Area tournaments

College Basketball

March 04, 2005|By Men's previews compiled by Kent Baker; ACC women by Edward Lee

Area tournaments

America East men

Site: Binghamton U. Events Center, Vestal, N.Y.

When: Today through Sunday; championship game March 12 at highest remaining seed.

2004 champion: Vermont.

2005 favorite: Vermont. The Catamounts (21-6) have been struggling a bit lately, losing their regular-season finale at Maine, 87-66, and have some nagging injuries and illness, but are still the team to beat. The first-round bye won't hurt a team seeking to make it three straight and send retiring coach Tom Brennan off with a bang. It won't be easy to hold off a hot Northeastern team, which has won six in a row, or the conference's defensive power, Boston U. Vermont G T.J. Sorrentine, the America East's all-time three-point king, is battling a hamstring problem.

Dark horse: Lots of candidates here, including homestanding Binghamton, which has captured six of eight. But the real sleeper could be No. 4-seeded Albany (13-14), considered the league's team of the future and one that bettered its record by eight wins this season. The Great Danes feature G Jamar Wilson (17.0 ppg) and former Loyola forward Lucious Jordan (14.8).

Player to watch: Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont. No question, the league's most valuable player again. Coppenrath, who has been bothered by influenza lately, led the America East with 24.7 points and 8.9 rebounds a game and is a candidate to dent some All-America lists. He is the main force on a senior-dominated club and has a knack for playing well in big games.

Outlook: Ninth-seeded UMBC (10-17) has the misfortune of being in the same bracket with Vermont should it get by tonight's opening-round opponent, No. 8 New Hampshire (9-18), which swept the Retrievers. Overall, this tournament seems more wide open, with Vermont a tad more vulnerable than usual.

CAA men

Site: Richmond (Va.) Coliseum.

When: Today through Monday.

2004 champion: Virginia Commonwealth.

2005 favorite: Old Dominion. The regular-season champion set a school record with 25 victories and prides itself on a defense that tops the league, allowing 60.5 points per game. But the Monarchs, paced by Australian-born F Alex Loughton (13.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) are not a prohibitive choice. Six teams in the Colonial won at least 16 games, making this a tightly bunched field. Isaiah Hunter (13.2) and Arnad Dahi, a 52 per cent shooter, are Loughton's chief helpers.

Dark horse: Hofstra. The Pride finished on a roll, taking six straight and nine of its last 10 games, including a 66-63 win that snapped Old Dominion's 14-game home-court winning streak. The best rebounding team in the CAA, Hofstra reached the 20-win pinnacle for the first time since 2001 and barely missed becoming the fourth seed, which Drexel won by winning its finale. The two teams meet in the quarters and the Pride has incentive after losing twice to Drexel.

Player to watch: Loren Stokes, Hofstra. Stokes, a guard-forward, captured the regular-season scoring title with an 18.5 average and is a versatile player who can rebound and pass. His 90 assists led the team and he also averaged six rebounds. He is aided by the presence of the CAA's leading freshman, Antoine Agudio (14.6 ppg).

Outlook: It wouldn't be a surprise to see any one of five or six teams capture this tournament, including the defending champion, Virginia Commonwealth, which won a big game against UNC-Wilmington to nab the second seed. Old Dominion has the easier road because of its top seeding, but could get upset as early as the semifinals. Towson (5-23) finished last -- with 11 losses in a row -- and will meet No. 7 Delaware (10-19) in the first round.

MAAC men

Site: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, N.Y.

When: Today through Monday.

2004 champion: Manhattan.

2005 favorite: Niagara. The Purple Eagles (18-9) have everything going for them, a double bye awarded to the regular-season winner and a home arena in which they occasionally play. They go directly into the semifinals, which means only two victories to reach the NCAAs, and have the incentive of atoning for a championship-game defeat last season. They are the highest-scoring team in the MAAC, averaging 85.9 points, and feature a nice balance in the lineup.

Dark horse: St. Peter's. The fourth seed showcases the nation's leading scorer, G Keydren Clark, and enters the tournament with six wins in its last seven games, the loss coming by five to Niagara. Clark, a 5-foot-9 junior, is a two-time all-MAAC first-team pick who averages 25.9 points and is second nationally in steals (3.4) and third in three-pointers (4.0).

Player to watch: Juan Mendez, Niagara. A 6-8 forward, Mendez is on the all-MAAC first team for the third year in a row after compiling averages of 23.6 points (fourth nationally) and 10.3 rebounds (11th nationally). He leads an array of scorers that also includes G David Brooks (17.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and point man Alvin Cruz (13.7 ppg, MAAC-best 6.5 apg).

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