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.
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.