March 10, 2011

Eight Balanced Teams Set to Battle for 2011 NCAA Men’s East Regional Crown

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Across the country, there are eight NCAA Division II men's basketball regionals being contested over the next four or five days for the right to reach Springfield for the Elite Eight.  In just two of those, all eight teams have at least 20 wins.

One of those is the East Region, which Bentley University will host at the Dana Athletic Center from Saturday through Tuesday. The Falcons, who'll be seeking their fourth regional title in five years, have the best record at 22-7. Four teams have 21 wins and the other three have 20.  It's tough to have eight teams more balanced than that!

The field includes six Northeast-10 Conference members, with Adelphi University, American International College, UMass-Lowell, The College of Saint Rose and Stonehill College joining the host Falcons.

Rounding out the participating teams are C.W. Post of the East Coast Conference and Bloomfield College of the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference. Both won their respective conference championships this past weekend.

Play will get underway at noon Saturday with third-seeded Stonehill taking on number six Adelphi, which is coming off a win over Bentley in the NE-10 title game. The second game of the afternoon session will have second-seeded AIC facing Bloomfield, the seventh seed.

Bentley, at home for the regional for the fourth time in seven years, will square off against C.W. Post at 6 pm in the first meeting of the two programs since the 2009 regional final, won by the Pioneers down on Long Island. Finishing the opening day's slate, at 8:30 pm, will be fourth-seeded UMass-Lowell against number five Saint Rose.

Bentley and C.W. Post is the only pairing where the two teams didn't meet during the regular season. Stonehill edged Adelphi by three (67-64) in mid-January, and registered a 75-64 win over Bloomfield on Nov.20, and UMass-Lowell topped Saint Rose on Jan. 22, 92-82. All three were played on the winners' home court.

Bentley, in the Northeast-10 Championships, overcame second-half deficits to win its first two games, 67-54 against St. Michael's and 68-60 against Saint Rose, but couldn't quite do the same in the title game against Adelphi, a 78-72 loss. The Falcons climbed out of a nine-point hole and tied the game four times, but could never gain the lead after drawing even.

Coach Jay Lawson's club, ranked 22nd nationally, is led by a veteran core of four four-year players. Senior forward Brian Tracey (Bow Mar, Colo./Heritage HS),senior guard Tom Dowling (Rockville Centre, N.Y./South Side HS) and grad student Mike Quinn (Oakdale, Conn./Montville HS) are all members of Bentley's 1,000-point club, and senior forward Joe Fremeau (Manchester, N.H./Central HS) has started every game the last two seasons.

Tracey, an All-Conference and All-Region honoree with seven career postseason double-doubles, leads the Falcons in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 17.1 points and 7.8 boards. He is on the verge of a couple career milestones, needing eight points to become only the fourth Bentley player with both 1500 points and 800 rebounds, and 18 points to crack the program's top ten scoring list.

Dowling is coming off a career-best 26 points in the NE-10 title game. He's had 20-plus in four of his last eight games with his average up to 11.6.  Over the last dozen games, he's shot just over 50 percent from the floor and has made 41 percent of his threes.

Quinn, expected to make his school record 131st career start on Saturday, averages 8.7 points with a team-best 55 steals and 51 threes. Fremeau has picked up the offense in recent games, averaging seven points and shooting 65 percent over the last five.

The quartet of vets are complemented by forward Dan O'Keefe (Lexington/Lexington HS) and guards Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine/Winthrop HS), Greg Jacques (Brockton/St. Sebastian's HS) and Jasper Grassa (Lynn/Lynn Classical HS). When the Falcons get production from those people, the team has generally been successful this winter. In fact, when at least one of those four has scored in doubles, Bentley is 19-2.

C.W. Post, which had a 10-game winning streak midseason, pulled out two close wins to claim its conference championship after ending the regular season with back-to-back losses. The Pioneers topped Queens in OT, 73-67, and pulled out a 68-64 win over Bridgeport in the ECC final.

Junior guard Stefan Bonneau has had an exceptional season for C.W. Post, earning All-Region honors and ECC Player of the Year accolades after averaging 19 points with shooting percentages of 49 percent overall, 46 percent from three (with 78 made) and 87 percent from the line (101-116). Senior forward Aaron Hall (14.3 ppg), sophomore Jonathan Kohler (13.0) and Southern Connecticut transfer Tobin Carberry (10.5) also average in double figures for the Pioneers.

Stonehill comes into the NCAAs following back-to-back home losses to Bentley (52-51 in the regular season finale) and UMass-Lowell (79-69 in the NE-10 quarters). The Skyhawks spread the ball around with five players averaging between 9.7and 13.1 points a game. Junior guard Ivan Almeida tops the list, and senior Mike Kernan (12.3 ppg) is one of the conference's premier rebounders, with 10.4 a game. The Skyhawks lead the NE-10 in field goal percentage (.457), fewest points allowed (60.2) and scoring margin (9.5).

Adelphi has won seven of eight, including three in a row on the road last week, all against teams that received NCAA bids, to capture the Northeast-10 playoff crown. The Panthers also have four players who are averaging in double figures, including senior guard Richard Byrd, the MVP of the NE-10 tourney. He's averaging 16.9 points, is the premier foul shooter in the NE-10 (138-151, .914) and is currently just two points shy of 2,000 for his career. Classmate David Akinyooye can also be a force for the Panthers as he leads AU in rebounds (8.5) and blocks (34) while also averaging 13.1 points.

AIC, an NCAA participant for the first time since 2000, fell victim to Adelphi twice in its last three games, including a 55-52 decision in the NE-10 playoffs. The Yellow Jackets were outstanding in their home building, winning 12 of 13 (the only loss coming last week) but were just 8-7 when playing off their campus. Art Luptowski earned Coach of the Year honors in the conference, and the All-NE-10 team featured two Yellow Jackets, first-team pick Isiah Wallace and third-teamer Allen Aragbaye. Wallace averages 17.9 points and 8.5 rebounds, and Aragbaye follows at 14.9 ppg.

Bloomfield, which opened its season with an 86-84 win at Bentley and averages 87 points a game, features the Daktronics East Region Player of the Year and the region's top scorer, senior guard Gage Daye. Twice the CACC Player of the Year, he's fourth in the country in scoring (23.8) and has over 2,350 career points. He's knocked down 64 threes, takes nearly 10 free throws a game and also averages 6.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Ryan Rodrigues is also having a solid season for the Deacons, averaging 14.7 points and 80 three-pointers.

UMass-Lowell can also be counted among Adelphi's victims last week, with the 71-60 semifinal loss denying the defending NE-10 champions a return trip to the conference final. The River Hawks had won 10 of 12 before that contest, including a 79-69 decision at Stonehill in the NE-10 quarters. Guard Akeem Williams has had an outstanding freshman campaign, averaging 18.1 points with 61 three-pointers. Sophomore Matt Welch is the team's other double-figure scorer (14.4) and is also a threat from three (64). Robbie Walton, a junior, leads the NE-10 in steals with 52.

Saint Rose, before falling to Bentley in the NE-10 semis, had won eight straight, six of those with a winning margin of at least ten points. Like many of the teams in the East Regional, the Golden Knights (a conference-best 77.8 ppg) have four double figure scorers with first-team All-Conference junior guard Rob Gutierrez topping the list at 18.3 points per game. Junior guard Shea Bromirski follows at 15.8, and has 75 three pointers. Andre Pope is number one in the NE-10 in three-point accuracy (66-144. .458) and enters the regional with a 13.0 average.

Sunday night's semifinals have the two afternoon winners playing at 6 pm and the two survivors of the evening games facing off at 8:30 pm. The regional championship game will be at 8:30 Tuesday, with the winner earning a trip to the Elite Eight in Springfield (Mar.23-26).

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