With one month left in the regular season, it’s no longer too early to consider which of the remaining conference unbeatens have a legitimate chance to enter March without a loss. So let’s dig in. (Chances of going unbeaten based on KenPom win probabilities).
Mark Few Appears to Have It All Figured Out (USA Today Images)
Gonzaga (25-0, 13-0 West Coast). America’s only remaining undefeated team, Gonzaga tops almost every relevant poll and metric thanks to nearly three full months of flawless basketball. Of the Bulldogs’ 25 wins, 22 have come by double-figures, including an astonishing 26.6-point margin of victory in conference play alone (with seven wins by 30-plus). Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (15.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 4.7 APG) has been worthy of All-America consideration; freshman forward Zach Collins (10.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG) has been one of the most efficient players in the country; center Przemek Karnowski (12.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who was sidelined nearly all last season with a back injury, hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been an all-around remarkable season, especially for a unit whose top five scorers weren’t on the active roster in 2015-16. Up until last month, Gonzaga was projected to lose at Saint Mary’s—college basketball’s 16th-best team according to KenPom—this Saturday night. Now, the Bulldogs are favored to win by two. If they can escape Moraga unblemished, Mark Few’s team would almost certainly enter the postseason without a loss.
Posted by Ray Curren (@currenrr) on February 8th, 2017
Five years ago, John Becker led Vermont to the NCAA Tournament in his first season as a Division I coach, upsetting Stony Brook in the America East championship game to complete a remarkable personal run that included coaching tennis at Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf and hearing impaired. Although he had never played tennis beyond a casual level, he enjoyed more success in that sport than he did as the Division III school’s basketball coach, where he went 6-44 from 1997-99. After losing that job, Becker stayed in the Washington, D.C., area to get a master’s in information systems at George Washington, and five years later, he left a comfortable job in the Beltway to become the new Director of Basketball Operations for Mike Lonergan at Vermont. When Lonergan left for George Washington in 2011, Becker became his successor, and 10 months later he was in the NCAA Tournament beating Lamar in the First Four before losing to North Carolina. But that was 2012, and the “lucky to be here” phase of his career arc in Burlington is now long gone. Although Vermont has won at least 20 games in all six of his seasons on the sideline, the Catamounts have not returned to the NCAA Tournament since that initial run. And for one of the best mid-major fan bases in college basketball — a group that fills the wooden bleachers of Patrick Gym in snow, sleet and whatever the Flavor of the Month is at Ben and Jerry’s — that’s a decent-sized drought.
With John Becker at the helm, Vermont hasn’t missed a beat. (AP)
Luckily, the wait may soon be over. Vermont (21-5, 11-0 America East), a team that has won 13 straight games dating back to a pre-Christmas loss to Butler, is clearly the best team in the America East. While Stony Brook’s breakthrough last season was a feel-good story, you might also remember that the Catamounts blew a 15-point second-half lead in last year’s America East Tournament final. Most everyone returned from last year’s CBI semifinalist squad, and Becker also brought in Tulane transfer Peyton Henson and freshman Anthony Lamb, a classic mid-major steal who just finds a way to produce at both ends of the floor. Picked by America East coaches to win the conference crown this season, Vermont was going to be good. And for better or worse, they knew it. “It’s fairly obvious if you’re around us and have been around us since the beginning of last season, this group has been motivated and focused on getting back to the NCAA Tournament,” Becker said. “We don’t sit around and talk about it, but the way they carry themselves and the way they go about their business certainly indicates that they’re motivated to end this year the right way, with a championship.” Read the rest of this entry »
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)
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.
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)
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.
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 BostonUniversity 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 JakeO’Brien to win the America East regular season championship?
UMBC In A Bind – Two days before Midnight Madness, eighth-year head coach RandyMonroe 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?
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets.
Conference Tournament Preview
The top four seeds in the America East have been dominating conference play all season. That’s why they’re expected to meet up in the semifinals. The team that could potentially crash the party is six-seed Hartford, which is playing close to home. If the Hawks get hot from three, there’s always a chance to pull an upset, because they love to shoot the long ball. Also, seven-seed Maine has a ton of talent, but crashed at the end of America East play, losing six of its final seven games. The highest seeded team that survives Hartford is going to get the opportunity every team wants, to host 40 minutes of basketball that will ultimately lead to a berth into the NCAA Tournament. It should make for an exciting, gritty long weekend and championship game.
A Look Back
At the beginning of the season the expectations were that Boston University, StonyBrook, Vermont and Albany would be at the top of the standings. At the end of the season, that’s exactly what we’ve got, except they’re in a slightly different order. An injury to D.J. Irving seemed to throw BU off its rhythm a little bit, but the Terriers still finished 12-4 in conference, including a win over Stony Brook and a sweep of Albany.
Vermont benefited from the continuity of having John Becker take over for Mike Lonergan, but an upset loss to Binghamton, the biggest surprise of the conference season, leaves them slightly behind the eight-ball heading into the conference tournament. But it did save the Bearcats from the indignity of needing to win the play-in game on Thursday to avoid a winless season.
The rest of the bottom of the standings worked out pretty much as expected. None of the other teams has managed to crack the upper echelon of the conference. Hartford, after starting the season 0-13, rebounded to finish 7-9 in conference and qualifies as America East’s biggest surprise.
Gerardo Suero's Quickness And Scoring Ability Caused Headaches Across The Conference.
Player of the Year:Gerardo Suero, Albany – He burst onto the scene this season after a long, circuitous route to upstate New York. On the way, he learned a lot of tricks on offense and it showed, as he was incredibly efficient while using the third most possessions in the nation when he was on the court. Suero averaged 21.7 points per game and also contributed 5.7 boards and 3.0 assists.
Coach of the Year:Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook – Pikiell wins this award because his team finished in first place. It’s tough to deal with expectations and he’s formed a talented rotation into a team that can have a different person beat you on any given night. This is the second time in three seasons that the Seawolves have won the regular season title. This time, Stony Brook needs to finish the deal and qualify for its first ever NCAA Tournament.
G Gerardo Suero, Jr. Albany
G Darryl Partin, Sr., Boston University – This team was supposed to be Partin’s this season, and after a midseason injury to D.J. Irving, it truly was. He did a good job as the go-to guy, holding down the fort and scoring 19.7 points per game until his running mate was ready to go again.
G Bryan Dougher, Sr., Stony Brook – The designated gunner on the conference’s best team, Dougher shot 37.3% from three and scored 13.4 points per game, the highest of his career, in the fewest minutes per game in his career.
F Tommy Brenton, Jr., Stony Brook – Brenton isn’t your traditional First Team player, but his defense made him one of the key players in the Seawolves’ rotation. He averaged 7.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals in 29.4 minutes per game this season.
F Brian Voelkel, So., Vermont – Voelkel didn’t score much, averaging just 4.9 points per game, but he was amongst the America East leaders in rebounds at 8.3 per game, and assists at 5.0 per game.
Darryl Partin (far left), Bryan Dougher, Tommy Brenton and Brian Voelkel Rounded Out The America East First Team
Freshman of the Year:Four McGlynn, Vermont – McGlynn and his top competition for this award, Maine’s Justin Edwards, look like they’ll be great cornerstones for their respective teams for years to come. McGlynn, though, was more consistent overall this season. He scored 24 points in 27 minutes in a 68-49 win over Stony Brook that was the Catamounts best victory of the season.
Defensive Player of the Year:Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook – At 6’5,” Brenton has the ability to cover anyone in America East. He’s an excellent rebounder and his offense comes from his defense. Always taking on Stony Brook’s toughest assignment, he led a defense that finished first in conference play by allowing 0.91 points per possession.
Stony Brook(20-8, 14-2)– The Seawolves have good wins at home over Cornell, Rider and Columbia, but a victory at Northeastern during BracketBusters was the first road win for SBU outside of conference play. Considering how down America East is in general this season, Stony Brook might end up in the play-in game and they could definitely win it.
Steve Pikiell and Stony Brook Are The Favorites To Win The America East Tournament (AP)
Vermont (20-11, 12-3) – The Catamounts own the America East’s best win – over Old Dominion in overtime – and its worst loss – at Binghamton. This is a solid team, but it needs every player on its game in order to win the slowdown games Vermont likes to play.
Boston University(16-15, 12-4) – The record isn’t great, but most of it can be traced to losing D.J. Irving right before a key stretch in conference play and a lack of options in the frontcourt. Joe Jones did figure out a way to beat top seed Stony Brook once, at home, but they were swept by Vermont, their likely semifinal opponent. The second one was close, 68-67, and gives the Terriers hope they can repeat as champions.
Albany(18-13, 9-7) – Head coach Will Brown has a contract extension, but the length and terms won’t be announced until after the postseason. That makes it sound like he has a lot of incentive to get the Great Danes some wins. The potential is there with Gerardo Suero, Mike Black and LoganAronhalt. The problem is up front. UA suffered two losses to Stony Brook by a total of 20 points because there’s no one who can handle SBU’s size.
New Hampshire (13-15, 7-9) – The Wildcats are hot, having won five of their last six games, including the last one Albany and UNH played on February 9. They’ve been winning close games over the elite (Albany, Boston U.) and taking care of business against the bottom. It’s straight to the elite teams on Saturday with Albany.
Hartford(8-21, 7-9) – A number of talented freshmen, including Nate Sikma and Mark Nwakamma, give the Hawks something to build upon. There’s also some positive momentum considering the 8-8 finish to the regular season after the winless streak to start. John Gallagher had to spend a lot of time getting his team ready for this level, but it should pay big dividends in 2012-13.
Maine(12-16, 6-10) – So much talent, so little to show for it. Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser are great blocks to build around, but they’re going to need some more help. The departures of Gerald McLemore and RaheemSingleton is going to leave holes in the offense next season. What TedWoodward really needs is for his team to commit to play defense. Maine has allowed six of its last seven opponents to score at least a point per possession and lost each of those games.
UMBC(4-25, 3-13) – Losing Chris De La Rosa at the beginning of the season basically tanked the Retrievers’ season. Along the way, though, ChasePlummer picked up a lot of the slack and walk-on Ryan Cook became an integral part of the rotation. Both those players will be back next season as UMBC tries to find a new way to hold down opponents after surrendering a conference-worst 1.12 points per possession this season.
Binghamton(1-28, 1-15) – All those losses have exposed the fact that changes still need to be made in upstate New York. The Bearcats have left Mark Macon with an almost impossible situation and while there’s some talent on the roster, Robert Mansell’s knee injury and Ben Dickinson’s immature actions on the court leave questions that need to be answered before next season.
John Templon is the RTC correspondent for America East. You can also find his musings online at NYC Buckets or on Twitter @nybuckets.
The Week That Was:
Walk-on Sensation – With Chase Plummer sidelined due to a concussion against Albany, former walk-on Ryan Cook took over the scoring duties for UMBC and scored a career-high 28 points in an 11-point defeat on the road. In the Retrievers’ next game against Maine, he teamed up with Plummer to help them almost pull the upset, before falling 78-77 in overtime. Cook scored 21 points in that game. The junior guard has scored 20 or more points four times this season after not appearing in a collegiate game until recently.
Vermont’s Near-Miss– The Catamounts had a 16-point lead with 3:28 remaining against Boston University, but they almost blew it. BU had two opportunities to hit a three in the final 11 seconds that would’ve sent the game to overtime, but both clanked off the rim. The win put Vermont in sole control of second place in the conference.
Binghamton Falling Hard – The Bearcats are currently winless on the season. Even Towson has a victory, but the closest Binghamton has come was six points at Albany and eight points at Maine. I’ll bet Mark Macon wishes his team had gotten the monkey off their back in the opener against Colgate, which the Bearcats lost by four. This lede pretty much sums up where things stand right now.
The Seawolves Are Running Towards A Conference Title.
Stony Brook (16-7, 11-1) – The Seawolves haven’t gone to Vermont yet, but other than that SBU has passed every test an America East team must face. The defense is top-notch. The offense is unspectacular but Tommy Brenton and Bryan Dougher get the job done. Against New Hampshire, Brenton shot 12 free throws and finished with 14 points.
Vermont (16-10, 10-2) – When the Catamounts lost to Stony Brook in the first game of the season, it looked like maybe John Becker’s crew wasn’t ready, but he’s slowly formed a disciplined offense on the backs of few turnovers and getting to the line often. The Catamounts have shot 78.2% from the line during conference play, best in America East. Read the rest of this entry »
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 JoeJones 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)
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our newest update comes courtesy of our America East correspondent, John Templon. John also writes about New York City basketball at Big Apple Buckets.
Reader’s Take I
Coaches Moving On Up:Vermont and Boston University lost two very talented coaches this summer. The Catamounts’ Mike Lonergan went back to his Washington, D.C., roots and took the job at George Washington. Lonergan – who won a national title at Division III Catholic University in D.C. and also coached at Maryland – should fit in well at GW. Assistant John Becker replaced Lonergan, so there should be strong continuity. On the other hand, BU had to scramble after PatChambers was hired by Penn State to replace Ed DeChellis. The Terriers ended up with former Columbia head coach Joe Jones, who spent last season as an assistant at Boston College.
Playing With The (Future) Pros: The 2010-11 America East Player of the Year, Boston University’s John Holland, played in the Portsmouth Invitational. He finished tied for ninth in scoring at 15.0 points per game and 18th in rebounding with 6.3 boards per game. He played with former Florida forward Vernon Macklin and former Villanova guard Corey Fisher on the Portsmouth Sports Club team that finished in fourth place. Holland had workouts with a few NBA teams before signing with Chorale de Roanne of France’s Pro A Division.
A World of Experience: America East continues to pick up steam as a worldwide conference. Four players in Maine’s incoming recruiting class aren’t originally from the United States and Albany has two players coming in from Australia and another from the Dominican Republic in its 2011 class. Another Australian, CorbanWroe, will be playing for Hartford in the fall. Many of the incoming recruits have experience playing with their respective international squads and incoming Maine freshman NoamLaish was selected as the captain of Israel’s U-18 squad for the European Championships.
Patrick Chambers parlayed last season's tournament berth with BU into a payday at Penn State, sending BU scrambling (credit: Steve McLaughlin).
Boston University: After making the NCAA Tournament in 2011, the Terriers return all but one of their linchpins. Of course, that one guy is America East Player of the Year John Holland who averaged 19.2 PPG last season. BU will also be going without head coach Pat Chambers, but he certainly didn’t leave the cupboard bare for Joe Jones. Darryl Partin (14.3 PPG) and Jake O’Brien (10.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) should provide scoring. Also watch out for sophomore guard D.J. Irving. He averaged 8.0 PPG as a freshman and his workload should only increase in 2011-12. The Terriers have won 21 games in each of the past two seasons and a postseason berth is definitely the expectation. Read the rest of this entry »