2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: America East ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 22nd, 2012
Ryan Peters of Big Apple Buckets is the RTC correspondent for the America East conference. You can follow him on Twitter @pioneer_pride and read his musings online at Big Apple Buckets and Pioneer Pride.
- League On The Rebound – After suffering though one of the worst collective seasons in conference history, several top teams of the America East saw much of their talent defect via graduation and/or transfer. With 60% of the all-conference players from last season now gone, can the top America East programs replenish their talent and improve the overall performance of the conference?
- Can The Seawolves Break Through? Stony Brook, winners of two America East regular season championships in the past three seasons, has come up short in the postseason tournament, falling each time in the conference finals. Now in his eighth season, is this the year Steve Pikiell finally has his Seawolves dancing come March?
- Movers and Shakers – The 2012-13 season marks the last one that Boston University will call the America East home before heading off to the Patriot League. With an America East postseason ban in place, can Joe Jones keep his players motivated and overcome the transfer of big man Jake O’Brien to win the America East regular season championship?
- UMBC In A Bind – Two days before Midnight Madness, eighth-year head coach Randy Monroe unexpectedly resigned at UMBC. Monroe led the Retrievers to their only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007, yet only won 13 games in his final three seasons at the helm. Will interim coach Aki Thomas provide a much needed spark for the hapless Retrievers?
Reader’s Take I
Predicted Order of Finish
- Stony Brook (12-4)
- Vermont (12-4)
- Boston University (11-5)
- Hartford (9-7)
- Albany (8-8)
- Maine (8-8)
- New Hampshire (6-10)
- UMBC (4-12)
- Binghamton (2-14)
All-Conference Predictions (last season’s stats included)
- Mike Black, PG, Albany (13.4 PPG, 4.3 APG, 2.8 A/TO, 51.9 EFG%): The diminutive point guard excelled running the Great Danes’ offense, even with the talented yet possession-consuming guards Gerardo Suero and Logan Aronhalt alongside him. Now, Albany is Black’s team and an uptick in usage rate should yield some impressive offensive numbers in the point guard’s senior season.
- Tommy Brenton, G, Stony Brook (7.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.7 A/TO): The only returnee from last season’s all-conference team, Brenton is the do-it-all player for the Seawolves. After the graduation of Brian Dougher and Dallis Joyner, expect Brenton to have a bigger role in Steve Pikiell’s offense this season as the mild favorite for America East Player of the Year.
- Chase Plummer, F, UMBC (15.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.4 SPG): His shooting percentages aren’t terribly impressive for an all-conference selection until you realize the large number of double and triple-teams Plummer faced most nights. Without a consistent supporting cast around Plummer, the junior still managed to score in double figures in 25 games for UMBC. Expect much of the same this season.
- Brian Voelkel, F, Vermont (8.7 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.7 SPG, 2.6 A/TO): It’s unusual to select someone who averaged 4.6 PPG for an all-conference team, yet Voelkel was exceptional in every other facet of the game – rebounding, defending, and facilitating for teammates. Moving forward, he’s the most important cog on both ends of the floor for the Catamounts.
- Alesdair Fraser, F, Maine (12.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 54.3 EFG%): At 6’8” and 270 pounds, Fraser was quite possibly the best and most immovable post player in the conference. Despite receiving much of the opponent’s defensive focus, Fraser was efficient scoring the ball, displayed a deft passing touch, and was excellent at cleaning the offensive and defensive glass.
Sixth Man: D.J. Irving, PG, Boston University (11.4 PPG, 5.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.3 A/TO): Irving lead the America East in assist rate and had success leading a veteran Terrier squad last season. Looking ahead, the onus is on Irving to selfishly look for his points more often, especially with the departures of Darryl Partin and Jake O’Brien.
Newcomer Of The Year: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook – Warney, a New Jersey native, passed up an opportunity to play at a Big 10 school in Iowa, and instead choose Stony Brook. As a result, the 6’7” dominant post presence at Roselle Catholic High is expected to contribute right away on both ends of the floor.
Stony Brook (NCAA #16 Seed): Since his arrival in 2005, Steve Pikiell has coached Stony Brook to its first-ever America East regular season title and first-ever postseason appearance. The accomplishments speak for themselves considering what Pikiell inherited in the first place, yet the ultimate goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament has still eluded Jim Calhoun’s former assistant. Despite the loss of three starters to graduation, Pikiell has as good a chance as any to finally cut down the nets at the America East Tournament this coming season. Stony Brook returns starters Tommy Brenton, an All-America East first team selection, and starting guard Dave Coley. In addition, Pikiell brought in the most impressive recruiting class in school history, which includes 6’7” power forward Jameel Warney and 6’0” point guard Carson Puriefoy. If these freshmen adapt to the rigors of Division I quickly, then Stony Brook will be the odds-on favorite to win the league title. Should they advance, a 16-seed and play-in game would be likely, given the depressed state of the conference.
- Vermont (NIT): John Becker saw a surprising number of kids leave his roster prematurely, but none were more surprising than America East Rookie of the Year Four McGlynn, as he transferred to Towson in order to be closer to home. Without his top two scorers from last season in McGlynn and Matt Glass, Becker must rely on the returning starters Brian Voelkel, Sandro Carissimo, and Luke Apfeld to shoulder the load offensively. In addition, the second-year head coach must piece together his team’s depth. It’s a challenge with so many defections, but with a majority of the teams in the conference still behind talent-wise, Becker has a chance to piece it together and earn his second trip to the NCAA Tournament in as many years. The Catamounts’ success will largely depend on how transfers Trey Blue (Illinois State) and Candon Rusin (Marist) gel with the returning players.
- Hartford: It may be a tad bullish to expect Hartford to hoist the league championship trophy next March, yet no team wanted to play John Gallagher‘s youthful bunch near the end of last season. The stark reality was the Hawks were one play away from competing in the America East Tournament finals, so an offseason of development and a respectable recruiting class could push the Hawks into the elite tier of the conference. The maturation of the sophomore trio of Mark Nwakamma, Nate Sikma, and Yolonso Moore will be critical in determining whether a Hawks team with 10 underclassmen on scholarship can compete with the elite tier of the America East. Also critical: the Hawks will need to improve their rebounding (-7 rebounding margin last season) and shot selection (31.6% three-point percentage on a ridiculous 736 attempts). John Peterson, a 6’7″ fifth-year senior transfer from Sanford, should help the Hawks out in both categories.
- Boston University: With the Terriers joining the Patriot League at the conclusion of this season, the athletic directors of the league voted to make Boston University ineligible for the America East Tournament. It’s an unfortunate turn of events for second year head coach Joe Jones, given that the Terriers would have been considered the favorites to return to the NCAA Tournament. Now with Jake O’Brien defecting to Temple, Jones will rely on juniors D.J. Irving and Dom Morris to help lead a Boston University squad to a regular season championship.
Reader’s Take II
Spotlight on… Breakout Players and Coaches
- Mark Nwakamma, Hartford: When asked to pinpoint his go-to-player on a team dominated by underclassmen, Hartford head coach John Gallagher didn’t hesitate in nominating his athletic forward, Mark Nwakamma. The sophomore leads a young yet quickly maturing Hartford squad, who is perhaps a year away from truly competing for an America East championship. The versatile Nwakamma has terrific upside and could spend his final three seasons on the All-AE conference teams if he continues to improve his rebounding and consistency. His development, along with sophomores Nake Sikma, Wes Cole, Yolonso Moore, and Jamie Schneck could help guide the Hawks back to mid-major respectability in the years to come.
- Tommy Dempsey, Binghamton: The eight-year head coach at Rider University admittedly left a good situation this offseason to take over a barren Binghamton program that’s three years removed from an admissions scandal. Since the scandal, Binghamton has been one of the worst programs in the nation, with only 10 combined victories its past two seasons. Three freshmen, including the Bearcats’ second-leading scorer in Ben Dickinson were released from their scholarship, so Dempsey will have an opportunity to reshape the roster as he pleases. It will be brutal early on, but given his moderate success at Rider, it’s certainly possible that Dempsey can bring the Bearcats back to the NCAA Tournament a few years down the road.
- Justin Edwards, Maine: The 6’3” high-flying, above-the-rim guard from Maine had a terrific freshman season, leading all America East rookies in points, assists, and steals per game. Despite this, Vermont’s Four McGlynn edged out Edwards for America East Rookie of the Year, thanks in large part to Edwards’ disappearing act during the second half of the conference season. In Maine’s final eight games, the guard shot 29.7% from the field with 32 turnovers. Not coincidentally, Maine lost seven of those final eight games. How Edwards rebounds from the brutal stretch last season will certainly be interesting to watch and will be critical in helping the Black Bears join the upper echelon of the America East.
Ken Pomeroy ranked the America East conference 29th overall last season, its worst conference rating in the history of the league’s existence. This season marks a crossroads for a once proud league, which will shrink to eight teams when Boston University leaves for the Patriot League. For now, in a league dominated by only a few schools – Vermont and Boston University have earned the America East’s automatic NCAA bid in seven of the past 11 seasons – the conference desperately needs to improve from the bottom up. Programs like Hartford, Maine, and Albany are looking to make that next step, while struggling schools such as UMBC and Binghamton look forward to a fresh start with a new regime. The America East Conference is officially in rebuilding mode, but several programs – namely Stony Brook, Vermont, Hartford – are moving in the right direction. How the conference rebuilds in this pivotal year will be a must watch for the mid-major basketball enthusiast.