HARTFORD, Conn. - For the fifth straight year, Boston University, the reigning America East champion, is the coaches’ preseason choice to become champion again in 2011-12. The selections were announced today as part of the America East Basketball Tip-Off Luncheon held at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, host city for the 2012 America East Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championship Presented by Newman’s Own.
The Terriers garnered six of eight possible first-place votes (coaches were not allowed to vote for their team) and 62 points, followed by last year’s runner-up Stony Brook University, which received three first-place votes and 56 points. University of Vermont, the reigning America East regular-season champion, was picked third, tallying 46 points, and was followed closely in fourth by University at Albany, which received 42 points. University of New Hampshire was next in fifth place with 39 points while University of Maine followed in sixth with 32 points. University of Hartford and UMBC were tied for seventh place with 18 points and Binghamton University rounded out the nine-team poll with 11 points.
Regular-season play will prove key in positioning for the America East Championship, which the top two seeds have won in 28 of the last 29 years. The tournament, presented by Newman’s Own, will return to Hartford’s Chase Family Arena in The Reich Family Pavilion for first, quarterfinal and semifinal round action March 1-4 again in 2012. The title game will be hosted March 10 by the highest remaining seed with the winner earning an automatic berth into the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship.
Boston University (21-14 overall, 12-4 America East in 2010-11) captured its first America East title and made its first NCAA appearance since 2002 a year ago and is positioned well to make another title run in 2012. First-year head coach Joe Jones, who spent seven seasons as Columbia’s head coach, takes over the program after spending last season as an Associate Head Coach at Boston College. He inherits a squad that lost the conference’s reigning Player of the Year, John Holland, but returns four starters from last season, including first-team All-America East guard Darryl Partin, who ranked seventh among the league’s scoring leaders (14.6 ppg) last year. The Terriers, who will raise their championship banner in their season opener on Nov. 11 against Northeastern, will lean on sophomores D.J. Irving and Dom Morris, who became the fifth Boston U. duo to earn America East All-Rookie honors last year.
Stony Brook (15-17, 8-8) reached its first America East title game last season and is poised to make another run in 2011-12. The Seawolves return 12 letterwinners, more than any other America East team, and four starters, including two-time all-conference honoree Bryan Dougher, who ranked 12th among league leaders averaging 12.8 points per game last season. Stony Brook will also get junior forward Tommy Brenton back after he sat out all last season due to injury. A second-team All-America East performer in 2009-10, Brenton led the league in rebounding (9.7 rpg), ranked second in steals (1.8 spg) and was ninth in assists (2.7 apg) that season. He also earned All-Defensive honors that season, which will only improve a defense that was more than stellar without him and ranked ninth nationally in field goal percentage defense (.390) and 15th in scoring defense (60.4 papg).
Vermont (23-9, 13-3) brings back 10 players and four starters from last year’s team that won the program’s fifth regular-season title since 2001. Leading the way for the Catamounts will be a pair of America East major award winners in Brendan Bald and Brian Voelkel. Bald, a junior guard, earned Defensive Player of the Year honors last year by leading a unit that ranked 10th nationally in field goal percentage defense (.392) and 25th in scoring defense (60.9 papg). Voelkel, the reigning America East Rookie of the Year, will look to be even better as a sophomore after becoming the first freshman to ever lead the conference in rebounding (9.6 rpg) while adding 7.0 points and 4.6 assists per game. After spending the last four years as a UVM assistant, John Becker takes over as head coach for the Catamounts, who open their season at South Florida on Nov. 12.
Albany (16-16, 9-7) had a nine-win improvement from 2009-10 last year and won more league games (9) than the previous two seasons combined (8). The Great Danes could take another step forward in 2011-12 as they return seven letterwinners and four starters from that team and are the only America East squad to bring back multiple all-conference honorees. Junior guards Logan Aronhalt (14.6 ppg) and Mike Black (12.3 ppg), both third-team choices, are the league’s top returning scoring tandem after averaging a combined 26.9 points per game last season and ranking fifth and 14th among league leaders, respectively. Albany kicks off its 2011-12 campaign at Pittsburgh on Nov. 11.
New Hampshire (12-18, 6-10) welcomes back eight letterwinners from a team that was decimated by injuries last season but still managed to rank 18th nationally in scoring defense by holding opponents to 60.9 points per game. Junior Chandler Rhoads, an America East All-Defensive honoree, and senior forward Brian Benson, who ranked second among league leaders in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and fifth in blocks (1.1 bpg), will help UNH try to replicate that success in 2011-12. The Wildcats, who begin play Nov. 11 against Suffolk, will get an offensive lift from senior guard Alvin Abreu, a second-team all-conference selection in 2009-10, who missed all but four games last season due to a knee injury.
Maine (15-15, 9-7) looked like the team to beat for much of last season, getting off to its best conference start (8-1) in program history, but dropped eight of its final nine games. The Black Bears, who led America East in scoring (69.6 ppg) and shooting percentage (.468) return eight letterwinners from last season, including one of the league’s top backcourts in seniors Gerald McLemore and Raheem Singleton, who was third among league leaders in assists (3.7 apg) last season. McLemore, a two-time all-conference selection, ranked 10th among league leaders last year (13.3 ppg) and is the conference’s active-leading scorer (1,199 points). Maine opens its season with Maine Machias on Nov. 14.
Hartford (11-20, 7-9) reached the America East semifinals last year but will need to replace 81.8 percent of its scoring output from that team after losing four of its top five scorers. Senior guard Andres Torres will provide a much needed veteran prescence to a team that will have seven newcomers. Torres, who redshirted last season with an injury, averaged 6.7 points and 4.4 assists in 2009-10. Senior forward Genesis Maciel will be looked upon to fill the offensive void. The team’s top returning scorer (8.0 ppg), Maciel averaged 16.0 points in two America East tournament games to earn All-Championship honors.
Hartford starts its season by facing Sacred Heart in the Connecticut 6 Classic on Nov. 11.
UMBC (5-25, 4-12) will lean on its six returning letterwinners to turn around a program that has won just nine combined games over the past two seasons. Leading the Retrievers will be the league’s top returning scorer, senior point guard Chris De La Rosa, a second-team all-conference selection who averaged 15.5 points per game last season. De La Rosa, an America East preseason all-conference choice, also led the league in assists for the second straight year, dishing out 6.0 dimes per game. Sophomore Chase Plummer provided a spark off the bench during his rookie season, averaging 6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals, and will likely step into the starting lineup this year.
Binghamton (8-23, 4-12) brings back seven letterwinners and three starters from last year’s team, including senior center Kyrie Sutton, who is just one of three returnees that ranked in the league’s top-20 in rebounding (20th - 4.1 rpg) and top-10 in blocked shots
(6th - 0.9 bpg) last season. Jimmy Gray, a Binghamton native, is the team’s top returning scorer. He averaged 6.5 points and 1.8 assists last season and upped those averages to 8.1 points and 2.3 assists in conference play. The Bearcats open 2011-12 against Colgate at the Events Center, where they are 23-11 over the past three seasons, on Nov. 11.