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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.

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.


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