No. 1 Boston University vs. No. 8 University at Albany/No. 9 University of Maine
Friday, 2 p.m.
The Terriers (22-6, 16-0 AE), who captured their first regular-season crown since 1988, will begin their bid for an automatic NCAA Tournament berth against the winner of Thursday night’s play-in game.
There’s no reason to think BU should run into any obstacles in this first game. It has steamrolled the Great Danes (4-24, 3-13) by a combined 53 points in the team’s two meetings this year, including a 95-72 demolition in Boston in the regular-season finale on Saturday.
Although the Terriers’ two wins over the Black Bears (5-24, 3-13) have been tighter (15- and 14-point margins), Maine has never been closer than 12 points of BU in the second half of either game.
BU features the conference’s top offense, averaging 73.3 points per game. Seniors Jesyka Burks-Wiley (18.1 ppg), Kristi Dini (12.9 ppg), Christine Kinneary and Amarachi Umez-Eronini (11.3 ppg apiece) are second, seventh and tied for 13th, respectively, in scoring.
Terriers can be found up and down the rest of the league’s stats page as well. Burks-Wiley, a Player of the Year candidate who has collected five Player of the Week awards this season, ranks second in rebounding, pulling down 7.5 boards per game. Dini leads the conference in 3-pointers (3.3 per game), Kinneary is best in assists (5.3 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2), and Umez-Eronini is the top thief with 2.6 steals per game.
The guard tandem of sophomore Janea Aiken and junior Britney McGee carry Albany, as they rank seventh and 11th in America East in scoring with 12.9 and 11.6 points per game, respectively. Junior forward Brittany Boser is Maine’s only double-digit scorer, averaging 10.2 ppg.
No. 2 University of Hartford vs. No. 7 Stony Brook University
Friday, 6 p.m.
The Hawks (19-10, 14-2), who have the benefit of defending their conference title on their home floor, swept the season series from the Seawolves (6-22, 4-12) with an 81-67 triumph in West Hartford and a 79-56 pounding on Long Island.
If Stony Brook is going to have any shot at quieting the home crowd, it will have to slow down freshman guard Ilicia Mathis, who led Hartford in scoring in each of the first two contests, including a career-high 20 points two Saturdays ago.
After coming off the bench in out-of-conference play, Mathis has emerged as one of the best young guards in America East. She leads the veteran-laden Hawks with 12.6 points per game in conference play.
Slow her down and the Seawolves will have to deal with the inside attack of junior forwards Erica Beverly (11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game) and Diana Delva (11.7 and 6.4), the best 1-2 post punch in America East.
Stony Brook will also need a big performance from sophomore forward Kirsten Jeter if the game is going to be close at the end. Jeter ranks ninth in the conference in scoring with 12.2 points per game and is tied for sixth in rebounding with 6.2 boards per game.
Complementing Jeter’s inside game is the play of Misha Horsey at the point. The sophomore is averaging 10.4 points and 3.5 assists per contest, and she rarely turns the ball over, ranking fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.0).
No. 3 University of Vermont vs. No. 6 University of New Hampshire
Friday, 8 p.m.
As is the case with a potential BU-Albany matchup, there’s nothing to suggest that this game should even be close. The Wildcats (8-22, 6-10) have found themselves on the receiving end of 21- and 22-point beatdowns courtesy of the Catamounts (18-11, 12-4) this year.
Senior guard Sy Janousek came off the bench to score a career-high 19 points for Vermont in the first meeting, and junior guard May Kotsopoulos led the way in the second clash with 21.
Although Janousek and fellow senior guard Amy Rosenkrantz are important contributors, it is the backcourt duo of juniors Kotsopoulos and defending Player of the Year Courtnay Pilypaitis that carries Vermont.
Pilypaitis and Kotsopoulos place fourth and fifth in America East with 14.4 and 13.8 points per game, respectively. In addition, Pilypaitis is third in the conference and first among guards with 7.3 rebounds per game and second in assists with 5.2 per game. Kotsopoulos comes in second in America East with 2.4 steals per game.
Unlike fellow underdogs Albany, Maine and Stony Brook, UNH has that one player who can step up and take over a game ‘- junior forward Candace Williams. She is the conference’s best rebounder (8.2 per game), and her 16.0 points per game are good for third.
The Wildcats’ upset hopes could also be greatly aided by a lights-out shooting performance from junior guard Amy Simpson (11.5 ppg), who has attempted the most treys in the conference this season (244). Unfortunately for UNH, she’s only made 24.6 percent of them.
No. 4 Binghamton University vs. No. 5 University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Friday, 12 p.m.
Not surprisingly, the 4-5 matchup promises to be the most even first-round game. It’s the only quarterfinal showdown featuring a pair of teams that split their regular-season series. Oddly enough, though, neither contest was particularly close. The Retrievers (14-15, 6-10) downed the Bearcats (13-16, 8-8) in Baltimore, 78-63, on Jan. 24. Binghamton returned the favor with a 70-50 trouncing at home two weeks ago.
In the first meeting, junior guard Carlee Cassidy, the conference’s leading scorer (20.8 points per game), led UMBC with a game-high 27 points. In the second encounter, senior center Laura Franceski paced the Bearcats with 15 points, 15 rebounds (a career high) and three blocks.
Cassidy and Franceski will be the key players in Friday’s tilt as well. Cassidy will shoot from anywhere at anytime, as evidenced by her conference-high 489 shot attempts. Her 2.8 trifectas per game are second most in the conference. Franceski is one of the most intimidating defensive presences in the league. Her 3.1 blocks per game peg her more than a block a game better than anyone else in America East.
The Binghamton offense runs through the guard combo of junior Erica Carter (10.2 ppg) and freshman Andrea Holmes (9.9 ppg). Like Mathis for Hartford, Holmes has really matured in conference play, averaging 11.4 ppg since its commencement.
But when it comes to America East freshmen, the Retrievers take the cake. Rookies Michelle Kurowski (13.3 ppg), Katie Brooks (9.4 ppg) and Erin Brown (9.4 ppg) have garnered a combined eight America East Rookie of the Week awards. Kurowski, who ranks ninth in the nation in freshman scoring, leads the way with four.