Thursday, October 11, 2012

Conference Calling's 31 in 31: 2012-13 America East Preview

The Conference Calling 31 in 31 preview series will examine each of the NCAA Division I auto-bid conferences (so no Great West or independents), one per day, leading up to college basketball's opening day on November 9.


Will the last player out of the America East Conference please turn out the lights?

Okay, not everyone has left, but it certainly feels that way. Players who won league honors left Vermont (Rookie of the Year Four McGlynn to Towson), Boston University (2010 all-conference big man Jake O'Brien to Temple) and Albany (leading scorer Gerardo Suero to an alleged pro career).

Even teams like Binghamton, of the whopping two-win season, were affected by attrition, losing three of its top five scorers to transfers.

Every player affiliated with Boston U. will also be leaving next year, since the school itself is headed to the Patriot League.

The situation in the AE is only slightly less fluid than that in the Atlantic Ocean. The talent drain has the AE weighing in as TBI's No. 29 conference for the 2012-13 season.

More after the jump.

1. Stony Brook
--The Seawolves lost their players the old-fashioned way: graduation. With three starters gone, it may sound like a stretch to predict another regular-season championship. Nine players, though, averaged at least 10 minutes a game for SBU last year, and five of them return.

Discussion begins and ends with senior forward Tommy Brenton, who won AE Defensive Player of the Year while also leading the Seawolves in rebounds, assists and steals. The 6'5" Brenton has finished in the league's top five in rebounds and steals in each of his three seasons. The question that faces him this season is this: can he keep his grunt work at its usual high standard while increasing his scoring load? Brenton's 7.8 PPG last season was a career high.

Guard Dave Coley is likely to be the top scorer in the Brook this season, whether Brenton becomes more assertive or not. This could be good news or bad. Coley was a 41% shooter last season, making only 30% from three-point range. At only 6'2", he took a mere 46 shots from deep, which minimized that damage. Still, for a guy who's his team's nominal point guard, the offense may be helped if Coley orchestrates it a bit more instead of leaving the playmaking to Brenton.

Junior guard Anthony Jackson will provide outside shooting after making 40 percent from deep last year.

Burly wing Ron Bracey isn't quite so burly these days after dropping 20 pounds. Bracey had a sensational 16-point, eight-rebound game against Cornell last season, so the potential is there, but he disappeared after that. His 11.4 OR% would have ranked fourth in the league if he'd had greater playing time.

Freshman forward Jameel Warney, a three-star ESPN prospect, will make an immediate impact inside. He's a player who likes to make a living in the post, and his presence may free Brenton up to roam more on offense.

2. Boston University
--Motivation is a funny thing. Some teams in BU's situation may be inclined to take a foot off the gas, knowing that they're not playing in the AE tournament. Others may try to fight harder to show the league what it'll be missing in the future. The lame-duck Terriers' approach to the season will determine where they finish, since they still have plenty of talent on hand.

Reigning AE assist king D.J. Irving is back to run the offense, but he'll miss backcourt mate Darryl Partin. Irving was a fairly efficient scorer in his own right, but he'll have a harder time getting shots at will the way the 6'6" Partin could.

Irving may spend a lot of time playing next to his heir apparent, freshman Maurice Watson. Watson is an ESPN100 prospect who scored more than 2,300 points in high school, second-most in Philadelphia Public League history and ahead of even Wilt Chamberlain. If Watson shows the coaches a steady jump shot from deep, they may overlook his slight 5'10" frame.

The frontcourt is led by bruising Dom Morris, a 240-pounder who had more games with double-digit rebounds than points last year. Junior wing Travis Robinson should contribute a shooting spark after recording a .540 eFG% and a .575 TS% last year.

Wiry swingman Malik Thomas finished fourth on the team in rebounds despite only playing 15 minutes per game. He can take a little offensive initiative, as well, which he showed in a 17-point night against LaSalle.

Warning to the Patriot League: there are no seniors on this roster. Hope that the AE transfer epidemic claims one more victim. If not, have fun with them next season.

3. Vermont
--Three of the Catamounts' top four scorers are gone, but their story begins with a guy who's scored less than six points per game for his career.

Junior Brian Voelkel has 10 more assists than field-goal attempts through two seasons, and he's a 6'6" forward. He actually led the league in total assists last year, but played in seven more games than D.J. Irving. Voelkel's also the AE's two-time defending rebound champion, hard to dislodge on either end. Only Tommy Brenton can claim to be remotely as versatile as Voelkel.

For scoring, the Cats will have to turn to 6'7" junior Luke Apfeld. Apfeld averaged a hair under 10 PPG last season despite playing only 21 minutes a night. His .620 TS% was tops in the AE and among the top 100 nationally. His difficulty was on defense, where he led the AE with 107 fouls, or 3.1 per game. He finished 14 games with four fouls, but smartly was never DQ'd.

Point guard Sandro Carissimo returns, but may simply fill a defensive role.  Carissimo finished second on the team in steals, but also made 33 percent from long range. Marist transfer Candon Rusin should also see extensive backcourt minutes. Rusin's FG percentages dropped precipitously from his freshman year to his sophomore year, although his free-throw shooting oddly improved. In that freshman year, he drilled 43 percent from long range.

Senior Ben Crenca (6'10", 260) and junior Clancy Rugg (6'8", 195) will be counted on for rebounding and a little inside scoring, but don't expect the world.

4. Albany
--The Great Danes would be in much better shape if guard Logan Aronhalt hadn't graduated and bolted for Maryland. As it is, Albany does return Mike Black, the third member of their solid backcourt trio, but what else?

Black was actually a more efficient scorer than Suero or Aronhalt, just not as prolific. Black's .518 eFG% and .558 TS% were among the league's top 10. That's even more impressive considering he was also top-10 in field goal, free throw and three-point attempts. The only downside was that his three-point accuracy tumbled more than seven points from his first two seasons. Either way, he should be an All-AE favorite now that he's The Man.

Australian swingman Luke Devlin and Floridian swingman Jayson Guerrier should both be up for a greater offensive load this season. Guerrier was by far the team's most efficient scorer, with a .583 eFG% and a .600 TS% adding up to 6.6 PPG. He should get much more than 19 minutes a night, and if his efficiency doesn't flag too much, he could be another All-AE contender.

Devlin would be better served playing a mid-range game and cutting out his occasional forays outside the arc. He was a 52 percent two-point shooter and a solid threat on the boards.

Also strong on the boards is 6'9" center Blake Metcalf. Metcalf was top-10 in the league in both OR% and DR% and converted almost 60 percent of his limited shots. Of course, those shots were limited because Hack-a-Blake is a perfectly sound strategy against him. Metcalf shot a hideous 12-for-42 from the line last year. That .286 percentage makes Shaq look like Reggie Miller.

There's decent backcourt depth, including NJCAA second-team All-American D.J. Evans, who may step in and start alongside Black. Jacob Iati adds shooting stroke and Ralph Watts is a decent backup point. 6'10" junior John Puk is a reliable shot blocker behind Metcalf and sophomore Sam Rowley could be a gritty rebounder.

5. Hartford
--The Hawks finished 7-9 in conference last season, but perhaps it's to be expected when four of your top five scorers are freshmen. Outside of Lexington, Kentucky, the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores, and Hartford's bunch may be preparing for a big future.

Top returning scorer Mark Nwakamma is a 55-percent shooter, operating primarily within 15 feet. Like Vermont's Apfeld, he struggled with foul trouble, racking up a league-high 3.3 violations per night. Unlike Apfeld, he had no concept of pulling back and fouled out of eight games. If the Hawks are going to move up the standings or reach the tournament final, he needs to be on the floor in crunch time.

Frontcourt mate Nate Sikma spent much of his time on the perimeter, but led the team in rebounds because, unlike Nwakamma, he could stay on the floor. Sikma's dad Jack parlayed sweet-for-a-big-man shooting into seven NBA All-Star appearances, but Nate's shot selection needs some work before he starts winning AE honors. The Hawks need better than 39 percent from the floor.

Point guard Yolonzo Moore matched Sikma's 39-percent effort, but it could be worse for both of them. They could be guard Wes Cole. Cole shot a sickly 33 percent from the floor, making only 17 of 45 two-point shots all season. Cole lives outside the arc, and he may need to up his 32 percent from deep.

Samford graduate John Peterson should provide a slightly more consistent three-point stroke. The 6'7" swingman hit 36 percent from long range as a Bulldog.

6. Maine
--It's hard to have a great deal of faith in the Black Bears when they lose a 17-PPG scorer from a seventh-place team. There is talent returning, but can coach Ted Woodward do anything with it?

Canadian sophomore guard Justin Edwards and Scottish junior forward Alasdair Fraser are two of a whopping six Black Bears born outside the United States. Edwards finished among the AE's top 12 in all five major counting categories, quite likely the only player in America to manage that feat. If he can shoot better than 26 percent from outside, he could be a favorite for AE Player of the Year.

The bruising Fraser is an efficient inside scorer, solid shot-blocker and one of the AE's finest offensive rebounders. He recorded 17 points and seven rebounds against Notre Dame and their all-conference big man Jack Cooley.

Senior pivotman Mike Allison is reliable when he gets the ball in the post, knocking in 52 percent of his shots last season. Unfortunately, getting him the ball often results in contact as well, and Allison's 54-percent free-throw shooting can make him a liability for the offense. He can be counted on for seven rebounds and a couple of blocks per game, though.

German freshman Till Gloger may provide a strong post presence. The 6'8", 200-pound Gloger averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds for Paderborn in the German under-19 Bundesliga.

--The Retrievers (seriously, if there was ever going to be a team named the Basset Hounds, this would be the league for it) are the only team in the AE returning three double-digit scorers, so the offense could be good. However, this team was a very distant last in the league in scoring defense. Six-and-a-half points per game distant. Behind two-win Binghamton. Not that UMBC has a lot to crow about, with its four wins last season, but let's move on.

Of the three returning threats, none are terribly efficient at their craft. Guard Brian Neller sported a .480 eFG% and .494 TS%. Forward Chase Plummer checked in at .437 and .485, while the other guard, Ryan Cook, carded a .404 and .463.

Neller is the guy who lives outside the three-point arc, hoisting 263 bombs last season, 10th-most in America. Not the America East, America America. If he can make more than 31 percent this season, he could be among the AE's leading scorers.

Plummer is solid on the glass at both ends, finishing fourth in the AE in DR% and 11th in OR%. If Neller doesn't tighten up his shot, Plummer should be among the league leaders in offensive rebounds. He can also make plays defensively, finishing fifth in the league in steals.

Cook is another shooter in the Retrievers' three-guard lineup, and he's the best on the team from the foul line (.857 last season). Nowhere near as prolific as Neller from long range, Cook can score a lot of easy points if he attacks the basket more often. UMBC fans should be dying to see him shoot more than 84 foul shots this season.

Point guard Jarrel Lane led the team in assists despite missing 13 games. He's much more careful with the ball than Neller and Cook. After a rough start (18 assists/21 turnovers in his first six games), Lane racked an A/T ratio of better than 2-1 the rest of the season and didn't have another three-plus turnover game.

Sophomore guard Joey Getz is a defensive pest off the bench who finished second on the team in steals per game last season. Big man Brett Roseboro (6'10", 240) will be a key interior force in his first season after transferring from St. Bonaventure. If their defensive efforts can rub off on their teammates, UMBC might be able to win a few more games.

UPDATE: Coach Randy Monroe has resigned only two days before the start of practice, according to the university. Assistant coach/recruiting coordinator Aki Thomas will be the season's interim coach.

8. New Hampshire
--For all the talk about guys leaving the AE courts, one guy who almost never leaves the court anywhere is New Hampshire point guard Chandler Rhoads. He played 36.6 minutes per game as a junior, accomplishing less than some players who played 10 fewer minutes a night.

Rhoads scored in double figures against non-league opponents like Boston College and Loyola (Md.), but dropped just as many clunkers. He shot 3-for-23 in back-to-back games against Dartmouth and Holy Cross, then had a one-assist/six-turnover night against Fairfield. He made the league All-Defensive team, but the offense (.365/.298/.587 shooting) must improve.

Rhoads should have a chance to improve on his 2.7 APG if forwards Patrick Konan and Ferg Myrick are ready to be steady scorers. Konan made 38 percent from behind the arc, but only about 40 percent inside it. If he can assert himself on the offensive glass the way he did as a freshman at Liberty, he could be a 13-15 PPG man.

Myrick averaged almost 13 PPG in UNH's final eight games last season. Like nearly everyone else in the Wildcat rotation, he couldn't crack 40 percent from the floor.

There's size inside, even with leading rebounder Brian Benson gone. Senior Chris Matagrano (6'9", 235) and Iona transfer Chris Pelcher (6'10", 240) give UNH one of the biggest interior pairs in the league. Pelcher put up respectable rebound and block percentages in limited time with the Gaels.

Guard Jordon Bronner played 300 fewer minutes than Rhoads, but dished only 12 fewer assists, pulled six fewer steals and committed less than half the turnovers. Just sayin'.

9. Binghamton
--Tony Kornheiser's alma mater was Ken Pomeroy's third-worst team in the nation. A 2-26 record will do that for you. Three of the top five scorers bailing for greener pastures decimate the roster and $1.5 million being spent to can the last two coaches is bad for the budget. Seriously, Jim Boeheim's a Hall of Famer and he makes $1.5M per year, but a two-win program has spent that to fire two coaches.

So, what's left for ex-Rider coach Tommy Dempsey to piece together?

Guards Robert Mansell and Jimmy Gray are a decent place to start, but Mansell will be working to get himself back into game shape as the season begins. He tore his ACL late in the season and may take a while to recapture his form. Last season, he was a 14-PPG scorer, so the Bearcats definitely need him to recover sooner rather than later.

Gray is one of the AE's more reliable playmakers, both on offense and defense. He led the league in steals and was top-five in assists. He can struggle with his shot, which can be forgiven as long as he doesn't have to look for it all the time. He did score 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting against Missouri last season, but let's not speak of the one assist and six turnovers.

Fordham transfers Rayner Moquete and Brian Freeman could figure in quickly. Moquete could back up Gray or play alongside him as an additional shooter. Freeman, a 6'8" junior, played in one game for Fordham before leaving for Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. There, he didn't dominate, but 1.8 blocks per game can catch the eye. As one of the worst defensive teams in the AE, the Bearcats need all the help they can get.

In this section: each team's top non-conference game, weighted for visibility and possibility of a win.

Albany: Nov. 18 vs. Norfolk State or Loyola (Md.) (Hall of Fame Tip-Off, Springfield, Mass.)
--A pair of 2012 NCAA teams who could come back to their conference packs AND on a neutral site? Could be good business for the Danes.
Binghamton: Dec. 1 vs. Mt. St. Mary's
--The Mount could be a dark horse in the Northeast. Binghamton can get a good self-assessment off this game. At Michigan, not so much.
Boston University: Dec. 28 vs. Belmont (UCF Holiday Classic, Orlando, Fla.)
--This game is the only neutral-site resume-builder BU will have, and their resume needs to sparkle without the conference tournament to look forward to.
Hartford: Nov. 20 vs. LaSalle
--The Explorers have a team that could challenge the top of the Atlantic 10, and a good showing against them should give the Hawks a ton of confidence for the AE schedule.
Maine: Nov. 25 vs. Siena
--Fraser and Allison will need every bit of energy the home crowd can give them as they battle All-MAAC banger O.D. Anosike.
New Hampshire: Nov. 29 at Connecticut
--UConn's next game will be the Jimmy V Classic against NC State at MSG. Trap game?
Stony Brook: Dec. 21 at Maryland
--The Terps may have their rotation set by this time, but a strong Seawolf showing can send a loud message to the rest of the AE.
UMBC: Nov. 26 at Marquette
--Okay, this one's a blowout waiting to happen, but new center Brett Roseboro was originally a Marquette commit before he headed to St. Bonnie. Will TV cameras catch him looking wistful, wishing he was in the other jersey?
Vermont: Dec. 5 vs. Towson
--Is Four McGlynn on the bus? If so, look for the Catamounts to come out swinging and show their ex-teammate what he's missing.

D.J. Irving vs. Texas' Julien Lewis. (AP)
G Mike Black, Albany (6'0", 175, Sr.)
--Crazy efficient scoring for such a prolific perimeter shooter. If Evans lets him operate off the ball, Black could lead the league in scoring.
F Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook (6'5", 220, Sr.)
--Everything runs through Brenton, but he could certainly stand to be more assertive.
G Justin Edwards, Maine (6'3", 185, Soph.)
--Stuffs a stat sheet like few others, but needs to tighten up his shot. There's no one to draw defensive attention now that Gerald McLemore's gone.
G D.J. Irving, Boston University (6'0", 165, Jr.)
--Some intriguing athletes surround him, and he should easily lead the league in assist average again. Add that to an increase in his own scoring responsibilities, and this is your AE Player of the Year.
F Brian Voelkel, Vermont (6'6", 210, Jr.)
--ESPN would laud his versatility if he played in the ACC or Big Ten. Since he doesn't, it's down to guys like us.

F Luke Apfeld, Vermont (6'7", 215, Jr.)
--He and Voelkel are the league's best frontcourt combo until we get some film on Warney and Brenton at the Brook.
F Alasdair Fraser, Maine (6'7", 245, Jr.)
--Needs to stay on the floor, as he fouled out six times last season. If he does, he could be AE's top rebounder.
G/F Jayson Guerrier, Albany (6'4", 205, Sr.)
--He and Black could keep Albany very close to the top of the AE shooting charts.
F Patrick Konan, New Hampshire (6'6", 205, Jr.)
--Needs to improve mid-range scoring and/or offensive rebounding. If he allows Rhoads to lead the team in scoring, it'll be a long season in Durham.
F Chase Plummer, UMBC (6'6", 230, Jr.)
--Good scorer, good rebounder, can hawk the ball, but he and the whole team need to get a lot better on defense. Fewer steals and more contested shots might be a good thing for Plummer.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: D.J. Irving, Boston U.
COACH OF THE YEAR: John Becker, Vermont
--BU's Joe Jones would deserve it if the Terriers do finish second or first, but he's likely to be blacklisted. Becker should get honors if he succeeds with a team full of guys not used to scoring.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
--A narrow call over Maurice Watson at BU, but Warney will get a lot of attention paid to how he coexists with Tommy Brenton. If all goes well, that front line should be dominant.

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