beginning of conference play, two out of three would put BU at 5-7, battle-tested and ready for America East opposition.

3. Vermont Catamounts
(5-4, RPI 114, SOS 209)
Last week: W 63-58 at Dartmouth, W 88-49 at NJIT
This week: at Yale, vs. Quinnipiac

Vermont's three-game winning streak has come against feeble opposition -- Toledo, Dartmouth, and New Jersey Tech, they of the oft-referenced winless season-and-a-half. One of the Catamounts' other wins, though, came courtesy of Rutgers in New Jersey; after the Terriers two most significant wins, that victory compares favorably to almost any other America East triumph. Marqus Blakely has been his usual self, drawing double and triple-teams and buying Vermont's on-and-off backcourt time to figure things out. Yale isn't exactly a stern test, but Quinnipiac is a solid opponent worthy of a home opener -- even a December home opener.

4. New Hampshire Wildcats
(2-3, RPI 229, SOS 129)
Last week: L 47-32 at Pittsburgh
This week: vs. Central Connecticut State, at Hofstra

In a normal America East season, a 2-3 record with wins over Division-III Suffolk and winless Marist wouldn't be appropriate for the conference's No. 4 team. But this is not a normal America East season. UNH's wins border on meaningless. Its losses, though, are all understandable. Two came against schools from BCS conferences (Maryland and Pitt); the third, at Harvard, makes more sense after watching Harvard solve William & Mary and BU, then take Connecticut to the limit. After almost a month, UNH is a virtual unknown. Wednesday's matchup against Central Connecticut should be a more appropriate test of the Wildcats' abilities.

5. Albany Great Danes
(3-6, RPI 236, SOS 201)
Last week: L 81-65 at Florida Atlantic, L 83-54 at Siena
This week: at Penn, at Central Connecticut State

The closest thing Albany has to a bad loss is probably a four-point defeat at the hands of Morgan State, but the Bears are 5-3 with a win over Arkansas, so it's tough to skewer the Danes for any of the losses. Like UNH, the Danes' biggest crime has been a failure to impress. Albany, though, has had a few opportunities. Morgan State and Florida Atlantic aren't overwhelmingly good opponents, but the Danes couldn't find ways to win, and the margin against FAU wasn't suggestive of a close contest. Losing winnable games can be habit-forming; with two more chances to impress this week, Albany needs to seize one, if not both.

6. Maine Black Bears
(3-4, RPI 259, SOS 325)
Last week: W 76-66 at Colgate, L 101-55 at Syracuse
This week: vs. Maine-Presque Isle, vs. Kennesaw State

Gerald McLemore is very good. Maine's point guards? Not so much. When McLemore is the only perimeter shooter on the floor for the Black Bears -- which happens more often than you'd think -- the box-and-one becomes a legitimately sound defensive strategy to employ. Take McLemore away and the Maine offense stalls. Credit the outstanding sophomore for putting up a bunch of points without much help; blame the Maine coaching staff for failing to recruit a legitimate starting point guard after years and years of substandard play at the position.

7. Hartford Hawks
(2-7, RPI 319, SOS 288)
Last week: L 48-46 vs. Yale, L 89-56 at Seton Hall, L 75-62 at LaSalle
This week: at St. Francis (NY), vs. Sacred Heart

Through four games, junior point guard Andres Torres had 30 assists and five turnovers, and Hartford was 2-2, including a 75-38 steamrolling of Marist. Since then, Torres has committed nearly four turnovers per game and the Hawks have lost five straight. Hartford's ability to avoid turnovers is its best offensive trait, and since the Hawks suffer from both a free throw disparity and poor rebounding at both ends, Torres needs to make sure that strength remains intact. Without it, Hartford is unlikely to do much better than the two teams lying below it in these power rankings.

8. Binghamton Bearcats
(3-5, RPI 205, SOS 38)
Last week: W 64-60 vs. Bucknell
This week: vs. Marshall, at Drake, vs. South Dakota (neutral court)

Yes, Binghamton is -- somehow -- not the worst team in America East to date. This, despite struggling to beat a Division-II opponent at home and a 1-5 record against Division-I competition. Binghamton isn't well-equipped to handle most opponents at this level, but when an opponent can't find its shot for the better part of 40 minutes, the door is left wide open. Credit the Bearcats: Bucknell gave them a chance to win, and the Bearcats seized it. Greer Wright and Dylan Talley are turnover-prone but have the talent to compete at this level. Binghamton isn't about to break out, and by year's end the Bearcats will probably find the America East cellar, but the winless season has been avoided.

9. UMBC Retrievers
(0-7, RPI 344, SOS 330)
Last week: L 82-77 at Towson, L 76-67 at Toledo
This week: at Penn State, vs. Rider

The Retrievers were expected to have some difficulties during non-conference play, primarily due to Chauncey Gilliam's ineligibility. Well, Gilliam regained his eligibility in time for the season opener, yet UMBC remains winless. Two of the Retrievers' opponents, Coppin State and Toledo, have no wins against other Division-I opponents. Both of those teams beat the Retrievers. Coppin State's win came by an 11-point margin -- at UMBC. The Retrievers' best chance for a win before Christmas comes against American on December 19. The Eagles are 1-8; if the Retrievers can't get a victory in Washington D.C., they stand a good chance of starting conference play with a big, fat zero in the win column.

No comments: