Conference Tourney Primers: America East

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2015

It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.

America East Tournament

Dates: March 4, 8, 14

Site: Campus sites (higher-seeded teams host)

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What to expect: Albany looks to go dancing for a third straight year after pulling off conference tournament upsets in back-to-back seasons. The only difference this time around is that the Great Danes enter as the top seed, while Vermont and Stony Brook – favorites of seasons past – attempt to play spoiler. The Catamounts are the America East’s best defensive unit and the Seawolves boast its most dominant player, 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney. Both teams are good enough to threaten for the title. Still, Albany went 8-1 against league opponents in SEFCU Arena this season and won’t have to leave its friendly confines during this event. The regular season champs are in a good spot.

Favorite: Albany. After hosting the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds in both 2013 and 2014 – and taking full advantage – the Great Danes find themselves in similar position this year despite the conference’s format change. The road to Selection Sunday likely travels through Albany, one way or another. That leg-up, along with their veteran head coach and Australian inside-out duo (big man Sam Rowley and guard Peter Hooley) that combines for 28.0 PPG, is enough to make them favorites.

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Imbalanced America East Makes for Crucial Battles at the Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 13th, 2015

Vermont and Stony Brook have finished first and second in the America East for three straight seasons and neither has beaten the other at home (in the regular season) since 2011, so it goes without saying that the Catamounts’ 71-57 victory in Burlington on Saturday was fairly important. For John Becker’s club, it was a key win against this year’s preseason favorite and validation of the program’s resiliency after graduating the bulk of last year’s starting five. For the Seawolves, the loss was a missed opportunity and fifth-straight defeat in Patrick Gymnasium, but the outcome might end up carrying even more importance than it would have in previous years. Not only do the conference’s top four seeds host preliminary games in its postseason tournament for the first time since the mid-1990s, but there are few leagues in the country with a more substantial dropoff in quality between its top and bottom than the America East. With Vermont, Stony Brook and a few others jockeying for position — and the rest of the league offering minimal competition on a nightly basis — regular season battles among its handful of contenders are more important than ever.

Vermont bested Stony Brook on Saturday in a crucial America East tilt. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/For the Free Press)

Vermont bested Stony Brook on Saturday in a crucial America East tilt. (Photo: BRIAN JENKINS/For the Free Press)

First, the top. Three America East teams – Stony Brook, Vermont and Albany – currently rank in the KenPom top-200, with the Seawolves standing above the rest at 113th. Boasting the league’s best player in Jameel Warney (16.6 PPG, 12.2 RPG), and wins over Washington, Western Kentucky and Columbia (x2), Steve Pikiell’s crew certainly looks like the class of the conference. Still, Vermont reaffirmed its contender status over the weekend, and Albany – the league’s NCAA Tournament representative in each of the last two seasons – has enough talent and experience to challenge anyone, especially at home. At the bottom, on the other hand, it’s a far different story. UMass-Lowell, Binghamton, UMBC and Maine, the league’s four worst teams, are each currently ranked 290th or below, and although Pat Duquette’s River Hawks have had their moments this season, the latter three squads are especially bad, coming in at 337th, 342nd and 343rd, respectively – ranking among the 15 worst teams in college basketball. To date, they’ve combined for just five total wins on the year, and as a result, the chasm between the top three teams and the bottom four teams is so large that Stony Brook, Vermont and Albany are each favored – in many cases heavily – to win the vast majority of their league contests (outside of each other) for the remainder of the season. And while that does not mean there won’t be the occasional slip-up, the fact that the Seawolves (43%) and Catamounts (38%) each have a very real chance of going undefeated against the bottom four from here on out speaks volumes about the significant imbalance.

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O26 Midseason Awards: Jeff Jones, Kyle Collinsworth, 10 All-Americans…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 8th, 2015

With conference play having begun in most leagues across the country, it‘s time now to pass out some midseason superlatives to deserving players and coaches across the O26 world. A few of these guys will probably do enough to earn national honors by season’s end, but all of them are worth keeping an eye on over the next couple months.

O26 Midseason Coach of the Year

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones has done a masterful job at Old Dominion. (Courtesy: Rick Voight)

Jeff Jones – Old Dominion. The Old Dominion basketball program took a sharp turn in 2013 when – after more than a decade of sustained success – the school fired its longtime coach, Blaine Taylor, during a 5-25 campaign in which the coach’s behavior had become increasingly erratic. In came Jones after spending 13 seasons at American, and immediately things turned around as the Monarchs went 18-18 last season and reached the CBI semifinals. But perhaps even the most optimistic Old Dominion fan couldn’t have envisioned how quickly the team would go from the dregs of the CAA to the cream of Conference USA; at 12-1 with wins over LSU, VCU, Georgia State and Richmond, the Monarchs have cracked the Top 25 and should be in the at-large discussion by season’s end. How has Jones orchestrated such a sharp turnaround? Campbell transfer Trey Freeman has helped. The 6’2’’ point guard paces the team with 16.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, with Jones calling him “one of the hardest workers I’ve ever coached” after the team’s victory over LSU in November. The success has been the result of more than just Freeman, though, as the Monarchs have thoroughly bought into Jones’ system, predicated on patient offense and tough man-to-man defense – the latter of which has held opponents to 0.91 points per possession so far, the best mark in C-USA. Likewise, Jones deserves credit for his ability to seamlessly integrate both Freeman and George Mason transfer Jonathan Arledge into a deep cohort of returnees. The head man said in an interview recently (regarding his first year at the program), “We just needed to make people understand it would take some hard work [and] it would take some time, but we were going to just try to be as patient as we could moving forward.” “Time” and “patience,” sure, but it’s taken not even two full seasons for Jones to completely revamp and re-energize things in Norfolk; and for that, he earns our Midseason Coach of the Year honors.

Honorable Mentions: Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa; Bob McKillop – Davidson; Porter Moser – Loyola (IL); Keno Davis – Central Michigan; Mark Few – Gonzaga; Eddie Payne – USC Upstate

O26 Midseason Player of the Year

BYU's versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

BYU’s versatile point guard is our O26 Mid-Season POY. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Kyle Collinsworth – BYU. It feels a little weird deeming Collinsworth O26 Midseason Player of the Year when his teammate, Tyler Haws, is college basketball’s third-leading scorer. But remember how BYU looked last March without Collinsworth after he went down with a torn ACL? The Cougars were crushed by Oregon in what should have been a competitive #7/#10 NCAA Tournament match-up. The point guard’s versatility, defense and toughness – not to mention eye-popping numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment – make Collinsworth the glue that holds BYU together and the player worthy of our midseason honor. “He is a really effective player in so many different areas of the game,” head coach Dave Rose said recently. At 6’6’’, there are few players (perhaps no player) who do what Collinsworth does: Not only is he the facilitator for the nation’s ninth-most efficient offense, but he also serves as BYU’s best rebounder and defender, leading the team in assists, rebounds and steals. At this point, the junior’s impressive across-the-board averages (13.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 2.2 SPG) are overshadowed only by his record-setting triple-double pace. With three already under his belt, Collinsworth needs just one to tie and two more to break the single-season NCAA mark. That all-around ability has allowed Rose to utilize a four-guard lineup in recent weeks, a move that’s enabled BYU to hit its stride just as WCC play heats up – evidenced by the team’s 99-68 drubbing of San Francisco on Saturday. “Kyle’s a big reason because he can rebound as well as any guard in the country. To have him on the floor, you have a guard that’s a great rebounder,” Rose noted. With Collinsworth healthy and playing at an incredibly high level, the Cougars should return to the Big Dance this March.

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O26 Weekly Awards: GW, Christian Wood, Benjy Taylor & Pac-12 Upsets

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 30th, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

George Washington. While many folks were drinking eggnog and caroling and having holiday fun, George Washington was in Hawaii stringing together three impressive, defensive-minded victories in a row to win the Diamond Head Classic. In doing so, not only did the Colonials establish themselves as the Atlantic 10’s second-best unit, they also picked up a resume-defining non-conference victory that should work wonders come Selection Sunday.

George Washington beat Wichita State and won the Diamond Head Classic. (Eugene Tanner / Associated Press)

George Washington beat Wichita State and won the Diamond Head Classic. (Eugene Tanner / Associated Press)

Mike Lonergan’s club entered last Monday with essentially zero quality wins of note, having dropped all three opportunities against KenPom top-100 units – including a 13-point handling at Penn State the previous week – and running out of chances. Luckily, the trip to Hawaii offered a few finals shots before A-10 play, and the effects from that contest in Happy Valley (especially defensively) were apparently left on the mainland: GW opened the tournament by holding Ohio to 15 points in the second half and steamrolling the Bobcats, 77-49. Big man Kevin Larsen finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds and the Colonials allowed their MAC opponent a mere 0.77 points per possession – a dominant defensive effort that continued into their next two games. Against Colorado the next night, Lonergan’s group limited the Buffaloes to just 50 points on 36.5 percent shooting, their second-worst offensive output of the season. Then, on Christmas night, GW notched its biggest win (and probably the A-10’s biggest win) of the young season by storming back from eight down against Wichita State, grabbing the lead with under five minutes to play and holding off the Shockers for a 60-54 triumph. Lonergan’s decision to switch to a 1-3-1 zone in the second half enabled GW to limit Wichita State to its fewest points per possession since February 2, 2013, and helped spark the game-clinching, 20-6 run late in the contest. In fact, over the course of three games, the Colonials allowed just four (total!) double-figure scorers and never surrendered more than 0.90 points per trip – a stretch of defensive excellence that puts them firmly in the NCAA Tournament at-large discussion, likely from now until March.

Honorable Mentions: Loyola-Chicago (2-0: N-Texas Tech, N-Boise State); Stony Brook (2-0: vs. American, at Washington); UNLV (2-0: vs. Arizona, vs. Southern Utah); Iona (2-0: vs. Florida Gulf Coast, at Drexel)

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Conference Tournament Primer: America East

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014

Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week-plus of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the America East and the Summit get started.

Dates: March 8, 9, 15
Site: Quarterfinals and Semifinals: SEFCU Arena (Albany, NY); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)

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What to expect: After suffering its only conference defeat in late January, Vermont thoroughly dominated the America East over the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Throughout the month of February, the team steamrolled opponents, winning ten straight games by an average of 21.3 points per contest and capturing the league’s top seed in the process. Their KenPom ranking has skyrocketed from 169 to 62 since the New Year, a byproduct of the numerous beatdowns in that span. Stony Brook has talent – 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney is a load underneath – and should present the most substantial threat in this tournament. There could be some level of drama if they meet up in the title game, but either way, expect the senior-laden Catamounts to go dancing for the third time in five years.

Favorites: Vermont. The Catamounts nearly upset Duke back in November, yet they might be a better team now than they were then. Five of their six top-scorers are seniors, and each of them probably remembers the sting of last year’s home loss to Albany in the conference championship game. Focus will not be an issue for Vermont.

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In America East Race, Vermont vs. Stony Brook Looms Large

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 24th, 2014

Stony Brook entered 2013-14 with a combined 49-15 record in conference play over the previous four seasons, a stretch which included three regular season titles and a few trips to the NIT — a categorical success by most measures. But for Steve Pikiell and the Seawolves, there’s one ever-important goal that has continuously eluded them despite all that winning, often in heartbreaking fashion: a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Odd things tend to happen in a league that rewards the highest remaining seed in its conference championship game home court advantage. And that is why Stony Brook’s tilt against fellow-undefeated Vermont tonight looms large in the team’s quest to go Dancing — the top seed matters in the America East.

Jameel Warney and the Seawolves look to take control of the America East tonight. (Ryan Restivo/Big Apple Buckets)

Jameel Warney and the Seawolves look to take control of the America East tonight. (Ryan Restivo/Big Apple Buckets)

Based on tangibles alone, the Seawolves are probably the most talented team in the conference, featuring a stable of excellent guards and one supremely skilled, load of a big man in sophomore Jameel Warney. The 6’8’’, 280-pound center is almost unguardable when he gets the ball on the low block, either using his size to back down defenders or finding buckets by utilizing his wide range of post moves, the soft-touch baby hook being among his favorites. With any one of team’s backcourt studs able to attack the basket — Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson the senior leaders, Carson Puriefoy the breakout sophomore — or run the pick-and-roll with Warney (who also possesses great hands, mind you), Stony Brook has a clear personnel advantage over just about every other league opponent. Indeed, Pikiell’s group would probably be the standalone favorite this season if it weren’t for one area where it might have a meaningful disadvantage, especially against Vermont: experience.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: America East Conference

Posted 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.

Top Storylines

  • 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?

Is This The Year Stony Brook Breaks Through And Goes Dancing? (AP)

  • 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

  1. Stony Brook (12-4)
  2. Vermont (12-4)
  3. Boston University (11-5)
  4. Hartford (9-7)
  5. Albany (8-8)
  6. Maine (8-8)
  7. New Hampshire (6-10)
  8. UMBC (4-12)
  9. Binghamton (2-14)

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