As just about everyone knows at this point, Towson hosted the first East Coast region tournament this weekend. While not every staple team from the EC was able to make it, three of mainstays (Towson, UMD & VCU) along with a young squad in Stevenson were able to get together for a day of action. Now that I’m on the outside looking in, I was able to watch and learn a lot more than I could in the past, as I was probably trying to keep myself awake in between matches or find a quick bite to eat. I caught most of the matches, and while I didn’t see everything, I saw enough to get a good impression on each of the four teams. Here are my impressions of the four squads involved in Sunday’s action:
*Note – To all of you Michigan guys and gals who will want to remind me about that being the top region, relax. I’m writing this as if the Michigan region doesn’t exist because we all know it’s the top region, and there’s no point in beating that same drum again and again. If I say a team is good, it’s from an East Coast perspective, not a league wide perspective.
- Towson – This is the first time I’ve ever watched my former team play as an alumni and not a student, and I have to say it’s a very weird feeling. I hadn’t been able to sneak in to any practice up until this point so the tournament was my first time seeing the new look Tigers. The team looked good in their first outing, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. I may or may not be being too harsh or too nice to my old squad, but here’s where I see the good and the bad for them:
Good: Catching & top end talent – Towson has always had stud players at the top of their roster, even from their first year in the league. Joe Tobin, Jon Shaw, Mike Hinely, Joe Rindone (even if just for one year) to name a few. These guys have carried the load for Towson, while working on getting more support behind them. As they have improved, the talent has improved as well, particularly in the catching department. The team seems to be getting to the point of consistently catching the throws they should, and even making some more of the 50-50 type catches that can really put a team over the edge.
Bad: Putting away and keeping away teams at a lower level. If I know the guys on the team well, they are laser focused on redeeming themselves for what happened last year against Kentucky. They want to make that jump and show they are worthy of being considered a legitimate top tier team, and putting an end to outside teams wondering when they’ll make the next jump. In order to do so, the Tigers need to improve on not just beating lesser opponents such as Maryland and VCU, but completely gutting them the way the old JMU squads would do to the entire East Coast. Kentucky is a very dangerous squad, and there are teams that are even better than them out there. Maryland gained two points against Towson in the second half of their match, and while Towson was playing their backups, the team needs to reach a point where even their backups can keep a rebuilding team such as the Terrapins from scoring.
Player to watch out for: Xavier Rosado (Fr.) – He’s got a lot to learn, and right now I would describe him best as a solid player, but guys like Rosado are what bring a team up to the next level. He’s not a top tier player, but he’s a good piece which Towson can plug in and teach how to become a high level performer.
- VCU – Why is Virginia Commonwealth 3 you ask? Well, despite their absence from the tournament, I cannot exclude JMU from the East Coast conversation. Until they get a chance to play each other, I can’t put VCU at my #2 slot because they have not beaten the Dukes before. Also, I can’t put JMU at the #1 spot because I haven’t heard anything about their roster for this year yet. That being said, the Rams are starting to show that their improvements last year were no fluke. This team is very steadily going from the regional doormat, to a good squad that could threaten a few upsets during the year. Here’s where I think they stand at the moment:
Good – Finishing points. VCU’s problem in the past that held them up from being a better team was their ability to finish off points and gain momentum. It used to be that they were capable of getting up a few players, with ball control, but were never able to finish off their opponents. Now, the Rams have made that jump and are starting to improve in other areas as well. The next step for them is gaining and developing enough talent to start chipping away at the upper echelon teams in the region.
Bad – Reigning in their emotion. One of the best parts about this team is their excitement to play. They were easily the loudest team on the court Sunday, which made them exciting to watch. The question I have though is can they control their emotions enough in order to stay focused on the task at hand. I saw a few points where it seemed like they got caught up in the moment, let their opponent speed them up, and get the Rams out of their game plan. If Hunter Ford and the rest of his crew can keep the emotion high, but steady, VCU has the potential to make a lot of noise this year.
Player to watch out for – Wayne Shortt (So.) – Better known for the name on the back of his jersey (Murica), Shortt is another one of those guys who isn’t insanely talented, but is maximizing every ability he has. He can catch, throw, and block all at an above average level. He’s also one of those guys who can annoy the hell out of a player and get in their head some with his intense on court demeanor. While I don’t think it is intentional, I have seen the Rams take advantage of situations where an opposing player is focusing on trying to get Shortt out, and either he or one of his teammates eliminates that person.
- UMD – The Terrapins are officially in rebuild mode. They lost a lot of players from last year, most notably Rohan Mittal and Curtis Reybold. Maryland faces an uphill battle this year, with a young roster and a history of not being able to travel well. Can the Terps turn it around and get out to more tournaments this year? Play more teams? Develop their talent? We will have to wait and see, but here’s where they are right now:
Good – Guidance. Yes the team is rebuilding, but they’re not doing it from the ground up. The older guys on the team have a good amount of experience with them, and are using it in order to guide their young guys as best they can. The biggest issue that I saw was it simply being too early in the season, with too few games played for their roster to really be up to NCDA speed. I don’t see the Maryland of old coming out any time soon, but as the season progresses and the team gains more experience, I see a good amount of potential in this squad. The other good thing is I didn’t hear a lot of complaining about calls made during their matches, a previous black mark against the team.
Bad – Too much unknown. Will the Terps be able to travel? Can their young roster truly develop? Will they be able to make it to Nationals this year? There are too many unknowns with the Terps this season. This leaves the potential for a lot of good to come out of it, but right now Maryland is in a position where I’ll have to see it in order to believe it. Maybe in a year or two they can get back to where they once were, but for now this team has a lot of work and a bumpy road in front of them.
Player to watch: Matt Greenspan – With such a young roster it’s hard to know who really stands out just yet. Especially this early in the season while players are still waiting to get their jerseys. Matt has been a consistent force for the Terps throwing and catching. He’s not the most vocal guy compared to some around the league, but he does his best to keep his team organized and pointed in the right direction.
6. Stevenson – Much like Maryland, Stevenson is more of a question mark than anything else. This is a young program, who at this point is just looking to consistently make tournaments and gain experience. If they can put together a good attendance record this year, Stevenson could start showing some promise, but as of right now they have an even longer road ahead of them than the Terps.
Good – Bringing a full roster. It’s hard to pick up on anything else for this team, they’re young, most players are still learning the game, and they’re still learning about themselves. If they can consistently bring a full 15, and maybe at some point push it to 20, then who knows what sort of progress can be made in a season for the Mustangs.
Bad – Talent – There are some solid players at the top of this roster, but much like most young programs, there is a steep drop off after the top guys. There might be some potential there, but with this team still learning the game, it’s hard to see where it can come from outside of their main core.
Player to watch out for: Kris DeJesus – I’ve h
d the chance to play with Kris a few times at practices before, but I’ve never seen him in tournament mode before. This was the first time I’ve seen him play with wins and losses being on the line and it was an electric performance. While in the minds of some it is easier to look good when the talent around you isn’t as good, I would make an argument that Kris is an absolute lock as a top 10 player in the league, and would be a very good candidate to make the top 5. Hopefully his abilities can rub off on some of his teammates and the Mustangs can make a good jump this year.
Current Opinion on East Coast Power Rankings: