RTC Conference Primers: #29 – America East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 5th, 2011

John Templon of Big Apple Buckets is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can find him on Twitter at @nybuckets.

Reader’s Take I

Top Storylines

  • Getting Healthy: A number of America East teams are counting on the healthy return of star players to help boost their fortunes this season. New Hampshire has two players returning from injuries that cost them time last season, Alvin Abreu and Ferg Myrick. Abreu was a second-team all-league choice in 2009-10 before missing all but two games of last season with a knee injury. Myrick averaged 12.1 PPG and 4.1 RPG last season, but missed 16 games due to his own knee injury. Another second-team player from 2009-10, Tommy Brenton, returns for Stony Brook as well. Even after missing last season, Brenton is the current conference leader in career rebounds. One player who missed most of last season, Boston University’s Jake O’Brien, unfortunately re-injured his ankle and will miss the entire 2011-12 campaign as well.
  • Departed Head Men: Two of the top teams in the America East lost their head coaches during the offseason carousel. Pat Chambers made the NCAA Tournament at Boston University and then left for Penn State and Mike Lonergan went from Vermont to the head job at George Washington. Former Columbia head coach Joe Jones is replacing Chambers, while the Catamounts decided to promote John Becker. Becker was Lonergan’s assistant for the past five seasons.
  • Learning The Hard Way: Boston University is one of the league favorites and the Terriers will find out quickly if they’re for real. The non-conference schedule is a very difficult one that includes road games at Texas, Boston College and Villanova. Another way to learn about the conference early in the season is to watch Boston College. The Eagles also play against New Hampshire, a team which could surprise people, and Stony Brook during non-conference play.
  • The Great Race and Parity: This season’s conference race looks like it’s going to be a three-horse race with Boston University, Vermont and Stony Brook ahead of the pack. That might be good news for the Seawolves as five different teams have won the conference title in the past five seasons. Since the Catamounts won in 2010 and the Terriers in 2011, maybe 2011-12 is the season where Stony Brook breaks through for its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

Terrier Fans Should Expect To See Plenty of Darryl Partin This Season. (AP Photo)

Predicted Order of Finish

1.  Boston University (13-3)
2.  Stony Brook (13-3)
3.  Vermont (10-6)
4.  New Hampshire (9-7)
5.  Maine (8-8)
6.  Albany (8-8)
7.  UMBC (6-10)
8.  Binghamton (3-13)
9.  Hartford (2-14)

All-Conference First Team (stats from 2010-11 in parentheses)

  • G:  Darryl Partin, Sr., Boston University (14.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG) – Partin is the only returning First Team performer returning this season in America East. He’ll be the go-to guy for the Terriers this season as they attempt to defend their conference title.
  • G: Chris De La Rosa, Sr., UMBC (15.5 PPG, 6.0 APG) – De La Rosa is the engine that makes UMBC run. He’s an exciting playmaker who can also put the ball in the basket himself. He’s the league’s leading returning scorer.
  • G: D.J. Irving, Soph., Boston University (8.0 PPG, 3.6 APG) – Irving’s minutes and production picked up when he entered conference play last season. He got better as the season went along and now provides a dangerous teammate in the backcourt with Partin.
  • F:  Brian Voelkel, Soph., Vermont (7.0 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 4.5 APG) – A tenacious rebounder, Voelkel was the conference’s Rookie of the Year last season. With Evan Fjeld departed, he’ll have even more of a focal point on the offensive end.
  • F:  Tommy Brenton, Jr., Stony Brook (7.6 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 2.7 APG in 2009-10) – Another great rebounder, Brenton missed all of last season due to injury. After playing well during the Seawolves’ offseason European tour, he looks healthy and ready to contribute to a title contending team this season.

Sixth Man: Logan Aronhalt, G, Jr., Albany (14.6 PPG, 1.3 APG) – Aronhalt and teammate Mike Black will drive the Albany bus this season. Aronhalt was the ninth leading scorer in conference games last season.

Impact Newcomer: Zarko Valjarevic, G/F, Maine – A wing with a deadly outside shot,, Valjarevic is going to force fans of America East to learn how to spell his tricky Serbian surname. He has the ability to shoot from the outside, plus a knack for taking opponents off the dribble. At 6’4” he’ll probably end up spending most of his time at shooting guard, but he’ll cause matchup problems at either position on the court.

Predicted Champion  

Stony Brook (NCAA Seed:  #15): It’s possible that this is finally the year for the Seawolves. The return of Tommy Brenton and the addition of junior college transfer Ron Bracey should help give the team the scoring punch that it lacked a season ago when Stony Brook finished a disappointing 15-17 (8-8). This selection though is as much about what the other two contenders, Boston University and Vermont, lost – namely their head coaches and one All-Conference First Team player, than what Steve Pikiell’s squad gained. Still, after advancing to the finals of the conference tournament last season the Seawolves have the experience and talent to reach the Big Dance.

Top Contenders

  • Boston University (NIT): The Terriers suffered the biggest personnel loss of any America East team when John Holland graduated. A unanimous selection for the Kevin Roberson Player of the Year Award last season, Holland was a dominant force. While BU has lots of firepower in the backcourt with Darryl Partin and D.J. Irving, the frontcourt is a little thin after Jake O’Brien’s ankle injury. Either Patrick Hazel or Dom Morris is going to have to develop into a useful scorer for the Terriers to come out on top.
  • Vermont (CBI/CIT): Having lost only one starter, leading scorer Evan Fjeld, the Catamounts should be near the top of the league again. The big questions are the continuity of the system with the change in coaching staff, and how big a step forward some of the younger players on the roster will take. Luke Apfeld’s development is going to be a key for this team, as is finding a replacement for departed spark plug Joey Accouai.

Stony Brook Head Coach Steve Pikiell Anticipates Improvement On Last Season's 15-17 Finish. (Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Reader’s Take II

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

The America East isn’t a conference that typically produces NBA-level prospects. That’s why John Holland playing in the Portsmouth Invitational this offseason was such a big deal, but he’s now in France. The conference lost its two most logical candidates to jump to a higher job when Mike Lonergan and Pat Chambers departed this offseason. None of the remaining nine coaches in the league have the track record of those two coaches. If Steve Pikiell is able to build Stony Brook into a winner maybe a new job will come his way, or new Vermont coach John Becker might get a shot at a bigger job someday, but for now the America East appears to be a very stable place.

Spotlight on… Bill Herrion, New Hampshire Head Coach.

For eight seasons at Drexel in the 1990s Bill Herrion’s Dragons dominated the America East Conference. He compiled a 167-71 record with three NCAA Tournament appearances (including one NCAA win), an NIT berth, and six 20-win seasons. Eventually, like most shining stars do, Herrion departed for a bigger opportunity, taking over at East Carolina, and just a few years later, the Dragons departed for the Colonial Athletic Conference. Unlike Drexel, Herrion returned. For after failing to crack .500 in any of his seven seasons with the Pirates, Herrion was right back in America East in 2005-06 with New Hampshire.

Unfortunately, Herrion still hasn’t been able to find the magic his second time around. He’s 70-108 at UNH and hasn’t had a winning conference campaign. The biggest problem has been an incredible lack of offense. Sure, Herrion’s teams play slowly — the Wildcats’ 62.9 possession adjusted tempo ranked 318th in the country last season – but they just don’t score either. Since 2005, Herrion coached teams have finished in the bottom third of the country in adjusted offensive efficiency every single season.

Herrion’s teams always compete hard, and it shows up on the defensive end. After falling 69-60 to Boston University in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament last season, Herrion expressed his regret. “This has been a really, really tedious building process at UNH with this basketball program. We really kind of geared everything in the process towards this year, because we finally had experience.” Injuries derailed that plan last season, but maybe now, with the return of Alvin Abreu and Ferg Myrick to go along with three returning starters, this will be the year all that hard work pays off.

NCAA Tournament History

Last year BU played top-seed Kansas very tough in its first game before eventually succumbing to a 25-12 late second half run by the bigger and more talented Jayhawks to fall, 72-53.  Several years back Albany held a double-figure lead in the second half versus Connecticut before falling, and everyone remembers what Tom Brennan’s Vermont team did in 2005 against Syracuse.  The point is that the America East has developed a reputation as a tough out in the NCAA Tournament, and even though the numbers do not necessarily bear that out historically (6-32, .158), every opposing coach that sees an America East team in its opening match-up knows he’s going to have a difficult game.

Final Thoughts

Sure, the America East Conference hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since Vermont’s shocking upset of Syracuse six years ago. As T.J. Sorrentine and Germain Mopa Njila become faded highlights on CBS’ history reel, the conference drops further away from the national consciousness. That doesn’t mean though that the league should be forgotten. It’s going to be an exciting race to the finish this season with three bona fide contenders and a dark horse sure to arise. It’s basketball played the right way in some of the most charming places in America and a place where that one-bid league is something to be celebrated. Because in the end, it’s all about that shot in March.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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