Editor's Note: I'd hoped to have this up last night. Unfortunately, a deadline at my day job intervened.
The story of the offseason in the America East is the defending champion, Binghamton. Kevin Broadus' Bearcats tied with Vermont for the league regular season title, then defeated 2008 champ Maryland-Baltimore County to make the NCAA Tournament, where they were promptly beaten by second seeded Duke, 86-62.
Since then, story after story has been flowing out of Broome County. First, all-America East guard Emanuel "Tiki" Mayben was arrested on cocaine possession and sales charges and booted from the team. Then, Broadus dismissed five players, including star performers D.J. Rivera and Malik Allen, from the program for unspecified reason. In a matter of days, the Bearcats lost their three top scorers from a year ago--accounting for an average of 43 points a game.
Those dismissals cost athletic director Joel Thirer his job and led to a review of the Binghamton athletic department (to be headed by the former Chief Judge of New York state). Additionally, the university now says Broadus violated NCAA rules regarding contact with recruits.
The Bearcats looked like a good pick to repeat in the America East at the beginning of the offseason, but with all of the turmoil in the Southern Tier, Boston University and Vermont appear to be the two teams ready to take advantage. More after the jump.
Let's first take a look at last season's America East standings.
2008-2009 America East Conference Standings
(updated 3.24.2009 at 12:08 AM EDT)
Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order.
Binghamton (last NCAA: 2009) Considering the Bearcats lost three starters, two reserves, and one newcomer (F/C Paul Crosby), the remaining players will struggle to keep their heads above water and out of the America East basement.
Maine (last NCAA: None) The Black Bears are perennial fixtures in the America East's second division, having spent the last nine seasons outside the top four. Their chances of moving up are hurt by the graduation of Mark Socoby, the team's top scorer the past two seasons. However, the other half of the starting backcourt, Gerald McLemore (12 ppg) does return, which should provide some stability. The Black Bears did get bigger this offseason, picking up two Canadian high school teammates, 6-9 C/F Mike Allison and 6-6 F Murphy Burnatowski, to complement the addition of 6-7 UMass transfer Travon Wilcher.
Hartford (last NCAA: None) The Hawks get start guard Joe Zeglinski back this season, after he only featured in 10 contests last season because of an ankle injury. Hartford missed Zeglinski's outside shooting. He hit 103 threes in 2007-08, when the Hawks finished second in the league. Last year, the Hawks didn't do well on the road, winning only once in 17 attempts. If solid defensive PG Andres Torres (5.9 ppg) can improve his offense and sophomore C Genesis Maciel can give some scoring support inside to PF Morgan Sabia, the Hawks might win some road games and move up in the standings.
New Hampshire (last NCAA: None) The Wildcats managed to get to the semifinals of the America East tournament last year, after tying for fourth with Stony Brook, then knocking the Seawolves out in the 4/5 game. They may not improve on their standing this year, however. While the presence of Alvin Abreu (12.8 ppg) and Tyrone Conley (8.9 ppg) gives UNH a backcourt with some scoring punch--even with the loss of leading scorer Tyrece Gibbs (14.6 ppg), the Wildcats' frontcourt isn't as strong. 6-8 center Dane DiLiegro has some promise. He's a stout rebounder (6.9 rpg) who needs to work on getting shots (5.7 ppg, but shooting 52.5%).
Maryland-Baltimore County (last NCAA: 2008) While the Retrievers only finished in sixth place during the regular season, they were able to storm through the America East tournament to meet Binghamton in the final. Much like the 2008 championship team, this UMBC squad will feature impact transfers. Chris De La Rosa, a Siena transfer, should be a worthy replacement for Jay Greene at the point. 6-11 center Robbie Jackson, a transfer from Marshall, should easily be able to replace the 8.8 boards a game the 6-4 Darryl Proctor got, and then some. If the transfers mesh with the Retrievers' three returning starters, they could challenge BU and UVM.
Stony Brook (last NCAA: None) Four of the five starters who led the Seawolves to a 16-14 mark last season return. The good news for the people of Long Island is that three of the four were freshmen, while the fourth is senior guard Muhammad El-Amin (15.7 ppg). Last year's performance was Stony Brook's best since moving up to D-I in 2001-02, and they may very well improve on it because of their focus on defense. The Seawolves allowed just a hair under 61 points per game, while forcing almost 9 steals a game on the way to securing an average turnover margin of +2.8 per contest. With the three freshman starters a year older and 6-6 F Preye Preboye ready to contribute immediately, Stony Brook is going to continue to be a tough out in the conference.
Albany (last NCAA: 2007) Will Brown's team is looking to return to the heights of their 2006 and 2007 NCAA bids, but they'll have to incorporate five freshmen and 6-8 Croatian junior college transfer Fran Urli to reach those heights again this season. 6-6 F Will Harris, a senior, and 6-0 G Tim Ambrose, a junior, will provide leadership to the Great Danes this season. Harris did an admirable job in his first season after transferring from Virginia, averaging almost 13 points a game and grabbing 6.5 boards per contest. The Scoobies did lose their starting point guard, as Anthony Raffa transferred, but reserve Mike Johnson should be a more than adequate replacement (3.4 ppg, but 2.8 apg).
Vermont (last NCAA: 2005) Before the Great Danes represented the AmEast in back to back tournaments, the Catamounts were represented the league three straight times. While Head Coach Mike Lonergan hasn't been able to get back to the Promised Land after replacing Tom Brennan at the beginning of the 2005-06 campaign, UVM has always been in the race. It will be a little more difficult this season, as the Catamounts lost all-time assist leader Mike Trimboli--who also contributed 16 points per game--and F Colin McIntosh, responsible for 12.6 points and 5 boards per game. However, two-time defending America East Player of the Year/Defensive Player of the Year Marqus Blakely is back. If G Maurice Joseph, who averaged 8 points per game last season, is able to put up more performances like the 24 points he scored against UW-Green Bay in the College Basketball Invitational last year, Vermont should be able to remain the America East's most powerful offense.
Boston University (last NCAA: 2002) With the rise of Vermont, Albany, and Binghamton, Dennis Wolff could only get the Terriers to the NCAAs once, a fact that ultimately cost him his job. Former Villanova assistant Patrick Chambers takes over. Chambers has plenty of NCAA experience, as he assisted Jay Wright during Nova's last five NCAA appearance, and he'll need every bit of it. The Terriers boast nine seniors, but are coming off a disappointing 17-13 record. BU is perimeter-oriented, however. That means Chambers can implement Nova's dribble-drive offense. If players like junior G/F John Holland (18.1 ppg), 2009 AmEast Newcomer of the Year F Jake O'Brien (12.5 ppg), and senior G Corey Lowe (17.2 ppg) can adjust to it, the Terriers should make a triumphant return to March. The Terriers will have a chance to put themselves on the national radio at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November, starting with a first round game against Kansas State.
So, for those of you following along at home, pencil in the Terriers for the America East's bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket. I'll release that on November 9. To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-America East team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-America East Team
Player of the Year: Marqus Blakely, 6-5 F, Sr. (Vermont)
Remainder of the Team
Will Harris, 6-6 F, Sr. (Albany)
John Holland, 6-5 G/F, Jr. (Boston University)
Corey Lowe, 6-2 G, Sr. (Boston University)
Joe Zeglinski, 6-0 G, Jr. (Hartford)