Our conference preview series continues with the America East. Here's a look at the projected standings, three must-see games and the conference's three most intriguing storylines entering the new season.
1. Can Stony Brook earn its first-ever NCAA tournament berth?
Stony Brook had been a conference doormat most of its 11 Division I seasons until sixth-year coach Steve Pikiell's rebuilding process produced a winning 2008-09 season and regular season conference title in 2009-10. A loss to Boston University in the conference tournament semifinals prevented the Seawolves from making their NCAA tournament debut, but Stony Brook figures to contend again this March.
Although America East player of the year guard Muhammad El Amin has graduated, all but one other member of the rotation return including second-team all-conference contributors Bryan Dougher and Tommy Brenton. Dougher, a Cousy Award nominee, averaged 13.8 points per game and shot 42.4 percent from three-point range, while the versatile 6-foot-5 Brenton averaged 7.6 points and 9.8 rebounds and was among the league's best defenders.
In a wide open conference featuring a handful of teams capable of contending for first place, the Seawolves enter the season as favorites along with the Boston U. team that ousted them a year ago. Stony Brook will miss El Amin's 17 points per game, but they won't miss his questionable shot selection, especially if senior guard Chris Martin and newcomers David Coley and Al Rapier collectively help fill the scoring void.
2. How good can Boston University be with 10 newcomers?
Boston University has the conference's best returning one-two punch in high scoring wing John Holland Jr. and versatile forward Jake O'Brien, but the Terriers' season will depend on whether their 10 newcomers can provide an effective supporting cast.
The most decorated of the BUs three transfers is 6-foot-6 power forward Patrick Hazelle, who played sparingly in two years at Marquette but figures to help solidify the team's interior game. Furthermore, the Terriers' seven-man incoming freshman class was easily the most well-regarded in the conference, with forwards Dominic Morrison and Travis Robinson the most likely to contribute right away.
BU has a history of not handling high expectations especially well, but this year's team has the talent to overcome its lack of familiarity with one-another. In particular, Holland is the most gifted player in the conference and the favorite to win America East player of the year honors after scoring 19.2 points a game as a junior.
3. Can Binghamton help coach Mark Macon shed his interim label?
Mark Macon's impressive debut season as coach at scandal-tainted Binghamton earned him a two-year contract extension, but it wasn't enough to get him a longterm committment from the school.
Because Binghamton won't hire a new president until well into the new school year, school officials have opted not to remove his interim tag so that the new regime can hire its own coach. As a result Macon has at least one more season to persuade the new president that he is the appropriate man for the job.
The transfer of America East freshman of the year Dylan Talley will not help Macon's chance's of improving on last year's 8-8 league finish, but Binghamton did get a rare piece of good news from first-team all-league forward Greer Wright last month. Wright spurned interest from Cincinnati and opted to remain at Binghamton because some of his academic credits wouldn't transfer and he would not be able to graduate in four years if he left.
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