Tuesday , Nov , 01 , 2005 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 third straight season, Vermont won the America East
Conference Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
The Catamounts even upset Big East champion Syracuse in the first round of
the tournament before bowing out to Michigan State. Vermont’s run, however,
may be in jeopardy with the loss of four starters, including a pair of all-
league performers. This opens the gate for several other teams, including
Albany which welcomes back a healthy core of players. Binghamton should also
be considered a contender for the league title, although it disappointed in
this same position a year ago. Boston is always tough and a real threat for
the championship and this year is no exception. Although Vermont lost its core
of players, it still shouldn’t slip any further than the middle of the pack.
Maine and Hartford are two teams that could compete for an upper half finish
if everything goes right, while Stony Brook, New Hampshire and Maryland-
Baltimore County are most likely going to finish well under. 500.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Albany

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

1. Albany; 2. Binghamton; 3. Boston University; 4. Vermont; 5. Maine; 6.
Hartford; 7. Stony Brook; 8. New Hampshire; 9. Maryland-Baltimore County

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

ALBANY – The Great Danes won just 19 games in Will Brown’s first three years
at the helm and also finished near the bottom of the AEC standings during that
stretch. Last year however, was a different story, as Albany took a giant step
in the right direction by finishing 13-15 overall and an even better 9-9 in
league play. With four starters back in the fold from last year’s squad, the
Great Danes could be primed for a first place finish. Highlighting a talented
and experienced Danes’ club is Jamar Wilson, who finished fourth in the
conference in scoring (16.9 ppg). The 6-1 guard also led the league in free-
throw percentage (82.8) and was selected to the all-conference second team.
The return of Jon Lati should also provide a big boost to an already explosive
offense. The 2004 AEC Rookie of the Year missed most of last season with a
shoulder injury and is looking to regain his form from the 2003-04 season
when he averaged 11.0 ppg. Lucious Jordan adds another dimension to the Danes’
backcourt and is the only player on the team that started all 28 games a year
ago. He was even named to the all-conference squad after posting 14.8 ppg and
4.9 rpg. Up front, Levi Levine (10.0 ppg) and Kirsten Zoellner dominated the
boards last season and combined for 11.2 rpg. Forward Brent Wilson will also
see an increase in playing time after averaging 7.0 ppg and 4.2 rpg off the
bench a year ago.

BINGHAMTON – The Bearcats were primed for a big season in 2004-05, but things
didn’t exactly work out like they had hoped. The team stumbled to an 8-10
finish in league play and just a 12-17 overall mark. A trip to the semifinals
in the AEC Tournament helped assuage the team’s regular season woes and
in the process provided some experience for this year. The Bearcats welcome
back three starters from last year’s club and seven experienced reserves.
Highlighting the returning starters is second-team all-conference choice Andre
Heard, who averaged 14.3 ppg a year ago. The senior guard also pulled down 4.5
rpg and ranked second on the team in steals. He will be joined at the
perimeter by fellow returning starter Troy Hailey, who started all 29 games
last season, averaging 9.1 ppg along the way. Forward Sebastian Hermenier
is also welcomed back and should give the team a boost in the low post.
Hermenier finished eighth in the league in rebounding (6.5 rpg) last season
and also chipped in with 5.6 ppg. Jordan Fithian (3.1 ppg) along with several
newcomers will fill out the rest of the frontcourt.

BOSTON UNIVERSITY – The Terriers have been overshadowed by Vermont’s success
the past few seasons, but the program has still been one of the most
successful in the AEC. Last season was no exception, as Boston posted its
fourth consecutive 20-win season with a 20-9 overall finish. The team also
went a solid 14-4 in league play, giving it a 57-11 record in AEC play over
the past four years. With the tremendous regular season the Terriers were
rewarded with a trip to the NIT where they dropped a 64-34 decision to
Georgetown in the first round. Finding success this year could be a little
more difficult, as the team must replace its top two scorers from a year ago
and third-team all-league selection Etienne Brower, who transferred to George
Washington. One of the team’s two returning starters is Shaun Wynn. The senior
guard isn’t much of a scorer (6.2 ppg), but is a tremendous defender, earning
the 2003-04 AEC Defensive Player of the Year award. Forward Kevin Gardner is
the team’s other returning starter and will need to do a lot better than the
7.3 ppg he averaged a year ago. Guard Matt Wolf (4.1 ppg) should move into a
starting role, as should forwards Ibrahim Konate and Tony Gaffney.

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 third consecutive NCAA Tournament. However, unlike the previous
two years, Vermont was able to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament, as it
knocked off Big East Champion Syracuse in the first round before bowing out to
Michigan State. It was certainly a dream season for the Catamounts, who sent
legendary coach Tom Brennan into retirement on a high note. Mike Lonergan
takes over at the helm of Vermont and must find a way to replace four starters
from last year’s club, including three time AEC Player of the Year Taylor
Coppenrath and three-time all-league performer T.J. Sorrentine. The two
combined for 43.8 ppg last year and will not be easily replaced. The lone
returning starter for Vermont is forward Martin Klimes, who averaged just 4.8
ppg and 3.8 rpg. Forward Josh Duell, a member of the AEC all-rookie team,
will join Klimes in the frontcourt and should do better than the 5.5 ppg he
averaged a year ago. Guard Ryan Schneider (4.3 ppg) and center Chris Holm (1.9
ppg) are the only two players that have any experience, as Vermont will have
to rely heavily on its seven new freshman to fill out the roster.

MAINE – The Black Bears have been consistently solid over the past few years,
although they finished just below .500 overall (14-15) and in league play
(8-10) last season. Just two starters return from last year’s club, but those
two guys are guards Ernest Turner and Kevin Reed. The two form one of the best
backcourt combinations in the league and averaged a combined 26.5 ppg last
season. Reed also earned second-team all-league honors after ranking sixth in
the conference in rebounds (6.9 rpg) despite being only 6-2. Up front the team
has a lot of voids to fill, although the return of Freddy Petkus should help.
Petkus, who received a medical redshirt last year, is a solid shooter and has
good touch around the hoop. The development of Finnish big man Olli Ahvenniemi
could also go a long way in filling out a depleted frontcourt.

HARTFORD – The Hawks had no success last season and finished the year with
just eight wins against 20 losses. The team also posted a dismal 4-14 record
in league play, which included a pathetic 22-point effort in a loss to Boston
University. Things however, may be looking up for the Hawks this time around,
as they welcome back eight of their top nine scorers and three starters from
last season. Guard Aaron Cook leads the way and is coming off a solid 2004-05
campaign in which he ranked seventh in the league in scoring (14.9 ppg). He
will be joined at the perimeter by Charles Ford, who returns after posting 7.9
ppg and 3.1 rpg a year ago. David Ruffin, another returning starter, can play
either guard or forward and averaged 8.1 ppg last season. Forward Bo Taylor
came off the bench last season, but will surely move into a starting role
after turning in 7.6 ppg and 6.2 rpg. Another player who could have a big
impact on the Hawks is Kenny Adeleke, a transfer from Hofstra. Adeleke was a
regular starter at Hofstra and tallied 1,285 points and 829 rebounds in three
years with the Pride. He could be a big time player for the Hawks in a lesser
conference.

STONY BROOK – The Seawolves finished in the lower half of the AEC standings a
year ago, posting just a 6-12 league ledger. Overall, the club went just
12-17, but with three starters back in the fold and new head coach Steve
Pikiell running the show big thins are expected from Stony Brook. The strength
of this year’s team will lie in the backcourt trio of Antwan Hardy, Mitchell
Beauford and Bobby Santiago. Hardy led the team in scoring (11.0 ppg) as a
rookie last season after taking over for Beauford, who suffered a season-
ending injury after just six games. Beauford is expected to be healthy for the
upcoming season and perform like he did in the first six games of the 2004-05
campaign, when he averaged 16.8 ppg. As for Santiago, he was as steady of a
player as any and averaged 10.9 ppg and 3.4 apg a year ago. Up front the team
is paced by Mike Popoko, who started every game last year and averaged 9.4
ppg and 5.2 rpg. After missing all of last season due to injury, center
JonPaul Kobryn returns and give the Seawolves some much needed size in the low
post.

NEW HAMPSHIRE – The Wildcats have achieved just eight winning seasons since
1941, and last season wasn’t one of them. New Hampshire had an awful 2004-05
campaign, as it went just 9-19 overall and an even worse 5-13 in league play.
With the poor finish, Phil Rowe was dismissed from his head coaching duties
and Bill Herrion was brought in. Herrion, who turned Drexel into a power in
the then called North Atlantic Conference, inherits a club that welcomes back
three starters, including Blagov Janev. The 6-8 forward led the team in
scoring (10.9 ppg) last season and also made a club-high 40 three-pointers.
Mike Christensen was often Janev’s partner in crime, as the 6-8 forward
averaged 9.0 ppg and 5.0 rpg. As for the backcourt, it is led by sophomore
Chris Vetrano, who averaged 7.3 ppg and 3.4 apg as a freshman. Jermaine
Anderson started all 24 games alongside Vetrano and will do the same this year
after contributing 8.3 ppg and 2.3 apg in 2004-05.

MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY – The Retrievers have struggled a bit in their
brief two year stay in the AEC, although the team did post its first-ever
conference tournament win in 2004-05. Still, the club finished just 5-13 in
league play and 11-18 overall. Things may not get any better this season,
as just two starters and only three of the top seven scorers from a year ago
return. UMBC will be sporting one of the youngest teams in the league this
season and is led by sophomore Brian Hodges. The 6-3 guard did not start last
year, but that did not stop him from averaging a solid 9.2 ppg. He should be
moved into the starting lineup this season alongside guards Chris Pugh and
Rashad Bilal. Pugh played in all but one game last season and netted 3.3
ppg, while Bilal added 6.5 ppg. Forward John Zito will be the go-to-guy in the
low post and is coming off a 2004-05 campaign in which he averaged 6.7 ppg
and 3.9 rpg. He is one of just two seniors of the Retrievers’ roster.