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Thoughts, news and notes from the sports staff of The Saratogian newspaper, located in historic Saratoga Springs, New York. The gang in the corner office on Lake Avenue give you the post-game wrap-ups, news and notes from the games we cover and opinions about the sports we read about every day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

2012 Breeders' Cup Analysis and Selections

By Andrew Champagne

With the Breeders’ Cup just a few days away, it’s time to take a look at the races that’ll comprise the two-day event taking place this Friday and Saturday at Santa Anita. As a reminder, we’ll also be publishing a Breeders’ Cup Pink Sheet that’ll be released on Friday, we’ll have a pair of Pink Sheet Insider videos going up later this week, and we’ll also be holding a Breeders’ Cup live chat on Thursday night at 7 p.m. Eastern at

Got a comment about my analysis and selections? Tweet me at @AndrewChampagne, and we’ll throw the best ones into Thursday night’s live chat. Off we go!


Juvenile Sprint (4:06 p.m.; six furlongs on the main track)

Beholder going longer is unfortunate, as she probably would’ve had this field over a barrel. With her gone, the race looks pretty chalky. #3 Merit Man (8/5) is a perfect two-for-two, including a runaway win in a minor stakes at this route last out. He looks very hard to go against here, but if you’re looking for a price underneath, you may find one in #6 Hazardous (8-1). He’s making a big leap in class, but couldn’t have been much more visually-impressive than he was in his first start over dirt last out.

1. Merit Man 2. Hazardous 3. #4 South Floyd (6-1) 4. #7 Sweet Shirley Mae (4-1)

Marathon (4:46 p.m.; 1 ¾-miles on the main track)

This may be one of the most wide-open races on the entire card, mainly because nobody’s ever quite sure who’ll FINISH the 14-furlong race, let alone win it. I’ll be using #12 Worth Repeating (5-1) on top. If you go back to last year, his run in the Grade 3 Tokyo City going a mile and a half over the Santa Anita strip was sharp, and he comes in off a really nice win last out to boot. Value underneath could lie with #11 Commander (15-1), who’s making a huge class jump but has been really impressive in winning his last six. Commander at least won a Grade 3 going 1-3/8 miles last out, which is more than many of these have done. I may also throw #1 Atigun (9/2) and #6 Calidoscopio (8-1) into exactas, as both have run big races going long in the past.

1. Worth Repeating 2. Commander 3. Calidoscopio 4. Atigun

Juvenile Fillies Turf (5:28 p.m., 1 mile on turf)

If #13 Flashy Ways (10-1) had a better post, she’d be one of my best bets of the Breeders’ Cup. Her first two starts, both wins, have been really impressive, and the last one came at this route against stakes opposition. The outside post may mean trouble, but she should still rate, and as a result still poses a big threat here. I’ll use her with #5 Spring Venture (5-1) and #6 Watsdachances (4-1), and I’ll also throw in longshot #2 Summer of Fun (30-1). If you toss the Grade 2 Natalma over a yielding turf course she probably didn’t care for, she certainly fits here, and the addition of top turf rider Ramon Dominguez can only be a good thing.

1. Flashy Ways 2. Spring Venture 3. Watsdachances 4. Summer of Fun

Juvenile Fillies (6:08 p.m., 1-1/16 miles on the main track)

A ton of chalk here, as I think #2 Executiveprivilege (2-1) is going to be very tough to beat. She’s a perfect five-for-five lifetime, and couldn’t have won a Grade 1 at this route much easier in her last outing. I’ll probably pass the race for lack of value, but if I was to play exactas, I’d use #5 Dreaming of Julia (5/2) and #1 Beholder (5/2), in that order, in my bottom rungs. #8 Kauai Katie (3-1) is a good horse, but is going way too long and will be extremely overbet, so I’ll put #4 Renee’s Queen (30-1) into my fourth spot. She’s stepping up in class and trying conventional dirt for the first time, but has several really sharp works over the Santa Anita strip.

1. Executiveprivilege 2. Dreaming of Julia 3. Beholder 4. Renee’s Queen

Filly & Mare Turf (6:48 p.m.; 1-1/4 miles on the turf)

I’ll be pretty excited to bet this one, as I really like #6 Lady of Shamrock (12-1). 12-1 is a gift for a horse that hasn’t run a bad race in over a year, a stretch that includes two Grade 1 wins and a perfect three-for-three record at Santa Anita. One of those Grade 1’s came at this distance in July, where she closed into a very slow pace, was bumped in the stretch, and still won. I’ll be using her in exactas with European invader #4 The Fugue (7/2) and #9 Marketing Mix (9/2). The Fugue loves the 10-furlong distance, just missed in a Group 1 race going longer, and should love the cutback in distance. Meanwhile, Marketing Mix is a head away from having won her last four. However, while her last win in the Grade 1 Rodeo Drive was visually-impressive, she closed into a suicidal pace duel, and I don’t think she’ll get those kind of fractions here. Also, it’s not often you get double-digits on an Aiden O’Brien horse, but you may with #7 Up (12-1). She’s gotten better since faltering in the Beverly D., but before that won a Group 2 at 10 furlongs and may have a shot here.

1. Lady of Shamrock 2. The Fugue 3. Marketing Mix 4. Up

Ladies’ Classic (7:30 p.m.; 1-1/8 miles on the main track)

The most stacked Ladies’ Classic in years, arguably ever, is one I’ll likely be passing from a betting standpoint. There’s a lot of unknowns here. Will #1 Awesome Feather (3-1) be ready after having just one race since January? How will #2 My Miss Aurelia (4-1) and #4 Questing (4-1) do facing older horses for the first time? Will #8 Love and Pride (8-1) be worn out in what figures to be a multi-way speed duel early? Ultimately, in this situation, I’ll go with the more defined quantity, and that’s #6 Royal Delta (9/5). At her best, she beats all of these, and may throw herself into consideration for Horse of the Year honors in the process.

1. Royal Delta 2. My Miss Aurelia 3. Questing 4. Love and Pride


Juvenile Turf (2:50 p.m.; 1 mile on turf)

Usually, the European contingent is pretty tough, and this year’s no different. However, I’ll go for a little bit of a price in the form of #4 Gervinho (15-1). He’s two-for-two, including a stakes win at this route earlier this month. If he gets a pace to run at, he could be dangerous. Some would say the top Euro in this race is #6 Dundonnell (4-1), and while he may have a chance, I think two other Euro’s in the race are just as talented at better prices. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever bet against jockey Frankie Dettori at the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s got a good one here in #2 Artigiano (8-1). Also, #3 George Vancouver (8-1) has run well in a pair of Group 1 races, and a similar effort puts him right there here.

1. Gervinho 2. Artigiano 3. George Vancouver 4. Dundonnell

Filly & Mare Sprint (3:35 p.m., seven furlongs on the main track)

#9 Groupie Doll (1-1)
is the most overwhelming favorite of the entire weekend. That said, as good as she’s been, she’s never run at Santa Anita, and I just can’t bet her at even-money. As alternatives go, I may as well shoot for the moon and land on #1 Teddy’s Promise (20-1). Last year, she won a Grade 1 at this route, and she’s always preferred conventional dirt to synthetic and grass surfaces, which she’s been running on most of this year. #3 Dust and Diamonds (9/2) has won three in a row, albeit on the East Coast, and I’ll also throw in #5 Rumor (20-1). Richard Mandella knows how to win these races, and she has four top-two finishes in five starts at Santa Anita.

1. Teddy’s Promise 2. Groupie Doll 3. Dust and Diamonds 4. Rumor

Dirt Mile (4:14 p.m.; 1 mile on the main track)

#7 Emcee (5/2) has run one bad race in his career, and his two races at Saratoga were both top-notch. He shouldn’t have a problem stretching to a mile, and at his best, he’s certainly capable of an impressive win. If you couldn’t tell already, I’m valuing experience at Santa Anita very highly. As such, I like #5 Fed Biz (6-1) a good deal here. His two wins at this route were both solid, and he should run big at a decent price. #6 Shackleford (2-1) is the favorite, but I think his huge run in the Met Mile took a ton out of him. His race in the Kelso was OK, not great, and if he goes off the favorite, he’ll have been way overbet in doing so. There’s a ton of early speed here, and while I think his win in the Kelso was a little fluky, #3 Jersey Town (4-1) could close late to pick up a share of the purse.

1. Emcee 2. Fed Biz 3. Shackleford 4. Jersey Town

Turf Sprint (4:57 p.m.; 6-1/2 furlongs on the turf)

Perhaps no race in the Breeders’ Cup is consistently tougher to handicap than the Turf Sprint, which is horse racing’s answer to the chaos theory. The downhill sprint route doesn’t do handicappers any favors, so I’ve narrowed this down to horses that have run here in the past. #13 Unbridled’s Note (5-1) won a Grade 3 here in his first-ever turf start last out. He beat a few of his opponents in this race that time, and could very easily take this one as well. #1 California Flag (6-1) is five-for-seven on the course. He’s been off since April, but a lot of horses here are coming off layoffs, and at his best, he’s certainly a contender. #12 Chosen Miracle (15-1) came off a long layoff to run second to Unbridled’s Note, and has never run a bad one over this surface (a win and two second’s in three starts). Also, as a longshot, #11 Mizdirection (20-1) is two-for-two at Santa Anita, including a Grade 3 win.

1. Unbridled’s Note 2. California Flag 3. Chosen Miracle 4. Mizdirection

Juvenile (5:36 p.m.; 1-1/16 miles on the main track)

Much has been made about the Lasix ban in 2-year-old races this year. However, even with regression, #4 Shanghai Bobby (2-1) is still the horse to beat. He’s been working well for this, and the rest of the field isn’t in his class if he’s right. #8 Fortify (9/2) is the only horse in this field that has never run on Lasix, and as such may be at an advantage. There’s a big gap between him at Shanghai Bobby, but this one should like the added distance and pick up a check. #9 Power Broker (5/2) is the hometown favorite, and won a Grade 1 here last month in his first dirt start. There’s some bounce potential, and this is a better field, but he should still run well. #1 Title Contender (6-1) went wire-to-wire here last out in breaking his maiden. The figure he ran ties for the second-best last-out number in the race, so he could surprise at third asking.

1. Shanghai Bobby 2. Fortify 3. Power Broker 4. Title Contender

Turf (6:18 p.m.; 1-1/2 miles on the turf)

As good as #1 Point of Entry (3-1) is, I hope he gets bet, because he’s beatable. I’ll be backing #5 Shareta (7/2), who, at his peak, is one of the top horses in Europe. He’s won a pair of Group 1 races at this distance, including one over The Fugue, who may win the Mile. Point of Entry could win, but 3-1 is a short price in a talented field. I’ll be using him in multi-race bets, but no more than that. #11 Slim Shadey (10-1) is live because of how much he loves this Santa Anita track. He’s won three of five races over it, including two graded stakes. I’ll also mix in #6 Cogito (30-1), who ran very well two back in a Group 2 in Europe and follows the previously-mentioned “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever bet against jockey Frankie Dettori at the Breeders’ Cup” rule.

1. Shareta 2. Point of Entry 3. Slim Shadey 4. Cogito

Sprint (6:58 p.m.; six furlongs on the main track)

One of the most intriguing horses all weekend is #6 Fast Bullet (12-1). He’s run just twice, and not since November of 2011, but his two races have been stellar and his works leading up to this have been fantastic. He gets the nod in a very competitive field. #11 Amazombie (4-1) won this race last year, and is very fond of the Santa Anita surface. He doesn’t need the lead, and that could suit him very well for a second straight season. #4 Coil (5-1) ran a big one in taking a Grade 1 here last out off a layoff. He likes Santa Anita, and hasn’t run a bad one since last year’s Travers. #7 The Lumber Guy (6-1) ran well in winning the Vosburgh, and he’s three-for-three in sprints. If he likes Santa Anita in his first start off the East Coast, he should be a factor.

1. Fast Bullet 2. Amazombie 3. Coil 4. The Lumber Guy

Mile (7:40 p.m.; 1 mile on the turf)

Upset alert! There’s not a lot of early speed here. As such, #3 Obviously (6-1) is a huge threat to slow down the early pace and run huge. There are a few big-name horses here, but Obviously’s run three big ones in a row, including a freakish mile at this route last out, and for value, this is a good spot to take a stand. #2 Wise Dan (9/5) is a freak. 9/5 is a very short price with this big a field, however, and you can argue that he hasn’t beaten much in his three straight wins at a mile. If he wins, he wins, but I won’t apologize for taking a stand against him and  #6 Excelebration (2-1). #1 Mr. Commons (12-1) always seems to run big races, and while he hasn’t won since February, he did win a pair of Grade 2 races at this route last winter. Excelebration is the second-best horse in Europe, and fits here. Still, he just raced on October 20th and comes over from England to run just two weeks later. That’s a red flag, and one I can’t ignore.

1. Obviously 2. Wise Dan 3. Mr. Commons 4. Excelebration

Classic (8:30 p.m., 1-1/4 miles on the dirt)

In what’s been a bit of a down Classic due to injuries, there’s some value here with #10 Ron the Greek (6-1). He won the Santa Anita Handicap at this route earlier this year, and with the early pace in the race, he should have a perfect setup for his late-running style. #5 Game On Dude (9/5) may go off as the overwhelming favorite. This is his home track, but there’s a considerable amount of early speed in here, so I can’t put him on top. #11 Mucho Macho Man (8-1) has had a couple of bullet works this month at Belmont and seems to be rounding into form at the right time. 10 furlongs may not be his cup of tea, but a repeat of his Suburban win two back certainly gets him a share. #8 Nonios (20-1) hasn’t shown an affinity for winning lately, but he does like Santa Anita, and the early pace scenario should be favorable.

1. Ron the Greek 2. Game On Dude 3. Mucho Macho Man 4. Nonios

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Girls soccer: Suburban Council All-Stars released

Suburban Coucil Play of the Year Morgan Burchhardt (18)
Anyone who watched Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake's girls soccer team this season could see Morgan Burchhardt has it all.
The junior striker plays with a unique combination of skill, speed and size valued by soccer coaches throughout the world. Burchhardt scored 16 goals and provided a Section II-leading 22 assists in the regular season as the Spartans clinched the top seed in the Class A playoffs.
With all her qualities, it's no surprise Burchhardt was named Suburban Council player of the year — despite being just a junior. Joining her on the first team all-star list are teammates Jillian Beatty and Meghan Malone. BH-BL senior midfielder Skye Kaler made the second team.
Saratoga Springs had four players named all-stars. Blue Streaks seniors Megan Nash and Briana Sirianni were put on the first-team while senior Libby Adams and sophomore Ellery Bianco made the second team.
Ballston Spa defender Demi Feder represented the Scotties on the first team.
Suburban Council All-Stars
First Team
Meghan Doyle - Niskayuna
Morgan Burchhardt - BH-BL
Tara Teal - Bethlehem
Kristen Connors - Shenendehowa
Jess Capone - Guilderland
Jillian Beatty - BH-BL
Anka Parzych - Niskayuna
Katie Nickles - Bethlehem
Makayla Foley - Shenendehowa
Megan Nash - Saratoga Springs
Sophia Constantine - Niskayuna
Jenna Cubello - Guilderland
Kate Essepian - Shaker
Laurie Knapp - Guilderland
Demi Feder - Ballston Spa
Briana Sirianni - Saratoga Springs
Meghan Malone - BH-BL
Second Team
Lauren Kogelmann - Guilderland
Jenny Cascino - Niskayuna
Morgan Lionarons - Averill Park
Libby Adams - Saratoga Springs
Emily Green - Colonie
Morgan Miller - Mohonasen
Meghan Merritt - Shenendehowa
Sophia DiNinni - Shenendehowa
Brianna Swete - Bethlehem
Ellery Bianco - Saratoga Springs
Kara Carman - Guilderland
Kaileigh Bolen - Columbia
Autumn Fetterolf - Bethlehem
Maddie Karafanda - Niskayuna
Kelly Donnelly - Averill Park
McKenzie Riccio - Shaker

Player of the Year: Morgan Burchhardt - BH-BL
Coach of the Year: Bryce Colby - Niskayuna

Saturday, October 20, 2012

2012-13 College Basketball Preview: NEC

We return with a preview of another mid-major conference that’s produced a few sneaky-good teams the past several years. Last year, three Northeast Conference teams won 25 games or more, and the top teams in the league are usually very solid squads. Here’s the breakdown of this year’s conference.

1) Long Island
Last season: 25-9 (16-2)

The scouting report: After an 0-3 start, the Blackbirds responded by winning 25 of their final 31 games, and even stayed within five points of Michigan State after a half in the NCAA Tournament. That team’s top four scorers return, and a group of six seniors will be looking to get back to the Big Dance.
The best-case scenario: An offense that averaged over 81 points per game a year ago continues to run roughshod with the team’s uptempo style of play. Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere retain their crown as the top 1-2 punch in the league, the Blackbirds go 18-0 in the league, and the team wins a game in the NCAA Tournament.
The worst-case scenario: The team feels the loss of Jim Ferry, who took the head job at Duquesne after last season. The offense doesn’t have the same zip under first-year coach Jack Perri, and the defense, one that allowed over 77 points per game last season, doesn’t come to fruition. The pure talent here is hard to deny, but because of the defensive shortcomings, the Blackbirds lose a game they shouldn’t in the NEC Tournament.
The rational scenario: Perri comes in after seven years as an assistant with the program, so the style of play shouldn’t be too different. The Blackbirds have won 52 games over the past two seasons, due in large part to the current senior class, and there’s little doubt that Long Island is the team to beat for at least one more year.

2) Wagner
Last season: 25-6 (15-3)

The scouting report: Like Long Island, Wagner had a coaching change in the offseason, and like Long Island, the Seahawks filled it with a former assistant coach. Bashir Mason inherits a fairly young group with just two seniors, but Wagner does return their top two scorers from a year ago, Latif Rivers and Jonathon Williams.
The best-case scenario: Rivers and Williams lead an offense that was extremely efficient a year ago and only improves on it in 2012-13. Rebounding, the team’s lone tangible weakness from last year, improves, and a Seahawk squad that split two games with Long Island last year beats them for the NEC title.
The worst-case scenario: The team misses former head coach Dan Hurley, now the bench boss at Rhode Island. Rebounding doesn’t get better, and again no Seahawk averages more than five boards a game. Rivers and Williams get their points and play well, but a third scorer doesn’t emerge, and the Seahawks regress to the 3 or 4 seed in the conference tournament before bowing out.
The rational scenario: This is a team that didn’t do one thing fantastically a year ago, but did a lot of things well. The Seahawks won 25 games despite an average rebounding edge of just 0.6 caroms a night, which tells you how efficient they were in other facets of the game. They may not be the most exciting team, but I’d be shocked if Wagner was outside the top three at season’s end.

3) Robert Morris
Last season: 26-11 (13-5)

The scouting report: Robert Morris, essentially, was the third-best team in a three-team league last year. The Colonials had six losses outside the conference, but two were to Pitt and Memphis. Additionally, Robert Morris got better as the year went on, advancing to the third round of the CIT after dropping the conference title game. Velton Jones returns for a fifth year, and he could wind up the NEC Player of the Year.
The best-case scenario: Jones improves on his 16 points per game from a season ago, and a complementary scorer emerges following the graduation of Coron Williams. Jones, Second Scorer X, and a balanced output from the rest of the rotation push Robert Morris into the race for a league title, though they may not have the horses to hang with Long Island for 40 minutes.
The worst-case scenario: No secondary scorer emerges. Jones turns into a volume scorer, and is double-teamed in every close/late situation. As a result, Robert Morris’s offense sputters, can’t improve off of last season, and isn’t a threat to win the conference title.
The rational scenario: Everything here depends on a secondary scorer emerging to take some of the load off of Velton Jones. If that happens, the Colonials will be a very tough team to beat. If it doesn’t happen, though, Robert Morris could regress back towards much of the conference. For now, they still sit pretty highly, but the first few games will say a lot about their chances going forward.

4) Quinnipiac
Last season: 18-14 (10-8)

The scouting report: The good news is that Quinnipiac graduated just two seniors from last year. The bad news is that one of them was James Johnson, who led the Bobcats by averaging 16.5 points per game. By and large, though, the Bobcats were very young in 2011-12, and if they can replace the scoring output Johnson gave them, Quinnipiac should improve pretty considerably.
The best-case scenario: Ike Azotam steps up to lead the offense a year after averaging a little over 15 points per game, and a front line featuring five players at 6’7” or taller becomes one of the best ones in the league. In a conference full of uptempo teams, that creates a ton of matchup problems, and the Bobcats surge to the #2 seed in the NEC Tournament.
The worst-case scenario: Nobody scores besides Azotam, and the Bobcats constantly get outclassed by quicker teams. Size doesn’t mean much if you’re constantly getting beaten down the floor, and Quinnipiac can’t keep up. The Bobcats are nowhere near ready to take on Long Island, Wagner, and Robert Morris, and stay in the middle of the conference.
The rational scenario: Quinnipiac should be improved from last year, even with the loss of Johnson.  As good a scorer as he was, he’s replaceable, and Azotam, who averaged nearly 16 points and 10 rebounds a game last year, should fit the bill. Add in the potential of a young group, and in a year or two, the Bobcats should be one of the top teams in the conference.

5) Sacred Heart
Last season: 14-18 (8-10)

The scouting report: An insanely-young team last year, the Pioneers look poised to make a substantial leap forward in 2012-13. Sacred Heart returns Shane Gibson, a dynamic, efficient scorer who averaged 22 points per game on 51% shooting. With the emergence of a supporting cast, this could be a dangerous team.
The best-case scenario: Gibson keeps knocking down shots, and fellow senior Justin Swidowski improves on his 11-point, five-rebound averages to become a legit #2 threat. The rest of the team produces when called upon, the Pioneers finish third in the conference, and head coach Dave Bike gets NEC Coach of the Year consideration.
The worst-case scenario: Gibson takes a step back after carrying the team all of last year. Swidowski is a nice player, but not a marquee one, and a third scorer doesn’t emerge. Sacred Heart still finishes with a .500 record, but is nowhere near where they could be.
The rational scenario: I like this team to improve as much as any program in the league. Gibson could potentially be the NEC Player of the Year, and the Pioneers should be able to find production elsewhere on a team that graduated just one player from last year’s unit. Maybe they can’t compete with Long Island or Wagner, but Sacred Heart should be a top-5 team in the league.

6) St. Francis (NY)
Last season: 15-15 (12-6)

The scouting report: Talk about a streaky team. Last year, the Terriers lost eight of their first 11 games, the first nine of which were all on the road. They then won 10 of their next 12, only to drop five of their last seven, including three straight defeats to end the year. St. Francis returns two of their top three scorers in Ben Mockford and Akeem Johnson, as well as leading rebounder Jalen Cannon.
The best-case scenario: Cannon’s low-post game comes around, and he becomes a nightly double-double threat. Mockford and Johnson continue to lead the rest of the offense, and three-point sniper Travis Nichols (40.7% from deep last year) is able to get open looks. The Terriers become more consistent with experience, win 20 games, and lay a foundation for 2013-14, which will feature largely the same group as only Johnson and Nichols graduate.
The worst-case scenario: The team misses Stefan Perunicic, who shot an insane 42.4% from three last year. Nichols isn’t able to carry that kind of a load as a shooter, Cannon’s offensive game is slow to develop, and Mockford’s mediocre shooting percentages (35.4% overall, 34.6% from three) don’t improve. The Terriers stay around .500 despite the potential to do much more.
The rational scenario: St. Francis has every logical reason to improve. They’ll miss Perunicic, but return a decent amount of talent that saw plenty of action last season. The fact that the team went 12-6 in-conference despite going just 7-10 overall on the road shows that the Terriers have potential. If they come together, a 20-win season is plausible.

7) Monmouth
Last season: 12-20 (10-8)

The scouting report: Another schizophrenic team, the Hawks went 10-8 in-conference but just 2-12 outside the NEC. They won eight of their last nine regular season games, only to fall to Robert Morris in the conference tournament. Monmouth returns their top three scorers, and boasts a six-deep senior class.
The best-case scenario: Monmouth keeps the momentum from last season going. The Hawks ride guard Jesse Steele, who emerges as one of the conference’s top point guards, to a significant turnaround from a season ago. Monmouth doesn’t have the horses to compete with the top teams in the league, but after 18 wins, the Hawks grab fourth place and win a game or two in the conference tournament.
The worst-case scenario: The Hawks, who were outscored by an average of nearly nine points a game a year ago, still don’t have the offensive firepower to win consistently. A tough slate that includes Notre Dame, Syracuse, Maryland, and Villanova wears Monmouth down, and the Hawks stumble to a finish in the bottom half of the conference.
The rational scenario: Steele is a very solid point guard, and he should do more than enough to keep Monmouth in games. The out-of-conference schedule is tough, but the Hawks should get a second wind in NEC play.

8) Saint Francis (Pa.)
Last season: 6-23 (5-13)

The scouting report: Last season was derailed very early, as Umar Shannon, who scored 26 points in the season opener, was shelved with a knee injury for the rest of the season. Only Anthony Ervin averaged more than 10 points per game in Shannon’s absence, and the Red Flash, largely, weren’t competitive. Assuming Shannon is 100%, this team should improve considerably.
The best-case scenario: Shannon, an All-NEC caliber player before his injury, returns to form, and leads the Red Flash in most offensive categories. Ervin, now a senior, provides another dependable option. Saint Francis finds a replacement for leading rebounder Scott Eatherton, and the Red Flash more than double their win total from the 2011-12 season.
The worst-case scenario: Shannon isn’t the same player, and the Red Flash offense feels the pain from it. Ervin can’t grow as a player, and the Red Flash get the stuffing beaten out of them on the boards without Eatherton. Saint Francis again fails to win 10 games, and finishes near the bottom of the NEC.
The rational scenario: Shannon is obviously a huge part of this team, one that was never able to recover once he went down so early last year. Eatherton is a sizable loss, but the Red Flash should move up at least a spot or two, assuming Shannon is 100%.

9) Mount St. Mary’s
Last season: 7-21 (5-12)

The scouting report: Last year was a long one for the Mount. The Mountaineers were extremely young, and as a result were taken to the woodshed by several of the better teams in the NEC. However, the team should be better this season, with its leading scorer back and a potentially high-impact transfer being cleared to play.
The best-case scenario: Julian Norfleet continues scoring at a high rate, and Marist transfer Sam Prescott, who led the Red Foxes with 11 points per game in 2010-11, gives the offense added punch. First-year head coach Jamion Christian makes an impact at his alma mater, and the Mount eclipses the 10-win mark while showing signs of progress.
The worst-case scenario: Prescott is rusty and doesn’t provide the scoring Christian is looking for. A secondary scorer doesn’t emerge, and Norfleet is left to do a lot on his own. Mount St. Mary’s shows promise, but is relegated to the bottom tier of the league for a second straight year.
The rational scenario: Christian was brought in in an attempt to energize the program, and there is some talent here for him to work with. However, this is a long-term project, and any reward that comes of it will need to wait until at least next year.

10) Central Connecticut
Last season: 13-16 (10-8)

The scouting report: Over half of CCSU’s scoring last season came from seniors Ken Horton and Robby Ptacek. Both are gone, leaving sophomore Kyle Vinales as the lone Blue Devil who scored more than four points per game. Barring a huge season from an unforeseen source, this will be a very long year for CCSU.
The best-case scenario: Vinales leads the NEC in scoring in his second year, and senior Joe Efese steps up as a complementary player. The Blue Devils salvage 10 wins, maybe even getting close to .500 in NEC play.
The worst-case scenario: Nobody steps up alongside Vinales, and he gets double-teamed constantly. Additionally, rebounding becomes a problem, since Horton averaged nearly nine boards a game a season ago. The Blue Devils can’t manage half of their wins from 2011-12, and finish in the bottom third of the NEC.
The rational scenario: It’s a bad year for CCSU to be down, simply because everyone that finished ahead of them is either up or even from last year. CCSU is young, and may be a good team next year, but this is looking like a rebuilding campaign.

11) Fairleigh Dickinson
Last season: 3-26 (2-16)

The scouting report: The Knights return their top two scorers from last year, Melquan Bolding and Lonnie Hayes. Those two are decent players, but they must be more efficient in order for FDU to have any measure of success. That’s especially true from three-point range, as the Knights shot just 27.7% from deep last year.
The best-case scenario: A guard-based offense does indeed improve its touch. The young group of shooters shows promise, and improves a spot or two in the NEC. Maybe they’re not close to challenging for the league crown, but the 2012-13 season is at least one of progress.
The worst-case scenario: FDU’s two scorers are all they have. A front line featuring nobody taller than 6’7” gets manhandled almost every game, and it’s another long year for the Knights.
The rational scenario: The Knights can’t be much worse in 2012-13 than they were in 2011-12, but I don’t see a ton of room for them to be better, either. Bolding and Hayes are nice pieces to have, but neither’s a proven #1 option, so it’s tough to see them straying too far from the cellar of the conference.

12) Bryant
Last season: 2-28 (1-17)

The scouting report: The Bulldogs had such a horrible season last year because of their inability to play defense. Despite having three players average double-figures in scoring, Bryant allowed over 75 points a game, not a winning formula by any means. All three scorers come back, including a really nice player in junior Alex Francis, but until the team gets tougher defensively, it’s tough to see them winning many games.
The best-case scenario: Francis, who shot 51% from the floor, averages 20 points per game, while running mates Frankie Dobbs and Corey Maynard also provide reasonable threats to do damage. The Bulldogs get tougher defensively, and grow as a team after losing nobody to graduation. As with FDU, maybe they’re not close to challenging for the league crown, but the 2012-13 season is at least one of progress.
The worst-case scenario: Francis gets double-teamed on almost every possession, and nobody else steps up to provide support. The Bulldogs continue to struggle defensively, and as such are relegated to the bottom of the league again.
The rational scenario: There’s no way around the fact that the Bulldogs, even with an All-League player in Francis, need to be better defensively. Last year, Bryant was one of the worst teams in Division I because of that, despite an offense that wasn’t atrocious. Until they show they can stop someone, I can’t put them any higher than this.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

2012-13 College Basketball Preview: America East

We continue with our previews of college basketball conferences, and we’ll stay local with this one. Today, I’ll be profiling the America East, which features UAlbany and several other regional teams. The conference doesn’t have a great reputation, but produced a pair of solid teams last year.

1) Stony Brook
Last season: 22-10 (14-2)

The scouting report: The regular-season champs a year ago, the Seawolves came up short to Vermont in the conference tournament before bowing out of the NIT in the first round. Last year’s team won games on the glass, outrebounding opponents by an average of over eight caroms a contest.
The best-case scenario: Tommy Brenton, who plays much bigger than his 6’5” frame, improves on his team-high eight rebounds per game while also emerging as an offensive threat. Junior guard Dave Coley becomes the team’s main offensive force after averaging 10 points per game as a sophomore, and an experienced nucleus of five seniors and three juniors pushes the Seawolves into the NCAA Tournament.
The worst-case scenario: The Seawolves feel the losses of leading scorer Bryan Dougher and complementary rebounders Dallis Joyner and Al Rapier. Brenton still grabs some rebounds, but nobody steps up around him, and what was an overwhelming strength a year ago becomes a secondary part of the gameplan. Coley doesn’t improve, an additional scorer doesn’t emerge, and Stony Brook regresses from last year’s success.
The rational scenario: The Seawolves aren’t quite as stacked as they were a season ago, but should still be one of the teams to beat in the race for a conference title. Brenton and Coley make up a dangerous inside-outside combination, and the experience around them means they should get support from somewhere.

2) Vermont
Last season: 24-12 (13-3)

The scouting report: Vermont upset Stony Brook in last year’s conference championship game, and has long run a very efficient system. However, this year, they must contend with the loss of their top two scorers from a year ago, Four McGlynn and Matt Glass, as well as starter Brendan Bald.
The best-case scenario: Juniors Luke Apfeld, Brian Voelkel, and Sandro Carissimo assume leadership roles, while transfers Candon Rusin (Marist) and Trey Blue (Illinois State) each make immediate impacts. The Catamounts use their balanced offense to perfection, and have too many weapons for most of the conference. They win the conference championship, and once again advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The worst-case scenario: Nobody emerges as a go-to scoring option with McGlynn and Glass gone. The unselfish nature of the team means a winning record, but with nobody who qualifies as a go-to guy during crunch time, the Catamounts are bounced out of the America East tournament fairly early.
The rational scenario: Vermont has holes to fill after last season, but there’s no reason to think that the team will suffer a significant downturn this year. Someone needs to step up as a scorer, but the Catamounts otherwise have a lot of things you look for in a successful team.

3) UAlbany
Last season: 19-15 (9-7)

The scouting report: The Great Danes averaged just over 72 points per game a year ago thanks to the combination of Gerardo Suero and Logan Aronhalt. Both are gone, but UAlbany does return point guard Mike Black, who figures to be one of the top players in the league.
The best-case scenario: Black’s combination of scoring and leadership propels the Great Danes towards the top of the league. Jayson Guerrier and Blake Metcalf go from role players to second and third options in coach Will Brown’s offense, one that keeps the tempo up, wins over 20 games, and contends for the America East title.
The worst-case scenario: Black gets his numbers, but tries to do too much in doing so. Guerrier and Metcalf want no part of the spotlight, and the rest of the team doesn’t step up, either. As a result, Black faces constant double-teams, forces shots, and the Great Danes wind up nowhere close to their potential.
The rational scenario: UAlbany could easily contend for an America East title. Black may be the best point guard in the league, and he provides a lot of advantages against other teams in the league. He can’t do it on his own, though. Guerrier was a good sixth man a year ago, but he and Metcalf’s contributions in bigger roles will go a long way in determining how far the Great Danes go.

4) New Hampshire
Last season: 13-16 (7-9)

The scouting report:
On paper, the Wildcats were a below-average team in 2011-12, only finishing as close to .500 as they did after winning five of their last seven games. Free throws were a big part of their struggles, as UNH shot a mere 60.9% from the charity stripe. The Wildcats return nine players from last year’s team, but lose their leading scorer (Alvin Abreu) and rebounder (Brian Benson).
The best-case scenario: Their top returning player, Chandler Rhoads, becomes a more efficient shooter. Patrick Konan, the Wildcats’ second-best rebounder last year, establishes himself as a double-double threat in the post across from Iona transfer Chris Pelcher, who starts and makes an immediate impact as a 6’10” shot-blocker in a conference that doesn’t have many of them. The Wildcats use the improved efficiency and inside depth to finish better than .500, and make noise in the America East tournament.
The worst-case scenario: Rhoads’s shooting stats (36.5% overall, 29.8% from three) don’t improve, and he remains a volume scorer. Konan doesn’t improve, Pelcher doesn’t pan out, and a complementary player doesn’t emerge. UNH doesn’t improve from a year ago, and eighth-year head coach Bill Herrion, who hasn’t yet guided the Wildcats to a winning season, feels his seat getting much hotter.
The rational scenario: There are holes to fill at UNH, but there’s also talent there. Rhoads needs to play smarter with the ball in his hands, but the Wildcats should be tougher in the post than they were a season ago with improvement from Konan and the addition of Pelcher. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Wildcats over .500 by season’s end.

5) Boston University
Last season: 16-16 (12-4)

The scouting report: Bolstered by Darryl Partin, who averaged nearly 20 points a game in 2011-12, the Terriers looked like a team that was peaking at the right time. That is, until they suffered a stunning loss to Hartford in their lone America East tournament game. Partin is gone, and someone needs to step up for the Terriers to be successful.
The best-case scenario: That someone is junior guard D.J. Irving, who scored over 11 points per game a year ago. Irving emerges as an all-conference player, and Dom Morris, who led the team in rebounding in 2011-12, turns into a reliable offensive weapon. BU comes together at the right time, but this time wins a game or two in the conference tournament.
The worst-case scenario: That someone is nowhere to be found on a team sporting zero seniors. Irving is only a nice scorer and not a game-changer, and an offense that scored just 44 points a game without Partin added in last year is among the worst in the conference in 2012-13.
The rational scenario: Boston will sorely miss Partin’s contributions, and probably won’t finish in the top three in the league again. Leadership here is sorely needed, and this squad is among the youngest teams in the conference. Unless Irving channels Partin and turns into an offensive powerhouse, BU probably needs another year.

6) Maine
Last season: 12-17 (6-10)

The scouting report: Maine finished 2011-12 not with a bang, but with a whimper. The Black Bears lost seven of their final eight games in stumbling to the finish line, and were held to a combined 98 points by Stony Brook and Vermont in their final two games of the year. Five of the team’s top seven scorers return, but needless to say improvement is necessary.
The best-case scenario: Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser, both of whom averaged double-figures in scoring, make for a dangerous 1-2 combo. Fraser, who averaged nearly eight rebounds a game, turns into one of the better post players in the league. Maine’s offense, which shot a solid 44.2% from the field last year, sustains its flow throughout the entire season, and the team finishes slightly above .500.
The worst-case scenario: Fouls once again cripple the Black Bears, who averaged nearly 19 per game a season ago. Even with Fraser and center Mike Allison, Maine struggles to rebound the ball effectively, and Edwards doesn’t improve his 26.2% three-point shooting. The team doesn’t gel enough to challenge the top teams in the league, and it has its second straight disappointing season.
The rational scenario: Edwards and Fraser could both be All-Conference players. However, the depth is the main question here. Last year, the foul trouble this team endured killed them. If Maine plays smart and keeps the offensive efficiency up, they could potentially make some noise. That said, there’s uncertainty here after the way the 2011-12 season ended.

7) Hartford
Last season: 9-22 (7-9)

The scouting report: In the first half of last season, there may not have been a worse team in the land than Hartford, which lost 13 straight to open 2011-12. However, in America East play, the Hawks were shockingly competent, even springing a tournament upset over BU. Hartford loses leading scorer Andres Torres, but returns a sophomore class that got better with experience last year.
The best-case scenario: Six second-year players continue to grow together, forming a solid nucleus. The Hawks get better on the boards, where they only grabbed 29 rebounds per game a season ago, and the loss of Torres isn’t felt as much since the team is working together better. Improvement over last season is visible, and the Hawks win a game in the America East tournament.
The worst-case scenario: Without Torres, nobody steps into the alpha dog role. Hartford tries to emulate Vermont’s balanced style of play, but can’t succeed due to relative inexperience and still gives up a ton of rebounds. The Hawks need another year before they can challenge the better teams in the league.
The rational scenario: Hartford should be much closer to their second-half performance than their first-half one this season. The last 18 games proved there’s talent in Hartford, though it may need another year to fully mature. Still, some improvement should be in the cards.

8) Binghamton
Last season: 2-29 (1-15)

The scouting report: There is a huge, huge drop to the bottom two teams in this league. The biggest news in the offseason came when Tommy Dempsey, the longtime head coach at Rider, took the job in Central New York for a team that was, arguably, the worst Division I program in the country a year ago. The good news is, most of the leading scorers from last year are back. The bad news is, we’re not sure if they’re any good.
The best-case scenario: Dempsey’s arrival brings instant change to the culture at Binghamton. Robert Mansell cuts his turnovers and becomes one of the top guards in the league, and Fordham transfer Rayner Moquete plays his way into the starting rotation as a #2 scorer. The Bearcats begin the long climb back to relevance with a campaign that at least includes eight wins.
The worst-case scenario: Dempsey, who never won the MAAC in his time at Rider, doesn’t live up to the hype. Mansell remains Binghamton’s lone scoring threat, and defenses have no problem doubling him on every play. The Bearcats may begin a change in culture, but there’s no change in the standings, as they finish dead-last.
The rational scenario: It’s a total toss-up between Binghamton and UMBC for last and next-to-last. The difference for me is the presence of Tommy Dempsey, who could be a game-changer for Binghamton. For that reason and that reason only, I put the Bearcats out of the cellar.

Last season: 4-26 (3-13)

The scouting report: We have no idea what to expect here, as head coach Randy Monroe abruptly resigned last week. On top of this, UMBC’s website does not provide stats from last season (the link goes to the 2010-11 stats, not 2011-12). For now, let’s just say this is a program in turmoil, and one that doesn’t appear to be moving upward after a four-win season last year.