Corey Johns is the RTC correspondent for the America East conference.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Boston U (13-3)
- Vermont (12-4)
- UMBC (12-4)
- Hartford (9-7)
- Binghamton (8-8)
- Albany (8-8)
- New Hampshire (5-11)
- Maine (2-14)
- Stony Brook (2-14)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). Last year nobody could predict what happened in this conference. One of the pre-season favorites, Vermont, had a new star in Marquis Blakely but still couldn’t crack the top two in the league, while the other preseason favorite, Boston U., didn’t even finish in the top half of the league. UMBC and Hartford shocked everybody by being the two top teams. Both built their team in different ways: UMBC through transfers, Hartford through the tremendous improvement of returning players (along with a freshman and one transfer). But this year don’t expect Vermont and Boston U. to disappoint – they should be ready to regain their spots on top of the conference.
Predicted Champion. Boston U. (NCAA #15 Seed) This is truly a toss up between Boston U. and Vermont. Both teams are similar – Vermont has one of the top forward/guard tandems in the conference in Marquis Blakely and Mike Trimboli, and BU has John Holland and Corey Lowe. Last year BU’s Holland won the freshman of the year award and was a major reason for their turnaround at the end. After a horrid 5-14 start to the season, the Terriers put it together and finished 9-3 to advance to the semifinals of the conference tournament. BU returns every significant player from last year’s team, including second team all conference point guard Corey Lowe (Am East #2 scorer – 18.8 ppg). But what truly sets Boston U. above Vermont is that head coach Dennis Wolff runs a very good defense on his team. They gave up the least amount of points per game in the conference last year (64.8 ppg) and if the offense picks up they should win the title.
Others Considered. Vermont has a lot of talent on their team and can certainly put together a run for another conference championship (three titles from 2003-05). Marquis Blakely and Mike Trimboli are a great one-two punch but the Catamounts added another factor with Maurice Joseph, a transfer from Michigan State who averaged 6.2 ppg there as a freshman. The only thing that might hurt them is they lose two starters including Kyle Cieplicki, the lone member on the team last year who was on the 2005 team that upset #4 seed Syracuse in the NCAA tournament.
The Rest of the Conference. UMBC took major losses by graduating three all-conference players from last season, but they return and add plenty to remain competitive. Jay Greene and Darryl Proctor were both first team all-conference players last year and possibly the best at their positions. Greene was second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio and was fourth in the nation with 7.2 assist per game. One thing about Greene is he can be one of the best scorers in the conference if he chooses to shot the ball. He only averaged 8.8 ppg but when he needed to score had games of 26, 21, and 17. Hartford is another team that still has enough to make an impact with four starters back, led by Joe Zeglinski and Jaret Von Rosenberg. The big issue that could keep the Hawks out of the conference championship game is their lack of rebounding. Last season they were last in the conference in that category and lost their best rebounder and major inside presence. If they can develop another big body to take control of the paint then they may still have hope. Binghamton and Albany will be relying on the development of transfers, combining for eight between the two teams. Transfers did wonders for UMBC last season but it is always a gamble in terms of team chemistry. Both teams lost three of their top players but if the transfers can have an impact right away then both teams can be dangerous. New Hampshire has been one of the bottom dwellers for a while but can move up if Dane DiLiegro steps up at center and inproves the team’s rebounding. With a lack of quality big men they might end up starting four guards including Tyrece Gibbs, who is one of the premier scorers in the conference, and Alvin Abreu, who was the top freshman guard a year ago. As for Maine and Stony Brook they will likely finish in the bottom two spots again.
Games to Watch. As a one-bid league, only one game will matter to most people.
- America East Championship Game (03.14.09) ESPN2.
RPI Boosters. The America East in one of the conferences where if you don’t win it, you don’t get in the NCAA Tournament. Two years ago Vermont went 15-1 in conference play but lost in the conference finals and took a nice consolation trip to the NIT. With the win-or-go-home aspect of the conference the teams also know they have to do everything they can in OOC games to get higher than a #15 or #16 seed, which is tough to do. UMBC won 24 games last year, beating American and almost beating Ohio State but still ended up with a 15th seed. This year four of the top Am East schools all scheduled games against big-time opponents where an upset wouldn’t be out of the question and they all could have a major bearing on where the winner of the conference is seeded.
- Albany @ DePaul (11.17.08)
- Hartford @ Penn State (11.20.08)
- Vermont @ Maryland (11.21.08)
- Boston U. @ Notre Dame (12.13.08)
- UMBC @ Nebraska (12.13.08)
- Hartford @ Baylor (12.22.08)
- Boston U. @ Cornell (12.29.08)
Impact Transfers. The America East might soon get the nickname “The Conference of Transfers.” Between the nine teams in the conference there are 17 eligible transfers either cleared from sitting their transfer year or coming from junior college. Last year transfers did wonders for UMBC and other teams hope for the same this year. This year the transfer list is headlined by Vermont’s Maurice Joseph, a transfer from Michigan State who averaged 5.9 ppg in 16.8 minutes per game as a sophomore (get a look at Joseph in HS below). Other key guys include Binghamton’s quartet of transfers, Tiki Mayben, Malik Alvin, Sean Watson, and Theo Davis (eligible in the second semester), Albany’s Louis Barraza (20.1ppg at the JuCo level), and UMBC’s 6’7” Ricky Flemming, a transfer from Fairfield.
Neat-o-Stat. Since 1980 when the conference started, the champion has repeated 44% of the time while the regular season champion has won the conference championship 75% of the time. The lowest seed to ever win the conference tournament was a #3 seed which happened once in 1993 when Delaware beat the #1 seed Drexel (67-64).
65-Team Era. The America East is 3-23 (.115) since the field moved up to 65, with three first-round victories from 1989 (#14 Siena over #3 Stanford), 1996 (#12 Drexel over #5 Memphis), and 2005 (#13 Vermont over #4 Syracuse). But the America East is surprisingly the only mid-major conference in the northeast that has never been apart of the play-in game.
Final Thought. Usually two or three teams have a chokehold on the top of the conference, but this year the conference remains top heavy but it is still anybody’s league. Vermont and Boston U. are projected to be the top teams this year but Hartford, UMBC, Albany, and Binghamton all can make some noise and should make the year very interesting.