After taking a road trip to Connecticut and a long first week of basketball, here are some extra thoughts on the two conferences I cover for Big Apple Buckets, the MAAC and the America East. In addition, Ryan Peters shared his thoughts on UMBC, who stunned Mount St. Mary’s on Sunday afternoon with a come from behind victory.
Good luck to teams trying to stop Ike Azotam and Osumane Drame for Quinnipiac. When both of them are on they are going to be difficult to stop in the MAAC. Azotam, plays the power forward spot, but he can move like a guard. Drame is a big man who not only has length, but is creative in his post up game and scrapes for loose rebounds. “He’s still a work in progress,” head coach Tom Moore said of Drame. “Ous is ever changing, he really is.” After getting in early foul trouble in his first two games, Drame was in control Saturday. His 18 points and 10 rebounds helped Quinnipiac overcome an 11-0 early deficit to win by 10 over America East tournament champion UAlbany.
Marist head coach Jeff Bower wants his team to learn the truth about his team. As he said hours before the season opener against Stony Brook, “We’re going to take some hits, I know, but I’ll find out a lot through that as well.” They have continued to take hits during a difficult non-conference slate. Saturday’s loss at Providence dropped the Red Foxes to 0-4. They’ve also suffered losses to Elon, Stony Brook and St. Joseph’s – all by double-digits. One concern has to be Adam Kemp’s lack of production in the early going, he was stifled in the opener and left nursing an injury that kept him out of the Elon game. The Red Foxes need him to be healthy to make a run this season in MAAC play and will try to salvage what they can on a trip to St. Thomas, where they open with Maryland in the Paradise Jam.
Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos knew when he inherited the job he was taking on a brutal schedule. While La Salle has not found their game yet – through three games they have not yet shot better than 42% from the field – the Saints were able to press and run with the Explorers until a late 16-2 run sealed the four-point win for La Salle. The wins are going to be difficult to come by for Siena early, especially with a loaded Old Spice Classic field in two weeks. Patsos admitted in the preseason that this season is probably not the right year for Siena to go. “I got dealt the cards, my hand I got to play it,” Patsos said in the preseason. The record will not indicate how well Siena makes progress in year one. The core freshmen have shown progress so far in different ways. Maurice White has had an impact early and Javion Ogunyemi gave Jerrell Wright fits inside on Saturday. Continued improvement from the freshmen to go along with juniors Evan Hymes and Rob Poole and the Saints should show progress after two months.
Redshirt sophomore Yasin Kolo is unlike any of the big men that Hartford head coach John Gallagher has had in the past. Not only did he make three three-pointers Wednesday in their win over Fairfield, Kolo provided a tough post presence and will be difficult to guard next to junior Mark Nwakamma. It might take some time to see Kolo’s game truly click, but with three years of eligibility, Gallagher said he will have to be patient with how he progresses. Kolo played sparingly last season for East Carolina after being granted a medical hardship redshirt season the year before. “His ceiling is very high, but we’re going to have to live with some mistakes early here and that means patience from me,” Gallagher said of Kolo. If these two can develop as options, it may force more teams to go the route Fairleigh Dickinson went Friday. Force Hartford’s guards to hurt you. “[At] Fairfield, they’re not guarding our bigs, so it’s our big’s turn to make shots,” Gallagher said. “[Friday] they’re going two under, they’re literally letting our guards shoot threes. Our guys have to make shots and they did.”
Albany, in their first loss of the season at Quinnipiac, the showed some weakness at the guard spots. Senior D.J. Evans, who led the team with 32 points in the team’s first two games, looked off and head coach Will Brown said after the game was being treated before the game for an ankle injury. Junior Sam Rowley is one of the best big men in the conference, he carried Albany with 20 points, but his six turnovers doomed their comeback chances. “I thought I made a bad decision, I thought I shouldn’t have passed it over,” Rowley said of a turnover he made with under three minutes left. In terms of his rotation, Brown said it takes a long time for young players to earn his trust. Senior Dave Wiegmann remade his game and has shown signs of being an option off the bench and there is a good chance that freshman Mike Rowley and junior college transfer Anders Haas will likely have a say in that rotation by the time conference play hits. “We have a couple of guys who have been playing fairly well in practice and I haven’t given them enough of an opportunity yet,” Brown said. “I just have to make sure that we have guys that can come off the bench and produce if we get guys in foul trouble.”
For the better part of 26 minutes versus Mount St. Mary’s, UMBC was showing off their inexperience. They were succumbing to the pressure of Mount St. Mary’s savvy attack, by rushing shots and committing ill-advised turnovers in the face of intense half-court pressing. Their poor play allowed the Mountaineers to extend their lead to a seemingly insurmountable 23 points with 14 minutes remaining in Sunday’s game. But then the resolve and grittiness, not to mention the elite athleticism, of Aki Thomas’ bunch began to shine through. The frontline of Charles Taylor, Jr. and Devarick Houston effectively crashed the offensive glass (they combined to collect 21 rebounds for the game), leading to several second chance opportunities. After committing four turnovers early, freshman point guard Rodney Elliott bounced back with a fantastic second half, displaying tremendous poise for a player competing in only his fourth collegiate game. With the exception of Chase Plummer and Joey Getz, there isn’t much experience in Catonsville, but Thomas and his staff have an intriguing collection of high upside underclassmen. They may struggle and be inconsistent now, but a young core comprised of Malik Garner, Aaron Morgan, Elliott, Taylor, and David Kadiri (who’s still quite raw offensively but can probably dunk with ease on a 12-foot basket) gives UMBC tremendous promise. There’s little chance they won’t be competing for an America East championship by the 2015-16 season and could be a factor as soon as next season, in my humble opinion. – Ryan Peters
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.