Friday , Nov , 03 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – America East Conference

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) –
OUTLOOK: The Albany Great Danes swept through the America East Conference in
2005-06 and captured both the regular season and conference tournament titles.
With several key players back from that club, the Great Danes could be in line
for a repeat performance. However, things won’t be as easy this time around as
Vermont, the 2005-06 AEC tournament runner-up, and Maine both return a healthy
and talented group of players. New Hampshire and Boston University could be the
dark horses in a league that features a slew of new faces. Binghamton, last
year’s regular season runner-up, lost a few key players, but should still have
enough to remain competitive. Hartford may find it hard to post a winning
record with the loss of its top scorer, while Maryland-Baltimore County and
Stony Brook are still a year or two away from turning things around.


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


ALBANY – After years of losing, the Great Danes finally turned things in the
right direction last season, as they won their first-ever AEC championship. The
team posted a 13-3 mark in conference play, in addition to going 21-11 overall.
Albany figures to be in the running for the league title once again thanks to
the return of the reigning AEC Player of the Year in Jamar Wilson. The 6-1
Wilson led the top offense in the league with 17.7 ppg, which ranked second in
the conference. He also turned in 4.9 rpg and 3.9 apg in leading the Great
Danes to their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Albany will also benefit
from the return of Brent Wilson. The 6-8 forward averaged 10.4 ppg last season
and gives the Great Danes a formidable presence in the low post. Albany lost a
few big men following the conclusion of the 2005-06 season, including 7-1
Kirstern Zoellner, but help should come from a pair of freshman in Mike Yocum
(6-9) and Brett Gifford (6-11).

MAINE – The Black Bears didn’t have the kind of season they had hoped for in
2005-06, finishing 7-9 in conference and 12-16 overall. However, with the
return of four starters and several key reserves, Maine could be on the verge
of something great. Helping the Bears’ cause is the return of guard Kevin Reed,
who was a medical redshirt last season. The 6-2 Reed has a career average of
13.3 ppg and is also a solid rebounder for his size. Rashad Turner will join
Reed in the backcourt after averaging 10.8 ppg and 3.0 apg last season. Up
front, the Black Bears should be just as good as their backcourt thanks to the
return of Philippe Tchekane Boifa and Olli Ahvenniemi. Boifa, a budding star
from Cameroon, averaged 9.4 ppg and 5.5 rpg as a rookie last season, while the
6-10 Ahvenniemi led the conference in blocked shots (2.57 bpg). Throw in Brian
Andre, a 6-9, 300-pound transfer from Buffalo, and Maine certainly has one of
the biggest frontcourts in the league.

VERMONT – The Mike Lonergan era began in 2005-06, and despite just a 13-17
overall record and a 7-9 mark in league play, it was rather successful. The
Catamounts fielded one of the youngest teams in the league (11 freshmen and
sophomores), but the group came together as the season wore on and that showed
in the club’s run to the tournament championship game. With a year of
experience now under their belts and all five starters back in the fold, the
Catamounts could be on the verge of winning their fourth conference title in
the past five years. The team is led by guard Mike Trimboli, who earned the AEC
Rookie of the Year award averaging 14.0 ppg a year ago. Kyle Cieplicki, at 6-4,
has the ability to play in the backcourt or up front and should have no trouble
improving on the 8.5 ppg he averaged last season. Martin Klimes (6-8) will once
again provide Vermont with the size it needs to compete against the bigger
teams in the league. Klimes not only averaged 11.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg last season,
but he was also named to the all-defensive team. A strong recruiting class will
provide the Catamounts with some depth.

NEW HAMPSHIRE – The Wildcats showed improvement under first year head coach
Bill Herrion in 2005-06, finishing an even 8-8 in conference play. The team
also made it to the AEC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 1995,
although its lost to Albany. Still, with four starters back from that group,
New Hampshire could make a serious run at the league title in 2006-07. Leading
the way for the Wildcats is Blagov Janev, who is just one of two First Team
All-AEC selections to return this season. The 6-8 Aussie ranked sixth in the
conference in scoring with 14.4 ppg, in addition to leading UNH in rebounding
(4.5 rpg) and three-point field goals made (2.0 per game). Mike Christensen
(9.4 ppg) and Jermaine Anderson (8.0 ppg) along with juco transfer Jude Roybal
(7.3 apg) should form a solid backcourt for the Wildcats. New Hampshire will
look to a pair of freshmen in Sam Herrick (6-11) and Seth Price (6-7) to add
size to one of the worst rebounding teams in the league last season.

BOSTON UNIVERSITY – The Terriers have been one of the most successful teams in
AEC history, but they haven’t won a league title since 2002. Last season, BU
finished in a tie for third with a league mark of 9-7, although the team posted
just a 12-16 mark overall. With just two starters back in the fold and 11
freshmen and sophomores on the roster, head coach Dennis Wolff will certainly
have his work cut out for him. Forward Omari Peterkin is the team’s leading
returning scorer, but that isn’t saying much considering he averaged just 6.0
ppg last season. Still, Peterkin should see a lot more opportunities this time
around and that is a good thing considering he shot 61.0 percent from the floor
last season. He will be paired with 6-8 Ibrahim Konate, who is more a
defensive-minded player than anything. Brian Macon is the team’s other
returning starter and he will be counted upon to run the offense after
averaging 3.9 apg a year ago. Joining him in the backcourt will be Corey
Hassan, who has decent range, knocking down 34.5 percent of his three-point
attempts last season.

BINGHAMTON – Only the Great Danes had a better season in the AEC than the
Bearcats did in 2005-06, as they finished second with a 12-4 league mark. The
team also finished over .500 overall at 16-13, but duplicating that success may
be difficult. Mike Gordon (8.5 ppg, 4.5 apg) and Troy Hailey (8.6 ppg) should
give Binghamton a solid backcourt, but they will have a tough time replacing
the void left by the team’s top two scorers in Andre Heard (17.1 ppg) and
Sebastian Hermenier (11.1 ppg). Ian Milne (6-9), Giovanni Olomo (6-8) and a
pair of 6-9 freshmen from Serbia will be counted upon to produce immediately in
the frontcourt. Depth and scoring are the two major concerns for this Bearcat
club in 2006-07.

STONY BROOK – The Seawolves entered the 2005-06 season with high expectations,
but when all was said and done they were clearly the worst team in the league,
finishing a dreadful 2-14 in conference and just 4-24 overall. With three
starters back and one of the top recruiting classes in the league, Stony Brook
should have no trouble improving on its output from last season. Guard Mitchell
Beaufordis is the top returnee, as he averaged 14.1 ppg last season, in
addition to ranking third in the league in steals (1.64 spg). Forward Mike
Popoko is another returning starter who could be primed for a breakout campaign
after posting 10.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg last season. The Seawolves should receive an
added boost from George Washington transfer Ricky Lucas, who averaged 4.2 ppg
in 2004-05. Other newcomers who should pay immediate dividends include 6-9 juco
transfer Emanuel Neto and 7-2 freshman Riiny Ngot.

HARTFORD – The Hawks improved by leaps and bounds last season, as they went
from a 4-14 finish in league play in 2004-05 to a 9-7 ledger in 2005-06. The
improvement could be directly attributed to Hofstra transfer Kenny Adeleke,
who led the league in both scoring (20.7 ppg) and rebounding (13.1 ppg).
However, with Adeleke now gone and just one starter back in the fold, Hartford
may fall back to its losing ways. Guard Rich Baker is the team’s lone returning
starter and he will have to do better than the 4.7 ppg he averaged a season
ago. Chris Cole (3.6 ppg) will join Baker in the backcourt, but neither is much
of a shooting threat. Up front is where the Hawks have some major concerns, as
they have little experience returning and only three players taller than 6-4.
The return of 6-4 Bo Taylor, who averaged 6.1 ppg in just eight games last
season, should help first-year head coach Dan Leibovitz rebuild the frontcourt.

MARYLAND-BALTIMORE COUNTY – The Retrievers haven’t had much success in their
three-year stay in the AEC, although the team has won a conference tournament
game in each of the past two seasons. Still, UMBC stumbled to a 5-11 finish in
league play and just a 10-19 mark overall in 2005-06. The Retrievers welcome
back three starters, but will be fielding one of the youngest teams in the
league with just two seniors and two juniors on the roster. The backcourt
should be the strength of this year’s club with the return of Brian Hodges
(12.9 ppg) and Jay Greene (8.4 ppg). At 6-3, Hodges will surely give opposing
teams all sorts of matchup problems, and he could be primed to become one of
the league’s top players. Chris Pugh will add even more depth to an already
deep backcourt, as he averaged a solid 3.4 apg last season. The Retrievers lost
their top two scorers and rebounders in the frontcourt, and will depend on a
pair of inexperienced players in Justin Fry (6-9) and Uwem Eshietedoho (6-8) to
step in and produce immediately.