Wednesday , Nov , 10 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – America East Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – America East Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Ralph Lauro, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: For the second straight season, Vermont won the America East
Conference Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Although the Catamounts were defeated by Connecticut in the first round, they
made the eventual national champions sweat a little. With a healthy core of
players returning in 2004-05, Vermont is expected to make it three AEC titles
in a row. Standing in their way is Boston University, which has won the last
two AEC regular season titles. While Vermont and BU are clearly the cream of
the crop, Northeastern and Maine are two schools that shouldn’t be
overlooked. Both had solid seasons last year, and return several standout
players which will surely have an impact on how the conference will play out.
Binghamton, which host the conference tournament in March, could be considered
the wildcard in the AEC with four starters returning from last year’s team
which finished fifth in the league standings. Beside the top five schools, the
AEC lacks any other significant threat, as Albany and Hartford should do no
better than the middle of the pack with losses to several instrumental
players. New Hampshire and UMBC each have a slew of returning starters, but
are probably another year away from finishing with a winning record in league
play. As for Stony Brook, it had a nice run in the AEC Tournament last season,
but with the departure of a couple key players, it will probably finish near
the bottom of the league standings this time around.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: VERMONT

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Vermont; 2. Boston University; 3. Northeastern;
4. Maine; 5. Binghamton; 6. Hartford; 7. Albany; 8. New Hampshire; 9. UMBC;
10. Stony Brook

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

VERMONT – The Catamounts put another outstanding season together last year, as
they were able to capture the AEC Tournament championship and an automatic
berth to their second consecutive NCAA Tournament. Although the Catamounts
lost in the first round of the Big Dance for the second straight year, it did
not put a damper on an otherwise fantastic campaign. The team finished 22-9
overall and 15-3 in league action, which was good enough for second place.
This season Vermont is expected to be stronger than ever with three returning
starters, including back-to-back AEC Player of the Year Taylor Coppenrath. The
6-9 forward led the conference in scoring with 24.1 ppg, the highest average
in the AEC since Eddie Benton netted 24.5 ppg in 1995-96. Coppenrath also
averaged a team-best 7.2 rpg, and was named Most Outstanding Player of the AEC
Tournament after pouring in a tournament-record 43 points in a 72-53 victory
over Maine in the championship game. Also returning is the 2002 AEC Player of
the Year in T.J. Sorrentine, who averaged 14.8 ppg and 4.6 apg last year after
missing all of the 2002-03 season with a a broken wrist. Guard David Hehn (5.3
ppg) and forward Germain Njila (6.2 ppg and 6.2 rpg) round out the group of
returning starters. Guard Alex Jensen is also expected to see significant
playing time after netting 5.2 ppg off the bench last season.

BOSTON UNIVERSITY – The Terriers have won the AEC regular season title the
last two seasons, only to get NIT berths after Vermont captured the conference
tournament championship. Despite a loss in the first round of the NIT, BU
still had a successful year, finishing 23-6 overall and an impressive 17-1 in
league play. The Terriers have posted three straight 20-win seasons and in
that time they have gone 43-7 in AEC action. Although this year’s squad is a
bit thin, it should still be able to contend for the league title behind three
returning starters in Rashad Bell, Chaz Carr and Shaun Wynn. Bell, a 6-8
forward, was a First Team All-conference choice in 2002-03, and averaged a
solid 11.5 ppg and 6.8 rpg last season. As for Carr and Wynn, they give Boston
perhaps the best returning backcourt in the AEC. Carr, was a First Team All-
AEC choice last season after leading the Terriers in scoring (13.0 ppg) and
the conference in free-throw percentage (.892), while Wynn (8.2 ppg) earned
the AEC Defensive Player of the Year Award with a team-best 60 steals.
Forwards Kevin Gardner (4.8 rpg) and Etienne Brower will see significantly
more playing time this season following the graduation of five players.

NORTHEASTERN – The Huskies finished in third place in the AEC standings last
year at 13-5, but a 79-74 defeat to Hartford in the quarterfinals of the
league tournament ended the team’s season on a sour note. With three starters
back and a loads of depth on the bench, Northeastern should be able to improve
on its 19-11 overall mark from a year ago. The Huskies return the second and
third leading scorers in the AEC from last season in guards Jose Juan Barea
and Marcus Barnes. Barea averaged 20.7 ppg and 5.0 apg in league play and
joined Taylor Coppenrath of Vermont as the only unanimous First Team All-
conference selection. As for Barnes, who averaged 17.0 ppg and 3.0 rpg in his
first season with the Huskies last season after transferring from Miami-
Florida. Aaron Davis, who missed all of last season after having shoulder
surgery, will add some depth to the Huskies’ already talented backcourt. Up
front, Northeastern will be led by Bennet Davis, who was named to the league’s
All-Rookie team after averaging 7.0 ppg and 4.8 rpg in 2003-04. The Huskies
will rely on juco transfers and incoming freshmen to assist Davis in the low
post.

MAINE -The Black Bears have been on the verge of a breakout for several years,
but Vermont and Boston University have proven to be too much for them to
handle. Last season, Maine advanced to the AEC Tournament championship game
only to be pounded by Vermont, 72-53. It was the second time in three years
the Bears have been one game away from an NCAA Tournament berth, as they were
defeated by Boston University in the 2002 AEC championship game. Still, the
team finished a solid 20-10 overall which was a giant step forward from a
14-16 mark the previous season. This year’s club could do even better with the
return of four starters and several key reserves. Guard Kevin Reed is the
team’s top returning player after leading the club in scoring (14.5 ppg) and
rebounding (7.2 rpg) a year ago. He also led the conference and in steals (2.3
spg) and was fifth in three-pointers. Chris Markwood will accompany Reed in
the backcourt after averaging 5.9 ppg and 2.5 apg as a transfer from Notre
Dame last season. Joe Campbell and Mark Flavin give the Bears one of the top
frontcourts in the AEC. Campbell averaged 8.0 ppg and 6.1 rpg a year ago,
while Flavin added 11.6 ppg and 6.3 rpg as a second-team all-league choice
last season. UNLV transfer Jermaine Jackson, who can play the two or three
spot, will give the Bears even more depth and versatility.

BINGHAMTON – The Bearcats were eligible for the first time last season to
participate in the AEC Tournament, but were ousted in their opening game by
Maine (79-77) in overtime. Still, the team posted its second straight winning
season in league play (10-8), which helped overshadow a 14-16 overall finish
to the year. Binghamton plays host to the AEC Tournament this year and with
four starters returning from last season it certainly has a shot of earning
the title. The Bearcats’ most dangerous weapon is 7-0 center Nick Billings,
who earned Second Team All-AEC honors last season after averaging 12.5 ppg,
6.9 rpg and 3.5 bpg. Billings owns the Binghamton career record and is tied
for second in AEC history with 302 blocks. Forwards Sebastian Hermenier and
Alex Adedrian combined for 14.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg a year ago and give Binghamton
a dominant front line. Holding the backcourt down will be Troy Hailey, who
finished third among conference rookies in scoring last season with an average
of 9.7 ppg. If the Bearcats can find a solid shooting guard, they will surely
be one of the elite teams in the AEC this season.

HARTFORD – The Hawks started one of the youngest group of players in the
league last season which explains why they finished just 12-17 overall and
6-12 in the AEC standings. Still, the team showed a glimpse of its potential
in the AEC Tournament by knocking off Northeastern in the quarterfinals and
giving Vermont a solid game before falling in the semis. The Hawks enter this
season with four starters back in the fold, three of whom are junior or
sophomores, that have already been battle-tested. Guard Aaron Cook highlights
the group after ranking fifth in the AEC in scoring last year at 15.0 ppg. He
also led the conference with 82 three-pointers. Charles Ford will assist Cook
in the backcourt after averaging 9.2 ppg and 3.2 rpg a year ago. Sean Regan
and Bo Taylor give the Hawks a solid frontcourt tandem after combining for
10.1 ppg and 12.1 rpg last season. Forwards Trevor Goode (4.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
and Alex Zimnickas (3.6 ppg) saw playing time off the bench in 2003-04 and
should contribute even more this time around.

ALBANY – Last season was a difficult one to say the least for the Great Danes,
as they finished a dismal 5-23 overall and an even worse 3-15 in league play.
One reason for the team’s poor record was a season-ending injury to standout
point guard Jamar Wilson. With Wilson now healthy and all five starters back
in the mix, Albany is certainly in a position to turn things around in
2004-05. Wilson will certainly return to the starting lineup after finishing
second in the conference in scoring (18.9 ppg) in 2002-03. Jon Iati did a
tremendous job filling in for Wilson last season and became the second
straight Great Dane to be named AEC Rookie of the Year. He led all first-year
players in scoring (14.0 ppg), while also logging a national-best 40.0 minutes
per game. Up front, Albany is paced by forward Levi Levine, who led the team
in scoring (14.3 ppg) and ranked second in rebounding (6.1 rpg) a year ago.
Along side him will be Chris Wyatt and Aquawasi St. Hillaire. Wyatt averaged
6.4 ppg and 5.1 rpg last season, while Hillaire outdid him with 9.8 ppg and
6.8 rpg. The Great Danes should also benefit from one of the stronger
recruiting classes in the AEC that includes transfers Brandon Perry
(Jacksonville CC), Lucious Jordan (Loyola-MD) and Kristen Zoellner (Boston
College).

NEW HAMPSHIRE – Once again the Wildcats were among the worst teams in the AEC
last year, finishing just 5-13 in league play. The squad also ended the year a
dismal 10-20 overall, marking its ninth consecutive losing season. Although
New Hampshire probably won’t contend for a winning season this time around, it
should at least be more competitive with four starters returning. Included in
that group is forward Ben Sturgill, who averaged 13.1 ppg and 5.4 rpg last
season. Sturgill, however, has been injury prone over the last few seasons and
missed 14 games last year. Blagov Janev and Craig Walls will assist Sturgill
in the frontcourt, where the Wildcats will have most of their success. Janev
averaged 10.2 ppg as a freshman last season, while Walls added 9.2 ppg and a
team-best 7.1 rpg. Shejdie Childs is the team’s most experienced player out on
the perimeter after averaging 5.8 ppg and 2.8 apg in 16 games last season. New
Hampshire will turn to Massachusetts player of the year Chris Vetrano and
Thayer Academy standout Brandon Odom to fill in the remaining holes on the
club.

UMBC – The Retrievers made their first appearance in the AEC last season after
transferring in from the Northeast Conference, but the excitement was short-
lived. UMBC finished second to last in the league at 4-14 and its 7-21 overall
mark wasn’t good enough for long-time head coach Tom Sullivan to keep his job.
Into his place steps Randy Monroe, who starts his first head coaching gig
after 20 years as an assistant, the last 10 at UMBC. Monroe inherits a team
that welcomes back all five starters from a year ago. Guard Rob Gogerty is a
player worth keeping an eye on, as he led the team in assists (112) last
season, while also finishing second in scoring (10.5 ppg). Chris Pugh will
accompany Gogerty on the perimeter after averaging 4.3 ppg and 2.9 rpg a year
ago. In the low post, the Retrievers will turn to the trio of Cory McJimson,
John Zito and Andrew Feeley. McJimson averaged 9.6 ppg and 5.5 rpg in his
first season with the Retrievers last year, while Zito added 9.5 ppg and 3.8
rpg. As for Feeley, he is the tallest player on the club at 6-9, and averaged
6.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg in 2003-04. Forward Seth Davis, who contributed 4.9 ppg
and 3.5 rpg as a starter last season, will also play a pivotal role down low.

STONY BROOK – After a solid start to their 2003-04 AEC schedule, the Seawolves
dropped nine of their last 11 games to finish in a tie for seventh place at
5-13. Still, the team was able to regroup before the AEC Tournament where it
stunned top-seeded Boston University on its home floor. With three players
returning from last year’s club that went 10-20 overall, Stony Brook has the
talent to improve. However, the team must find a way to replace guard D.J.
Munir, who led the team in scoring (15.3 ppg) and was an All-conference choice
for the third straight year. With Munir out of the picture, the Seawolves will
now rely on their frontcourt to produce most of the scoring with returning
starters Cori Spencer and Mike Popoko. Spencer was second on the team in both
scoring (10.3 ppg) and rebounding (4.8 rpg) a year ago, while Popoko added 8.4
ppg and 5.2 rpg as an All-rookie choice. Jairus McCollum, who missed all of
last season with an injury, will also add some scoring in the paint after
averaging 9.2 ppg and 5.5 rpg in 2002-03. The backcourt duties will largely
fall on Mitchell Beauford, who was among the conference’s leading rookies in
scoring last season with 10.1 ppg.