Conference Check-ins: America East and Patriot League

With only three to four weeks left in the regular season, I felt it was an excellent time to look at some of the mid-major regular season races across the east coast. Time is running out for teams attempting to jockey into favorable position before making a run at qualification into the NCAA tournament. Today, we’ll break down the top of the standings for the America East and the Patriot League conferences.

America East Conference

Top Four Teams
1) Vermont, 9-2
2) Stony Brook, 8-2
3) Hartford, 7-4
4) Albany*, 7-5
*Boston University isn’t in my top four, because they were banned from this season’s AE postseason tournament. You could say the AE presidents were a tad perturbed the Terriers chose to align with the academically elite Patriot League next season.

The Rundown: Stony Brook was in the driver seat until they lost in snowy Hartford on Sunday, 60-55. The setback, although unfortunate, doesn’t prevent the Seawolves from controlling their own destiny the rest of the way, but it makes things a little more complicated for the conference’s highest rated KenPom team since Vermont in 2005. (You might remember that Vermont team with Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine, who upset #4 seed Syracuse in the NCAA tournament first round.) It’s a two-team race for the #1 seed and subsequent NIT berth and it would certainly behoove Vermont and Stony Brook to end up on top. Since 1996, the America East team who has played host in the postseason finals is 13-3. Then again, the Seawolves lost at home in the finals last season to Vermont, but now Steve Pikiell has super freshman Jameel Warney at his disposal. The next America East Rookie of the Year currently possesses an incredible offensive efficiency rating north of 118. Coaches typically turn all-conference team awards into career achievement forums, but Warney needs to be strongly considered an All-America East first teamer this season.

Mark Your Calendars: Vermont at Stony Brook, Friday, February 15th

John Becker’s Catamounts deserve a lot of credit, as the second year coach has remade the roster after the departures of leading scorers Matt Glass (graduation) and Four McGlynn (transferred to Towson). Newcomers Candon Rusin, Trey Blue, and Ethan O’Day are part of Becker’s eight to nine man rotation, while Clancy Rugg has elevated his game to new heights in his junior campaign. And of course, I didn’t forget do-it-all lynchpin Brian Voelkel. If Vermont’s banged up squad can win at Stony Brook later this week, the Catamounts will have the all mighty head-to-head tiebreaker, thanks to their home victory over the Seawolves back on January 18th. In that game, Vermont scored 1.20 points per possession (PPP), which easily served as the worst defensive performance from Stony Brook this season. In fact, when Pikiell’s squad gives up more than 1.00 PPP, his team is 1-5. When they give up fewer than 1.00 PPP? They are a near perfect 16-1.

Interesting Tidbits: Albany hosts the quarterfinals and semifinals of the America East tournament this season. Last year, the #6 seeded Hartford Hawks showed us how much a little home cooking could help, as the 9-22 Hawks nearly found their way into the America East finals before succumbing to eventual champion Vermont in overtime. Given the current standings, it appears Albany can do no better than a #3 seed and no worse than a #4, so they could conceivably end up on either side of the bracket. Albany’s home matchup with Hartford on February 16th could decide who grabs the #3 seed. Either way, I’m sure Stony Brook and Vermont would prefer to see John Gallagher’s youthful Hawks in the semis, even though sophomore Mark Nwakamma (15.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.6 spg) has emerged as an All-America East first team candidate.

Patriot League

Top Four Teams
1) Lehigh, 7-1
2) Bucknell, 7-1
3) Lafayette, 5-3
4) American, 4-4
*Lehigh holds tiebreaker on Bucknell based on head-to-head record (1-0)

The Rundown: If C.J. McCollum’s broken foot a month ago ruined Lehigh’s chances of winning the Patriot League regular season crown, then Dr. Brett Reed’s squad apparently didn’t get the memo. Defense and a balanced offensive attack led by Mackey McKnight, Holden Greiner, and Gabe Knutson has elevated the Mountain Hawks to a share of first place in the Patriot League. McKnight, a lightening quick floor general, has been sensational in league play, averaging 15.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. All-American candidate Mike Muscala (who’s just outside the top ten of KenPom’s Player of the Year ratings) and his Bucknell Bison have kept pace. Lafayette is only two games back and has home tilts remaining with Lehigh and Bucknell. Although the double upset from the Leopards is highly unlikely, the possibility keeps Tony Johnson, Seth Hinrichs and company in the hunt for a miraculous regular season title. Wouldn’t that be something?

Mark Your Calendars: Bucknell at Lehigh, Monday, February 18th

We doubt home court really matters all that much, especially with Bucknell owning a 10-3 record away from home. Nevertheless, Reed has to be pleased with his team’s position halfway through the conference season, sans McCollum. In their upset victory, Lehigh held Bucknell to 0.92 points per possession and 14.2% shooting from behind the arc, both rarities for Dave Paulson’s high-powered offense. How sharpshooters Cameron Ayers and Bryson Johnson (the all time leading three-point shooter in Patriot League history) perform against Lehigh’s stingy perimeter defense could help determine the conference’s future #1 seed.

Interesting Tidbits:
It should come as no surprise that the three best defensive teams in terms of efficiency are in the top three of the Patriot League standings. At 0.90 points allowed per possession, Lafayette has benefitted from playing cellar dweller Navy twice, yet they still impressively held Lehigh to 33% shooting in their rather shocking road upset over the Mountain Hawks. Grizzled veteran coach Jeff Jones predictably has American in striking distance of a #3 seed, thanks in large part to the inspired conference play of Troy Wroblicky (8.6 rpg) and John Schoof (3.3 three-pointers per game). If the supporting cast around Stephen Lumpkins continues to produce, the Eagles will be a dangerous team in the postseason. Army, with a 3-5 record, can also make some noise with Ella Ellis and a surrounding freshmen class that should make up the majority of the Patriot League All-Rookie team. Zach Spiker’s Black Knights may fall short this year, but Army is looking good down the road with a young freshman core led by Dylan Cox, Kyle Toth, and Kyle Wilson. Navy, on the other hand, is still trying to find their way under the direction of Ed DeChellis.

7 Responses to Conference Check-ins: America East and Patriot League

  1. SBUfan February 12, 2013 at 1:44 pm #

    Agree that the Vermont at Stony Brook game is going to be a huge one.. and probably going to decide the seeding for the AE tournament. The loss at Vermont still hurts and stings me more than the last loss at Hartford. It is a revenge game on 18th!

    Go Seawolves!! Make us proud.

  2. SBUfan February 13, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    Word on Twitter is that America East is adding UMass Lowell from Div 2 this week.

    Source: @onebidwonders

    America East really should have added QU when they had a chance (QU applied twice) and now they are getting member from Div 2 rather than looking at Bryant right in the middle of their footprint.

    Whats your thought on this?

    How long, before SBU bolts for CAA?

    • rpeters February 13, 2013 at 10:35 am #

      I, for one, don’t understand why Bryant would make the “parallel” leap to the America East from the NEC. Maybe the academics are slightly better in that confernece, but Bryant’s football program easily cancels out the academic benefit, since the AE doesn’t have a football conference. If Bryant made the leap to the AE, then their football program would be at risk, because they can’t assume the NEC will simply keep their football program. Look at what happened to Monmouth when the NEC Presidents recently rejected their associate membership application. The same thing could happen to Bryant, so for me, that risk alone doesn’t warrant Bryant moving to the America East.

      Besides, it would be a huge slap in the face to the NEC. Here’s a conference who patiently guided Bryant through the D-2 to D-1 transition process and now Bryant is going to turn their back on the conference? If the MAAC or CAA came calling, then yes a move out of the NEC is probably warranted. But I just don’t see the logic of moving to a similar conference in the America East if you’re Bryant, or CCSU for that matter.

      As for Stony Brook, really your guess is as good as mine, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if they left. The fact that the school is in the process of upgrading their athletic buildings raises my eyebrows just a bit. If Pikiell can finally guide his Seawolves to the NCAAs this season, their success (along with their fantastic baseball achievements) makes them a visible target.

  3. SBUfan February 13, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    I agree with your point with regard to Bryant and seems like guys behind @onebidwonders agrees too because they later twitted that “Word is Bryant snubbed the league”. I guess football and loyalty definitely played part there.

    Apparently NJIT would also be coming to AE although that annoucement will be sometime later, not this week.

    As for Stony Brook, yes, it wont surprise me if we go to CAA. But CAA had more appeal to me when VCU, ODU were still there. JMU and GMU might leave at first chance to FBS and A-10 respectively. It would be a parallel move to another one bid conference for Stony brook (similar to Bryant to AE!) and now that I think about it, it mignt not even benifit much except for increased travel cost.

  4. Steve Johnson February 14, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    Another writer that is clueless… Yes, Navy is trying to find its way, but is EASILY the youngest team in the Patriot League (and almost the country) and has a freshman class similar to Army’s (Tilman Dunbar, Kendall Knorr, Will Kelly, etc…). Only thing that separates Army from them is that they have a senior stud in Ella Ellis. Navy doesn’t even have a senior on its team and its junior class is no good.

    If Army and Navy continue on their pace recruiting-wise, they will be near the top of the league in 2-3 years.

    • rpeters February 14, 2013 at 9:35 am #

      Thanks for calling me clueless and then instantly agree with me in your second sentence.

      Yes, Navy is ridiculously young and there are growing pains, but Kyle Wilson is my Patriot League ROY and I feel Army’s freshmen class is a little better than the Mid’s rookies. That’s no disrespect to Dunbar and Knorr, in fact I waxed poetic about Dunbar on this site in December and LOVE his upside moving forward, but I like the Wilson, Roth, Toomey, Cox class a little better.

      Also, Navy and Army’s effeciency rating on both ends of the floor are vastly different. Ella Ellis absolutely plays a big role in that, especially offensively, but there’s still a 22 points per 100 posessions differential between teams. Ellis’ presence isn’t solely responsible for that gap.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ivy League and the NEC: Conference Check-ins | Big Apple Buckets - February 12, 2013

    […] We continue our conference check-ins with a look at the Ivy League and the NEC. For our previous post on the America East and Patriot League, go here. […]