Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Conference Calling: America East

With conference play getting underway, it's a fine time to start looking at individual leagues and handicapping how the teams may stack up by the time their conference tournaments get started. Alphabetical order dictates that we start with the America East.

  • Last things first: Apologies to UMBC, Binghamton, and Hartford, but your teams appear likely to serve as speed bumps in what is not exactly a highway-speed league to begin with. A combined 1-31 record against schedules ranking around the 290's doesn't hold much promise. If credit must be given, it should go to the Hawks for keeping their last three losses inside single digits. Hartford also has five freshmen among its top seven scorers, accounting for two-thirds of the team's output. One of those, Nate Sikma, tried his best to singlehandedly beat Marist, going for 23-8-2-3-2 before fouling out in the dying minutes. So, Hartford, perhaps we'll see you next year?
  • Is Northwestern the No. 45 team in the country? No, probably not. But that's where they're ranked on ESPN's InsideRPI, and Stony Brook dropped a game to them by a mere five points. Their only home games have both been wins, including over a Columbia team that hung in against UConn in its opener. Still, this is a team that shoots 39 percent from the floor, so they live and die by the D. The opponent is forever one 10-2 run away from blowing a game wide open. Plus, there are five guys on the roster that stand 6-8 or taller, yet the team's leading rebounder is 6-5 guard Tommy Brenton. SBU will win games, to be sure, but ye gods, they're going to be some boring slogs.
  • New Hampshire is a team that CAN score, they just can't find an efficient way to go about it. KenPom has them rated 91st in the country defensively, but 312th on offense. They're attempting 20 three-point shots per game, but hitting at a .315 clip. It would make sense to have the team attack the basket more aggressively, but they're hitting freebies at a .532 rate. (Gotta be worst in the nation, right? Yup.) So, there will be nights when the shots don't fall, the defense hangs tough, but the Wildcats simply won't be able to claw their way in front. Still, their only real bad loss was a three-pointer at Boston College, and how bad can a loss in an ACC team's building really be? Look for sophomore Patrick Konan to put up a few more strong games like he had against Providence.
  • Boston University is 4-8, but they've played the toughest schedule in the AE. That slate was kind of like an Oreo with bricks instead of cookies. Games at Texas and Cleveland State on the front end, a St. Joe's-Harvard-Villanova-Bucknell death march on the back, and Rhode Island-Hofstra-Delaware-BC as the creamy filling. And yes, unlike UNH, the Terriers traveled to Chestnut Hill and drilled BC behind 27 from Darryl Partin and a 17-6-7 night from sophomore point guard D.J. Irving. So, this record is highly deceiving. Partin's always a threat to shoot BU into the lead, but he can also shoot them right out of the game if he's not right (13-49, including 4-22 from three, against St. Joe's, Hahvahd, and Nova). If BU does take the AE Tournament, they could play a very interesting play-in and make some No. 1 seed sweat a bit.
  • Albany has played the weakest schedule in the AE, albeit only five ranking places worse than Hartford. Unlike the Hawks, though, the Great Danes have taken care of their business, winning most of the games they should have. (Siena hurts, though, and not just because it's the local rival.) Gerardo Suero has been one of the nation's top 10 scorers all season, and unlike the volume shooting of Darryl Partin, Suero gets it done in a scary efficient (.513-.360-.813) manner. When it's not working for Suero, though, bad things have happened. Foul trouble hurt him in their heavy loss to George Mason...that and the whole team shooting 26 percent. Suero went 5-14 against Siena, and the whole team shot only five free throws. Against Cornell, he and fellow guards Logan Aronhalt and Mike Black combined for 17 turnovers. So, stop Suero and the Danes will roll over? Good luck with that. He also dropped 31 on Syracuse.
  • Maine has three of the AE's top six in John Hollinger's PER ratings, with freshman Justin Edwards ranking just inside the nation's top 20. Edwards and backcourt mate Gerald McLemore are easily the AE's most dangerous 1-2 combo, ranking second and third in eFG%, behind only Vermont's Luke Apfeld (who takes less than half as many shots as Maine's pair do). The Black Bears are 6-4, but as always, take that with a pound of salt. Maine has played only two top-150 opponents, those being UConn and Notre Dame. Needless to say, both were losses. The only real bad loss was at #297 San Diego two days after losing at Notre Dame. You take a flight from northern Indiana to southern California and tell me how spry you are to play a game the next day. Maine's true trump card over Albany will be size. The Danes have three players over 6-5; Maine has seven. One of those seven, 6-9 junior Mike Allison, just returned last week from an injury and produced 11 points, seven boards, and six blocks against Utah Valley. Scottish sophomore Alasdair Fraser (who I would call "The Scottish Terrier" except for the facts that Scottish terriers are obnoxious little psycho dogs and that Fraser doesn't play for BU) is averaging 13 and 8 on 53 percent shooting. Right now, as we start conference play, Maine is my favorite to reach the Big Dance from the AE.
  • But just wait one tree-sappin' minute. There's also the Vermont Catamounts. Much like Stony Brook, the Cats play a waltzing brand of basketball (No. 321 in KenPom's adjusted tempo). They survive on rugged defense (#154, compared to Albany's 285 and Maine's 270). Also like Stony Brook, their top rebounder is less than 6-7. The schedule has been even better than SBU's up top, with games against Hahvahd (a 7-point loss) and Iona (one-point loss) included among six battles with the Top 150. No 30-point thrashings here like SBU absorbed against Indiana. UVM played the slow game against Harvard and an up-tempo game against Iona, which is why I'd give them a lot more chance to compete in March than I would Stony Brook. Can they score with Albany or Maine, though?
The America East is going to give a little something for any college hoop fan this year.

Like watching one guy take over the game? Check out BU or Albany.

Want to watch a killer efficient offense with multiple weapons? Try Maine.

Prefer the defensive slugfests? Vermont and Stony Brook will have plenty.

Or you could always point and laugh at hideous free throw shooting at a New Hampshire game. Recommended for true masos only.

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